I’m going to start posting literary quotations that strike me. This one is from Augusten Burroughs’ sweet memoir, Dry. I post it for no reason other than that it made me sigh.
On my bookcase at home, there’s a photo of Pighead trying on a leather jacket I bought him one Christmas. I can be seen behind him in the mirror taking the picture. I’m wearing a ridiculous red Santa hat and my wire-framed nerd glasses. In another picture, I’m swimming in some motel pool in Maine. It was the Lamp Lighter Motel, I remember. It was fall and the pool was freezing cold and had orange leaves floating in it. Leaves and beetles. This was one of our first road trips. We’d known each other for about a year. I remember that after getting out of the pool, we went back to the room and I took a hot shower. When I came out, we ended up fooling around on the bed. We stayed in bed for two full days, leaving only at night to get prime rib or spaghetti at the only restaurant in town that served water in glass instead of paper.
Back in Manhattan, I told him one night, “I think I’m in love with you.” We were leaning against the railing of the esplanade at Battery Park City, watching the planes circle in their holding patterns above us. For New Yorkers, planes circling above at night replace stars, in terms of romance.
He turned to face me. “I love you too, Augusten.” Then gently he said, “But I’m not in love with you. I’m sorry about what’s happened between us. It shouldn’t have happened. I should never have let things get sexual, A. And B, I should never have made you feel that we could be anything more than friends. It’s my fault.”
I felt trapped because I did love him, but also now wanted to cause the most massive harm possible. You will love me, I thought. And then it will be too late.
It went on like this for a year. The sex, always intense, fast and hungry. And the friendship. But no romance. I’d go over to his apartment (mine was always too messy for his taste) and he’d make roast chicken or beef stew. I’d watch his hands work: slicing, stirring, grinding pepper. I would watch his hands and think, I love those hands. And all the while, I knew I had to get over him. It didn’t matter why he wasn’t interested in me romantically. Just that he wasn’t.
I started dating. … It was a year later when I finally thought I was over him. When not every song reminded me of him. And I was able to go for entire days without thinking about him on a constant basis. I was able to imagine the possibility of someone else.
One evening he called me from his car and told me to meet him downstairs. It was Friday. Probably I had plans … “You need to come downstairs. Now.”
I climbed into his car and foul mood. “Jesus, what the hell is the matter with you?” I remember asking him. Maybe not those exact words, but close enough. “You have to keep everything in perspective. Nothing is this bad. Your fucking job is just a job. It’s not like you’re HIV-positive.”
But it was. He’d tested positive.
That night, I slept over at his house, holding him, showing him that it didn’t matter to me. I wanted him to know that even if there was no cure, there was hope. The kind of hope that is powerful, because it comes from such need. That was the night he told me that he loved me. That he was in love with me.
But hearing him say it made me feel like he was saying it only because he was afraid. Afraid he’d never get anything better. I made it my mission to fall completely out of love with him, yet be there for him as a friend. That virus was something I just didn’t want anything to do with. And I was angry with him. Furious that I had spent so much energy falling out of love with him, only to have him fall in love with me after he became diagnosed with a fatal disease. Part of me felt deep compassion. And another part felt like, You fucker.
So now we’re friends and I thought I was way past all that crap. But obviously I am not over all that crap. Obviously I am sort of a mess.