Recently, a friend from my past has been much on my mind. Actually, he was more of an acquaintance than a friend, although I would have cherished being a part of his inner circle. He was a year older than I and touched my life only tangentially. If I am brutally honest, I likely removed myself as a candidate for close friendship because of fear. You see, Tony was quite comfortable living as a gay. Being a homosexual in those days and in that locale was potentially dangerous. He could be quite fey when he wanted, but mostly he appeared like everyone else on campus. Today I regret allowing my fear to deprive me of what could have been a treasured friendship.
I remember – probably imperfectly – the long, slow destruction of that vital human being from what was then a largely mysterious and terribly shameful disease. One that was spoken of in whispers or from behind hands: AIDS.
I don’t know why he’s been on my mind of late, but it prompted me to drag out what I call a “mood piece” I wrote after his death. I’d like to share it with you.
WITHERED ON THE VINE
Blinding sunlight hidden by cloud-capped tempests. A slender sapling prematurely gnarled by drought. A smooth, young melon rotted from within … withered on the vine. You’ve seen them all. Of course, you have.
A bright future never realized. A quick, mischievous mind laid waste. Wiry swimmer’s muscles emaciated and atrophied. Tanned, silken flesh suppurated and splotchy. An indomitable spirit piteously eroded. You’ve seen them all? Then you must have known my beautiful Tony, felled by the poison whose name is whispered in fearful awe.
He was as incandescent as that golden sunbeam, as tenacious as the maturing oak, as sound as a prospering gourd. Joyful, flirtatious, puckish, engorged on sweet temper, sated by gentle good will, he shambled through life handsome and desirable, reconciled to being different from his fellows. Too late, he put aside promiscuity born of lively curiosity and turned to steadfast fidelity. The hateful venom had been ingested. Invaded from within, he began his long, horrid, inevitable diminuendo.
Struck down by God for abominable sin, the self-righteous proclaimed. Nay, the libertines decried, there is no God. How could an Almighty permit the destruction of such perfection?
They are wrong … all of them, their certain knowledge as corrupted as my friend’s shriveled frame at the apodosis. Fair Tony was no vexation; rather he was faultless splendor. No God of my acquaintance could be offended by his genial attendance. Challenged, perhaps. Unsettled, maybe. Enchanted … absolutely.
But if there is no God, then a terrible tragedy becomes a meaningless, insufferable, interminable catastrophe. If He does not exist, then who will pluck that unique, harmonious soul from the wretched human detritus left behind?
Such horror must not be the end; cannot be the ultimate Omega.
I cannot hope, as I usually do, that you enjoyed the reading. Rather, I ask that it engender thoughtful consideration of the human condition. And perhaps, a prayer for the repose of the soul of Tony and the multitude like him. Please give me your feedback on email@example.com.
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