August 6, 2008

Crossroads: How I Got Here

In his comment on Blue Ridge Blog, part two, Paul asked me a number of questions that got me thinking. I’m going to do my best to answer how I got here, where I am now, and where I’m going.

Late in 1995, my family learned that my older brother David (his real name) was HIV+. We learned at the same time that he was fighting lymphoma. We were reeling from this news when, in a matter of only a few weeks, David was hospitalized with dementia and released to a hospice care center.

Apparently he’d been diagnosed positive in 1984 and never said a word. For that matter, he’d never come out to us, his family, although it was hardly a secret. (It was the elephant in the room whenever we were together.) As I began regular visits to Atlanta every three weeks to see him at Haven House, I got to meet a number of his friends. I had long, honest talks with them as we processed our progressive grief. I learned that David was afraid of being abandoned by his family and so lived as though he’d already been rejected, making rare and brief tension-filled visits over the years. His friends confessed that David was especially afraid of me because I am a Christian. I had come to my faith late—age 30—and it joined me to the world for the first time. But that which had given me a sense of connection separated me from my brother.

I was determined that David know he was not alone. Many times in my visits, he did not recognize me. Other times he did, but conversation between us—strangers, really—did not flow easily. He wanted to pretend that he was going to go home soon, and that fiction prevented us from talking about the important things. But there came a moment when the door opened to really talk, and I stepped through. I told David that we’d known he was gay since high school. We knew and didn’t care who he loved; we loved him.

I wish you could have seen the change that happened literally before my eyes: David’s body went fluid as he relaxed and his smile reached his eyes. He became a man I had never seen before: loving, open, and content. We had three months—five more visits— together before he died in May 1996, a week before he would have turned 49.

I returned home from his funeral in a depression that took almost a year to lift. As was my way at the time, I responded to the pain by hiding inside myself. But my anger at the injustice that had cost me a relationship with my brother festered for a long time. It would be many years before I realized I could help to perhaps stop that schism from happening in other families.

Next: Where I Am Now


David said...

Oh, I am very much looking forward to reading the next chapter of this!

Paul said...

Thanks for sharing. I had no idea how personal your connection is. I'm sorry to hear of your brother's passing. A incredible number of people have been brought out of the closet and have been subjected to unbelievable hate because of HIV. Your brother was very fortunate to have you there.
I look forward to hearing more, on your own time.

Greg said...

Thank you for sharing, Birdie. I'm sorry to hear that your "good times" with David were so brief, but glad you had that connection before it was too late.

bigislandjeepguy said...

thank you for sharing this. i, too, look forward to the continuation.

Sooo-this-is-me said...

I am also glad you were able to let him know you always loved him. At least it would give him some sense of peace.

Doralong said...

I am so deeply sorry for the loss of your brother. Making a true connection as adult siblings can be hard enough without what you both had to go through. But I know that having you there genuinely in the moment and just loving him as your brother was a comfort and eased his passing.

Peace and blssings upon yu and yours-

Anonymous said...

Birdie, I'm running around so hard right now, but I just wanted to drop by and say that I know it was a hundred years ago when you dropped the hint, but OF COURSE!!! you are welcome on my blog. I hope you didn't even have a moment of wonder about that. Thank you for your concern and consideration.

Indigo said...

Indigo Incarnates

I am so sorry that your brother died. I'm glad that he was able to learn that you loved him before he died. It was hard for me to come out of the closet to my mom, and it strained things for a few years since she was an avowed Catholic at the time.

She's chucked fundamentalism since then and is exploring Wicca.

Dantallion said...

This is a remarkable and incredibly moving post. Thank you for giving us this glimpse into your experience. Some of the themes you touch on are particularly poignant to me personally, and I look forward to reading about what came next.

Bear Me Out said...

I am very touched by your story. So said, yet with grace.

I dream of a community of love (I know that sounds "sappy" but I mean it). Though still a dream, these words express the Truth if not yet the reality.

A line from a hymn by Brian Wren: "When Christ breaks bread and bids us share, each proud division ends. That Love that made us, makes us one, and strangers now are friends."

Father Tony of the Farmboyz said...

That explains everything.
I hope you can see how good and powerful can sometimes come from tragic.