On a more serious note, I was reading "When AIDS Was New", written for The Week. "In the epidemics early days, Bill Hayes asked a lost generation to create a time capsule. He's just opened it." In the capsule, over five hundred messages were left for the future generations, some warnings to act early, others poignant and heartbreaking stories of loss, suffering, and loneliness for their survivors.
As a person who cared for a loved one who lost his life due to AIDS, this article obviously struck a chord. For the last three months of Don's life, I was responsible for administering a three hour I.V. twice a day, oh yes, there were needles, eye drops three times a day, not to mention the dreaded pill cocktail, that to this day, I don't fully understand which pill masked what symptom. It would've been tolerable, for me, had the medications not been coupled with dementia.
Don was an accomplished cook, a fan of the arts and European history, and blessed with an amazing tenor voice--I'd give anything to hear him sing Danny Boy again. To watch the slow deterioration of this larger than life person to a shell of his former self, physically and mentally, was frustrating and heartbreaking. Frustrating because I could do nothing about his death sentence other than continue to pump him full of toxic medications to "keep him comfortable." Heartbreaking because he really had no idea who was caring for him. I was called: Scott, his ungrateful son who skipped the country to serve an LDS mission in Russia rather than care for his own father, yup, still bitter about that one; Roger, my Godfather and Don's partner of twenty-three years who preceded him in death; Mom; Aunt Nellie; the list went on and on. I remember thinking, "Eventually, he's going to wake up and realize who I am, right?" Part of me wanted to shake him and say "I know you're in there somewhere. Will the real Don please stand up?"
As the summer progressed, and his health deteriorated further, I began to realize it created less conflict if I just lived in his world for a few minutes, pacify him so he'd go back to sleep, stopping the ramblings. I tried to set him straight one afternoon. You should've seen the look on his face when I announced, out of frustration more than anything, "You retired from American Airlines two years ago. You live in Salt Lake City. Scott is serving an LDS mission in Russia. Your mother passed away in 1976." I was about to add, "And my name is Jamie!", but thought better of it. He looked hurt, visibly shaken and most memorably, angry. He was convinced I was lying to him. Funny, pacifying him required me to lie. The truth, in this case, most certainly did not set him or me free. Maybe I secretly hoped I'd be able to reset his brain, much like resetting computer. Needless to say, it didn't work. I resigned myself to the fact that the Don, whom I knew and loved, had checked out and wouldn't be back. . . ever. This is a sad realization for a twenty-two year old to absorb. Don, a prisoner of his mind and body-- Jamie, a prisoner in a lavishly posh condo across the street from the Capitol building.
When the summer ended, I collected the promised school tuition, packed my bags and got he hell out of Utah. I found myself ill-equipped to cope with my peers. Somehow beer, parties and sexual encounters didn't make my priority list. They seemed so immature to me and I just couldn't relate to them any longer. I was forever changed, and they didn't understand the change. Two weeks later, I received a phone call saying it was time to come and say good-byes. Part of me resisted because after all, "I'd done my time." "Jamie, he's asking for YOU." Yeah right, I thought. Who am I today? Roger, Scott, Carmen, Nellie?
Begrudgingly, I drove the two and half hours to his place, and went into his room. The overwhelming relief in his eyes said more than any jumbled words he had for me, "Jamie! I've been so worried about you. You just disappeared. How was your operation?" Well, at least he finally got my name right. I hadn't been in any car accident, nor had I been in surgery. I bent down and gently kissed his forehead and began to tell him about my studies in genre class at college until he fell asleep. Don passed away two days later.
Although Don was taken from me far too early, he did leave me a capsule-- its contents include: a love of art, music, poetry, cooking and above all else, a clear understanding of the difference between selfless and selfish. Rest in peace Don. I know you're always with me.