In memory of a friend

The loss of my brother was not the first serious loss in my life. In fact, I lost someone who was much like a brother when I was about 21–he was a year younger than me and he died of AIDS—it was 1987—long before the advent of protease inhibitors. We grew up together in a suburban neighborhood and he was my younger brothers best friend. Kyle lived with us for several months at one time when his parents got a divorce. I loved him furiously. He was like a third brother. I sometimes fantasized marrying him–but the love I felt was actually fiercely platonic. I just wanted him in my life with a passion because he was so wonderful but we went off to different colleges and I didn’t see him much after that.

The last time I saw him he had returned to our small backward town and I couldn’t imagine why. He was living with his father and doing art. The art part was good, but living in a backward little town I just couldn’t get. I was visiting him. It turned out he was sick but didn’t tell me. We talked for hours that day about death and dying and when I left he said to me, “Gosh, I had no idea you were so cool—I always thought of you as my best friends pain in the neck older sister.” We were just beginning to move past the energy of our youth. I don’t remember clearly what I said that day, but I hope in our youthful philosophizing about death I said something that comforted him and I imagine since I parted with him telling me how cool I was that perhaps I made a small difference to him that day.

A few months later, I was in town again and I called him and asked him to join me out that night. He told me no he had a cold. I said, “oh, well then I’ll come see you.” He refused to let me come see him and I was very confused and hurt. I didn’t know he was on his deathbed.

A month or so later I got the news that he was dead. That he had had AIDS. I was devastated. And angry. Why in hell didn’t he tell me so that I could see him, hug him, be with him when he died. I was furious. How could he not know that I would only embrace his homosexuality. I was angry, but of more significance I knew, too that the process of his death, in telling no one but his family (the men of which treated him badly) had been terribly and painfully lonely and bereft. Oh, God, if only I could’ve been there. My heart was profoundly broken.

At his funeral I was struck with an idea. I would do something for the HIV/AIDS community. I didn’t know what at that point but I would do something. That something changed my life.

About six months later I volunteered for an AIDS hospice. I was going to give someone else the love and comfort I was unable to give my friend in the name of my friend. I did that many times over for the next two years. Being with the dying at that time in my life brought me a bizarre kind of joy. Kyle’s spirit was with me.

I went on, with that work experience to become a social worker at the AIDS Foundation. Kyle had found me my career–I had been completely directionless and pretty much fighting for my life since psychiatry had inappropriately labeled me ill…in and out of the hospital for those couple of years, getting no appropriate care. What happened to Kyle grounded me and found me a job which I was very dedicated to. I worked in HIV/AIDS for another 4 years. I remained a social worker until I went out on disability–disabled by the psychiatric medications, 4 years ago.

Kyle still visits me in my dreams regularly. He’s healthy and glowing and he’s recovered from AIDS.

My older brother visited me for the first time a couple of weeks ago. He was looking for the afterlife and I had to drive him to the airport to get there. Yes, rather symbolic, but I’m not sure what it means.

I hope that in time my brothers death brings to me a whole new life, just as Kyle’s did.

About Monica Cassani

Author/Editor Beyond Meds: Everything Matters

2 Responses

  1. People don’t know what to say, no. Joy and happiness are accepted, a little anger too, to a certain extent, but grief and sadness…

    Lots of people I know have problems with emotions, especially the “negative” ones. And especially people who are labelled one or the other thing. Me too, I have huge problems with emotions. They frighten both the shit and, subsequently, the words out of me. That’s why I can write novels, commenting on factual/intellectual stuff, but not a word on emotional things. I’m working on it.

    This is a very beautiful post. Serene, somehow.

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  2. Gianna,

    You have written a wonderful piece about the man you loved and lost. At the time of his death, AIDS was an illness that was shameful and misunderstood. My grandmother died of colon cancer in the seventies, when cancer was the “C” word.

    It seems to me that Kyle discovered the warm, caring and valuable person whilst he was alive. I can only guess that he wanted to spare you, by keeping his diagnoses secret.

    It is an amazing gift that you have. To take such a terrible loss and channel it into love and compassion for others. You have created a legacy in his name, without diminishing his experience.

    Our visions and dreams should not be ignored. There is a real reason why you act as the guide for your brother. Please make sure that you share this gift with yourself.

    I do not understand Ms. Mayes commentary. It was untimely, disrespectful and self-serving. I happen to take meds, but do not see this post in any way pertaining to that subject.

    You wrote a deeply meaningful and heartfelt story of the personal cost of AIDS. I was touched and moved. My prayers are with you and the ones who walk within the Divine Light.

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