I was completely panicked in the small cell of a bathroom at the G.W. Hospital, where my best friend, Wm. D. Exfield, lay dying. I remember the antiseptic hospital smell and the cold sheen of the stainless steel features.
William got AIDS in the first wave - so early that we called it cat leukemia then. The list of things we didn't know was a very long one.
He looked like Jesus on the cross or like an Auschwitz survivor - like my grandmother on HER deathbed. They all look the same in the end - the starving dead. Especially their faces when there's nothing left but bone and skin.
I had gone to see him at the hospital during the day - when the staff isn't so nice because there are never any visitors then.
They were experimenting on him with drug protocols that made him hallucinate. He pointed across the hall and said, "Do you see them?" (Nothing there.)
The inside of his mouth and nose were a bright blue-green, like a black mambo snake's, like a tree in a swamp. It is very unnerving to see your best friend's insides glow-in-the dark blue-green - a color not known to belong there. Ever.
I used to put lotion on his hands and feet and massage them, just to give him a little loving touch. The nurses and the doctors wore moon suits, so nobody but his lover, Mark, ever touched him, except to stick him with needles and tubes and things. He had been dying for YEARS now, but this was really the end.
After I kissed him and waved good-bye, I could hear him crying as I walked down the hall.
As soon as I turned the corner, I SPRINTED to the bathroom, and, God help me, I stripped and scrubbed my whole body with soap and water and then rinsed and gargled with hydrogen peroxide, which the staff left there in the visitor's bathroom for this purpose.
Spitting and crying, I got dressed and went home.
R.I.P. Wm. D. Exfield - kindest, funniest, smartest guy I have ever known.