Goodbye, New York

You've contracted the virus. It goes to show that you don't know your partners as well as you thought. You should be mad, but, like Aristotle says, it's impossible to be angry when you're terrified. The fear will pass, but for now you live inside it.

You move back to Vermont, Rum Ridge, the street of seven houses where you grew up with your grandmother, and you sit on the front steps smoking cigarettes. You've taken it up again. Why not.

You have cocktails of drugs. The virus hasn't affected you yet—much. It will. You'll die. That's one sure thing. You can prolong it, but for how long?

- - -

There's Mr. Greeley, the guy who knew your father, working on his blocked Mustang.

"Hey," you say.

"Hey," he says back. "I heard about your, uh, troubles."

You nod and keep walking toward the college. You have nothing to do. Neither does Greeley.

"You want an ice tea?" he says.

"No sir."

"Your father was a good man," he says. "A good man and a real man."

You nod and keep walking toward the college.

- - -

New York City. It's a typical story. Gay rural kid in the Big Apple. A spate of excess that should have settled into something calmer, a new acceptance, a comfort level, a life. Instead, a fatal mistake.

It seems inevitable, but still you feel like an asshole.

- - -

Three college girls in front of the Grand Union collect money for someone's medical expenses. Leukemia. You drop in three dollars. There's a pie there and you buy a slice for another three dollars. The sun is shining. You feel like throwing up, but you eat the pie and smile at the girls and everything is right in the world.

- - -

On Sunday, there's church. Who says God is passe? When you're dying you'll take what you can get. Come to me my lambs etcetera. People look at you. They know. Some of them are from your street. They shake hands with you but run to the bathroom right afterwards. Or they use antibacterial gel. You like the smell of pews. You cry.

- - -

The anger comes in fits when the fear fades briefly. What kind of asshole would do this to another human being? Which one was it? You see assholes in your sleep—pink puckered holes gaping open. Why did you do it? You don't like anyone here, not that way. You see no one but your grandmother and the people on the street. Strangers you don't know.

- - -

"If you'd listened to me," your grandmother says. She is Archie Bunker, a bigot with a big heart. "If you'd listened to me this never would have happened." She cries. You play Scrabble with her. Checkers. Gin rummy. She's always losing on purpose.

- - -

"Hey," the voice on the other end says. You sense NYC through the receiver. Big bustle, expanded horizons, mash of souls. "I miss you."

"Yeah?" you say.

You wonder why anybody ever thought sex was a good idea. Pleasure? The tip of your penis hurts thinking about it. You haven't had an erection in months, years it seems. The medication?

"I don't miss anything," you say.

"I'm coming up," he says.

- - -

They look at one gay man, they look at two gay men. They hate with their eyeballs. It's a backwards world up here. Modern sensibility has dented the college but not the outlying rural area. The cradle of your civilization.

"This is it," you say.

"I can't believe you grew up here," he says. "In this."

You get an action movie, curl on the sofa. Your grandmother sneers but forgets you're there. He feels you under the blanket. Your arm, your chest, your wrist. His fingers, calipers. Everything is getting smaller. But slowly. They've learned to draw death out, to make it incremental. Sometimes you don't even know you're dying.

- - -

Sometimes you're not dying but living and you want to leave the little town.

You take a bus to Burlington and haunt used bookstores, record stores, coffee shops. You listen to music. You feel good about things. You want people.

- - -

What did he say when he left? That he would call you? That he would come back? Your memory is going. You begin to hike the Long Trail. At first you grow stronger and make it farther up the mountain, then weaker, only halfway up, then stronger again.

- - -

"Your father would hate this," Greeley says. Does he mean you, or does he mean your dying?

"I'm not too fond of it myself."

Greeley is working on the engine of the Mustang. It's been fifteen years and he hasn't finished working on it.

He never will.

"Your father was a real man," Greeley says. He's had too much to drink. You're dizzy from drugs. You could fight him now, knock him down on the driveway and pound him. You'd stand a chance. "He never was much for the city," he says. "And now look what the city's done to his boy."

Greeley shakes his big head.

- - -

You walk around a lot, bored, and remember doing the same thing as a kid. You should find a hobby. Baseball cards or comic books. You've taken a shine to Tom Jones and buy his old albums in Burlington just for the covers. It's sad and crazy.

- - -

"Hey," the voice from New York City says. Manhattan. The Village. What you know about New York City is what anybody knows about New York City. You weren't there long enough to absorb it. It eluded you. It killed you. It didn't kill you, you killed yourself. Excess. Invincible youth.

- - -

Dying takes way longer than you thought. There's even a chance you won't die. Remission. You don't follow the terms and the research. It's not interesting to you. But you know there's a chance. You should get a Master's. You should travel to Europe. You should make new friends. You should move.

- - -

Your grandmother looks at you lying on the bed under a heap of covers.

"Of course you'd have problems, with your parents dead," she says quietly. "But I did what I could."

She thinks you're sleeping. After a while you are.

- - -

Access to the drugs is not easy up here—although Vermont is better than most other states. Easier in the city. Easier still in California. You imagine sun and sand and long waits in doctors offices with other dying men.

"What do you think," you say, to New York City. "Are you up for it?"

About the author:

Jamey Gallagher lives in South Jersey.