I remember Bill. He was not the first person I knew who died from AIDS, but it is him I remember.
Bill grew up just outside of Prospect, CT and when he could he fled, going to the west coast and getting involved in movie work.
He was as gay as the day is long in mid-summer. And, he got AIDS.
His sister got it all wrong (she was a nurse I came to love as I loved Bill, but she got it wrong).
She thought he had died of AIDS, but when he showed up, fully alive and in Connecticut, she had to take back what she told people.
He started coming to St. John's. He had helpers since his disease was taking a toll on him. Jim and Lou were his helpers. They're both dead now, but not from AIDS. They were lovers from high school on, back when it was the 'love that dare not speak its name". They never had sex with anyone but each other. No AIDS for them.
At first they dropped Bill off in the parking lot and went for breakfast. Later they walked him inside and waited in the hallway for the Eucharist to end. Finally, when he needed more help, they started coming to church with him and became members until they died--Jim first, then Lou.
Evangelism, St. John's way....
Bill was so sophisticated and kind and sweet that all the older women of the parish adopted him as their son. And he was glad to be so adopted. He worried and fretted about them, called them constantly, gave back the affection they gave to him two fold.
I once asked him to speak on AIDS Sunday. I kept waiting for him to give me what he was going to say and he never did. When he got in the pulpit he said something like this: "I have AIDS and am dying slowly. But I want to clear some things up. You can't catch my disease by sharing the communion cup. You can't catch it by hugging me. You can't catch it by kissing me. We could have sex in the right way and you wouldn't catch it...."
At that point I nearly fainted.
He went on, "But I don't want to have sex with you or anybody. I just want you to know I'm safe and won't kill you and that I love you. Abide with me and I will abide with you."
I wept, so did most of the people there. What a gift he gave us. What wisdom, what Gospel he taught us.
When he finally died, it was difficult and drawn out. I'd go see him at the Hospice in Branford and beg him to die. I think he wanted to but just couldn't, not without a knock down, dragged out fight with Death.
At his funeral some friend of his were upstairs fulfilling his wishes. He wanted a little of his ashes put inside each of the white helium balloons that we would release at the end of the Eucharist.
I think he probably knew how difficult it would be to put ashes in balloons. When I went up to check, Bill was scattered all over the room and his friends were both exasperated and laughing like idiots.
"This is his last joke," one of them said, dropping Bill all over the table, the rug, into the ether.
When we released the balloons, the ashes held them down. They floated against the parish house and then rested on the roof for a long time.
We all laughed. He had taught us irony. He had taught us humor. He had taught us to laugh at the ridiculous and painful realities of life.
I love him still.
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