Monday, July 14, 2008

Borrowed Time by Paul Monette

In referring to the new list of the 25 best books of the last 25 years, I noticed Borrowed Time by Paul Monette.
Considering how slow I read, I'm impressed at how many of these I've read.
Borrowed Time is an AIDS Memoir, Newsday says:
"BORROWED TIME brings the plague years home as no other book does. It is impossible to read this love story without weeping... Monette keeps us glued to the page. His narrative combines passion's fire and rage's ice. And the effect is so over-powering, so emotion-charged that at times we simply have to stop reading."

On page 3, as he first reads the details of the disease in a gay paper in 1982:
"I remember exactly what was going through my mind while I was reading... I was thinking: How is this not me? Trying to find a pattern I was exempt from.... It was them - by which I meant the fast-lane Fire Island crowd, the world of High Eros.
Not us."

On page 6:
"Not that Roger and I were the life of the party. He's managed not to carry away from his adolescence the mark of too much repression, or indeed the yearning to make up for lost time. I was the one in the relationship who suffered from lost time. I was the one who would go after a sexual encounter as if it were an ice cream cone - casual, quick, good-bye."

I really identified with this passage. What marks do I carry from repression? I remember the feeling of making up lost time, of never having a date or a first kiss. And I've never thought about it before, how much does that effect me, even today?
But with this and the inability to be monogamous comes the guilt, the feeling you're the bad one. And to imagine that your casual sex killed the love of your life and is coming for you.... I think I would write a book called Borrowed Time too. Is it better to know? Do you prepare more when you know? Things I think as I read this book.
I remember my friend Shawn had AIDS for years and then died of a heart attack as a result of the HIV medication, and my friend David developped a mental illness as a result of years of drug abuse and jumped out a window. Who was better off? I don't know.

He talks on page 46 of cleaning out the house after a friend with AIDS had visited and of feeling guilty for cleaning, and "it's why I have such an instant radar for the bone-zero terror of others. Those who a year later would not enter our house, would not take food or use the bathroom. Would not hold me."

Page 60:
"Suddenly Craig pulled back the sleeve of his flannel shirt and showed me his arm. "What about this?" he asked. I looked at a small red spot above his wrist, slightly raised, barely a quarter-inch across. "No way," I said. "They're never raised."

I was wrong."

Page 76:
"When the doctors came in - a pair of them, the intern and the pulmonary man - they stayed as close to each other as they could, like puppies. They stood at his bedside, for the new enlightenment demands that a doctor not deliver doom from the foot of the bed, looming like God. The intern spoke: "Mr. Horwitz, we have the results of the bronchoscopy. It does show evidence of pnemocystis in the lungs."

Was there a pause for the world to stop? There must have been, because I remember the crack of silence, Roger staring at the two men. Then he simply shut his eyes, and only I, who was the rest of him, could see how stricken was the stillness in his face.

"We'll begin treatment immediately with Bactrim. You'll need to be here in the hospital for fourteen to twenty-one days. Do you have any questions?"

Roger shoock his head on the pillow. I wanted to kill these two ridiculous young men with the nerdy plastic pen shields in their white-coat pockets. "Could you please leave us alone," I said.

And they tweedled out, relieved to have it over with. I ran around the bed and clutched Roger's hand. "We'll fight it, darling, we'll beat it, I promise. I won't let you die." The sentiments merged as they tumbled out. This is the liturgy of bonding. Mostly we clung together, as if time still had the decency to stop when we were entwined. After all, the whole world was right here in this room. I don't think Roger said anything then. Neither of us cried. It begins in a country beyond tears. Once you have your arms around your friend with his terrible news, your eyes are too shut to cry.

The intern had never once said the word."

Page 104:
"Yes, we'd decided to fight. No, the despair wasn't gone. The two emotions jockeyed in our hearts. You had to be there all the time to know which was dominant in a given hour, a given minute - the clock doesn't parse fine enough to tell how vast and swift the mood swings were. But if you have ever freed someone from pain, you know why it is that a mother can lift a car off her trapped and whimpering child. Give us then the bravado of days when we swore we would bear it, for underneath we were scared as ever, and always pleading silently, Don't let it come again."

Page 219:
"I remember one of the founders of Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York telling Craig how he’d hate to need any of the services he’d created, not because it was demeaning to ask for help but because the issues raised were so awful - lost insurance, lost jobs, evictions, the full gamut of miseries. Roger and I had spent years blithely writing checks to such organizations, and surely there is magic in that as well. One does it in part to cover one’s ass, knocking on wood: Please, not me."

Finally, page 258:
"Suddenly Roger tilted his head and said, "It’s awfully dark in here. Do you think it’s dark?"
"No," replied John in an ashen voice, feeling, as he told me later, a terrible sense of dread.
I woke up shortly thereafter, and Roger told me - without a lot of panic, almost puzzled - that his vision seemed to be losing light and detail. I called Dell Steadman and made an emergency appointment, and I remember driving down the freeway, grilling Rog about what he could see. It seemed to be less and less by the minute. He could barely sere the cars going by in the adjacent lanes. Twenty minutes later we were in Dell’s office, and with all the urgent haste to get there we didn’t really stop to reconnoitre till we were sitting in the examining room. I asked the same question - what could he see? - and now Roger was getting more upset the more his vision darkened. I picked up the phone to call Jaimee, and by the time she answered the phone in Chicago he was blind. Total blackness, in just two hours.
He didn’t cry out, not then. He was too staggered to howl like Lear, and all I remember is a whimpered "Oh," repeated over and over. Then Dell came in and examined the eye and said as calmly as he could that indeed the retina had detached. As the two of us chocked on nothingness, he put in a swift call to Krieger, and they talked about scheduling an immediate reattachment. Dell had nineteen other patients waiting, and there was nothing else he could do. He said he was sorry and left, looking helpless. We sat there stunned, clinging to each other’s hands. I think I tried to pull out of it and focus on the operation, but neither of us could think at all as we tottered forth from the suite, me leading my friend as he groped a hand in front of him. The nurses faces were tight with pain.
I don’t know what we said to each other. I think we just numbly went forward - I had to hold him close and lead him down into the parking garage, then somehow get us home safe through the murderous Friday traffic. I made consoling noises, but they made no sense. When we got back to the house I settled him in the bedroom that two hours before he could still see. The nurse tried to make him comfortable, but still that frail and broken "Oh" was all he could say. I called people for him - his parents, mine, I don’t remember who - and at last he let the cry tear loose. "I’m blind," he wailed as he clutched the phone, again and again, to everyone we called.
None of the meaningless, unsolicited consolation that people have murmured since then - about the logic of things and desirelessness and higher powers - will ever mute a decibel of that wail of loss."

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