When I was in college, I had my share of unusual roommates. One would sleepwalk on the first night I found him in the dark with bended knees and swinging his arms back and forth. He was talking out loud ‘Let us see who could jump the longest’.” He then jumped a millimeter in the air and proclaimed triumphantly, ‘I won. I won.’ Then he crawled back in bed and slept the rest oof the night. The next night I woke with him banging on the door screaming, ‘Fire, Fire.” I woke up fast and looked all around the room and there was no fire to be seen and I realized he was sleepwalking again. When I confronted him the next day, he confidently stated he did not sleepwalk. In awake life we did not get along. I thought he was a bit weird, and he appeared to hold me in disdain. Between the awake dislike of each other and his sleepwalking I looked for another roommate.
My second roommate was a drum player who every time we were alone, he needed to wrestle. I was stronger and quicker and always won but he would provoke me to no end until I would subdue him. But as soon as I would let him up, he would come after me again. Years later (Yes years later I am a little slow on the uptake) upon reflection I have concluded it was serving some homoerotic purpose for him.
But the roommate who was the most memorable introduced himself as Sherwood Tidwell from Wadley, Alabama. Sherwood had never been away from home overnight without his mother. Whenever he was upset at something someone said or did, he would say in his almost lisp how waffle. The words that would upset him were any curse words. So of course, some chose to rib him with specially selected curse word laden conversations. Everyone loved to see the tizzy he would throw. Pacing back and forth and with the eventual how waffle. Because I was the resident assistant, he expected me to censor his hallmates. But he lost me when someone said damn in his presence and he became a nervous wreck demanding the death penalty for such a heinous crime.
He was upset by sexual language. Need I remind you that this was a hall of college men. Whenever I would ask his floor mates to lighten up, they would explain it was for his own good. And I realized they were sincere, maybe wrongly so, but heartfelt. They always included him in any of their games and shenanigans. Though, sometimes his easy offense drove them crazy.
He was meticulously clean. Always wearing khaki pants and a button-down shirt with penny loafers. He would also incessantly wash his hands six or eight times a day for at least five minutes. When I questioned him about his handwashing, he said he had oily skin. Which he did so I no longer question his dorm behavior His bed was always made and the sheets always clean. He took showers at least twice a day. The floor shared a locker room style shower room. He always went in the shower stall entirely dressed and left the shower stall entirely dressed.
Regretfully, he made the perfect target for bullying. They would hang naked pictures of women on the hall door and our room door. And he could not enter the hall or his room. I would find him sitting on the hallway stairs when I would return to the room. He would explain to me the horribleness of the pictures. When I asked him why he did not tear them down. He would explain to me he could not touch them. I guess they would pollute his body. Apparently, he thought my body was beyond polluting as he asked me to tear them down for him. I try to convince him if they saw him tear them down, they would be unlikely to put more up. But he would pace back and forth on the landing saying he could not touch them and would I please remove them. So, I relented and taped them to the door of the person most likely to have posted them in the first place. Then as the resident assistant for the hall wrote him a note that nude pictures on his door was against the rule. That seemed to stop that harassment.
Every night he would call his mother always at the same time. The conversations could last for over thirty minutes. Every Friday he would head home for the weekend. This would upset some when suddenly he would have to stop in a middle of a card game to call his mother. The other players would insist that he finish the game before he called but he never could which would bring an assault of some cursing and him exclaiming how waffle.
The residents of the hall had decided that Sherwood needed to stay at the dorm for a weekend. They began to prod Sherwood to stay. They even resorted to bribery. A free meal out and no curse words for the weekend. But Sherwood was not going to stay. It had been over a year and still he had never stayed a weekend. One day they inquired from Sherwood what he was going to do that weekend. He said study. They insisted he could do that here. Because he was struggling, one of the other pharmacy students offered to help him study over the weekend if he stayed. I could see the storm developing but knew I could not stop it. A Friday came and Sherwood was in a panic he could not find his car, car keys, or suitcase. He was pacing and shaking his head and washing his hands when I came on the hall. He insisted that I demand his keys from whoever had taken them. I said have you asked for them. He said it was not his job too. When I required of his other hallmates what was going on. They said he needed to promise to stay one weekend on campus and they would ‘find’ his keys. They stated if he came to them in two hours and demanded the keys, they would help him find them. I reported back to him he needed to promise to stay a weekend or wait two hours and demand the keys and they would give them to him. Although he was in a panic to get home, he would not promise to stay a weekend. He was reaching a breaking point. I told him than wait two hours and go ask for them. If they did not at that time ‘find’ them I would start penalizing them. He insisted that he would not ask for them they would give them to him. I agreed this would be good, but I sincerely doubted this would happen. He was now not so much in a panic but a power struggle. I looked at him and shook my head. I was slowly getting curious would panic or his desire to win the power struggle win. I had never seen this side of him before. He was in anguish, but he would neither promise to stay a weekend or ask for the keys. I asked if he wanted to file a formal complaint although he would have to file it with the whole dorm hall. No apparently, he was above that. He liked the guys too much to get them in trouble.
For two hours he was in a total frenzy. I thought he would have to cave. But he waited another hour. Pacing up and down the hall. The guys were tiring of the game. They wanted to start their weekends. To my amazement they were caving. It started with grumblings among his hallmates about whether they should give Sherwood his keys. But the ones with nothing better to do held fast. Sherwood washed his hands and told me a few times they and me were waffle. Another hour passed only two remained. I looked at them and said I would pay for a pizza outing but they would have to find the keys before we left. This picked another one off. Now the contest was between Sherwood and the most harassing member of the hall. Sherwood and he had good times although he was the most vulgar and sent Sherwood rushing down the hall saying how waffle more than once. I had no hope of him caving and to my amazement I did not see Sherwood caving. I was also ready for this standoff to end. I had things to do but could not leave Sherwood. Sherwood looked at me and said I could leave. He would wait. I went down the hall and said he had proven his point (this was six hours later) give him his keys. He looked at me and said he is not really going to cave. I said I did not think so. He looked totally puzzled. I shrugged my shoulders and said surprises are found in everyone. He sighed and said, ‘if he comes to the room I will give them to him.’ I told Sherwood this and he said he needs to bring them to me. I relayed the message to the key holder and said it was time for him to give up the keys. He looked at me and said you are no fun. But because you are making me, I will give them to you. I took the keys and returned them to Sherwood. I detected a smile on the corner of his lips. ‘Thanks Mike’, he said. I laughed inside Sherwood had battled the whole hall and he won, who would have thought this. Sherwood said,’ You know when I am at home I am going to talk to my mother about staying for a weekend.’
My Grandmother Freeman was the ultimate lady. She was always dressed to the tee. Her house never saw a speck of dust much less dirt. No item was ever out of place. She never spoke out of turn or unkind words. She was a Pankey which meant she was tall and lean. She had the best social skills of the day. Her taste while narrow was impeccable. She was every bit the force my Grandfather was. I now realized why she was grandmother and never grandma. Grandma is not quite enough respect for such a proper lady as she.
Holidays and other events could be interesting. She would always fix my favorite cake and I would always wait and see what type of cake my favorite was that year. Red velvet, apple, German chocolate, carrot cakes were my most frequent favorites. Fortunately, I liked all of them. She would with much fanfare cut me a large slice and serve me first. I always lived in fear that one day my favorite would be something I could not stomach but I would still have to eat so as not to hurt her feelings.
When Grandad died she insisted I have as my inheritance a Waterford crystal ash tray my Grandfather used. It was one of his prized possessions. But it was also a reminder of how he died in pain from lung cancer he developed after years of smoking. She gave it to me despite the fact I was an avowed anti-smoker. It was an heirloom that she knew he would want me to have. Today it sits on a bookshelf in my bedroom.
After Grandad died she became a bargain shopper. Bargains were all she could afford on her fixed income. Her favorite place was a local department store called Hammers. She could walk downtown from her apartment to the store. They had bins where they would put clothes that would not sell at offers you could not refuse. And refuse she never did. Now of course she would never admit that she purchased from these bins especially for presents. Yet some of the presents could not have been found anywhere else in America.
So, dozens of socks could be found inside of our meticulously wrapped presents. Many times, the socks would have small defects. Such as the pair did not match. She would have been appalled if she knew this and we would never tell her about it. So, this condition continued until her death.
But one year she out did herself. She was proud of what she had discovered for me. She made it clear to me this would be one of my all-time favorite gifts. Now one would need to be reminded that I was a young man in an age when men were not allowed to venture outside of dark neutral colors in their dress. Gender fluidity was not flowing as a term we would have recognized. One of my shirts was a pale pink shirt. This caused quite the discussion whenever I wore it. I was ahead of my time.
When I opened the gift a verbal gasp or quiet snicker could be heard as everyone witnessed what I withdrew from the unwrapped box. It was a bright oversized purple sweatshirt. After making sure I had not misidentified the object I quickly removed my jaw from the floor. I looked at her to see if I could detect a smile to let me know this was a prank. There was no such smile on her face. I knew what I had to do next, smile the biggest grin of appreciation and eventually before the day was over model it for all to see. This was not a thing you want to do in front of your two brothers. But I did.
The shirt through the years grew on me and I would wear it more frequently especially around the house. It always reminded me of grandmother. And strangely although it was most certainly from the bargain bin of Hammers it never aged. One day my oldest daughter needed to have something to wear around the house and she found my purple sweatshirt and wore it as an oversized pajama top. Slowly through time it became hers. Later my youngest daughter absconded it from her sister and now wears it around the house. It is not faded, thread worn, and has finally found its glorious time in the fashion world.
When I see my daughter wearing it now I am reminded of grandmother. I also smile to myself because I am certain that the shirt will one day be worn by a grandchild and maybe even a great grandchild. Who would have thought that such a thing could become an heirloom. Probably, my grandmother.
Five months later, the spots on my spine are almost gone. This was done through the renown advanced technique of doing nothing and seeing what happens. This medical procedure is more expensive than you may think. The pain I originally felt when I was in the hospital is still here. It appears that I have two ruptured discs in my spine which are pinching my nerve. They blame it on arthritis. I blame it on the doctor’s yachts.
They want to give me a shot in the back to see if the swelling will go down. I said yes to this because the other two alternatives were a back operation or live with the pain. Living with the pain did not seem as painful as the shot, so there you have it. When the doctor took me to the appointment secretary he stated,’ Mr. Freeman would like to be scheduled for a shot in the back” I stated,’ Like is a pretty strong word. ’So, in a little while I will receive the shot and feel better or explore surgery to sand down the spinal bone that is piercing the nerve. My doctor says this is a normal procedure. I think he has a unique ideal of what is normal.
It is time to talk about other things besides my medical problems. I am going to have to think of things to do and places to be so I can liberate my mind from the dullness of illness. One of the things that is taken place without my permission is: while I was ill one of my daughters is graduating from college and wants to move across the country and the other graduates from high school and is moving to college and after college wants to go to culinary school in Singapore. It is as though my illnesses have not slow them down a bit.
It is Spring in Savannah and who can not be mesmerized by the beautiful weather. Savannah also has not slowed down either, the arena is quickly being erected, as is Eastern Wharf, as is two major buildings on Indian street, as is the new federal building on Telfair Square. Now I hear the Savannah Repertory Theater is building/renovating a theater on Broughton Street and the Tybee Marine Science Center’s new building is completed. I feel a little like Rip Van Winkle except I have had my eyes wide shut. This was all revealed to me as I took a drive around Savannah and to Tybee Island.
Meanwhile, as the world turns my vertigo is back. But that is okay, I see a light albeit a swirling light at the end of the tunnel. I am feeling the most energetic I have felt in the last three years. I am ready for the world. Oh, I forgot we are living in a Covid-19 pandemic. The world is not ready for me quite yet. But, then again, my wife says the world is never ready for me.
The MRI had shown lesions on my spine the Neurologists had apologized and suddenly I was overcome with every type of doctor known to humanity. Even my cancer doctor had made his way to my door. But instead of his self-confident dry humor he was somber. I liked his other version better. Physical Therapists were now ever present. They even gave me playdough to play with. And now I even had my own Neurosurgeon. The lesions made the hospital allow my wife to visit me once a day now despite Covid-19 rules. The nurses became even more vigilant. One nurse refused to let me out of bed without assistance. I had been roaming freely throughout the room until her. I even had a nurse puncture me with a needle in the stomach once a day. Things were looking up.
The lesions were causing a problem for the doctors. They did not know what to do. Physical therapy was fast assisting me to regain the use of my hand. The stomach puncturing nurse had to be told to desist by me. I had been told by the doctor that I should not be receiving that medicine anymore. My nurse gave me one last shot justifying it to the other nurse by saying he would give me one more shot because it was the ‘Candler way’; whatever the hell that meant.
The doctors were arguing back and forth about my treatment. The Neurosurgeon did not want to operate because of the precarious positioning of the lesion on my spinal cord might cause another neurological issue if he took a biopsy. The cancer doctors said they would not treat until they knew if the lesions were malignant or not. I stood in the middle of this ‘debate’. Finally, if I agreed they would do a spinal tap on me to see if the fluid from my spinal cord would show them what was happening.
Then came the big debate of 2020: what hospital would perform the spinal tap and which would house me after the procedure. This great debate cost me another day in the hospital. I call it my expensive lost day. The next day was in my former life as an AIDS and Homeless advocate known as the day of dumping; Friday. Because hospitals are not as staffed during the weekend and doctors are only on call if possible the hospital will discharge patients to have less people to care for. They decided it was time for me to go home, after my spinal tap.
Now spinal taps are not my thing. In fact, I had never had one before. The doctors seemed confused when I asked them to explain this procedure to me. I thought needles in my spine was a good time to ask questions. They explained the procedure to me and let me explain simply what I gathered from their answer. It was a ‘routine’ procedure with little pain unless you moved the wrong way and then you might have an excruciating headache that might last for a while. I decided I would not even flinch.
The wheelchair came and they pushed me to the ‘spinal tap’ room. There were three women a technician, maybe a nurse, and the one who performed the procedure. All three were chatty and did that flirty thing that women do to make men feel comfortable and not stressed out. Then they told me to take off my shirt lay on my stomach on the cold steel slab and turn my head to the side. They gave me drugs to help me not feel anything. I was not feeling sexy but they continued the chatter. She stuck the needle in the back and told me if I felt any pain down my leg to let them know. Several times I expressed my discomfort being careful the whole time not to flinch. The fluid was not draining so they asked me to tighten my stomach muscles. Still nothing much came. I offered to flinch my stomach muscles again. They joked I was trying to showoff now. I laid on the steel slab with a needIe in my back, stating firmly on several occasions I was in pain. No, I have long lost any ability to think I had anything to show off.
The bad news came this puncture was not working and they would have to take this needle out and reinsert a needle lower in my spine to see if they could get enough fluid from there. This did not cause me to flinch a bit. I was determined not to have an excruciating headache. They had to pull my sweatpants down to access my lower spine. This was when the laughter started and the doctor made sure the other nurses got the joke. One of the medical professionals wondered if the nurses had seen it. Which they laughed and said I am sure they have. Now I did not know what was so funny about my butt crack. I was feeling totally humiliated but I did not flinch. After the second puncture they said they had enough fluid.
They told me they would roll me back to my room and I should wait at least an hour before I moved. I thought this is not the most comfortable position to be stuck at for the next hour but I was not going to flinch. So, humiliated by their laughter and unable to move for an hour which I stretched to two hours so as not to have the headache. The whole time laying on my stomach not knowing what the hell was so funny. Eventually, it was time to dress and ready myself to go home.
I started to dress. It was during my change of clothes that I caught what they were laughing at. It was a tradition on my birthday, Father’s Day, and Christmas that my lovely daughters gift me with humorous boxer shorts. I was currently wearing a pair of these. It was underpants covered with money. But the band of the underwear which would have been the only part they would have seen read in big black lettering the word Filthy. I too laughed and slowly my dignity returned.
Finally, I was dumped (I meant discharged). They rolled me downstairs to the car where my wife appeared as though she was glad to have me return home. I wondered what honey-dos she must have for me. No matter my inpatient medical trials were over.
was in the middle of my famous soliloquy. The Neurologist had come by for his daily pay. He did not know and was surprised that I was being released. This was the same man who apologized for ordering a test I already had. But the Neurologist ever useful decided he would go with the flow. He started with a very sympathetic tone as he remarked,’ Well you can go home now to retire and fish and do those things you have always wanted to do. You are lucky.” Something deep inside of me was stirred with his words of ‘compassion’.
I held up my claw of my hand that looked as though I held the skull of Yorick in it. And said I cannot drive or fish with my arm and hand like this. And I relaxed and spoke very slowly, strongly, and firmly so he could understand. My words were delivered as a Shakespearean actor. These are the words as I choose to remember them. My neurologist may disagree. (My apology to Shakespeare)
“Alas, poor Doctor! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at
"To sue, or not to sue: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?"
Something is rotten in Candler. Though this be madness there is no method in it. There are more things in heaven and earth that are dreamt of in your doctoring. “What a piece of work is a doctor! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the
world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is
this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; no,
nor Woman neither; though by your smiling you seem
to think so..”
“Oh, my offence is rank, it smells to heave. I must be cruel only to be kind; thus bad begins, and worse remains behind.”
I concluded with, ’Brevity is the soul of wit.” Since I knew that Shakespeare may be beyond the grasp of his knowledge, I concluded my next action would be up to him.’ The ball is in your court.’
Thirty minutes later a back scan was ordered. The doctor came back after the test and said,’ He was sorry.’ I was staying overnight. He continued, ‘I had not noticed the swelling in your neck. They have found lesions on your spine.’ It was hard to feel triumphant.
Stay tune as my medical trials continued.
Some of you may not know that I have recently been under advanced medical trials. The following is an account of these trials. I was not having a good day and my body did not feel right. I struggled to do my regular routine throughout the day. I was not that alarm because since cancer I do have bad days, but this felt different. That night I did the unforgiveable and skipped book club. I knew the book club would put the bookworm of destruction on me. The destruction took affect that night as it wormed its way unto my shoulder and down my right arm. I woke up the next morning with pain and numbness in my right arm.
I decided to go to the Saturday immediate med care my insurance plan offered. After forcing me to smile, touch my nose with my index finger and other advanced medical technology she (the doctor) said, 'I did not look as though I had had a stroke but to confirm this I would need the nonadvanced technology of machines that look inside of you.' She suggested I go to the emergency room. I looked at her with do you know what you are saying eyes. The ER would be hours of waiting in a too small room filled with sick people. This is your cure? Plus this was in the age of Covid-19 this could risk my very life. 'I know,' she said looking at me, 'but you need to be sure that this has nothing to do with something in your back. You need a MRI and you need it today. Because if it is your back the longer it is not dealt with the worse it will be.'
After returning home and talking with my wife it was decided rather quickly by my wife that I should go but she should not be exposed to the potential virus and she would not wait with me. Besides a day without me might be pleasant ‘so go’ the time alone might do me good. Months afterwards I have concluded the me in the latter sentence was not me but her. So off to the ER I went.
I told every medical professional in the ER my doctor said I should come to the ER to receive a MRI. They all nodded their heads and proceeded to make me touch my nose and smile. I was beginning to think that the smiling was how they delivered a service with a smile: they used mine. I saw two doctors and did similar exercises for both and waited patiently for a MRI. Now a MRI is not something you would be jonesing for like painkillers, but they did not give me one. They sent me home six hours later saying if it does not get better see a doctor.
I went home but the next morning I no longer had any feeling in my arm and my hand was useless. I was not going back to the ER. I decided to use the Teledoc with my insurance company. There is nothing more reassuring than having a doctor with a foreign accent and located in a place where it was anyone's guess make you do the same exercises everyone else had. My smile was definitely forced by now. His words to me was I needed to go back to the emergency room to have an MRI on my back before it was too late. I once again questioned him. He said he knew I must be forceful and demand it. My wife assured me she would be fine at home.
So, it was to the ER I marched armed with two doctors and one ER declaring I did not have a stroke and needed an MRI on my back. I have advocated for my friends and clients in the past bringing nurses to tears and doctors to heel. I was certain I could get an MRI for myself.
Apparently, the MRI techs were a more intimidating lot than me. I would later learn in the middle of the night the doctors were too terrorized to call the tech to come in. They were on call during the weekends and only were available during business hours. A doctor promised if I stayed the night, first thing in the morning they would give me a MRI.
Since I had asked for a test, they proceeded to give me every test evented in the evil hearts of medical engineers: two ultrasounds, CAT screens of my brain, two ultrasounds of my neck and shoulder, X-rays of my neck and shoulder. In fact, they were so gung-ho twice I had to tell them I had already received the test they wanted to do. They even asked me to smile for them. It was difficult now to smile. And as for touching my nose let us say I was a bit touchy about it. But the one thing they did not do was an MRI on my back.
When the neurologist came I felt at last I would receive my MRI. He said we are checking for stroke. Again, I stated to him I needed imaging for my back and that was why I was there. I emphatically emphasized my urgent care and Teladoc had said such and even your ER had released me just yesterday saying they found no evidence of a stroke. When I told the neurologist this, he asked me if either doc was a neurologist. I said I did not think so. He shrugged his shoulders as if to say I do not care what they have to say. I thought these guys were priceless, no really I mean there was no price they were not willing to add to my medical bill.
The weekend and Monday were gone and it was Tuesday morning. My pontificating ‘stroke’ doc who had ordered the multiple tests he wanted and none my original doctors had said I needed, came by. I guess to keep charging me. He assured me things would be fine. I had no feeling in my hand and was no better. He stated he was ready to discharge me. With a sweet smile he said, ‘I should be glad they have eliminated without any doubt stroke was the reason I was having problems.’ This did not bring happiness or a smile to my face although I was thinking about touching his nose with my fist but then again, I could not lift my arm to do such.
He left the room. I was beginning to stroke out. In fact, I think that was their plan. We may not be able to find any evidence of a stroke but if we cause him to have one, we could say ‘just as we thought you are having a stroke. Good thing you are here in the hospital we know how to handle a stroke.’
Stay tuned for the next blog of my medical trials to see if indeed I will receive my MRI.
My wife and I are liberal, and on some things, probably even radical. We grew up in the world of conservatism and can appreciate civil, socially liberal conservatives. But we resent the stereotypes that the Limbaugh’s and other ultra conservatives want to label people like us. I find the ideal of white heterosexual males calling liberals snowflakes nothing more than projection. They are the most whiney bunch I know. I consider the snowflake accusation a ‘remove the beam from your own eye before you talk about the speck in mine’ charge. The other charge that is quite often thrown at liberals are they are consumed by white guilt. Now one could make a strong argument that this would be a natural consequence of our treatment of Native Americans, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, in our country and our historical treatment of other countries such as the Philippines, Cuba, China, Mexico and Puerto Rico to name a few. But we feel quite certain we do not feel any unnecessary guilt as the far right has come accustomed to saying about our ilk.
That was until the incident known as the Great Laundry Lint Controversy of 2019. Did you know that they found plastic in the Arctic. I found this horrifying. But I also wanted to know how this happened. It turns out many scientists say this in large part may be washer and dryer lint. Apparently, because we are not emptying and disposing of our washer and dryer lint filters appropriately the lint washes out into the water systems and eventually ends in the Arctic sometimes.
We were both unaware that the washing machine had a lint filter. I was bemused that I did not know this. My wife said she too was unaware of this. We pledged, as good environmentalist, to do our due diligence to be sure we addressed the washer filter issue, to do our part in preserving the Arctic. We were not ashamed to admit our ignorance but now that we were wiser we would do the right thing. We were so proud of ourselves.
Then it suddenly dawned on me I had not changed the dryer filter in forever. I asked Chris if she had. To which she exclaimed NO! Now we were alarmed. She was at first worried that the dryer was about to overheat and explode. I was ashamed that somehow I had not addressed this issue. What kind of global citizen was I? We compost, recycle, solar dry, eat vegetarian, use things until they die, shop locally, etc. We try not to leave any stone unturned when it comes to saving the environment. And now I realized this was nothing more than a humble brag. We were failing to live up to our lofty ambitions. Of course, we were guilty of other environmental transgressions such as we do not bike or use public transportation enough. But how dare we not empty and dispose of dryer lint appropriately. This would be so simple. We had failed. We would be held guilty in the environmental justice court for gross negligence. As my wife and I shook and lowered our heads in shame, I suddenly achieved enlightenment on the issue. I looked at my wife with a stupid grin and a little relief and said, ’Honey I am just now remembering we do not own a dryer.’ We both looked at each other as we realized all the shame and guilt for the last few minutes were over a non-existent issue. We laughed and moved on quickly because there was nothing to see here.
So maybe liberals do have a little bit of an overblown guilt for things.
Harold was my friend. Not every person would I say this about that entered our doors at the HIV/AIDS home I was working. He came from a small town in South Carolina of less than five thousand people. The poverty ridden black community in the town were proud of him. He had a personality of unlimited wattage that made you love him. He was a proud Marine who had been in combat for our country and volunteered to do good things in his community. He was a former high school athletic and scholar stand-out. But he was also gay and had contracted AIDS.
The town was now talking about his sinful nature and were wary of the disease he carried within him. He felt disappointed in himself that he was now not the solution but in his view the problem. He was one of the black men with so much potential but for whatever reason had failed to carry the dreams of his community forward. At least that is how he pictured it in his mind’s eye when he went to his dark place.
He was different from the other residents because of his military posture and the can do it nature of Marines. But then there was his playful flirting nature that captured hearts. One of the things he did that was counter cultural to a lot of thinking about group homes was when returning from wherever he would come through the door with the words “Honey I’m Home”. Though he did it a thousand times his infectious smile and voice would always lift your spirits. He was the one flirting with everyone especially the ones who were bedridden.
He to the very end tried to keep fit. Which often confused people when he said he was HIV positive. Though he probably never knew it he was the hero of the house. But he was living before the discovery of the drugs that would make early death the inevitable result of AIDS. He became ill.
He would lay bedridden in his room. But this did not keep him down he kept his door open and when anyone who passed by, he would yell something about how fine they looked that day. He would yell through the wall at his neighbor bedridden housemate. He was always accusing her of having men in her room or ‘borrowing’ things from his room. She would smile and if he was not showing her enough attention bang on the wall so he would start his rancor with her. The two of them could barely move but they kept it up to the end.
He always held out hope for a cure which was bound to occur at any moment. I do not know if he really thought it was around the corner, but his talk gave hope to many that yes it was around the corner. Constantly, he talked about what he would do and where he would go when the cure came. But AIDS was relentless in those days. He became too sick for us to take care of him in the home and was hospitalized.
I visited him daily, but it was evident that his time was limited. But even when he would convey to me his disappointment and dark thoughts, he never gave in to them. He appeared to have an endless supply of optimism. He was determined not to die with hopelessness on his lips.
I was scheduled for a short vacation, but Harold was close to the end. I did not want to leave him but in those days if you waited until there was a break in the deaths you would probably never take time off. When I informed him I might be leaving town he laughed at my misgiving and said ‘if you stay you will make me think I am about to die. Why would you do that? He said I may act cocksure, but I do have my fears and do not want any unnecessary help with them.’ He continued I would not want your child to blame me for not enjoying swimming in the lake with his father that would be a horrible thing to take to the grave with you. ‘Besides I promise you I will not die unless I have you right by my side so I can be sure to have the last word in who will win the NBA championship.’
I knew it was all bullshit to make me feel comfortable with leaving but that was his nature. He would be mad and scared if I stayed. I went. The night before I returned; he died. There would never be ‘Honey I’m Home’ spoken in the house again. But these many years later he remains one of my heroes who have taken up home in my heart.
I think I lost a friend today. I did not see an obituary in the paper. We were so intimate at one time. We had eternal moments together and thought nothing could separate us but now apparently, they are gone. I did not see it coming and do not know why it occurred. But they are gone. I feel it.
They were here and now they are gone. I feel the lost. Memories are already fading. Memories are so feeble and anemic. But who needs them. We never remember people as they were only as we wish to remember them. And after a while of this misremembering are they even the same person.
I have asked people around me if they know of anyone I have lost. They only look at me with a strange look and say no. But who is this person I have lost and why do they linger inside of me. I think back to the different people in my life and identify if they are alive or dead. As I do that mixed feelings occur of this presence I once had. They say people do not remember what you say or did but how you made them feel. But my memory of whoever this is made me feel all the emotions. I feel detached from the memories but at the same time I feel every one of them.
I wonder if this memory has been replaced by another memory. Is that memory accurate or the former one? If I knew who they were I could ask a friend which is true. Maybe I am thinking of it too much. Some say if you let your mind rest and think of other things it will eventually come to you.
I remember an Italian restaurant I once patronized I had eggplant parmesan. The pleasure of the moment came flashing back to me but I could not put a face to it. I am feeling so many emotions over this person I have lost. My whole life seems to be blended with this person I have forget. They must have been important to me. Was it my mother or a partner? I cannot find the person in my head. It feels important that I remember. But no one around me seems capable of assisting with this problem.
Someone called out a name to me that jarred emotions and concern as if my being was saying do not forget me. Was that their name, Mr. Walcott? I find myself being wheeled down this familiar corridor. I must have been this way before. The assistant stops to open a door I know. I read the sign next to it Dr. Meeks, Alzheimer Specialist.
I was visiting one of the sister communities of Koinonia Farms where I was volunteering. It was Open Door (sadly it closed in 2018) in Atlanta. I was spending my time learning about how this inner-city community worked. At the time after working in an inner-city community as a Baptist minister for five and a half years, I had a certain All-American look and knew how to not be frightening to normal folk. I was having a good time and living as I had for those years in Louisville with the homeless again. Of course, it was different not being the person in charge. Which I found a comfort in.
I served meals to the homeless, help run the showers available to the homeless a few times a week, I attended worship services, and attended classes to educate volunteers about the homeless and community life. I was in my comfort zone. One of the things both the Open Door and Koinonia did was to work with and support another community, Jubilee Partners (they worked with refugees from around the world). They were all a part of what could be called the Overground Railroad that ran in the eighties to offer hospitality and resettlement for Central American refugees fleeing their governments. The catch was Central American refugees were forbidden by then President Reagan’s law to be in the United States. The hypocrisy of this was Reagan’s support of the hardline leaders in Central American made the country dangerous for the refugees. This was why many fled their countries in the first place.
There had been two gentlemen who had come from Jubilee Farms to stay overnight at the Open Door to fly out of Atlanta to the more friendly confines of Canada. Now the Open Door was to try to ‘smuggle’ these two men aboard the plane for Canada where refugee workers were ready to assist them in settling there. The problem was most if not all of the Open Door community members were known faces at the airport for helping refugees making flights out of the country. Reagan had ordered just this week a more stringent enforcement of his law. The community did not know what might await them at the airport. They were afraid of what would happen to the men if their very recognizable faces were seen there in defiance of the law. They needed a fresh face and idealistic young man who would not appear as a threat. Enter me.
I agreed to take the men. Not because I knew how to speak Spanish or knew my way around the airport. But it was something different. The church I ministered at in Louisville had hosted a couple of times refugees on their way to Canada via the Overground Railroad. At Koinonia I had participated with other members of the community to help survey migrant workers in the various farm fields around Sumter County where Koinonia was located. The surveys were to see how many migrant farmers there were in the area what were their needs and how they were being treated. That was my experience with migrants or refugees.
I was given a five minute ‘how to session’ on what to do and their flight numbers. My biggest worry was how to lead these two men who did not speak English through the biggest airport in America. An airport I had never been in. But early the next morning we were off. I was nervous and apprehensive but determined to help these men get on their plane and impress the Open Door partners. As we walked through the airport security guards seem to be everywhere.
The two men who had mainly been in the safe havens of Jubilee Partners and Open Door were very on edge (an international language I understood). We finally arrived at the airlines ticket and luggage desk. I waited in line as they stayed back. When it was my time I walked as confident as I could to the desk. She smiled and I smiled back. She looked over the ticket information. I was feeling confident until she gave me a quizzical look. You are not Jose are you. I explained he was over there and did not speak English and I was assisting him (this was pre 911). She said she needed to see their identification. I explained they did not have an American ID. Now her ears pricked up. I then proceeded with a letter from the embassy saying they had a special dispensation to fly to Canada. Now the letter was not actually legal but it sounded good. She then stated this was not a usual letter and she would have to call security*. I said that was not necessary but if that was needed go ahead.
I was now using all my charm and white man nonthreatening looks I had to assure her it was okay. It was not working. Now I was worried not so much for myself. I could always plea stupidity but not so much my travelers. I took on my most pious look and voice and said, ‘If the airline did not want mine or their business, I did not need to fly with them’. And with a good huff I turned around and left. I gathered the refugees quickly and trying to convey with my body total indignation at the situation walked away.
It seemed as if we passed hundreds of security guards as we made it back to the car. I drove back to the Open Door by around about route (kidding) not to be followed. I told my story they looked and smiled and asked if I was open to trying again tomorrow. I said warily yes. Afterall I was feeling like a failure.
The next day I learned they had called ex-President Jimmy Carter and he had arrangements to secure their flight for them. Carter was a ‘volunteer’ for Habitat for Humanity’ a program started by Koinonia and was apparently willing to work with the communes. They gave me one of Carter’s assistant’s phone number to use if I had any issues.
This time I walked through the airport as if I was on a mission from a President. I would not let anything stop me this time. I walked up to the desk brimming with confidence ready to take on the system. When they saw the names on their tickets they instantly rolled out the carpet. They had a Spanish speaker on site who interacted with the men and made sure everything was comfortable for them. They were on the plane lickety-split. I through my strong advocacy and force of personality had helped these men get to Canada. Or at least that was what I tell myself and others who were not there.
*If security experts notice something that might not be true of security in that era I apologize. It has been a few years. But the story is true otherwise.