Monday, December 29, 2008

You Can Only Go Back in Your Dreams

They say you can never go home again, that once you've left for any extended period of time, home will be an essentially different place when you return. Last night I discovered: in your dreams you can go back again.

I was in Korea. It was winter. I was with my friends and we were planning a trip to Sokcho. An adventurous trek through the icy, imposing mountains. Ending at a small cozy inn near the ocean. Where we cooked food indoors. Slices of beef and pork. Glasses of soju. Laughter. Warmth. In my dream, the light was strangely muted. Melancholy. Reminding me that I was in a dream. And in fact, the distinct feeling I had throughout was one of contentment. Which is an emotion that rarely manifests itself when you're in the moment. It only comes with hindsight.

Tonight I heard there are two ways to be rich. The first is to make a lot of money. The other way is to learn how to be happy with less. To realize that you've got a lot when you're surrounded by friends and family, good food and drink when the world outside is a cold, bitter place.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Withdrawal Symptoms

Giving up smoking was probably one of the hardest things I had to do when I found out that I was HIV+. Seriously, and sadly, there are few friends in this world who can do what a cigarette does: provide companionship, pleasure and understanding all in the scope of a few minutes, and then leave without saying a word. No one in their right mind gives up smoking. The only way to account for some people kicking the habit is that we all get a lot crazier as we get older. Crankier. Lonelier.

If I didn't know it before, I know it now: that serious sickness and withdrawal go hand in hand. My father, who had been clamoring to leave the hospital the first two days he was there, no longer wants to leave the hospital. He does not want to watch the Jets game on Sunday, even though their whole season depends on it. He refuses to talk to me about the Australian Open this January. He is perfectly content to lay in his bed with the lights off and the curtains closed. I, of course, am not. So I berated him. And told him to get up and sit in a chair. And then take a walk around the hospital floor. And brush his teeth. And shave. Which he eventually did. I am not ready for my father's Withdrawal.

It was seven months before I was brave enough to face the world after I found out I was HIV+ in 2004. As of late, I find myself wanting to shut out the world again. It's a crappy world to be sure, with flecks of happiness scattered in a mosaic of general miserableness. Why can't it be the other way around? Why can't the evening news be 90% good news and 10% bad news? Why is ours a culture so obsessed with negativity? Would a news channel that reported 90% good news be a financially viable vehicle? Can human beings exist as a primarily happy creature? I wish we all had the courage to find out.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sitting With Dad

The good news came early yesterday. Dad does not have cancer. You never know what good news is until you hear the words: he does not have cancer. What he did have was a serious liver infection that required minor, yet still painful, surgery. And further tests on his gall bladder. And weeks of antibiotic treatments that will leave him much weakened. I sat with him for 16 hours in the hospital as he drifted in and out of consciousness, holding his hand, the one that held the wedding band of white gold. The wedding band that he had never removed for over forty years. The one the doctor made him remove while he had the surgery. I was surprised to learn that it could come off. I had always thought it looked rather painful, appearing ingrown onto his finger.

When I was five, I had my first real Christmas. It was Dec. 24. My brother and I were allowed to stay up until midnight. That's when Santa would appear and bring us our presents. But we didn't have a chimney so I wondered where he was going to come from. We soon had our answer: he was coming up the stairs from the basement. The sound of those heavy footsteps coming up the stairs was making my heart burst with anticipation and excitement. And there he was. Santa. When you're five, and going through Christmas for the first time, I guess it's easy to forget that Dad isn't anywhere in the room. And you believe the story your Mom makes up that he's working late.

My brother and I sat on Santa's lap for all the obligatory pictures. Years and years later, my Mom would tell me that I kept feeling Santa's hand. The one with the white gold wedding band. That I kept looking at that damn ring that was going to blow Santa's cover. She couldn't help feeling nervous and upset at the same time. How could Dad have forgotten to take off that wedding band? Was I going to suddenly burst out, "You're not Santa! You're Dad!" Well, not that Christmas. And not the next one either. And then of course, my brother and I grew up and there was no fooling us anymore.

Last night in the hospital, as I held Dad's hand again after 33 years, feeling his wedding band, I no longer wondered who he was. I only wondered how 33 years had gone by so terrifyingly quickly. And how another 33 years would go by equally quickly. If I was lucky enough to be around for another 33 years.

Merry Christmas and great thanks to all who have been readers of this blog. Be happy, be well. Live in the present. My wish this season is that everyone will have a ring to hold on to in 33 years.

Friday, December 19, 2008


When I first learned I was HIV+, I visited a clinic once a month for blood work and counseling. Having just been deported from Korea, having lost my friends, job and relatives, those monthly visits provided comfort and security, and most importantly, a schedule. They gave me something to look forward to. And someone to talk to. The clinic has a number of doctors--I only have to go twice a year now--but my favorite was an Indian woman who found a way to talk to me about so many other things besides HIV. Family. Literature. Life in New York City. But on one visit we had a sobering discussion about HIV. But she was still encouraging. Telling me that HIV was manageable (which it really has turned out to be.) Not unpredictable like cancer. That if she had to choose between HIV and cancer, she would choose to be HIV+. I tried to smile.

Today I cried. My dad is in the hospital. The doctors think he may have stomach cancer. My aunt died of stomach cancer this past fall. It was a slow, painful death. Her final days were marked by dosages of morphine. Life is just so full of sadness. And unpredictability. Dad's birthday is in a few days, and this is really not how we had planned to celebrate.

Before I left him at the hospital tonight, I leaned down to give him a hug. He couldn't lift his arms. So he reached up his lips and kissed me. I love you Dad.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

All I Want for Christmas...

How are we supposed to go about living in such a bankrupt world? Why do I want to join the kids in Greece who are rioting their brains out because the world is such a pile of shit? If anyone is reading this, here's my list of Top 10 Things I Want for Christmas:

1. Someone to burn down the house of Merrill Lynch's CEO John Thain who asked for (and was turned down by the Board) a $10 million bonus for safely leading his company into financial oblivion.

2. Someone to bash in Illinois governor Blagojevich's head, effectively removing his genes from the gene pool of humanity.

3. Someone to buy Jesse Jackson, Jr. a billion clues when it comes to buying Senate seats on the black market from sociopathic Illinois governors, and then bust his ass into prison.

4. Someone to blow up Bank of America's headquarters, specifically the billions of dollars that they got in bailout money that is just sitting in their vaults and not helping Joe Factory Worker.

5. Someone to obliterate Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and save him the cost of a trip to hell where 99% of his citizens are now living.

6. Someone to banish AIG to a black hole in a galaxy far, far away, but not before forcing it to cough up the $200 billion in loan money it got from the federal government so their top executives could have facials at a California spa.

7. A lawyer in California to befriend that Korean man in San Diego whose wife, mother and two daughters were killed when a US military plane crashed into his house, and get him a billion dollar settlement from the money we'd get back from AIG.

8 and 9. I can do without if I could just have 10!

10. Have the world agree that January 20, 2009 can be tomorrow, the same day that Texas is thrown out of the United States for producing the worst leader in the history of the universe.