Mourning Has Broken: Remembering My Friend Matt on World AIDS Day 2017

Written by Shane Smith, Editor, Stonewall Gazette


Today, on World AIDS Day 2017, I am thinking of my late friend Matt and I'm reminded of lyrics from the hymn "Morning Has Broken" a song which was made popular in the early 1970's by singer-songwriter Cat Stevens. The first line of the song is:
Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
The song has been playing in my head for a couple of days now since I read Hank Trout's recent article, Kintsugi: A Survivor’s Reflection on World AIDS Day 2017. In the piece Hank explains how the Japanese mend broken objects by filling in the cracks with gold. The gold emphasizes the many broken pieces.



Hank writes:
They believe that when something has suffered damage and has history, it becomes more beautiful than before. 
This is kintsugi, the art of “fixing with gold.”
The other night I tried to read aloud Kintsugi: A Survivor’s Reflection on World AIDS Day 2017 to my husband but burst into tears and could not. It moved me so. Learning to live again after the death of loved ones from the scourge of AIDS will always be a work in progress for me.



REMEMBERING MATT

I met Matt when I began working at a little cafe. Fresh out of high school we had both moved to the big city from our small towns. The cafe was the place we both worked. It would be the hangout for us and our new gay friends. Very few of us were out to our families let alone employers. Back then to be a gay man was to lead a very lonely life.

For my friends and I the societal isolation was alleviated only because somehow we had found each other. It was Matt who kept our little group going. He was the one who would decide which clubs we would go to or places to eat. Matt knew how to keep us safe from police who would harass "the fags" and for a brief moment in time it felt like Matt would be in my life forever.

THE DARKNESS

In a dance club called OZ, I fell in love with a man (who would later become my husband) and we moved thousands of miles away from the city so I didn't see or hear much from Matt and the guys for a couple of years.

The move to a smaller town was hard for me because I had lost my support network and the good job opportunity for my husband turned out to be a nightmare. Within weeks he was fired because he was gay. We had spent our meager savings on the move so we decided to stay and make it work somehow. Eventually we both were employed again. Our careers were in full swing. For about a year we managed to keep our jobs and home life as a gay couple separate. Then suddenly we found ourselves both unemployed within months of each other. We were both fired, again, for being gay. It was the mid-80's and the AIDS paranoia had begun.





THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME

Our careers were in ruin. Hubby and I were in a deep mental depression. What do we do now? We needed a change and a new start. We had some money saved so we decided to move back to the city. Upon moving back we naturally tried to contact Matt and many of our other friends. We had try to reach them by phone but their numbers were no longer in service. I couldn't locate Matt at all. Eventually, hubby and I did manage to meet with a couple of friends but it was not the joyous reunion we had hoped it would be. Friends had gotten sick. Some even moved back to the small towns from which they had come never to be heard from again. The gay neighborhood where we once took refuge was no more. Things had dramatically changed. The plague had begun.




SHELTER

I'll never forget this one special day in my life. Two months after the move back to the city hubby and I were driving down the main strip of the gay neighborhood. It was warm outside. A perfect day for a drive and to roll the car windows down. We were listening to the radio and loudly (and badly) singing along to Lone Justice's "Shelter" when another car pulled up next to us at a stop light blaring the same song! We all laughed and gave each other a thumbs up. It's this particular day that I saw Matt for the first time in years walking down the street.

THE BIRD

I was so happy to have spotted Matt. Yes! Today was going to be a good day. The sky was so blue - not a cloud in sight. I had found my friend! Hurriedly we parked the car and ran after him. "Matt" I yelled out. He turned around and waved. As we got closer I was horrifed. My knees began to shake. It was Matt standing in front of me but yet it wasn't. His arms began to open for an embrace. Our eyes locked. A bird. Matt's face looks like a bird. In my head I began to scream: "No! No! No! Not Matt, too!"

The handsome boy I once knew was now a walking skeleton with sunken cheeks and bulging eyes which seemed to make his nose protrude out like a bird's beak. Matt gave me a quick kiss on the lips. I tried not to recoil. Suddenly, I didn't know where I was or who I was. I was in complete shock. I was in fear of "it" and "it" had gripped my being so tightly I thought I was going to pass out. We hugged. He was so thin. I forced myself not to cry. For a split second in that embrace the beat of our hearts were as one.

THE REUNION

Matt, hubby and I stood and chatted on the street for what seemed like an hour but in reality was only minutes. After some small talk Matt and I exchanged phone numbers with a promise to get together really soon. It was all so awkward. Matt told me he didn't have a permanent address and seemed reluctant to go into any further details about his life. I didn't press him because I thought we'd share more the next time we got together.

THE BROKEN PIECES

I tried to reach Matt many times by calling the phone number he had given me but each time I had to leave a message. He never called me back. The last time I had called the number it was not in service. To this day I wonder if Matt sensed my initial unease with him the day we met on the street. I had hoped that he didn't see me recoil from his kiss. To think that I might have caused Matt hurt in any way makes me feel deep shame. Looking back I keep thinking about how young we all were to face such devastation. To have this plague befall our community was like taking a sledge hammer and striking it against a piece of pottery.


In Kintsugi: A Survivor’s Reflection on World AIDS Day 2017, Hank Trout writes:
We were broken. Thirty-six years ago, a virus invaded our community, invaded our bodies. It destroyed hundreds of thousands of us. Those of us whom the virus couldn’t kill, it left broken—physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually broken.
If I could go back to that day. I would hold Matt and never let him go. I would tell him how much I loved him and how much his friendship meant to this small town boy. It's because of Matt and the other friends I've lost that have made me the man I am today. My heart had been broken but the love given to me by these dear friends is the gold that mended it.

- Shane Smith, Editor, Stonewall Gazette





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