By Julio Videras
Across the Atlantic and the state of New York.
I arrive at Syracuse on the 4th of July, 2014. As we arranged before my flight to Madrid, Spain, Paul picks me up at the airport. He complains of extreme fatigue and, in the humid heat of the late afternoon, wears a zipped terrycloth hoodie. In the nearest emergency room Paul tests positive for HIV. The doctor assures us with brisk confidence that, due to the lack of parasitic infections, the disease is in its early stages. Within a week we learn that Paul’s pneumonia has been undiagnosed and that his immune system is critically vulnerable.
While Paul rests in the ER, I walk to the car, recline the front passenger seat, and close my eyes while the fireworks crack the hazy night sky.
The announcement did not startle Paul; he shrugged, barely. I recognize now the manifestations of the disease: how Paul falls under sudden sleep as he drives through the stop sign in the way home from our usual Friday dinner out; the large lurid beach towel he lays over the fitted sheet every night; the bronchitis and head-splitting cough; and, perhaps, his erratic behavior. The beach towel was to soak his night sweats.
I test negative – it is a lease of life and, in a way that eludes explanation, a task and a puzzle.
Paul takes antibiotics and awaits for the appropriate antiretroviral treatment. This summer the ground is swollen after days of rain and exhales the heat of a dog’s tongue. When Paul recovers some of his strength, he leans on the mower across the tall iridescent grass. Later, he stands up from the lawn chair, totters, and drops to the ground, trimmings on his cheek and forehead. Worsening pneumonia and toxoplasma encephalitis raise hallucinations of snakes under the bed and neighing horses along the hospital corridors. Paul dies in December.
When two years later the symptoms of cancer first arrive, I live in an apartment in the ninth floor of the building where Paul last worked and that has since been renovated for mixed use. The task and the puzzle appear to near completion, yet I imagine, at times, that the building held the malignity as payment for time borrowed.
On the 3rd of November, 1933, Leonard and Virginia Woolf drive Vanessa and Quentin Bell to Croydon aerodrome for their flight to Geneva, Switzerland where Quentin will be treated for tubercular pleurisy; nine days later Virginia writes on her diary that they “saw the aeroplane whirl, till the propellors were lost to sight – simply evaporated: then the aeroplane takes a slow run, circles & rises. This is death I said, feeling how the human contact was completely severed. Up they went with a sublime air & disappeared like a person dying, the soul going. And we remained. I saw the plane make a little mark on the sky. A good funeral could be arranged.”