His sister called to tell me.
“I wanted to tell you before somebody else did,” she said. “He passed away this morning.”
Eddie’s not his real name, but it’s the one I used for him in Where’s Your Jesus Now? I can’t use his real name because, well, he died of complications related to AIDS and nobody ever talks openly about the fact that Eddie was gay. I don’t know if it’s because Eddie lived in the South, or because of the Christian thing. We’ve been skirting around this for 20 years now. That’s how long it’s been since Eddie first tested positive for HIV.
Back then none of us knew much about it. We didn’t know if that meant Eddie had AIDS or just had been hanging around people who were infected. Shoot back then none of us ever talked about the fact that Eddie was living with another man. Instead the talk centered more on things like should the neices and nephews be allowed to be around Eddie. Would he infect them too?And there was that unspoken worry nagging the back of everyone’s head — would he molest small children? He was Gay, after all, and well, everyone else was a Dobson-thumping Christian.
Not that Eddie wasn’t a Christian. He was.
I mean the general consensus was that he had at one time asked Jesus into his heart. But then somewhere along the road, something went totally haywire and Eddie became sissified (that’s our Southern terminology) and he moved off to one of those big cities and became a hairdresser.
A Gay hairdresser.
Although what that is exactly I’m not sure. What does one’s sexual preference have to do with one’s ability to color hair? But for some reason or another that’s how Eddie and all those others were always referred to. “I have a hairdresser. He’s gay.”
I have never in my life heard a woman say, “I have a hairdresser and she’s heterosexual.”
For some reason that isn’t real clear to me we feel the need to define people by their sexual orientation only when it is something other than heterosexual.
Can you imagine the dinner conversation if everytime you talked about a friend you had to define them by “Johnny, my cousin, he’s hetersexual, he went over to Sam’s house last night. Sam’s heterosexual too. They had a couple of beers.”
I cried on the plane coming back from North Carolina today. I cried for Eddie. Tomorrow is the funeral and I can’t go. I’ve lost too many people already this year. I’m tried of losing people I love but with Eddie’s it’s different. He’s been sick, ohso very long. I mean really sick.
Ever since he was diagnosed with HIV all those years ago, Eddie’s been dealing with doctors and medicines and the effects of tonic brews designed to fight the initial infection.
He was so young. So funny. Ohmygosh, he could make me laugh. Such a terrific mimic. And a naturally gifted storyteller. Eddie always had the best stories.
Until he got sick.
It was hard to see his youth slip away before he even turned 30. He developed an unsteady gait. Had trouble remembering things. Talked too loudly because his hearing was fading.
I don’t know what his neices and nephews thought of Eddie. He’d been sick throughout their growing up years. They don’t know Eddie the way I did — as the younger brother of my best girlfriend. As the tagalong who entertained us far more than he ever annoyed us.
My favorite memory of Eddie is sitting on his sister’s bed, hugging a stuffed elephant I had made. I’d drawn the pattern on newspaper and cut the thing out and stuffed it. We’d used it in choir class for some puppet show and when the show was over I gave it to my best girlfriend as a reminder of the silly things we did. Eddie would sit on the edge of his sister’s bed, hugging that elephant and telling us stories about his day or listening to us talk about the boyfriend issue of the day.
Eddie loved to gossip right along with us.
I remember being at a dinner party at the family home shortly after we learned Eddie had tested positive for HIV. I watched him, looking for any sign. A drooping lip maybe? An unexplained rash? I knew nothing. Eddie told us stories throughout supper. Kept us all in stitches.
It was early.
There was no sign of illness.
He had a partner, up in the big city. Shared a condo with him. His partner took good care of Eddie.
For a short time.
But soon as Eddie got to where he couldn’t work anymore, the partner moved on. Found him someone else.
That happens a lot in heterosexual relationships too.
If Eddie ever wanted to marry, I never heard tell of it.
His mama and daddy bo;ught him a plot next to theirs. He’ll be buried there, next to them.
“They knew what the future held for him,” his sister said.
Sadly, we all did.
But we never once talked about it.
Not openly. And I suspect we never will.
I wish I knew the solution to all of this. I don’t.
It angers me a little bit. The way Eddie’s sexuality had to be discussed in whispers. He had older brothers, Eddie did. They were heterosexuals. One of them was, in his younger days, the male version of a slut. He was very handsome, and very athletic and the apple of his mama’s eye. It was no secret that he slept around. Helped himself to whatever dish he had a hankering for. Nobody talked less of him for it. Fact is, the more he slept around the more enviable he was to many.
He was the man.
He was the stud.
He was Mr. GQ.
It didn’t matter that he’d grown up in the same God-fearing home as his homosexual brother. His pandering ways were lauded, whereas his younger brother’s sexual excursions were considered the sinningest of all sins.
Promiscuity is tolerated and practiced by heterosexual Christians of all makes and models.
The only time we don’t tolerate it is when it comes to homosexuality.
Then it’s flat-out wrong.
And, no doubt, some would point out that the wages of sin is death.
Eddie got was coming to him, they’d say.
“He’s gone to a better place,” his sister said to me. “A place where he’s not suffering anymore.”
Yes. Yes he has.
A place where there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ.