I see your name in the opening credits, Dan, a two-second flash, and I am stabbed with a rush of disbelief and something like hope. It might be you. Could it be you? After all this time? The movie goes on, and then it comes to the second or is it the third scene and Tom Hanks is sitting in some kind of waiting room, blocking everything out with the opera coming through the headset he is wearing. I hear a man’s voice, higher than I remembered. It could be you. That careful, slow way of enunciating that I used to study, fascinated, at the formal movements of your mouth; the way the lips formed each word around the teeth. Then the camera pans in, and it is you Dan. But it hurts to see you once again. My God it hurts. You look so gaunt, and your jawbone, one of your handsomest features back then; it is too angular. Your neck, impossibly thin, how can it hold up your skull? Your hair, why is it so short? And then you smile at the end of your one line; it is supposed to be some kind of joke. Your smile is a cruel parody of what it once was, a skeletal grin. And it dawns on me. You are one of them. You are dying of AIDS. And you’re not acting, even though they have paid you to be in this movie.
What I remember is you, offering up a thanks to the Lord before that congregation. “When I wake up in the morning, I thank God that when I get out of bed, my feet hit the floor and I’m alive and well.” I made it my prayer right then and there, Dan. Every day I say it.
“What is it? What’s your question this time?” you say to me kindly. I take a deep breath because I am nervous, but then why should I be? You always answer me true.
“Okay how do you know when you’ve met the right one? I mean, the person you’re meant to marry?” I ask. There is a lengthier pause than I usually get from you. You are deep in thought. “Well kiddo, you just know. It feel right. God will tell you.”And that’s it. But it leaves me unsatisfied because I’m still not sure about this guy I’m dating. Hey by the way, seventeen years later and I still wake up to him every morning, happy. Are you surprised? I wish we could have you over for a barbecue and some beers. Hear your stories about Tom Hanks. Meet our son.
Oh I’m sorry Dan.
How old would Nathan be now?
I am caught in a conversation between Harlen and Steve. It is about the End Times, a favourite topic of Steve’s. I want so desperately to get away, but instead I keep nodding assent and taking sips of lemonade. I am too polite and too new at this to say excuse me. Now their voices are rising with increasing vehemence and Harlen quotes a passage from his Bible, punctuating each key word with his finger. Steve is frantically flipping through his Concordance, but then you are there.
You’ve been listening and you say, “Look up 1 Corinthians 15, somewhere near the end, Steve,” and when he is too slow you say clearly enunciating, “Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead shall be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”
You take my arm and lead me away, Dan and I love you for it. As we leave, I hear Steve’s voice getting farther away, “So you see, our earthly bodies will rise up even if we are dead already. Taken up, like the ones still walking around will be. Harlen, won’t that be wonderful when the Rapture comes.”
Anyway that day, I wheel into your driveway and I can see you and Sarah through the kitchen window. But it’s the voices that make me pull my bike into the side garden instead of banging up the front walk like I’m used to. You speak slowly and patiently to her, so low I can’t make it out, but she’s cutting in between sobs, “What do you want me to do! Just what do you want me to do!” over and over. And I sneak away, frightened.
I am not the best form in that class. My leaps are lacklustre. I’m off-centre in my spins. I don’t have the heart and Margot senses it and doesn’t yell at me. I deliberately take my time in the changeroom after. Powder my armpits thoroughly. Retie the string around the neckline of my peasant blouse. When I lift the curtain, there is no one left in the studio and my heart sinks. But then I see the flap of the men’s changeroom curtain and there you are.
You look at me. “Come here”, you say so quietly it fills the studio. I sit beside you on the bench near the door. There is a small, dark man hovering at the entrance. Not a dancer; he has no presence at all. Not an actor like you, who can fill a room with one breath. He must have read your glance for in a moment he’s gone.
And I cry into your neck and you give me your towel, and you apologize that it’s used, but that’s what I want.Your smell, your touch, your final goodbye. I don’t ask why, I don’t ask how long, I don’t ask. You walk me down the warehouse stairs and to the corner and at the lights at Yonge we cross to the other side. You reach down and give me a kiss on the cheek. “Be true to yourself,” is all you say, and then you are gone.
And now, a lifetime later, I see you in Philadelphia. The irony kills me. The Fellowship was called “Philadelphia House”. Phila-delphia, as in brotherly love. Did they put out a call for actors with AIDS or something? What did you do for your audition Dan? Give a sample?