I seemed to wake up but it wasn’t like other times when I’d woken. First thing I noticed is that it wasn’t my body, exactly. It was a body, and it in fact felt very comfortable and solid, and somehow more sensual than I’d ever felt before. There was no mirror, but I seemed to know what my face looked like, and it wasn’t my face, or maybe it was more me than I’d ever noticed before. Looking around the room, everything looked more solid than things normally were.
A door opened and I turned toward the sound to watch as a figure entered. I thought I had seen people before, but this was a person, much more corporeal and tangible than anyone else I’d ever encountered in life. This personage had many of the qualities I was noticing about my new self. Oddly enough however, I couldn’t make out his facial details.
“You’ve finally returned. Welcome,” warmth and sincerity flooded from his mouth to my ears. “Welcome to Heaven.” the figure said, walking towards me. I rose instinctively from the pillows I was lying on and we walked toward each other. I was confused and feeling a little uncertain of events. I remembered the hospice I had entered last month when my AIDS condition was most critical and my doctor knew I had to start preparing for my end. My father and mother and some of my closest friends as well as my brothers and sister and their families, my nephews at my side during that time, rotating shifts, making sure I was comfortable, each of them, I know, taking time out of their busy days to help and support me during my death.
I knew how horrible death could be: the weight loss, the incontinence, the stink, the weakness, the helplessness. Vivid memories of many of my friends dying of AIDS over the last 20 years or so flashed through this new consciousness I had.
Countless funerals and memorials for fallen comrades whose only fault was unprotected sex in a time when we didn’t know we should be protecting ourselves from anything. Sex was so good and wonderful and brought people together in a way that we couldn’t image could be sinful or harmful or could kill us. But death by AIDS has no respectability or dignity. Nothing noble about dying that way.
“I know you’ve been through a lot my friend, my brother, and there is much that you will come to understand, trust me.” And I did trust and I knew I was truly his brother in a way that blood and genetics could only approximate. I still hadn’t spoken.
“We will be spending much time together reviewing your life and what you have learned, and I know you’re thinking there must have been some mix up in your reservations,” he laughed as he spread he arms indicating the entire room to me, “and I’m so very glad your sense of humor has carried you through this recent life giving you strength and perspective, I’m glad that you’ve been able to keep it even during the trials and challenges you’ve experience in that life. I welcome you again to Heaven, to your home.”
It did feel like home, in a way I hadn’t experienced before, at least not for the last 15 years, when Jeremy, my lover of 12 years passed away, dying with a pool of his own vomited blood on the ground around him. There was no comfortable bed or hospice for him when he collapsed one day on the street heading to the subway to see his doctor. Jeremy! My thoughts were confused and my heart felt like it was breaking all over again. The regret that I lived in a society that didn’t allow Jeremy and I to be lawfully wedded while we were together started to rise up.
A hand touched my shoulder and I was comforted. “I know.” this friend said. “These memories and feelings will be perfectly normal and there is also much that you will come to remember from the life you just left and about Heaven and yourself from before this most recent life. First though, before we get into all that there is someone I would like you to meet.”
I was guided toward a door I hadn’t noticed behind me in the back of the room. The door was plain but perfectly square with a doorknob exactly in the center. The door started to open without us touching it and I could see there wasn’t much light inside.
“You will enter alone and there will be a man in a chair in the middle of the room,” the door opened a little wider, “he is tied up and helpless and is at your mercy.”
I was feeling a little more confused as this brother of mine continued. “This is the man responsible for AIDS.”
After a short pause he continued explaining. “I know you’ve heard the conspiracy theory ideas that AIDS was a man-made disease designed to eliminate homosexuals, and they were actually true. A group of very conservative scientists were commissioned to design a disease that would eradicate large populations of people that were relatively sexually uninhibited: primarily homosexuals. This is the man who made the final decision to release the virus into the general population. I know this is lot of information to throw at you so suddenly,” the door was fully open by now and I could see the man that was tied to the chair. His mouth was gagged and there was a table on either side of him, his eyes moving quickly from the door and me to the tables and down to his hands strapped to the chair, and back to me. His bulging eyes and the puddle of urine on the floor under the chair made it obvious he was scared. “But you have some time alone with him now.” his arm gently moving me into the room and the door closed behind me.
My new brother stayed outside.
I continued moving, towards the man in the chair, who I noticed was naked and strapped to an ornately carved wooden chair. I was propelled forward by what I sensed to be a comforting hand. I stopped and the hand lingered for just a moment on my back and then it was gone and I truly felt alone with this stranger.
Stranger? No. I knew this man well. Too well. Or rather I knew pain from this man who had made such a horrendous decision that affected so many people I knew. It had affected their families and friends. I thought to myself: this was crazy. What was I doing here with this man?
I didn’t doubt what my friend had said, but my first thought was that this must be a test; a final test to enter Heaven. I knew I should tell the man that I forgave him, but I couldn’t quite do that at this point. I didn’t feel forgiveness.
I stood in front of the chair he sat on and looked at the tables on either side of him. I spent a good part of my second decade of life living in San Francisco in the 1970’s, and I’d always had an interest in the S&M culture, so many of the implements and items on the tables were somewhat familiar to me: whips, cat-o-nine tails, clamps, hoods, blindfolds, ball-gags, and a few others, but there were some that were strange and almost scary, even to me. I reached for a clamp and absently tossed it from one hand to another while I crouched until eye level with this man. I looked sternly into his face and deeply into his eyes. He didn’t look familiar to me. A man in the background, unknown to the public, with such power to control and harm others, and now here he was, tied down and at my mercy. His eyes looked as if begging as he glanced from my face to the clamp that went in a perfect arc from my left hand to my right and back again.
My thoughts went again to those I had lost over the years to the disease this man had the responsibility of causing. I almost shuddered thinking of the tears and grief and pain I alone had gone through, and then I did visibly shudder thinking of the suffering world-over this man holds the blame for. I almost fell back onto my haunches, but was able to stay balanced on my feet. I stood and as I did, I noticed a pair of gloves spiked with sharp points, many of them sticking out of the leather. I wanted so much to strike this man’s face with them over and over. The man saw me looking and he started almost jumping out of the chair, but he was tied to it, truly helpless, and stayed stationary.
I set the clamp down and picked up a simple blindfold and slipped it onto him, keeping his sight away from me as grief filled my face. He didn’t deserve to see it if tears came, I thought. He started to make a noise around the gag in his mouth, and my bare finger gently touched his cheek, and he quickly quieted down.
The faces of all my friends that had died of AIDS ran through my face like a slideshow and the tears did come. I gasped when Jeremy’s face came, and stayed, like a still portrait on the wall in front of me. “Jeremy!” I actually said out loud, conscious that this monster in front of me could hear me.
Jeremy was my savior when I first met him, saving me from a self destructive bent I was on in my youth, and he was now, it seemed, in front of me now, again my savior. Jeremy was a Buddhist, and he taught me many things about compassion and mercy and love, qualities that I just about had forgotten about when faced with this man in front of me who was so scared he was releasing more urine to the puddle on the floor under the chair he sat on.
I leaned slightly over so my lips were near his ears and I whispered:” I do forgive you.” I stepped away slowly, almost losing my balance again as something odd began to happen. The chair he sat on actually was moving, shifting; the man seemed to almost be having a seizure. The chair practically bounced, I moving backwards more, and the chair shifting and moving and changing. Soon it became apparent that it wasn’t a chair, but a monster, a demon, intimately close behind this man who was now, still tied to the demon, standing and bent forward. The demon, which was now about 8 feet tall and practically lifting the man off his feet, attached as they were, had skin that was red and black and grey and was writhing with insects, and there was much bleeding of fluids of all sorts all over its sore inflicted skin.
The creature laughed and spoke slowly, and with cruelty and insult in its voice “yet another of those killed by your pestilence forgives you. That makes every single one so far that has died with forgiveness in their heart for you.” One of its large, thick arms reached for the clamp I had been fiddling with earlier as the other arm reached and removed the blindfold. The clamp was being attached to the man’s penis and I thought he was going to swallow the gag in his effort to yell when I felt that comforting hand on my shoulder, reminding me of where I was. The demon was continuing “Our agreement was that I could torture you all I wanted until one of the dead from that plague tortured you. Well, perhaps the next of your victims will give you that liberty, but for now, you are mine! “Ugly gleeful laughing filled the room from the demon’s throat.
The hand on my shoulder was leading me out of the room, turning me away from the man’s face that was now contorted in pain as his muffled screams quieted as the door closed between me and my friend, and the scene I had just left.
It was a moment before I could look up but when I did I saw Heaven anew. The face of this angelic being had before been a little muddled, but now… now I saw Jeremy’s face.” Jeremy!” I said tears of happiness flooding down and I knew my real life could begin again.
*Although MAP has at points travelled the world going as far as Paris France to visit the gravesite of Gertrude Stein in the famous Le Peres Lachaise Cemetery, he currently makes his home in Phoenix Arizona where he grew up. He shares his wit and insight with readers from the apartment he shares with his partner Ron and their super spoiled Shar Pei, China. Also sharing the apartment is his muse, the cactus known as Bandito. MAP’s interests are varied but include cacti horticulture, flirting for tacos and Rocket ship construction. He has been a drycleaner, rave dancer and short film maker, making many films under the Map/Gorilla productions, but is currently content to write fiction, poetry and make social observations.