Love Letter to My Huge Mistake
Warren J. Winkelman
In the 1940s, comforting, recognizable hate against the outsiders, the dirty dark-skinned Jews became a single unifying force for the self-professed racially pure, paranoid and stupid, and the total annihilation of a people more a personal mission of individuals than governmental edict. The scars lived on. Because the victims and the survivors knew, way before, a thousand years or more, that it was biologically plausible to hate darkness to the point of murder. But when faced with supreme powerlessness, knowledge was buried and hate internalized, as millions upon millions turned to ash. My grandmother knew, the lone survivor, but she could never let go, no matter how many years had passed. I tried to assuage her guilt, but hurt myself instead.
In the 1980s, the fear of men loving men reigned supreme. As so many fell ill, good people felt powerless, ignoring needs and wagging fingers instead, turning a blind eye. At the hospital, maintenance men and cleaning ladies were allowed to refuse to service the rooms of the infected, because it was biologically plausible to catch gayness and gay disease by breathing gay air. Doctors pontificated like evangelical ministers that disease was deserved. Because of how they loved, they asked to be sick. Politicians spat, not daring to utter the words, as hundreds of thousands fell in the shadows.
Hate, even self-hate is not about difference; it’s how we rationalize difference.
I refused to be summed up as quilted panels, and fought for others, on the surface, like a showgirl. Deep down inside I thought myself lucky to have been weird and unattractive, privileged by sexual constraint. The angel of death passed over me, night after celibate night, and I breathed smug and hyper-intellectual sighs of relief. I believed I would never get AIDS, but hurt myself instead.
The Heavens laughed at me much shriller than the bullies from Hebrew School, and peril came down upon me in form of a horse-hung seraph. Maybe I could’ve recognized the possibility that he was wrong from the start; his strawberry-pink dick; his priggish debasement of all lesser men who dared cross his path empty-handed; perhaps I could have recognized how capable he was of hurting me, that I had become irrelevant. Maybe I did it to myself, welcoming his inevitable gift into my willing opening because suffering was what I deserved, with my own toxic cocktail of self-deceit and hubris.
It hurts, no matter how easy the newer medications are to take, or how well put together my outward appearance. But it hurts not because of the scowl of my father when he caught me staring at dicks, equating man sex with dirt, Biblical thumping, criminalization, minimization with jokes, terror, powerlessness, ignorance, indifference, and greed.
It hurts because I knew.
He never wanted to break bread with my family. He would be unreachable for hours and reappear in the evening, derisive of me as if I was crazy for being concerned. Acquaintances on the street, at the gym, strangers passing during Pride festivities, and in the coffee shops of the Boys’ Town would smile at him and steal momentary knowing glances right in front of me. Once or twice, a man’s hand would brush against his that he would quickly push away. He gave me a wart when we’d been together for two years. My doctor said he could’ve had the wart for a long time or he could’ve caught it in the last month. My best friend refused to speak to me when I brought him into my life. I saw the signs, over and over again, and I should have left, I wanted to leave, but I didn’t.
I ignored his flu-like symptoms, swollen glands, and evanescent skin rash. The large sized condoms in the bright golden wrapping sat on the table right next to my side of the bed like ancient shekels, and still I let his tainted essence inside my body. I knew enough to know it was biologically plausible, that other pink cocks could’ve fucked his ass, despite his insistence of being a pure top, probably bareback as I witnessed in the darkroom of the bathhouse, and the symptoms could’ve been an acute HIV infection, but my self-hate played Russian roulette with my body and lost.
He didn’t cause my disease. It was my arrogant, intentional blindness to what I thought he signified. The things I needed to leach from him. Perfection. Confidence. Manhood. The things I assumed I lacked.
No matter how much I want to believe it was an accident, and I hunger to rip my arteries open and drain the life force from my soul, I was less than a man.
I thought myself immune to brain suppression with drugs, to drowning my true reflection in crystal meth, to stopping breathing under the steaming waters of a hot tub, or to stopping my heart’s beating in a lonely single room at the rear of a bathhouse, but it could happen to me. There was nothing special about my brain. I am not some sort of chosen one. I fucked up my life just as anyone who’s internalized shit thrown at him over decades.
Ah, but I want so much to believe God does exist, perhaps as an amorphous net of linear streams, incalculable energies linking all essences of the universe as one. In an infinitesimal chance rare as the creation of life itself, God bore me his penultimate gift. He was aberrance, a disturbance in the force, what my overthinking mind told me I needed, not what my yearning heart begged me to want. But, even after all the change, the suffering, God opened my eyes just at the right instant to see love right in front of my face, before it was too late. And I drank a true love in, like sweet nectar.
Hate is an overthinking man’s construct. Hate is not the opposite of love. I refuse to live the precious remainder of my life thinking in hate.
He stayed with me when I needed him. He stayed when I first became sick, and remained until he thought the new me would be ready to live on his own, to survive and thrive, and to be able to find a true love: he didn’t dump me, he let me go. So, I forgive you, my murderer, because I was complicit, and because you’ve managed to create a purgatory for yourself way worse than anything I could’ve possibly concocted. I love you and forgive you, and will forever want your beautiful strawberry-pink monster cock, but don’t ever want to hear from or know or see you again. If that means never sojourning the hallways and darkrooms of the bathhouse or cruising the lustful streets of Boys’ Town, then so be it. True love and I will create our family, our shared language, and our unique worldview. I can never forget what you did to me, my murderer, but won’t poison myself any longer on your behalf.
Warren J. Winkelman is a writer, physician, patient, actor, singer, qualitative researcher, patient advocate, business coach, and ehealth and skin health innovation guru. He has written four novels, and has had three of his musical plays produced at the Montreal Fringe Festival and the Maison de la Culture, Montreal. His peer-reviewed non-fiction work has been published in several prestigious periodicals including the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, British Medical Journal, and The New York Times. Follow him @WarrenWinkelman.