The summer after college graduation, my sister and I headed to a Colorado ski town for the summer. We lived and worked in a hotel with a bunch of other temporary people, among them a guy named Jerry and his buddies. They were gay men, bright and blunt and full of hilarious advice. In my memory Jerry is always in a bathrobe, smoking and ironing shirt after shirt at the permanently set up ironing board in his room. The hotel felt like a giant dorm, doors ajar, constant conversation. We laughed all the time.
Six months later, I had moved far away to Boston. A strange disease was just beginning to take hold, a killer disease that seemed to affect only gay men. Rumors were that it was transmitted by sex. I remember unfunny jokes by unfunny straight people. I remember vast uneasiness among my gay friends. I remember feeling terrified for them.
Flash forward many years to now, when there is good treatment but still no cure for the strange disease. Some of my friends have lived with the virus for close to forty years. Others have died. Sometimes Jerry flashes into my mind, and I wonder about him and the others who lived in our long-ago hotel. The first time I read this poem by Marie Howe, whose brother died of AIDS, I memorized it. I don’t know why I think of Jerry when I recite it to myself, but I do. Jerry, are you out there, still ironing your shirts, still making everyone around you laugh?
My Dead Friends, by Marie Howe
I have begun,
when I’m weary and can’t decide an answer to a bewildering question
to ask my dead friends for their opinion
and the answer is often immediate and clear.
Should I take the job? Move to the city? Should I try to conceive a child
in my middle age?
They stand in unison shaking their heads and smiling—whatever leads
to joy, they always answer,
to more life and less worry. I look into the vase where Billy’s ashes were —
it’s green in there, a green vase,
and I ask Billy if I should return the difficult phone call, and he says, yes.
Billy’s already gone through the frightening door,
whatever he says I’ll do.
Click for more information on Marie Howe.
I love this poem. Thank you.
Anna Abraham Gasaway
Sent via the Samsung GALAXY S® 5, an AT&T 4G LTE smartphone
LikeLiked by 1 person
I’m glad, Anna. It’s one of my very favorites.