~ kusala
[ ku-sa-la: Pali term meaning wholesome, skillful, good, meritorious. ]
[ Action characterized by this quality (kusala-kamma) is bound to result (eventually) in happiness and a favorable outcome. ]


2005-04-22 - 12:52 p.m.

Das Experiment

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Leave No Broken Hearts

He wondered if he had made a wrong turn, and where. What error was made? What crime, real or imagined, had been committed? Had life handed down judgment on a mere sin of omission or a more serious allegation? For that matter, was a punishment actually being doled out, or was this just one more ordinary way to live and die in an ordinary world that had seen the negation of more than one so-called Great Leap Forward by a few stumbles back? Viva, Utopia!

* * *

The email message from Sean was the only new, unread item in the in-box. The enthusiastic “Hey!” in the subject line somehow magnified the suspicion that opening and reading it would bring on a mood just shy of Orange Alert depression.

Sean’s notes always managed to wring out this kind of response, but why, even now? How long had it been: eight years or nine?

Hi Tommy!
How’s everything in soggy Portland
these days? I haven’t heard from you
in awhile, so I hope everything’s o.k.
Say hello to George for me if you see
him. Things here are great but work is
kind of crazy. I’m going down to San
Juan in a couple weeks for a short
vacation to get some sun and de-stress.
I wish I could hop over to Cuba
again even for a day or two, but with
the latest crackdowns it just seems
too risky.
So what’s new with you? Dating
anybody? Heading this way anytime
soon? Write me when you get a chance.
And take care of yourself. Have you
been feeling o.k.?

Yeah, I think, “It just seems too risky...” Cuba. Me. Him. Portland. Dating anybody. An honest reply. Take your pick. Sure, Sean, I guess I’ve been feeling all right.

We had, of course, talked about a lot of things and places that we ultimately never experienced together, including Cuba. When we met, he was still obsessed with a recent trip there and was making plans to go to graduate school to study the negative socioeconomic effects of tourism in Central America and the Caribbean. I wasn’t about to resist a social idealist who was also a former tennis instructor. I was twenty-six.

Although Cuba wasn’t meant to be, we managed to have a few budget travel adventures closer to home. There was the rainy February weekend when we spent a couple of nights in a leaky bed-and-breakfast down in Mendocino. Another week, during the summer, we went as far south as Pismo Beach and made fools of ourselves running up and rolling down the giant dunes and joking about how big and fierce we could make ourselves look if we had to follow the advice dictated by the signs warning us that we were entering The Habitat of the Mountain Lion.

Sean and I both celebrated birthdays during our nine months together. For his, I gave him a travel narrative about Cuba, and inscribed the first page with, “I want you to be my guide for all of this and more someday. The world’s out there for us.” Now, I’d settle for just one more day rolling around on the dunes, laughing.

* * *

“I really hate to sound melodramatic, but I think that what happened between Sean and me sort of… I don’t know… ruined my life. Maybe.”

“Oh, please!” Jeff said as he rolled his eyes sarcastically. “You hate to sound melodramatic? Who do you think you’re talking to? This is me, remember, a-hem, the one who sat passing you Kleenex – and lots of it – during that drunken crying jag all those years ago when you were hoping things would ‘go somewhere’ but didn’t with Peter McFarley? I think I had an exam the next morning too. Not that I regret being your Kleenex-passer. But back to my point: you may choose to deny this, but you live to sound melodramatic.”

Jeff had been one of the few constants in my life since our “activist” days in the Gay & Lesbian Student Union in Corvallis. My idea of activism at the time meant brazenly wearing a button that proclaimed “FAG” while handing out safe-sex flyers in front of the campus health center.

“You won’t ever let me get one unadulterated diva moment in edgewise, will you?”

“Hell no,” Jeff said. “As Mikey used to say, ‘You could never be a true diva with that five-o’clock shadow, anyway.’”

“Uh-huh,” I relented. “Another career option down the drain. But about Sean… I’m being serious. I know you never met him, and I’ve never really told you any of this, but something happened to me after things ended with him.”

“You mean besides you becoming a naughty manslut?” Jeff asked.

“I think I was a bit of a slut before that, as half of Oregon probably knows. Ooof, you’re harsh today!” I said.

“Today would be different from any other day how?”

I had only seen Jeff about once a year since he moved to Los Angeles a few months after graduation. Still, we enjoyed finishing each other’s sentences when we were together, trading email about our most recent discoveries in the used compact disc bins, and mercilessly criticizing what we considered mindless Hollywood trash, while never really pursuing our respective screenwriting fantasies. As it was, he’d lately been working as the box office manager of a theater company in Pasadena and for over four years I’d been a publicity assistant for the Portland Symphony. Both of us were, in our own ways, setting the regional entertainment world ablaze.

And we both had learned we were HIV positive within six months of the turn of the Millennium.

There really wasn’t much diagnosis melodrama (though it’s apparently what I live for). I’ll admit that it was Jeff’s disclosure and my dabbling in Buddhism that finally prompted me to get myself tested again after putting it off for too many years.

“How did this happen to us?” I’d once asked Jeff over the phone, a few weeks after sharing the news.

“If you don’t know, now I’m really sure you were just cruising all those frat boys instead of reading the flyers we were passing out in the old days,” was his initial flip answer.

“To be honest, there was a time when I was absolutely sure that I would never let this happen, no matter what.”

“I know,” he sighed. Then, after a long pause, “Do you mind if we talk about something else right now?”

* * *

We were now lingering over dinner several years later, during one of Jeff’s occasional visits, and I was spilling it all.

“I’m not deluded. I know Sean and I weren’t any different than any of the millions of couples who’ve been in love, but I still think about lying face-to-face with him one night, looking into his eyes, thinking, ‘this is what I’ve always wanted and he’s so sweet and smart and hot and tender and I don’t want this to end.’ But, yeah, it ended, and part of it was my fault, and he definitely was not perfect, but… it devastated me.”

“After he broke it off, I spent at least three months coming home right after work and laying in bed listening to CDs that he had bought me or that we had bought together, and I think I hardly sobbed or anything, but the tears would just pour down my face silently for what seemed like hours every day. I would just lie there on the bed where we had lain together, or I would stare out the window at nothing at all. It went on that way for a couple of months. And I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever felt right since then.”

“Did you really love him that much, or were you totally depressed, or what?” Jeff asked, without a trace of sarcasm. We’d shared some confidences before, but now we were in new territory.

“I loved him a lot. But I know that it had to do with so much more than Sean. I was insecure, blamed myself for anything bad that happened, foisted all my hopes on him, expected him to be there forever… and a million other things.”

I looked away and finally I confided what I had been feeling for a long time. “This is hard to admit, but when Sean left without telling me why, I really think I didn’t care what happened to me anymore…”

I turned my eyes back to Jeff and he asked quietly, almost as though he were whispering to himself, “And do you care what happens to you now?”

“Now…?” I said, “Now, I think I really want to go to Havana and have the best trip ever.” By now I was smiling. “Some say it’s too risky, but screw the embargo! It’s got to be worth it.”

* * *

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