Artwork and photo by Baird Stiefel
I coughed too late into my elbow and was embarrassed by my lack of social responsibility—mostly because I hoped no one would notice it had been me. How atrocious the indecency I had posited. It was truly degenerate of me to have such little control. What next? Would I touch someone?
I knew better.
Years ago, at the University of Miami, a party school in Coral Gables, we walked outside during a hurricane. Palm fronds the size of surfboards flew from one side of campus to the other. Our jeans were so drenched, the bell bottoms flapped like racing flags in the wind. Our hands reached from one friend to the other, paper doll cutouts braced against the onslaught. An erratic breeze threatened to toss one of us aside, but we held firm.
We all had syphilis. Girl, boy, girl, boy, girl, and when we made it to the health center, there were more. The line stretched to the door, and we were all connected. No one was mad or angry. We nodded and said, "Peace, man," acknowledging we were in this together.
I don't remember anyone's names. A skinny sweet Jewish boy. A beautiful friend whose mother worked at a racetrack window in New Jersey. A pretty guy with shoulder length blonde hair from Evergreen, Colorado. A girl who liked to skate. After we swallowed the reprimand of the nurse in white, "Avoid contact," words spoken in a less forthright era, we returned to the outside. The rains had temporarily abated, palms and copper brown tree husks lay comatose across the quad. We followed pretty guy to his friend's house in the Grove filled with orange, red, burgundy, and yellow embroidered pillows from India. We simmered in place. We drank green tea, just our small group of friends whose faces I do remember. We took Quaaludes and danced to "Riders on the Storm" and each of us fantasized we were somehow related to Jim Morrison.
The pretty guy held my hand for at least a week and a half. A week and a half is a long time to hold onto a friend.