The Sea Is Quiet Tonight
by Michael H. Ward
Reviewed by John Francis Leonard
So many lives and loves were lost to time in the earlier days of the plague, that our artists and writers who document this time are as important as ever. As a friend of mine who’s a writer himself so often puts it, “It’s important that we document our history because if they do, they’ll get it wrong!” (“They” being those not close to the plague themselves.) Michael H. Ward, in The Sea is Quiet Tonight, writes of an incredible and complex man that he loved dearly and, in doing so, his memory will always be alive and his life recorded for posterity. He does so in spare, but elegant, prose. With this prose, he gets to the heart of a loving, but never perfect, relationship and a vibrant and vital man.
Ward meets Mark, a former schoolteacher who dreams of being a sailor, on the sands of Fire Island in the early fall of 1981. He writes evocatively: “A series of warm early September days followed, full of buttery sunlight, lolling on the beach, and endless walking.” In a vacation community of casual sexual encounters and hedonistic fun, the two men connected on a deeper level. Ward continues, “Everything we said, everything we did, seemed funny and charming and special.”
But there are dark clouds on the horizon. Ward lives in Boston, where the first reports of a new disease killing gay men seem to be endemic of the cities of New York and San Francisco. This exceptional memoir’s dénouement seems a foregone conclusion at this point, but Ward has so much more to share with us first. Ward beautifully renders a portrait of his lover Mark in health as well as his eventual illness. Both the man and his relationship are a study in contrasts; things aren’t often simple between the two, but they remain together through the rough as well as the smooth. The author remembers that many relationships of the time broke apart from an AIDS diagnosis, but it only serves to strengthen theirs even as it tests it.
Ultimately this memoir is more of a portrait of a life and love rather than one of a death. The author bears witness to a unique man whose life was cut far too short and in turn, allows the reader the same opportunity. It is a clear, concise snapshot of an incredible man and an extraordinary relationship both gone before their time. However, through this remarkable piece of writing, they live on forever.
John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for thirteen years and he is currently at work on his first novel, Fools Rush In. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.