Not a Day Goes By
Someone i loved & lost & what i learned from him
by John Francis Leonard
I was a reluctant convert to the joys of social media initially. The thought of Facebook still gives me the chills, but I’ve become quite comfortable with Twitter. It allows me to promote my own and my colleagues’ work and gives me a political platform in these troubling times. One handle I follow and always retweet is The AIDS Memorial (@theaidsmemorial), whose main platform is Instagram. It’s a wonderful organization that allows people to remember and memorialize dear friends and family lost to AIDS-related illnesses. The posts feature the names and dates of these loved one’s lives with a short bio that continues via a link to another social media sight such as Instagram. It’s a beautiful way to make certain that those lost to the pandemic are never forgotten. It gets me thinking about those friends of mine who are now gone, and this month I wanted to talk about one in particular.
Peter and I were close friends. We had an emotional bond that we expressed physically. It was a confusing time for me—I was in love with a man who cheated on me constantly and pushed me away as often as he pulled me close. My friendship with Peter kept me sane and in one piece emotionally. He was like a big brother to me, always there to steady me when I stumbled.
To say he was unique is an understatement. He had been a successful male model throughout the eighties but had thrown it all away through a voracious appetite for drugs, rough sex, life in the fast lane. He looked like a young Paul Newman down to the most beautiful Windex-blue eyes I had ever seen. We were immediately drawn to each other; he picked me up at an AA meeting that I had attended to support a friend. He was brazen and forward, not at all concerned that my boyfriend was a few feet away the whole time. He was nothing if not confident. Smart and sophisticated, his voice still carried the rough cadence of his youth in upstate New York. If it can be said about anyone that they didn’t give a fuck about what people thought, it can be said about Peter.
We met in the very early nineties and Peter was HIV-positive; positive then still meant very little hope for the future. Peter lived his life to the fullest, however. He worked hard selling real estate and had rebuilt much of his earlier success. He enjoyed sharing what he had with me; if I wasn’t at my boyfriend’s, I was at Peter’s place. He took me out to many dinners and gave me the designer cast-offs he had bought on a whim. The sex was good, but limited. To say that Peter was cautious lest he infect me would be an understatement. God knows he could be gruff, but he cared about me deeply; much of our play involved fantasy and role play, and we were extremely careful. It made me feel special and protected. My partner was hardly as cautious, especially considering his own history with the virus. But I made those choices as well; I’ve no business blaming anyone. It just says a lot about the esteem each man held me in. I was young, in my early twenties and it would be more than a decade until my own seroconversion. Peter and my partner both were close to forty, I’ve long preferred older men, even now when I am one myself.
Peter had a dark side. He was heavily into S&M and rough, anonymous sex. His sex talk when we were being intimate was extreme at times, but he never expected me to engage in some of the extreme scenarios he described. He had a sideline in addition to his real estate career, a sideline that had begun in his late teens. He ran an ad in a local gay bar rag for his services as an escort, often playing the role of an S&M master. But the darkness was deeper than that; he would occasionally disappear for days on end, indulging in sex and drug binges. It was like a poison in his system that had to be lanced. His doctor warned him frequently that his numbers were far too precarious for this strain, but the darkness always won out in the end. I knew little of his childhood other than it had been extremely rough and impoverished. He didn’t like to talk of his past.
Eventually my own drug use caught up with me. My relationship was a mess as well, and it was time to leave New York City for a break and stay with my family upstate. There was no such escape for Peter and the darkness enveloped him. I heard from friends that he had fallen off the radar and was using heavily, his health in serious decline. I eventually got the news of his passing, but not before seeing him one last time on a trip back. There are people who’ve been in my life that I still think about often and one of them is him. He was so special to me. He made me feel valued at a time when I didn’t value myself enough. He didn’t let me look to him as my strength; he taught me that my strength was within. I’ll always treasure his memory.
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 fifteen years. His fiction has been published in the ImageOutWrite literary journal and he is a literary critic for Lambda Literary. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.