Where Did Toby Go?
A Reflection at Journey’s End
by Harry Breaux
Yesterday my roommate’s loving, orange tabby passed away. He was ten years old. He was at my bedroom door to greet me in the mornings and sat with me in the kitchen during breakfast. He was a constant and comforting companion for my roommate who works at home. Diabetes and kidney function complications took him. His decline started about a week ago, a quick and quiet passing of a wonderful feline spirit.
As fate would have it, a few days earlier, I had a consultation with a periodontist. It seems that health stresses and HIV medications have created extreme bone loss in my front, lower jaw where the four little front teeth are rooted. The treatment: repair to buy time and replace in the future. The process is simple, remove and replace the teeth with a permanent bridge attached to the two well-rooted canine teeth, painful, probably, and, of course, expensive, but doable.
Years ago, facing AIDS and the deaths of my friends was difficult, excruciating, devastating and traumatic, but I was younger then and able to mount a physical and mental challenge to the overwhelming events. I had the support of so many different sources for dealing with such tragic life events. There were medical, emotional and spiritual avenues to maneuver through the onslaught of deathwatches, memorials, confrontations, attacks, anger, confusion and abandonment we all felt.
After that visit with the periodontist, a renewed feeling of challenge has descended. There is an endgame coming for me as there was for Toby and all the others, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. Bone density is decreasing, height is being lost, as well as a general feeling of vitality slowly slipping away. Normal aging or ravages of HIV? What’s to be done? Maintenance and preparation.
Viewing the x-rays of my lower jaw brought me, in a deep moment, to realize that there is no reversing this process. I may, with diligence, prevent the rate of decline from increasing, but I will never again experience having a “normal” bone structure in my lower jaw. Slowly but surely, I’m moving to another level of existence. Where, what and how are yet to be revealed. I’m nowhere near my exit point at this time, but reminded over and over of the surety of the event.
I liken my experience to the rose. First, the bud, packed tightly with its pulsing, powerful lifeforce reaching for its way into the sun. The bud then bursts into the open, a young rose that stretches and pushes its way into radiant bloom. The crowning moment comes when the mature rose spreads its petals to become full, radiant and award-winning. I think all persons want to be like a rose in full bloom, to find a place in the sun, adored, complimented, nurtured, expressing our fullness and brilliance. I know I did/do.
I’ve had many moments. College awards, communal living, professional certificates, bonuses for accomplishments, commendations for volunteer works, acknowledgments for participation in documentaries, likes, loves and laughs on social media have all been part of my life’s experience. And I’m grateful, very grateful.
Now, though, I run along like the rose as it races to its destiny and I can do nothing but ride the wave as it carries me to the same inevitable destination.
For the rose, after the brilliant and stunning presentation of its one life’s purpose, it begins to draw back from the vibrant push. The edges of its petals begin to lose vitality and beauty. They become brown and slowly begin to fade. Eventually, the petals die and fall leaving the hope of the future in its rosehip. My rosehips moment will be seen in the relationships and works I’ll leave behind someday. Toby’s, in the loving companionship and memories he created.
Although it may be years away, and I hope it is, my edges are browning and have been for a while. I’ll not give up easily and neither did Toby, nor does the rose, but all of us must someday leave this planet behind and go into an unknown.
As with Toby and the rose, I live now with the knowledge that to find the light at the end of the tunnel, I’ll have to give up the tunnel and just fly into the light. It’s not a new phenomenon to know about, intellectually, but one that we only experience once in its full expression.
Toby, you brought another reminder of the lessons we all continue to learn from each other. Life is precious and common, clear and confusing, soothing and aggravating, light and dark, nurturing and destructive, and all encompassed in Love.
I hope to see them again on the other side. Toby, departed family, departed friends and the long-gone roses.
Harry Breaux made his way to San Francisco in 1970 and participated in the grand explosion of the gay transition and identification of the Castro district. He settled between a commune in southern Oregon and the streets of San Francisco. His goal was to share in the freedom that was available to many young gay persons in the centers of discovery. Now his focus is to advocate for those who have been lost in the shuffle. He volunteers with SFAF, GLBT Museum, Castro Ambassadors and other organizations fighting to bring social justice to all. As a long-term survivor of AIDS, he appeared in three documentaries: Last Men Standing, I Will Speak, I Will Speak and the recent, powerful 5B about the courageous AIDS nurses at SF General in 1983.