A man he trusted not long before we first met had raped him a year earlier.
We immediately became mates. Him a straight lad living with HIV and me just slightly older, a gay man on the game. It never dawned on either of us that our friendship was from the very beginning, ‘odd’. Like moths drawn to a light we were both in our own ways looking for escapism, we found ourselves immersed in strobes and lasers each pulse of light penetrating our eyes as we laughed and held each other up on dance floors, we loved each other as much as you can love a mate fuelled by how generous our dealers had been. Somehow we both knew our problems would not be solved. Endless clubbing soon turned to longer chill outs with deeper conversations, often for days with little or no sleep.
I had a secret I could not tell; I had more than one secret. I could not tell him.
I had been raped many years before – it just did not seem right to tell my mate and anyway I had not come to terms with it myself, I still haven’t, so why burden him with all my crap. He knew though. We both knew. We both dealt with our shared burden by being there for each other; by finishing each other’s emotions not just finishing each other’s sentences. We could read each other’s hurt and pain, and in an instant almost panicky way feed each other an immediate fix of laughter or sheer nonsense to balance things out again.
Then one day out of the blue my mate asked me to get him heroin. My heart tore apart at that same time he uttered those words. I knew that I could no longer provide him with that same ‘fix’. He needed more than I could give him and it hurt to look into his eyes. It really hurt!
‘If you take heroin I cant be your mate anymore’ I screamed
Our eyes would meet in the street for many years after. Barely nodding to each other. We both were hurting but I refused his hand of friendship. I needed my mate and he needed me. I also knew he needed heroin more than me. I knew this well, as this had been my only other secret.
We said goodbye to each other last week. My mate asked for some CD’s of the music we once tripped away on so happily so many years ago. He also asked for a disposable razor, and we laughed together when he said ‘don’t bother bring me a pack of razors ‘ we both knew why.
He was in his bed chocking when I arrived on the HIV ward. We sat there for hours looking into each other’s eyes over 20 years since we very first met. Our lives now taken completely different paths and yet our eyes as always were laughing full of fun and mischief.
I turned and left, my mate grabbed me and asked to be cuddled; I felt his lips kiss my neck goodbye. It was only then that I thought just for a moment our friendship was ‘odd’. My mate gracefully and respectfully showing that much love to me. A generous gift indeed.
I never once told my mate I had HIV. Of course he knew.
Rest in peace mate. I loved you.
With thanks to The Sussex Beacon nurses and HIV specialist team who cared for my mate in his final days in August 2011.