On Sunday, January 10th, my computer screen flashed. Caring Bridges, a site that provides health news to family and friends, let me know that Frank had died. I had spoken to Frank a few weeks earlier on his birthday. He had told me that it would be his last. I did not want to believe him, since we had expected his death during the entire 27 years of our friendship—but unfortunately he was right.
Frank and I bonded over pumpkin soup during the first decade AIDS was with us. I was spending time with David, my son, and my home-cooked meals were a welcome event for him and his hungry friends, or “The Seven Sisters,” as they liked to call themselves. Of these, three were infected with HIV, and four were not. Together we faced a very uncertain future.
Frank was very special. Whenever I think of him I hear his laughter. A seductive mix of charm, love, anger, black humor, happiness, sharp wit, daring, and bitterness animated him.
Frank was particularly pleased with my home-cooked meals. He had lost his own beautiful mom when he was seventeen and in time he half-jokingly became my adopted son. We rarely forgot each other’s birthdays and marked these with gifts. For years my drawers were perfumed with potpourri he sent from California to Brooklyn.
Frank lent support when David was fighting for his life at Mount Zion Medical Center in San Francisco. I’ll never forget a respite walk we took near the Cliff House. Frank and I imagined that we had fallen into the churning sea and were trying to save ourselves. For a short while we were so engaged in our game that we forgot our worries. After David’s death I packed up my pots, which had been in his apartment, but symbolically stored the best and biggest with Frank.
I kept up with the boys and helped Frank deal with his ups and down. The ups included his friends and family, his swimming, his involvement with Buddhism, his rafting and the new community he discovered through the sport, and the teaching he did about AIDS. His downs included dealing with real and imagined slights, fearing death, and increasingly managing AIDS and cancer.
His home in Sausalito provided him with shelter. Some ten years ago, after he had passed through a severe medical crisis, I visited him there. Frank told me the following story:
The man was confined to his room; he was battling AIDS. His only distraction, during the weeks that his life hovered between life and death, was his flower-filled balcony, bathed in California sunshine.
His window boxes were overflowing with petunias, blue lobelia and red impatiens. One plant had died. He had pulled it out and was about to replace it. As he approached, shovel in hand, he noticed a morning dove. When he started digging up the black dirt, the bird dive-bombed his head. He retreated, wondering. He tried again. A second dove attacked him. He withdrew once more and watched.
Soon the two doves, ignoring him, filled the small depression with sticks. By the next morning the birds had built a nest. The morning after that there was one egg, then another, finally there were three eggs.
The female sat on her nest, unperturbed by the man who continued to water his plants. The eggs hatched. Three featherless chicks craned their necks, accepting food proffered by the older doves. Soon the fledglings flapped their immature wings. Finally one day they hopped to the edge of the nest, and flew off.
The man recovered. Was it the new drugs that keep the deadly AIDS virus at bay, or had the morning doves renewed his life?