One Score Years Ago

David Joseph Wilcox at Wigstock in Union Square, early 1990s. Scan from original slide, date unrecorded.
David Joseph Wilcox - Wigstock, Union Square

20 years ago, on January 22, 1996, my friend, David Joseph Wilcox, died from AIDS.

The last time I saw him was December 12, 1995. I wrote this on my return trip home on the F train back to Brooklyn from the East Village.

Was this the last time I saw you? I want to remember every moment of it, some muse of the eidetic ideal supply my memory for later recounting, to remember you perfectly.

As we leave your building you pause, press your hand against the brick wall, to steady yourself. “Are you okay?” I ask stupidly. Of course you’re not okay. But it comes out this way, my helpless wish that you not suffer more.

Your body answers, first with a contraction, from abdomen to shoulders, then a convulsion. Then I hear the weak, airless gagging sounds, you standing there shaking, retching, overcome by waves of nausea, unable to breathe.

Your body doesn’t understand you haven’t been able to eat for weeks because of the Kaposi’s which lines your throat, the infections which coat your mouth and tongue. Finally, a thin, clear gruel passes your lips, as your stomach offers up the little water you drank an hour ago, mixed with some mucous perhaps from your throat and mouth.

This repeats in another five feet.

And again, but now you lean on a part of the low chain fence which separates the frozen ground from the concrete of the entrance plaza.

Another five steps you sit down on the ledge of the steps. It’s bitterly cold out. In five minutes we’ve traveled 20 feet.
Story Corps booth in the PATH station at Ground Zero, January 22, 2006.
The StoryCorps booth in the PATH station at the World Trade Center/Ground Zero, 2006-01-22

In 2006, on the 10th anniversary of his death, my then-partner/now-husband, John, and I went to StoryCorps at Ground Zero to interview each other about our friend. Here are two short segments from that mutual interview.

The first, "Phoenix," describes how John and I came together, and our current relationship developed, after Dave's death.

The second, "Loss, Grief, and Remembrance," is from the end of our recording time that day.

I cannot over-emphasize his importance to each of us as we shared our lives together, nor how his death transformed us. I still miss him, in part because he is not here to bear witness what we have become, each in ourselves, and together in this third entity. Though he might never admit more than his wry smile you see in the photo that opens this post, I believe he would be pleased.

I wrote the following on the F train on my way to visit him that day, not knowing it would be the last time. Because it's out of sequence, it feels somewhat false, even trite, to place it here. However, reading it now, 20 years later, it rings surprisingly true. So I end with this.
Only in the midst
of disorder, of chaos,
complexity arises.
Life is born
in the womb of entropy.

As I survive,
outlive the scores,
who still guide me,
direct and indirect.
Accumulating the weight of these losses,
I carry this chaos forward
into the future.
But no longer will I see
dry crust around me,
scorched of life.
With my hands,
my heart,
my hope,
I create fertile earth as my ground.

Related Content

David Joseph Wilcox, 1957-1996, 2008-01-22
Full 45-minute StoryCorps recording


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