Most are gone, but I remember them all. My guncles, the men of my childhood, pride parading into our home and through my life. Oohing and aahing as my sister and I performed The Nutcracker for our holiday guests, their twinkling eyes outshining yet mingling with the family crowd. Their presence, a rush of energy, a surge of showered love.
Sweet and sensitive Jim who got his dying wish to meet the Dalai Lama in Tibet. Edward, the Pink Panther tattoo on his forearm dancing as he snipped platinum locks onto our AstroTurf patio, whose big barrel laugh reverberated through the windows overlooking the San Francisco Bay. And Philip, through the faintest of four-year-old memories, I remember his loss, framing his picture to forever sit on my bookshelf, learning why everyone cried at funerals, imagining the dearly departed could flip through our lives like channels on a television.
Philip’s memories are clouded in the fog of youth. Nothing but love and AZT needles. My mom used her training to nurse them all; she pricked herself once and thought it was the beginning of the end. It wasn’t. Not for her at least. But she, alongside fairy godmother Susie, paved a path of daisies, the road to the other side, for so many.
So many men—the artists, the designers—died in Susie’s bed, the mythical canopy looking back over The Bay. Cocooned under the covers, the pair of women gave them hope, gave them love, acceptance. Gave them the chance to be amazed that two little girls knew they were gay, knew they were dying and what of. Knew that we loved them anyway. That we would still cuddle next to them in that same bed where they all spoke their last words, breathed their last breaths.
But before they could leave us, in body at least, so many men I loved were not only haunted by their own impending deaths, but also the frail lives of their lovers, their tribe getting wiped out. Even accepted as they were in The City, this land of fairies and pride, AIDS devoured them. And before that, so many had been cast out by their families, funneled into this other community of men that embraced my childhood. They went through so much to find people who understood them. To find themselves, and to find my mom, Susie, someone to give them care, to show the next generation that love is not bound by sexual orientation, health, or death. That it lives in the soul, planted there as a seed, always waiting to grow.
All this, only to die. To leave their legacy to stream only through our tears, tears that water the seed through seasons of love. My heart aches for their challenges. Challenges that paved the way for love is love and legal gay marriage, an embracing of this community of people I always knew were family, kindred. Challenges that enabled the survivors, Tom and Ron, the most extraordinarily ordinary married couple to finally make it official only five years ago.
All these memories, pieces of my soul scattered like Philip’s ashes from the hill above my house, from Dharamshala on Jim’s final voyage. This was their life, their death, and this is my life, my love, my people, their experiences ever shaping me, making me gay even as the tears well.
Brianna J.L. Smyk is a multi-genre writer as well as the Art and Experimental Narratives Editor of Exposition Review, a communication consultant, an art historian, and a yogi. She holds master’s degrees in art history from SDSU and in professional writing from USC. Her short fiction has been published in The Human Touch Journal, Drunk Monkeys, and FORTH. Find out more about Brianna on Twitter: @briannasmyk.