I Know, You Know
I didn't know Kevin very long, just for a couple months when I was 24 years old, in 1991. He tapped me on the shoulder one winter night Berlin, and asked in his quiet and strong voice if he could buy me a drink. Now, I was never one to receive that kind of offer with regularity. The saloon doors of my attractiveness to fellow gay men swung open and closed with no discernable pattern or cause most of my life. Luckily, somewhere along the way I figured out a way to keep them open...but that's another story.
Berlin isn't your typical bar. It opened in '84 in a former 1930s toy store next to the Belmont train stop. I've never thought of it as a gay bar; Chicago gay bars had an aversion, a settled dislike toward femmes and weirdos, barring me and my ilk passage to drink under their hallowed, butch roofs. Berlin welcomed us with open arms from day one.
In Berlin, I saw magic whipped up from spit and a thrifted frock week after week, but for me, the true star was the music, because of the people it attracted; they nourished my hungry soul, so I went early and often. The nights I met a cute guy? Icing on the cake my dear. Music was the cake.
On the sly, I asked my friend Tony the bartender the scoop about Kevin. All he did was smile, nod, and wink. Say no more!
I accepted Kevin's drink and introduced myself while I tried my best to not stare at every part of him. He was about five years older than me, and every inch a handsome man. His large unblinking green-brown eyes regarded me the same way, and I did my best to not jump up and down and cheer. The saloon doors are open! Soon we cabbed to my apartment.
Caveats were uttered on the snowy sidewalk leading to my place.
"I don't have a door to my room, it's only a curtain" I said.
"That's better than my place. I have an ex boyfriend there!" He said.
My memories of that night are few: The way he looked in his tight underwear, and his steel strong legs.
"I hope my thighs feel like this someday" I said as I squeezed his muscles.
The next morning came too soon.
"Can I?" I asked, nudging him from behind.
"Yes, have you been tested? Do you have a condom?" he asked.
"No, neither" I said.
"Then we better not."
On our next date I met him at his place.
"My building has a ceramic panther in the window, across the street from the fire station." He said.
That night I experienced every part of him I missed last time, and I learned the hard way that his ex boyfriend had changed his mind and wanted him back, by him barging into our room and telling us.
"You've got to stop breaking up with me every month; I can't handle these I love you/I hate you scenes." Kevin said, in his usual strong, quiet way.
Right there, it finally dawns on me. I'm Kevin's revenge.
The ex collapses to the floor in a pile of tears, sirens blare from the fire trucks responding to an alarm, and I slink out the back.
We met a few more times at my place, a few more at his, and had a wonderful night at the lake in his car. Our short time together was wild, passionate, tearful, gut wrenching, honest and unforgettable.
The last time I saw him, he dropped me off after seeing the movie Poison. Kevin had brought "a friend" that night, (Surprise!) and before I left, I went on a long, ugly, uninformed diatribe on my opinions about the movie, fuelled I'm sure, by the fact that the night was over, just a goddamn movie, and Kevin had moved on from me to this other guy. I called him a week later, and he told me he acquiesced and got back with his ex, and to wish him luck.
A few years later, at Berlin, Tony told me Kevin was sick. I called his old number, recognized his partner's voice on the machine, left a message of concern for Kevin, but I never heard back. A year or so later, I was walking down Diversey and saw his partner sitting in the window of a coffee shop, shattered, a shell of his former self.
Oh my God, Kevin died was my first thought. No, no, not now. I just lost my friends Chris and Billy to AIDS and I'm in the middle of losing Richard. I can't. Kevin is fine. But in my heart I knew he was gone. When I felt strong enough to hear the truth, I went to the restaurant where he worked on the weekends to ask about him. A manager took me aside and told me he had died, and how much he loves and misses him.
The years go by, and I still see the panther in the window across from the fire station, and I'd get that happy/sad 'it's Kevin's place' feeling, until one day the panther was gone, then the whole building was gone too.
When I think about the AIDS crisis, my AIDS crisis, I get angry at all the loss that could have been avoided. I get angry at the stupidity and homophobia, and the only way I get through it is to remember the love given to me by those who are gone.
On occasion, I find myself at or near the places where I knew Kevin, where I shared my life with him for a short time nearly thirty years ago, and I remember our encounters, I remember him, and he is alive in my heart, as real as the sky and the sun on a cold winter's day.