For Captain Paul
It was a tropical morning, 3AM. The four of us slumped at the scarred kitchen table, empty Budweiser's full of Salem butts, Jimmy Buffett wondering why we ever go home. The jug of Gallo called to us: "One for the road!"
After closing up Dalt's in Kendall, we'd driven south to Paul and Kathy's apartment and worked hard to catch up to all the drunks we'd served earlier. When he worked, Paul kept his female fans mesmerized. He made up silly songs, gazed at them with his blue eyes, singing — "I'm just too good to be true, God made me better than you, I'd be like heaven to touch..."
—the bar a barrier that kept the adoring separated from this handsome, newly married young man. We all appreciated the extra tips.
As the jug emptied, Paul explained his hemophilia, his brother's early death from complications, said the clotting factor kept him alive. Italian to the core, he was ashamed to share this weakness of the blood with Russian Queens.
"Hey Kathy," he said, "they aren't even sick watching this!" He stuck the needle in his arm, aim smooth from practice. The clotting factor, this batch and those to follow, was culled from blood sold by desperate Haitians to escape Miami's poverty. How could we know every drop was tainted, coated in the new pestilence of the 80's, the clock ticking, and Miami ground zero?
AIDS was then only an article at the bottom of page six, just gaining a foothold in the ideology of the Christian right, the scourge of the deserving. AIDS sailed over on leaky boats from Haiti, emerged from Fidel's prisons, took its place at Chrome Avenue detention camp. Later, we'd read about a steward on Pan-Am offering it up like Christmas candy to everyone he could fuck, but at the time, if we thought of AIDS at all, it only affected gay guys, and none of our gay friends seemed worried. How could it ever touch us?
Paul dug out pictures of himself grinning, holding up prize bonefish. He and Kathy dreamed aloud of the restaurant they would buy, the charter boat. Someday.
When we left that morning, the light draped a golden shroud over Paul's face. He leaned against the doorway, waving goodbye.
We moved to Dallas in July. They bought the restaurant, the charter boat. Paul was our best man in September.
Then came the first illness, then Hurricane Andrew, then the second, the third...
Telephones that ring at 4A.M. never bring good news.
"It's Paul." Kathy said.
Previously published in Connotation Press, June, 2010