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Sunday, March 04, 2018

Remembering the Rain: Barry Haarde

I don't know if this was ever published anywhere, but my dear, late friend Barry Haarde sent this to me shortly after we met. It expressed to me the depths of his soul, his feelings, compassion, caring. And his pain. Barry loved jazz and played it professionally; he said it was considered one of the highest forms of music. He was an incredibly intelligent man with a heart of gold and a sensitive, spiritual soul. And he as apparently an excellent writer. This essay is about love, our community, pain and longing. Read it and think of Barry. The title comes from a beautiful song by jazz player Bill Evans; on a CD that Barry gave me as a gift.

Remembering the Rain
Barry Haarde

“There are no second acts in American lives.”
                                                      -F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Why do you ignore me?” asked the pretty girl with the lustrous black hair and the dark and wounded eyes-eyes that had captured my imagination from the very first time she’d greeted me and sweetly asked me my name. “I know something must have happened to you,” she said. “Why won’t you talk to me?”

It was the fall of 1990 and I had met someone special. She loved to dance and sing and had aspirations of a career in the theatre. We’d met while performing in a musical production together. I played the trombone from the relative seclusion and anonymity afforded by the orchestra “pit”, while she practiced her craft under the bright lights of center-stage. She was everything that I was not; unabashedly extroverted and brimming with the passions of youth and the hopeful expectations of what she dreamed her life would become.

I didn’t answer her questions. How could I tell her that I had been recently diagnosed with HIV, a dreaded disease that was rapidly spreading and killing hundreds of thousands around the globe, creating an unstoppable wave of hysterical fear, panic, and prejudice in its wake. I was already having a bad time of it in the summer of ’90. My brother-in-law had just succumbed to a long and arduous battle with AIDS, which he’d contracted from the same blood products I had used to control bleeding caused by hemophilia. We were told the medications were safe…they weren’t.

I still recall Pat’s memorial service.  Friends and family gathered in the usual way as they inevitably do at such times. Condolences were offered and pleasantries exchanged. Most of those in attendance were aware that they were attending the funeral of an AIDS victim, but the word “AIDS” was carefully and meticulously skirted, as if a diaphanous veil of tacit silence had descended over the whole affair. I sat next to my brother John; also a hemophiliac and also HIV positive. My brother was very strong and I had never seen him cry. I silently wondered if the same thought occupied his mind; which of us would be the next to die? The answer came seventeen years later, when John lost his battle with hepatitis C, that “other” virus with which we’d also been infected. His HIV status was never mentioned at his funeral either. I had personally insisted on it.   

1990 was also the year that Ryan White died. I had watched for several years as the story of the White family was told and retold in the mass media. Ryan’s life symbolized the plight of many AIDS victims at the time. He was denied the right to attend school and forced to move from his neighborhood after someone fired a bullet into the window of the White family’s home. Audiences around the globe watched his story unfold in front of the seemingly endless numbers of reporters who took up residence on the street where Ryan lived, hoping to catch a glimpse of the new “poster boy for AIDS.” Ryan’s remarkable bravery and his long struggle with hemophilia and AIDS ended with his death on April 8th of that unbearable year.

While Ryan White’s life was highly publicized and often sensationalized in the media, his story was by no means unique. I’d seen other stories in the news, like that of the Ray family, whose home was firebombed and burned to the ground by belligerent neighbors, simply because they feared the three young Ray brothers who were hemophiliacs living with AIDS. They didn’t want them in their schools.

I later learned of a young man named Robbie, who lived in rural Kentucky. Robbie had been born with hemophilia, but he was good in school and had dreams of becoming a minister. When his HIV status was exposed, Robbie received threats. People in their town said they were going to “string him up from the nearest tree”. Robbie and his mother moved in the dead of night to another town, only to encounter prejudice and bigotry once again, including from the pastor of his new church, who demanded that Robbie hang a sign around his neck disclosing his HIV status to others. Robbie had unknowingly infected his fiancée with HIV. She died of AIDS at the age of 21. Robbie never became a minister. He became ill with complications from AIDS. Alone, except for his mother, who was then dying of cancer, he ended his life by means of a fatal gunshot to the head.  

How was I to tell the object of my youthful affections that my life was composed of such stories-a life of experiences I felt certain she could never understand. How could I explain the fate that had befallen so many in the hemophilia community, many of whom were merely children. How could I tell her that I lived with the same disease that had silenced the lives of thousands of others and that had propelled many of those lives into a reality often defined by secrecy and quiet desperation.  To these, life had come quickly and gone, leaving not bitterness, but pity; not disillusion but only pain.

I yearned to tell my terrible secret, but never did. Years later, I tried to locate her, but to no avail. I wanted to explain it you see-to make it right, to make some sense of it somehow.  I am left now with only memories; a memory of something hoped for-something that might have been, but wasn’t-the memory of a love, once discovered and lost, never to be relived again- and a memory of the day we said goodbye.               
“I really do love you,” I whispered, as I embraced her for the last time and bid her farewell. “You don’t love me,” she said dispassionately as she turned and walked away. Our paths had parted now and I was certain we would not meet again. The skies began to darken and a weary stillness settled in the air. I lingered for a moment beneath the sprawling Oak tree which had shaded us as we’d sat and talked one day while exchanging expectant glances into one-another’s eyes. A sudden gust of wind claimed the last of its withering leaves; casualties of the inevitable arrival of winter. Absent now were the familiar Mockingbirds that no longer gathered and sang from amongst its gray and barren branches.  I drove slowly away in the midst of a cold but gently falling rain, the windshield wipers beating out their own curious accompaniment to a long-forgotten tune which echoed faintly from the radio:

“Maybe I should have saved those leftover dreams.
Funny, but here’s that rainy day.
Here’s that rainy day they told me about.
And I laughed at the thought that it might turn out this way.
Where is that worn-out wish that I threw aside-
After it brought my love so near.
Funny how love becomes a cold rainy day.
Funny, that rainy day is here.”*

*  “Here’s That Rainy Day”, words and music by Jimmy Van Huesen and Johnny Burke, published 1953.

1 comment :

Kunaal Mark Prasad said...

This is too heart breaking to read! ��