4 min

A toast to impermanence

No one thought I would make it past 30

She had an aneurism while driving home from work at the end of her shift, and neither the accident nor the bulge in her artery killed her but she might be in a state of medical limbo for the foreseeable future at a neurology ward in a local hospital.

She is a neighbourhood friend, not as close as a direct friend but not as distant as an acquaintance.

From two separate worlds, we made friends over months of sporadic quick chats.

On my way back from Spartacus gym I would drop by to get something in the store where she worked. The day I heard our affinity break out like the bud of a crocus in springtime was the day she asked me where I work.

She was sitting out for a coffee and a smoke during her break. I told her I work at an AIDS nonprofit agency. She said one of her three sons had been one of the first to pass away to AIDS in this province in the early 1980s.

We continued to talk and I made the comment that today in nonprofit agencies we don’t see lots of gay men like me coming every day for help but we now see a number of persons with a history of addiction. She told me that her second son is an addict even today and how hard it is for her to contend with that. This is how a 50-something lady and a gay man make friends, and how fast things change.

I have turned 45 and no one thought I would make it past 30.

On the occasion, I consumed an inordinate number of raw oysters gifted by my friends Elaine and Gordon (I must report that nothing too aphrodisiac happened; will stick to the pills).

Springtime makes me think of impermanence; it is such a fleeting season.

I go on a search for lost time, Drive-style, starting one early morning at JJ Bean on the corner of 6th Ave, basking in the college atmosphere, the sandalwood smell. They are playing ’50s tunes, some of the young women are wearing wool knits; the young earnest men sport beards and brown corduroy.

I try to conjure up some old university days feeling of being young and hip — to no avail, all I recall is being a weird bird and nothing would make me go back in time. The best of time is now even when it is passing at a suicidal speed.

I spend the afternoon lost in the mesmerizing green eyes of a new friend and sipping peppermint tea at Shakti on the Drive where one can inhale and feel as buoyant as the youngsters who patronize it.

One of those drony Rasta-haired young men from Grandview Park is there, eternally lost in atonal tribal drumming. Normally, I would have felt murderous. This time, he provides an appropriate exotic veil to our conversation.

My emerald-eyed friend tells me of the discomfort of being gay. He finds gay men uncomfortable, contrived; and HIV doesn’t bind him to queers in unfriendly Vancouver, either, he says.

We commune. I think that many of us create little imaginary communities. We become “leather” or “jocks” or “clean and sober” or “users” or “husbands” or something. The only constant is that life is always bound to change; the greatest risk one can take is getting too complacent in one’s shoes.

I like the Drive because it lets the “abnormal” gays be something other than gay.

One time at Mark’s, the overstuffed smelly and wonderful pet store between 3rd and 4th, I heard one mid-50s gay man from the Drive comment about his husband — a famed philanderer — that the most important thing for him is that his man would make it home after the bar, the nubile conquest, or the silly drug spree.

I thought that was so cliché and he was so subservient to his circumstances, that it is so embarrassing to be admitting in public to such personal and sexless connubial situation (obsessed as we gay men are by our prowess).

However, time changes one’s mind twice over, three times. The late evening has me coming home to the diffident smugness of our relationship, turning a decade old this spring.

I turn again to a little habit, a finicky queer inclination, one of my favourite pastimes that I picked up in my chemo and radiation stint at the Cancer Agency years ago: cross-stitching.

I cross-stitch because I can thread the minutes into hours without any other excuse than focusing my attention on the needle. I have no fears, knowing that anything good or bad will pass into spring and yet into another season; nothing is permanent.

I cross-stitch because it is genderbending still after all those years of strident liberation.

A day or two after my little attempt at arresting the hands of time, I go to see Bill, my barber on Davie and Burrard (I will always go out of the ‘hood for a few necessities. Yup, one is that, the other is a good barber).

The guy before me in the queue is a cheesy hunk, thinks he’s all that, and looks like he might explode out of his supple jeans by the time he is 30.

He haggles over the length of his nape, and this or that wisp over his ears. He holds the mirror commanding perfection, and he overstays his welcome at the end of a busy day.

I realize that I do not envy his body, despite his present high currency in the flesh markets and despite the protestations of my body at the hands of Herb at Spartacus. I do not envy his age, when so much seems invincible and accessible.

I realize that I am becoming old and content and not so afraid of this venture. I have fought hard to be here, and time has humbled me a little and I toast to spring and impermanence.