Sunday, December 2, 2007

WC: In Memory of Dennis

My friend Dennis died on January 19, 1995, at the age of 40. He died of AIDS--or "complications related to AIDS," as it is often expressed. On that winter night, he knew he was going, and he told his wonderful lover Reuben, "tell everyone I love them." Soon after, he was gone.

And he's still gone. Twelve years, ten months, and 14 days later, he's still gone.

Dennis once told me that the way he thought about his mother being dead was, "Wow, she still hasn't called." Twelve years, ten months, and 14 days later, Dennis still hasn't called.

At his memorial, some of Reuben's friends, meaning to be helpful, told me, "He's not really gone. You can talk to him whenever you want." Well, yeah, but he can't answer, can he? Dennis was not predictable, to say the least, and I miss his answers.

Dennis was completely into spontaneity, so much so that he would set aside days to be spontaneous. (I don't think he was aware of the irony, but I could be wrong.) He lived his life as an art form. He sent letters in hand-made envelopes that were truly gorgeous. And the letters were thoughtful and amusing and moving--and beautifully hand-written. He was always moving, beautifully--he was a dancer, and he was constantly graceful. He once showed me a grueling exercise that he did for his abs--it was as gorgeous as the opening of Afternoon of a Faun.

Dennis was into physics, science, how the world worked. One of the worst insults he ever threw at me was that I was a "Platonic idealist." After I had him explain the insult to me, I also explained that he was wrong, but never mind.

One afternoon many years ago, Dennis and I were walking and talking about the end of the human race--something that we agreed would be very good for the health of the planet. And we started wondering, how soon would signs of us disappear? We focused on the question, how long would it take the Empire State Bldg to fall down? I couldn't imagine the Empire State Bldg falling down (and, for the record, I still can't imagine the World Trade Center bldgs falling down, an event Dennis would have found at least as fascinating as it was horrifying). Dennis started hypothesizing about what the weather would do to the Empire State without humans around to do repairs. And I learned a lot from him that day.

And now I am reading a book called The World Without Us. The author, Alan Weisman, asked the same questions that Dennis and I did, and then found out the answers.

  • For instance, March would be the most destructive month, for it is the one where the temperature most often goes above and below freezing. As water freezes and expands, it can break up concrete. As it then defrosts and liquifies, it can go into the cracks, where its next cycle of freezing will cause even more damage.
  • For instance, a man who works keeping the subways dry explained that if there was a big flood and the water pumps broke, the subway could be flooded in 36 hours. 36 hours!
Dennis would adore this book. He would practically memorize it.

Many writers dedicate the books they write to the memories of loved ones. As weird as this may sound, I'm dedicating reading this book to Dennis.


jp said...


aquart said...

Well, that made me cry.

But for me, missing the answers is only part of it. Such a silence settled into my head when he died, so many questions I would never frame or ask...And for so long I would be depressed on Tuesdays, because that was when the Science Times came out and we would argue...He liked to start fights. I would come down the stairs, he would say, "Savannah theory!" and we would be fighting until we got to the butcher shop.

I still look up when I walk, because Dennis always conducted an architectural walking tour. That's why we put an egg and dart pattern on his patch of the AIDS quilt.

We lived less than a block from each other, and our friendship grew from walking home from work as ushers at the Public Theatre. Which is how I met you, too. A discarded Christmas tree can make me cry because, on one of those walks, we decided that if you shook a snow-covered Christmas tree three times, your wish would come true, and we did this semi-solemnly for years.

And you left out history and archaeology (I have his Egypt books) and Scrabble experts. Did I ever have the courage to play with you cutthroats?

He never got to play with the internet. And he's the only person I ever knew who would have been as excited as I am by the UPenn online Sumerian dictionary.

12 years gone? And the impression as indelible as ever.

aquart said...

Yikes! I misspelled Public Theater.

sezhoo said...

Thank you for introducing me to Dennis. aquart, I'm gonna shake christmas trees from now on. Much better than that bells=angel wings crapola. much.
as was Dennis, as it seems.