Frankie lost three fingers in Florida riding with his hand out the window. He was sixteen. When I came home for Easter he said, I really had a good time. He said this before I could say anything. I was going to say something like, I’m sorry about your hand, but he looked directly into my eyes and said, I really had a good time. That’s when I knew for sure. He wanted me to know. When he graduated from Central Catholic High School, he went to live in New York City. When I left the monastery, I went to live in Chicago. Twenty-seven years later my mother saw him at a wedding and said he looked terrible with his head all shaved and an earring in his ear and why did such a handsome boy want to look like that and had I seen how he looked. I said I hadn’t seen Frankie since he lost three fingers from his right hand. She said I should see him now and would I be shocked, with his cheeks all sunken, didn’t he eat right, and him owning an Italian deli in New York or a butcher shop, but he was polite to her, though he didn’t talk much to anyone and stuck to himself. I knew for sure this time. I didn’t need Frankie to look into my eyes. My Aunt phoned and said the hospital wanted to send Frankie home to die but Frank Sr. said, No, the neighbors would object, and I said, would they, and she said, of course they would, didn’t I know how ignorant people were or was I still living in my dream worlds. I said I thought his father didn’t want Frankie to come home. She said she thought that was true too. Frankie’s mother visited him every day from seven in the morning until nine at night. No one said anything though everyone knew what was killing Frankie. Some people did say he should never have come back to Pittsburgh out of consideration. Out of consideration for his mother, that’s what they said. My Aunt told them to shut up. Frank Sr. only went to the hospital once toward the end, but Frankie was already delirious and couldn’t recognize anyone. Frankie was buried from the parish church where he and I were baptized and where we went to school. The nuns made us go to mass every day. He was a much better altar boy than me. He never forgot the words and he always knew what to do next. Frankie and I grew up two doors and five years apart. We were never really friends, but that doesn’t explain it. We knew. We both knew, but we never said a word to each other about it.
I know I’m gonna die. I’m dealing with it. I eat all the right shit. No more five-in-the-morning after-the-bars pig outs on greasy french fries washed down with two scoops of double chocolate chocolate chip. I was in Chicago visiting some friends and I started noticing all these sores in my mouth — they hurt like hell. I let it go for a while, you know, hoping they would go away, smearing all sorts of over- the-counter shit on them. Then, David, this doctor I know there, he made me take these tests. You know, I don’t know why they say negative when the news is positive and positive when it’s negative. So , I came back to San Francisco because . . . because I always come back to San Francisco. It’s great here. It’s still great, really. I feel I got a chance of being myself here. Like, when I was in Chicago, I went home with this guy. He was really nice, basic attractive, nothing rad. We really connected. So, before things got heavy, I told him. Like, from the tropics to the arctics — get your thermal undies — the merc dropped in record time. “Hey, dude, it’s a virus. We can take precautions.” I take good care of myself. I work out every day. I got a great routine: biceps, triceps, lats; calves, ass, thighs. Every day a different muscle group. I ride my bike through Golden Gate to work the lungs and heart — and eye the men. I look great. A lot of guys have natural looks but they don’t know how to present themselves. I can do leather, preppy, muscle beach, raunch-out punk, buff rad valley, Malibu surfer — for that I bleach out my hair and paste surf knobs on my ankles. I can even do Babylon-by-the-Bay lesbian pushing a cart through Berkeley Bowl: “Now Moonbeam, darlin’ honey, you know you’re not supposed to be opening those packages of organically grown, union-picked, sulfur-free apricots.” Name me one dude that can pass that off, rapping with the sisters about what to name the kids and how to get HIV-free sperm — genetically super, and politically correct. I get a raised brow when I tell them I prefer the old-fashioned way: pick the best hunk of beef on the block and let him do it. I’m doing the scene at Cafe Flor. It’s right across from my gym on Market. I’m in one of my all- American-boy-next-door-naive- innocent-with-just-the-right- touch-of-bad outfits. I spy this guy out of the corner of my right eye. When his eye catches mine, I shyly turn my head aside, just a little — men love this — then I slowly lift my caffe latte to my ever-so- slightly trembling lips. Now this is what really gets them. As you lift your latte you give him this quick, almost painful look which says I really can’t control myself because you’re just too fuckin’ powerful much. That did it. Before you could say Cinderella, we’re on our way to the airport, to a 500-dollars-a-day-per-person paradise in the sun. Like, whenever he wanted me, no matter where he was, tickets and cash, by private messenger. Everything with style, high style. I’d take a shower, grab my toothbrush, and off I’d go. I didn’t even look at where the tickets were for until I got to the airport. He’d have all the outfits I needed when I got there. And I got to keep them. It was in New York. A play he’d directed won some award. We’d just come from this fancy do. There I was tux and all, looking first rate, primo, fuckin’ perfect when he pops it — I’m expecting the marriage question, right? “Niki, I’m sorry, I just can’t do it. I can’t be with someone who’s gonna die.” There’s this big mirror in the hallway of my apartment where I always take one last look at myself before I hit the street. When I got back I looked into it. I saw this boy in it. I made him take off all his clothes. I looked him over real good. He was: beautiful. I’m dying and I’m beautiful. I’m everything they’ve asked me to be.