In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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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
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
I’m doing the scene at Cafe Flor.
It’s right across from my gym
on Market. I’m in one of my all-
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.
Nicholas A. Patricca