I remember Mark.
It's getting harder and harder to do so, because it's been so long since I've seen him. I have to dig up old photographs, and run my fingers along their surfaces to stimulate whatever it is in my brain that brings the memory of him fully to the surface of the ocean that is my consciousness.
The first thing I always remember is his smile. He held the door of the bus open for me, a simple courtesy I'd performed myself a million times for others. Mark, though, Mark turned around and ... he just smiled at me, and I was lost in it, in him.
Mark was the first openly gay person I'd met after moving to California. After living so long in the relatively repressive enclosures of Texas and New Mexico his life, and he himself, were like an epiphany, a revelation that some of the self-hatred I'd poured on myself for being queer was unjustified, undeserved. He showed me how to be out and proud without having to go about shouting "I'm here, I'm queer, get used to it!"
Mark taught me everything I didn't know I needed to learn. He taught me about food, wine, socializing. How to be a queen, how to be a man, how to accept responsibility and how to avoid being a martyr.
This was the Mark I'd always thought I'd have, the Mark I'll always want to remember.
There's another Mark, though. One that was darker. One that wasn't my friend. One that treated me as a flavor of the month and little else. I had a very hard time accepting and reconciling this Mark with the other one. I didn't do a very good job of it then, and wound up calling him a murderer and worse. When he left to go to Las Vegas, we didn't even say goodbye to one another. It left our relationship forever incomplete.
The darker side of Mark was the one who taught him all the things he taught me about self-reliance and the consequences of one's actions. If Mark hadn't gone through some very bad situations ... such as running away from home at thirteen, hitchhiking and prostituting himself down the west coast from Washington to California, he never would have learned how to take care of himself. He never would have found all the little nooks and crannies of the central coast of California that he later shared with me. He never would have had a need to try and redeem himself by trying to show me the best parts of himself rather than the worst.
I still feel bad for calling him a murderer. I still remember the shock and horror I felt when, on my only visit to a nude beach, I found him shagging the night away, unsafely, with another guy ... another guy who wasn't his partner. He knew he was HIV-positive back then, and what he was doing right then was, to my mind, murdering that guy he was fucking on the beach. God only knows how many other people he had infected, but there were stories. God, were there stories. He may very well have been Santa Barbara's own Patient Zero. It still makes me a little queasy to think about it. I remember reading the obituaries and seeing another familiar name ... and wondering if Mark had killed that one, too.
It was too hard. I couldn't forgive him then. I couldn't (I still don't) understand what drove him to be such a tainted angel. One that could bless me with the one hand, and kill someone else with the other.
None of that matters anymore. He paid the ultimate price for his crimes, if crimes they were, by giving up his life. Even though I know some of the things he had done might very well have killed someone else (many someone elses) ... I have to say now that I loved him. Loved him with all my heart for showing me, teaching me, loving me as a friend. And, in my heart of hearts, I guess I love him, too, for sparing me. We never had sex (and oh, it would have been not safe no, not at all, I would have died for loving him, to be able to show him physically how much I cared) ... we came close, but he always pulled away from me. Somehow I was never hurt by these rejections. Even then I think I knew he was sparing my life.
Mark died ten years ago today of AIDS-related diseases.
I choose to remember his smile, and I choose to remember the love he (most of the time) had for others. I choose to forgive. Only forgiveness will let me remember the good things, and only forgiveness will help me to forget the bad. Only through forgiveness will he be truly loved, for now he truly is no more than a collection of memories in other people's lives.