It could have been anything. Dave had set up meetings like this many times over the years, to inform me of his latest drama. Once it was to announce that he was a kleptomaniac, another time to tell me the abusive man he’d grown up with was not his biological father and that’s why he hated him. Another time he interrupted dinner to go to the men’s room and dosed himself with a speedball. Then there was the big one, his coming out. My best friend from high school, the noted ladies man, was gay.
Jodi commented that aside from us there were only men in the restaurant. Of course! Dave had arranged to meet at a gay place, and he was late so we had to adjust to this strange new environment without him to help buffer the experience. Maybe he was trying to teach us a lesson in tolerance since we were traveling evangelists.
No, Dave wouldn’t do that. There was enough mutual understanding that had developed over the years that a glib gesture wasn’t necessary. We had been drawn together since tenth grade when we met as two Jesus freaks from dysfunctional families who wore clever message buttons that were designed to open doors for us to witness about our faith. Dave was smarter, funnier and far more mature than I was, but I at least had enough wit to get his jokes before anyone else. I think he befriended me because I was a good audience.
Both of us had struggled with our faith (for good reason, but that’s another story), and both had broken from our fundamentalist beliefs and had gone into extreme lifestyles. I had become one of the East Village club kids in NYC during the ‘80’s and Dave followed a series of gay trends that reached into the bizarre. I had renewed my faith in Christ and gone into the ministry. Dave had not.
When Dave arrived, he curiously came in from the restaurant kitchen, and we stood to greet him. Jodi was wearing a graphic message T-shirt that said “ Not Ashamed,” and Dave pursed his lips and said, “you should be ashamed girl, for wearing that tacky shirt.’” The line was brilliantly delivered and we all laughed and hugged.
After a few greetings, Dave took control of the meeting and pleasantly and as of a matter of fact delivered his news that he was HIV-positive. He took full responsibility for his reckless behavior that had led to his condition. He kept talking about his T-cell count and that he didn’t yet have AIDS. The words all jumbled together and my mouth gaped. I was stunned.
I fought back tears and moved to embrace my friend. He would have none of it, and insisted that we get on with a pleasant breakfast because he had planned a surprise. He nodded to the waiter and the house music level rose. Over the sound system, they were playing a song from my first Christian album. When the chorus played he and several staff members sang along karaoke style. He told me that they loved the music and played it at the restaurant all the time. I went with the distraction.
As a Christian, who had been urging Dave to turn back to Christ, I thought this would be the situation that would convince him to repent. I reasoned with him, I pleaded with him. I wrote songs that were directed towards him. None of it seemed to move him. He told me that if he ever were to become a Christian again, that he would hide his homosexual past, because he knew he would never find acceptance in that environment as an ex-gay. I couldn’t disagree him.
We talked about why he was gay, and he said he was born that way. I found this hard to believe because of his history with so many girls, especially Marsha, the love of his life. He confided that once he and Marsha had reconnected and he almost went back over to straight life. This helped formed my idea that despite all the rhetoric, sexual identity is more behavior based than current ideas might have us believe.
AZT proved to be somewhat effective and Dave kept living. Jodi and I continued to travel with our ministry, and we would rendezvous with Dave whenever we were in the same part of the country. Once he met us with marks on his body from a partner who was beating him up. I wondered how a smart accomplished man like Dave could keep subjecting himself to such treatment, but very few of his personal choices made sense to me. I was horrified that my friend was so unhappy.
Dave and I couldn’t be more different in our worldview, but we remained devoted friends. I eventually stopped preaching at him and we concentrated on common ground, but no matter what he always knew where I stood. He would joke about it. If I was giving driving directions and told him to “go straight,” he would always say he respected my beliefs, but he had to make his own choices.
We both knew that we were true friends who wanted nothing but the best for each other.
On one occasion, Dave showed up at one of our meetings with a hunchback and 40-50 extra pounds. It was the side effect of one of his medications. He had broken up with his abusive boyfriend and now looked old and deformed. He laughed it off. I was broken hearted., but Dave simply managed my sympathy and made sure we all had a great time.
A year later we met with Dave in San Francisco and his latest partner had died leaving him a good deal of money. He looked healthy and strong. The strange hunchback and extra weight was gone and he reported feeling great. He had also become a reformed Jew and was very active in his synagogue. In fact, he was studying to become a Rabbi. Who knew?
The last time I saw Dave he had met Jonathan. Jonathan was a very sensitive, intelligent and kind man, and the two of them were very happy. However, Dave’s health had taken a severe turn for the worse. He became tired very easily, and there were skin problems and frequent illnesses. Jonathan took care of everything, and the two of them looked forward to a future together.
As much as the convictions of my faith stood against their sexual relationship, I had to respect the dignity they gave each other. How could I stand against Jonathan emptying bedpans, and staying awake all night administering breathing treatments that kept Dave alive? I had always cared about my friend, but Jonathan had devoted to Dave care full time.
Dave understood my convictions and tolerated what they saw as my limitation. I in turn tolerated what I saw as indifference to biblical standards. But to be clear we were friends and we were fiercely devoted to the best for each other. We loved each other.
Some time later I emailed to touch base. Dave called and his breathless voice took me off-guard. “ Hi (breath) this is Dave (breath) I’ve had a complication (breath) and I (breath) am not breathing (breath) well…on my (breath) own. (Breath) I’m on a (breath) machine (breath) and I’m going (breath) into hospice (breath).
Dave went on to explain that his condition had radically deteriorated and that he was very comfortable, but he had refused meds so he could call me. I didn’t really understand that hospice was meant to make death more comfortable and that it was the end of treatment. He went on to explain that he was looking forward to his last 6 months.
Once again my friend Dave had stunned me. I looked for the words to try and plead with him once more to cry out to Jesus, but all I could say was, “I’m praying.” He said; “Yes, please pray.”
He died the next day. Jonathan reported that his dying words were calling out to God, then saying something that indicated he had a revelation and understood. Then calling out to God again.
Jonathan also told me that despite what the doctors had told him Dave knew he was dying that weekend, and that there were just five people he wanted to talk to before he died. He told me I was in a very elite group in Dave’s life and someone who he knew was a true friend to him.
I didn’t have a strategy to reach Dave for Christ. I was simply his friend. I stopped preaching to him long ago, but he clearly knew my stance, and he would fill in the blanks for me. I have no doubt that the Lord was reaching out to him and with him throughout his life, especially in that last twilight.
Dave knew that I cared for him and rejoiced in any blessing that came his way. I was much happier to see him with Jonathan than the men who would beat him. When they would make reference to the biblical Jonathan and David, it would strain a bit, but I had to respect the kindness and love they gave to each other.
I believe these attitudes helped keep the door open for the gospel to be demonstrated to my friend. If I had forced Dave to be my enemy in a cultural or religious war, I believe that I would have no standing to share anything with him. As it ended up, he allowed me the privilege to be there at the end, and I have the hope that he left this life calling out for God’s salvation.
…Or I could have boycotted A&E network because Phil spoke out about men’s anuses.
NOTE: This is a reposting of an article I wrote just after a social scuttlebutt regarding comments made by a character on a reality show, and the response on social media.