Buffalo Boy

Steven’s birthday had always been easy to remember. It fell on April 15; a moment in time when the United States government grants its citizenry an opportunity to account for their respective good fortune, wealth or absence thereof.

***

April 15 is a deadline accountants and tax attorneys need not be reminded of — their professional livelihoods rest in the bosom of the day’s arrival.

My friendship with Steven commenced in the late eighties (through a friend of a friend). Ever since, I have made certain to extend birthday wishes to him in person, by phone or with the assistance of the United States Postal Service (known, in our digital age as: ‘snail mail’).

Steven was not a technophobe. But he refused to join the ever-growing, multi-billion- worldwide-populace of web surfers; and by extension, he lacked an email address. “I can’t be bothered with computers,” he once said, during a conversation some years ago. “If you need to get in touch, you’ve got my cell number,” was how he deflected my best attempts at getting him on the Information Superhighway.

Steven was not liberal in his politics or with dispensing the digits that determined our cellular connection. Sometimes, when I opted to phone him, I felt like a member of his inner communication circle; but the geometry of that circle, of that friendship, sometimes felt skewed by the seeming fragility of those digits — What if he (in an act of consumer revolt) changed his cell phone provider/plan — consequently claiming possession of a new series of cell phone digits — falling short of comprehensively informing his inner communication circle?

This past April 15 was an unusual one. I was, uncharacteristically, self-absorbed; the preparations and circumstances of a June bride (me), trumped history — my previously unrelenting recognition of Steven’s birthday was in 2009, an example of the human capacity to forget amidst a flurry of emotion, anticipation and planning.

It was the middle of May when I remembered that I had forgotten Steven’s birthday. So, I swiftly chose a male-themed, aesthetically-sensitive card from my diverse collection, took pen in hand, expressed my apologies at sending a belated birthday greeting, stressed that Steven phone me (on my cell phone, if he preferred) and sent the card to his residence in Buffalo, New York.

Buffalo, New York is where Steven was born, where his childhood took root; it is where his mother and three sisters (with their respective husbands) live. And Buffalo is where Steven (as he sometimes put it) “escaped from.” Dallas, Texas, Los Angeles, California and Boston, Massachusetts have been cities where Steven journeyed, to live; each one (obviously different in their destination draw) part of his “escape” plan.

Boston was our common urban link — his South End condominium a nucleus for close friends, a micro-repository of carefully selected, purchased and displayed art. Steven’s armoire was filled with clothes arrived at by Neiman-Marcus purchases. He was strident in his opposition to filth — disdainful of dirt in any shape, manner or form — making his stemware spotless, visitors subject to shoe removal and his vacuum the ultimate item in his household arsenal.

The day the movers came to Steven’s South End condominium to facilitate his return to Buffalo in the mid nineties, he was, naturally, pre-occupied with the mechanics of returning ‘home.’

Although he made sure to hire ‘the best,’ the movers, he determined required copious amounts of supervision. This move, this return to a place he once “escaped from,” would be his final move, Steven asserted as I watched him meticulously wrap one of his prized lithographs. The conventional wisdom is: Something always gets broken in a move. Steven wanted to defy those odds, this one last time.

When Steven got settled in Buffalo and I needed to get away for a few days, in the wake of circumstances that catapulted me, inelegantly, from one life, to the unknown of another, I drove, from Boston to Buffalo upon Steven’s invitation and urging.

We ordered in the first night of my stay; from a Chinese place a few blocks from Steven’s apartment. When we had our fill, Steven lit up a Marlboro Light, a brand he had been dedicated to since our first flicker of friendship, leaned back in his brown leather armchair and stroked Zephyr, his Siamese cat.

Thirst had found its way to my palate so I made my way to the kitchen to quench it. I took a guess where Steven’s water glasses were kept, opening the cabinet to the right of the sink, tentatively. A massive amount of prescriptions were revealed; the whole of which illustrated a dimension of Steven’s life I had only minimally, until that moment, understood.

The face of HIV/AIDS was manifest in my life before my friendship with Steven. I made sure to educate myself about the virus (and its associated consequences) as soon as it became a public health menace. But with Steven’s HIV positive assertion, what was an ‘abstract’ awareness and concern became an intimate fact between friends.

“You have to swallow all of that, each day?” I asked Steven, referring to my discovery. “Yeah,” he said. “All of that is keeping me alive.” I took a sip of water, swallowed hard and wondered how long Steven’s life would be sustained by such a daily regimen of pills. And I wondered too, how I would know when the pills stopped working; when the respective dosages would become no match for the complications sure to arise a man of Steven’s medical category.

When my belated birthday card was returned and subsequent calls to Steven’s cell phone indicating the number was no longer in service — I recalled our last phone conversation, a few months preceding his birthday. “I saw this Art Deco piece (a style he knew I was fond of) and thought about buying it for you so you’d have something to remember me when I die,” he said. “Don’t talk like that,” I shot back.

Even though everything seemed to point to Steven’s death, I wanted to be sure.

Sometimes, Google is a dead end, I discovered, upon locating Steven’s death notice in The Buffalo News.

Founded in 1998, Legacy.com is an online media company that collaborates with more than 700 newspapers in North America, Europe and Australia to provide ways for readers to express condolences and share remembrances of loved ones. The Buffalo News is one such “collaboration.”

Legacy.com is visited by more than 10 million users each month. It partners with 76 of the 100 largest newspapers in the U.S. and features obituaries and Guest Books for more than 60 percent of people who die in the United States.

“Combine memorable stories, photos, videos and more to honor and celebrate the life of your loved one,” suggests the Legacy.com website. They attempt to entice ‘mourners’ with a 14-day free trial.

Steven never did like “free.”



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