We sit together in silence. Our beers are left untouched, our words are left unspoken. My mouth is dry and my mind is in overdrive, but I can’t produce the words that clog my brain. Another one of our friends was buried today, and our circle is quickly diminishing. Once, we have been a clique of ten friends. We went to the clubs, and drank and danced the nights away. Some had been more than friends others had been platonic friends without the wish for more. Seven friends have passed away in ten years. The gay plague, that is what conservative newspapers had called it in the eighties and nineties. But we all know by now that it isn’t just a plague for gays. It is a plague for humans. How can it be that it still kills us? With all our knowledge and the access to condoms or meds. Are we really that naive and unconcerned? Do we ignore what we know for a moment of unbridled lust?
So, here I sit with Marcus and Will. We are the survivors of our clique, and I have no idea why. Why are some people infected and others are not? The three of us are not. Were we lucky or just careful, I don’t know? Who has decided to spare us this fate? And is it even fair that it is us? My life is not more privileged or liveable as Marvin’s, and yet, I am here, and he is not.
Marvin has taken his own life. He lived with the virus for two decades before everything changed for the worst. I am not sure what exactly changed. He never volunteered any information and I am not someone who pries. Like us, he saw the way our friends had wilted away. He had seen the agony, the pain, the humiliation. They faded in front of our eyes, and there was nothing we could do to stop it. Marvin, he refused to be a fading flower. He refused to live in pain and be in need of a carer. He lived a self-determined life and he wanted to end it that way too. Pills. He took sleeping pills that didn’t let him wake up again.
Earlier, at his funeral, I read a part of his farewell letter.
I want to thank you for mourning the loss of my human shell, but, remember: The show must go on. There were people before me and there will be people after me. And life goes on. All I can and will ask is that you don’t shed tears because I am gone, celebrate because I was here. And make the most out of your life. I enjoyed mine. Please do too. Goodbye.
People cried, of course. I did too. I can’t imagine my life without his wit and his snark. I don’t want to imagine nights out without him. But I must. Because, Marvin was right. The show must go on.
I push my beer away and get up. Marcus and Will look up as if they are trying to find words to say or the energy to move. They stay put, though, and they stay quiet. I hide my hands in my pockets and ponder what to say, but there are no words. I shrug my shoulders, lowering my head, before I nod in the direction of the pub’s door. They nod back and that’s my cue to leave. I don’t look back. I don’t want to see their grief.
The bright daylight blinds me as I step out of the dim pub and on the pavement. Nothing around me suggests that we just buried one of the best men to have ever wandered this earth. The world keeps spinning and people keep bustling around.
I drive home. I should be feeling more than I do and it almost makes me feel guilty. I am not numb, but I am not excessively sad either. I exist. That’s all, and it is not enough. At home, I put on some music and sit on the couch with my cell phone. I roam through my contacts until I find Marvin’s number. Delete. My contact list becomes emptier still. And out of the stereo, Freddie sings: The show must go on.