Greetings, kisses, hugs, huddle. The talk is low key, about another year drawing to a close, and counting our losses. Robin says - he would - I wish Derek was here. I shut my eyes and listen to Brian reply, what about counting our blessings, and when I open my eyes it is to nods of thoughtful agreement.
Brian says, what about our tidings of great joy? And Tony sips his chardonnay and cautions - it's automatic disclaimer and predictable defence - that the drugs won't help everyone; anyhow, let's talk long-term: there will be crises of confidence along the road; we have been there and done that.
Brian says, yes, haven't we. And who sees the end of the road when they're travelling? But this year, unlike last year and the seemingly countless years beyond, we may really have something to look forward to, to lay plans for, thanks to new regimes, treatments, thanks to our inhibitors.
Brian breathes that out, and the words drift like snow, beautiful and destined to melt, because the old, familiar faces want to believe, and part of the old, familiar faces still can't, quite. The old, familiar faces have grown so accustomed to being picked off, one by one, to striking names from Filofaxes, to thinning invitation lists, to calling up and letting you know the worst with a song and a killing quip.
Miss Otis Regrets She's Unable to Lunch Today. Or ever.
Sean rescues the moment by talking about his day, how his movements are ordered by how many pills he has to take, and in which combinations, when on an empty stomach and when not. He says his viral load is nearly non-existent. He's healthier, better; how very odd. Tom, a long-time survivor, wryly cracks that chemically speaking, nothing much has changed, then. Except having to learn to live again. And this gets a thunderclap of laughter out of all proportion to the comment, everyone is so skittish, so nervous, so scared.
And because it's true. Death is what we have learnt, too soon and too often, our daily lesson in the dark. Yet it had to be. Only now we find that necessary habits, like bad ones, are hard to break.
Tom says, of course there are those who still don't want us to live, who complain what our survival has cost the taxpayer, as if we weren't taxpayers. That it was all a con trick, and what about colon cancer and heart disease? Which makes Sean mention, chapter and verse, how research in this field has accelerated research in literally hundreds of others. Except that Tony ignores his seriousness and growls, round up the usual suspects, and Brian goes (high-pitched mantra-fashion), Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Express, Sunday Times. We laugh again, and laugh harder when Tom chips in with, it's good to see the lines of misinformation kept open.
I pick up the ball and say that the right and the self-righteous think they can turn back the clock and make the slow finish of this the revival of bigotry. Sean shrugs: too late, this changed everything. And Robin muses that he would never have come out otherwise, that what was happening to him made him value who he was, made hiding a ridiculous pastime. I observe that it wasn't exactly a matter of choice, that it shoved everyone, discreet, bolshy, hung-up or happy, infected or free, centre-stage. Unspoken pacts with society, family, friends and ourselves were shattered; so many private lives and private things made public. That it was, finally, inescapably, both retrovirus and advance virus, dragging us along.
Brian intones, we're losing the mystery and terror from our lives, and I shriek that that's from the remake of King Kong, that's what Jeff Bridges says about taking the Great Ape away from the natives. Brian shrieks: only you, you waster, would remember dialogue from the remake of King Kong. And we're giggling again. I can't tell you how good, how utterly strange and surprising it feels. Even when Sean adds that too many gay men want the curtain down this very instant, that there was always a breed who preferred to ignore, and who now want to blot out; and have taken to openly, not covertly, treating us as tainted goods, sore losers, bad reminders. They're so determined to get back to the party, and we're party poopers. Here, a new generation will be along soon, and they'll never have, deep in their guts, the agony, the fear, the rush; or understand how they benefited from what we went through. And Brian says, what we lived through, Sean, what we lived through; and I find myself quoting Derek. That there was a before before. That one day our futures would return to us.
Well, Robin says, I intend to decorate my house. Tony says he hopes to fall in love. Brian says, I won't fall in but I might step in, and we're off, roaring. We're so loud, this boy comes over, and he flirts with Robin, who six months ago weighed 90 pounds and was partially blind. And this boy, young and merry sweet, says, guys, you're really whooping it up, what's so bloody funny? And I say, campily, oh, you'll never know, and Sean is standing right behind me, so only I hear him whisper, with weary emphasis, John, from your lips to God's ear.