Main | Monday, January 16, 2006

Runner And Crier

An epilogue to Guilty.....

The day after I posted Guilty, I got an email from a reader in North Miami.

"Joe, I just read yesterday's post and I was wondering if the man in your story could be the guy that is staying with my neighbor. He's driving a big truck and he's been going up to Ramrod a lot. He also pretty much fits the description from your story."

I wrote back and asked this reader if he could get the name of the fellow staying with his neighbor. A couple of emails later, and I had the name.

Ouch. The name was very well known to me. It was someone that I'd gotten rather close to in California, but had lost contact with when I moved to NYC and hadn't seen or heard from in almost five years. He and I had taken a couple of road trips up to the Russian River, and had shared hotel rooms at least three times. He came to my going away party, when I left SF.

I asked the North Miami reader to please leave my phone number with the guy, whom I'm calling "M" for this story. I asked him to tell M that I'd be grateful if he could call me, any time, day or night.

That day, no call. The next day, no call. Finally, on Saturday afternoon, the phone rang.

"Hey Joe, it's M."

"Hi M, thanks very much for calling me back. I appreciate it. I just wanted to apologize to you."

"Because of the Ramrod?"

"Yes."

"Well?"

"I'm sorry."

"Which part are you apologizing for? For not recognizing me? Or for ignoring me after you did?"

I swallowed hard. "Well, M...to be very honest, I never did recognize you." Then I explained about the email from the reader.

"You wrote a STORY on the INTERNET about how freakish I look?"

"Well, no...I wrote a story about running into somebody who looked like he'd been pretty sick....and about how ashamed I was for the way I handled it."

"Joe, I know I look sick. My own cousin walked right past me at Safeway."

Then M explained that he'd been undergoing chemotherapy for non-Hodgkins lymphoma, one of the nastiest AIDS complications out there. I doubt there's a middle-aged gay man in this country who hasn't lost at least a couple of friends to NHL. M told me that the cancer had recurred twice in under four years. Presently, he's staying with friends in North Miami in between getting some experimental treatment at a Miami cancer clinic.

I apologized to M again for not recognizing him, but I received no absolution. I told him that I'd be down in Florida again in March, and that I'd love it if he'd let me take him to dinner, but he declined. Then I offered to give him this blog address and allow him to write a guest post addressing my behavior. He didn't even want the URL.

"No, Joe. Not interested. You'll have to find some other way to unguilt yourself."

"OK. I understand."

"Before you hang up, Joe, let me say something. Ever since I've been getting the chemo and I lost all the weight, I've been running into people like you. About half of them just hold on to me and cry and cry.....the other half just run away. I never figured you to be one of the runners."

He was wrong. I had done both.

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