One of those people was Fred.
Fred, HIV positive, had been living on the streets and had worked as a stripper. Barbara, who looked after him later, said that his twin brother had died when the boys were 3, and after that Fred went live with his grandmother. She reckoned that he had been abused as a child, but Fred didn’t speak often of his family at all. When he was chrismated into the Orthodox Church, he acquired a family that never rejected him.
I never heard Fred moan about his life. Oh, he would do the kind of good-natured complaining that was really a way of sharing information, but it was never “poor, miserable me.”
John and Jenny went away to become Father and Matushka, and Fred stayed on. Around that time, doctors told him he had a year to live. That was about seven years ago.
There was something about Fred that was at once endearingly childlike and annoyingly childish. Sometimes he was like a 10-year-old — poke, poke, poke — irritating people for fun. On the other hand, he worked as a caregiver for terminally ill people and had perfect patience and compassion for their cranky ways and insensitivity. He would help himself to things that weren’t his — small sums of cash and the like — but he would give his last nickel to someone else who needed it more.
The last time I talked to Fred was a couple of weeks ago. He’s been involved in the Cascade AIDS project, in which people gather weekly to write as a means of processing their way of seeing the world. As John Ruskin advocated drawing so that people could learn to see the world, these folks write for a different view. Anyway, Fred wanted me to give him advice about getting published.
He didn’t have the time or strength for the long and brutal road of paid publishing and he didn’t have the money for self-publishing, so I suggested that he start a blog. Barbara said that when she was looking through his effects, she found written in his notebook, “start a blog,” and the Blogspot URL.
Fred died Friday, surrounded by friends from his various communities, including enough people from our parish that they could sing him away. As Fred lay in a coma, the street preacher was there, whispering in his ear that he could still accept Jesus as his personal savior, and Barbara said to him, “I think Fred’s OK.”
I don’t know if Fred knew how close he was to death when he got his hair dyed pink, but he had actually bought sensible clothes and a pocket watch with money from Father John and Jenny and a collection from parishioners.
Anyway, since Fred never got around to starting that blog, here are a couple of items that may have showed up in it if he had. Maybe the people who have gone home to be with Christ read blogs — I’ve seen ads to St. Jude in Catholic newspapers, so it’s certainly possible — so this is for you, Fred.
If It Was Not For God
Fred Gresham, Cascade AIDS Project
This last summer I spent the whole summer in the hospital. I had just given up on God, but I still knew he would not fail me when I needed him the most. I found that out when I was in the hospital and I was ready to give up on life altogether, but something or someone kept on reminding me that God was watching over me and all I had to do was surrender my life to him and let him have his way. I guess it just wasn’t my time yet. I realized he had a greater purpose for me even though I still don’t understand what it is. But I am healthier now and more in touch with my spiritual self. That is why I must say if it wasn’t for God I would not be here now.
The Feeling of Emotion
The feeling is love.
The feeling is shame.
The feeling is courage.
The feeling is heartache.
The feeling is sorrow.
The feeling is joy.
The feeling is alive.
The feeling is panic.
The feeling is anxious.
The feeling is despair.
The feeling is death.
The feeling is rebirth.
I feel scared sometimes about my writing because I don’t think people will take it for what is like when it is serious, funny, or even a true story. I think they wouldn’t see what I have been through.
I also feel my writing is not that good to get the point or subject matter across. I found myself to be my worst critic. I also feel that is why I don’t let people read my writing because I am afraid of the negative or positive criticism. That is why I feel I am misunderstood in my writing abilities.