At our last meeting, Robert was sleeping while Beethoven played. I sat by his bed and spoke into his good ear. He said he was sad because some friends hadn’t visited. I said, “You remind them they will die.” He hadn’t told his parents he had AIDS—in order to spare them, also himself. They would learn the truth at his funeral, their heads moving back as if from blows. His speech was slurred, but he dived for air and huffed out words, saying, “I don’t feel cheated.” He was 36. He said, “I wish I had written more,” as if to say he had cheated himself. I said, “All writers feel that.”
He asked me to bring him ice cream, and I went to the freezer for a pop. He slurped it hungrily, and I thought about how alive we are until nearly the end. I said, “You have inspired much love in your odd, shy way. How do you explain it?” He thought for a moment and said, “I'm not demanding.” We laughed, and I wondered if I could ever be that way. I was a little afraid of him, too, but the fear eased as we talked. It’s strange how the eye adjusts to disintegration. We just go on seeing the wholeness of the person.