When Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues came out, I asked to host a reading at Books Inc. on Market. The company events coordinator didn’t want me to do a show in one of their San Francisco stores, since I already had several other San Francisco events scheduled, but the store manager was a friend of one of my contributors and he was really encouraging. I promised him to set up a reading like none of the others I was doing.
Over the years, Morbid Curiosity magazine (from which the book came) had many LGBTQ contributors. I decided to feature them at the Castro District reading. Queer sensibility had shaped a lot of what I tried to do with the magazine and I wanted to honor that.
Unfortunately, one of my favorite contributors had to be out of town the night of the reading. I asked if I could read his story, because I felt it was important to include it. I’d just started reading other people’s stories on this book tour -- before, I’d always read my own work -- but it felt necessary to represent a variety of voices. He said yes.
Then I had to face his work in a new way.
His essay is about assisting a friend’s suicide during the AIDS epidemic. It was written because my friend, the author, needed catharsis. His confession wasn’t initially intended for publication, but I begged for it. I published it under a psuedonym, since there’s no statute of limitations on murder.
I emceed the reading as usual, once again thrilled by the talent and humor of my book's contributors. Things were rolling right along until it was time for me to get up and read JD's piece.
I'd practiced reading it at home, so I knew I could get through the story without tripping or starting to cry. However, standing up in front of a good crowd in the Castro was a different puppy. I introduced the story briefly, underlined the truth of it, had a sip of water, and launched in.
It was intense to feel JD's words in my mouth. His friend Max was suffering from end-stage AIDS when his lover called together his closest friends for a pill party to end Max's life.
Just past the middle of the story, I had to sip my water again. I looked up into the audience, made eye contact with several of the men. At that point, I knew where the story was going. I could see that some of them did, too. They’d been there. If not at this particular suicide, they’d attended or been told of others. We shared a moment of complete understanding like I'd never felt while giving another reading -- because, when I read my own work, I was usually too afraid to look up and see if anyone was paying attention. The moment felt huge.
I was sorry for dragging these men through these memories again. And yet, for the younger people in the audience -- those who hadn’t been in San Francisco in the early 90s, those who hadn’t survived the epidemic -- it felt important to testify, to show what we had come through. I hadn't been at Max's suicide, but I'd been at another. I pray we never have to go through anything like that again.
The applause, when I finished reading, was thunderous.
Causes Loren Rhoads Supports