In March 24, 1987 – my 28th birthday – I was given 18 to 24 months to live. I had a good cry and “put my affairs in order.” I was 28: ordering my affairs took less time than a double feature of “Mahogany” and “Valley of the Dolls.”
Five years later, I was still alive, but all but a handful of the men in my life were dead. Best friends, mentors, guys I couldn’t stand, casual acquaintances, old hookups, the handsome waiter, that creep in the bar who could never keep his hands to himself, the bartender I was secretly in love with, and the person I depended on more than any other… Hundreds of funerals. All of them died in five years, slowly, painfully, often abandoned by their biological families.
This didn’t just happen to me; it happened to my entire culture. The culture I depended on for feelings of self worth and safety. The culture that had allowed me to be a person, and not some craven thing skulking through life with a fake smile on my face and stories about the girlfriend who didn’t exist (or, worse, did). That culture. Wiped out in a decade.
I was “lucky.” I got sick, stayed sick had to abandon my career, but I somehow never went beyond medium-sick. I was six foot three and weighed 145 pounds, and when I grimaced, you could see the shape of my teeth through my cheeks, but I could walk and talk. I slept 18 hours a day and tried not to pick the lesions, but I could eat anything I wanted, even if it often didn’t stay down or in. I did volunteer work, bought a grand piano, and made very dark jokes. And I didn’t die. I eventually joined the ranks of chemical miracles, and went on to have another, rather disturbed life with moments of great joy and quite a few really bad decisions – unbelievable, mind boggling bad decisions. I drifted away from my surviving friends. We loved each other, but like parents who’ve lost a child, we gradually ceased to be anything but a reminder of something unbearable. I’ve heard the word “lucky” quite a lot. With so many better men who loved life so much more than I can rotting in the ground or ashes on the wind, I’ve never for a moment felt lucky. I feel guilty. I feel ashamed. It feels _wrong_. It’s felt wrong for 33 years. These aren’t rational feelings and I don’t want to talk about them. Everything has already been said, despite the fact that there was never anything to be done. It is what it is.
The headline struck me. American demographers call my generation “the lost generation.” Before she died, my mother apologized for her role in the alcoholic family that made me what therapists in the field call a “lost child.” It seems only fitting I should be one of the lost men.
By Bryan Harrison, February 2020