The following post is part of a series I’ll be sharing over the next 18 days. They draw from my solo performance play: My Brother Kissed Mark Zuckerberg. My brother David was diagnosed with HIV in March 1988, he died from the complications of AIDS on November 23, 1992, exactly one month after his 32nd birthday. On November 6, 1992 I flew to NYC beginning the most incredible 18 days of my life. The impact of that experience and my brother’s final wish, “listen to your heart”, continue to unfold in extraordinary ways almost 30 years later.
I remember that phone call like it was yesterday.
A minute into our conversation he said “I got tested, I’m HIV positive”. The air just sucked out of me, I couldn’t speak. It was devastating news, but not surprising. AIDS was never far from my thoughts ever since those first reports of the mysterious “gay cancer”.
I had to see him. Two days later I arrive in New York City and go straight to the studio where he’s in rehearsal for an upcoming tour of Dirty Dancing.
Learning to Move As One
Funny how things sometimes just grab you
a lightbulb goes on and then you see things so clearly
I’m in New York City because of his call
but all I can think of is dancing, dirty dancing
boy I missed the boat on this one
well maybe a few others as well
how come nobody told me?
shaking and gyrating and that is just the start
their hands all over those girls
did I not read the course description in high school closely enough?
Intro to Drama
Intro to Drama offers students an opportunity to work closely together as they develop their acting skills. Dance is also part of this introductory course. This is a co-ed class; boys are encouraged to enroll since the class is typically composed mostly of girls.
Wow… I guess I missed that!
I’m stunned, in awe
he moves through space with such power and grace
I’m sitting on the dance floor against the wall, like I did the very first time I saw him dance
when he took off on one leg
floating, suspended in mid-flight
finally dropping to the dance floor, then bounding effortlessly into a kick then off again
I feel my aching knees twitch
here we are in New York City March 1988
death sentence pronounced
an unwelcome journey begins
us, bound in familial mystery
me, learning our new dance
two brothers learning to move as one
#2 in a series of posts to honor my brother David who died from the complications of AIDS Nov 23, 1992
Even from an early age David displayed traits that would serve him well later in life, particularly once he began his battle with AIDS. He was charming and charismatic, always generous, and a good friend to all. If there was something he wanted, David relentlessly pursued it. For example, my dad reports that David was never formally admitted to the college he got a BA from; he just started taking classes.
This poem uses our many trips to the emergency room as kids to tell a little bit about us and a lot about him. My kids know this story well since I retold it many times when they were young as a warning about the danger of climbing on chairs.
A STORY BY HEART
My kids know the story by heart
“careful climbing that chair!”
“did I ever tell you the story about my brother?”
“yes, dad, you’ve told us many times!”
still toddling around the house, David’s a climber
up on a kitchen chair
over he topples just out of my reach
leg caught between chair and the floor
another trip to the ER for my parents
I account for two trips
shoveling snow with Dougy Rhodes, he lifts the shovel over his head
catching me right between the eyes
a bloody trail home in the snow, a scar here to prove it
then there’s the neighborhood football game with no helmets, not very smart
tackled into a fence post, all bloody I burst in the back door yelling, Mom!
my brother Jeff has one for sure I know of
I spot him climbing the very same fence that bloodied my head just as he slips
he’s hanging by metal points stuck in his chin
I’m down the stairs and out the door in flash
why I was looking out the window I never will know,
phew…that was a close one!
my sister Shirley has had more than her share
hit in the eye with a bb by troublemaker Tom Varns for one
later more frightening trips to the ER with meningitis
that’s scary stuff
our poor parents!
but, even a cast on his leg didn’t stop David
dragging himself around the house so determined, never missing a beat
a sweet little guy with an oversized head
like the leprechaun on the Lucky Charms box
we nickname him “Charm”
he, of course, grew into that head
but who would have thought the nickname would stick
not Charm, but who he became
charming and talented, so charismatic
everyone wants to be with him
I wonder if that helped kill him?
#3 in a series of posts to honor my brother David who died from the complications of AIDS Nov 23, 1992
As my brother’s illness progressed we would go back and forth visiting each other, he’d visit me in WA State, and I’d come to NYC to see him. Some of my visits were because of a health crisis but on this trip it was just for fun.
By 1991 David was slowly losing his eye sight to CMV induced retinitus, a common occurence in the epidemic’s early years. It had been about four months since we’d seen each other..
BLIND AT THE DOOR
another trip to NYC, this time just for fun
let’s go dancing my only request
a muffled “coming” follows my two knocks on his door
locks click click in turn
door draws open
I squint to see
he appears from behind the door looking down, not at me
my heart sinks
lips quiver, poised for a runaway chain reaction of emotion
hi, I say
we kiss and embrace
he ushers me in and offers to make us tea, carrying on as if nothing has changed
I am in awe as if watching him move across the dance floor for the very first time
how cruel this disease
a man once so strong and agile, now broken and battered yet, far from defeated
Lila, Eddie’s parrot blurts out her favorite phrase: “hey white boy!”
I carry on, for now, keeping my defeat at bay
#4 in a series of posts to honor my brother David who died from the complications of AIDS Nov 23, 1992. More at davidserko.com
Over the more than three years my brother lived after his diagnosis we spent more time together than we had in all the previous years. My attitude always was to not dwell on his illness but to simply enjoy our time together. On one trip to NYC it took me three attempts to walk out the door when it was time to leave I was so distraught, I thought I might be saying goodbye for the last time. We had our talks, but I never could bring myself to talk as openly and honestly as I would have liked. So, I composed a three page letter to him one month before he died.
I never sent the letter.
LETTER NEVER SENT
I’ve never been one to write
come to think of it, neither have you
that’s how my letter starts
speaking in measured tones
thinking, I had more time
wishing, it was sent
this letter’s my best try
if only we could be like the angels
out beyond mere words
speaking things unimaginable
it’s important to me
but, difficult to conceive
let alone say
me at your side when the time comes
your last breath, precious
so, let’s walk and talk like angels
speaking things so carefree
life lived unmeasured
goodbyes now, of no significance
remembering fondly, even these days
#5 in a series of posts to honor my brother David who died from the complications of AIDS on Nov 23, 1992. More info: davidserko.com
Two phone calls mark the beginning and end of our AIDS journey. The first described in post #1 found me in NYC in March 1988, within days of his HIV diagnosis. He was healthy and fit, preparing to tour Europe in “Dirty Dancing.” The second call came on November 5, 1992, from my father saying that David was in Lenox Hill Hospital and I should come as quickly as possible.
I arrived in NYC around 6 pm the next evening and took a cab straight to Lenox Hill. As we turned on to 77th street, I noticed a song playing on the cab’s radio. It sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. Then, as I moved to open the door, it hit me. It was the theme song from Dirty Dancing called “I Had The Time of My Life.” Stunned, I stood frozen at the curb, the bustling hospital entry silent, the song’s refrain playing in my head. I knew what it meant—an omen of what was to come. Eighteen days later, my brother was dead.
SOMETHING SIMPLE IN MAHAGONY
Another hallucination of Marilyn Monroe appearing in his bathroom
still looking good in that sexy white dress he reports
blindness chased with morphine has its benefits it seems
Danny and I keep him company this afternoon
like we did yesterday, or was it the day before?
is today Monday, or Tuesday?
I don’t even know what day it is anymore
it doesn’t matter I suppose, our task is simple
I’m sitting on the side of his bed
“I need you to do something for me”, he says in a serious tone
of course! I reply
secretly hoping he wants a piece of ricotta cheesecake from Evelyn’s around the corner
but, it is not what I expect to hear
each word growing fainter, more distant inside my head
hope draining out of me
I hear clearly: “arrange my funeral ”
control slips my grasp
sobbing, almost hysterical I lay my head on his chest
he gently strokes my hair
catheter in his chest pressing against the side of my face
time passes, I forget Danny is even in the room
turning, I see him standing at the foot of the bed in tears
I’m trembling, unable to muster enough air to speak
I can’t get control
part of me prefers it that way
“go with Eddie to Frank Campbell Funeral Chapel” he half-whispers in my ear
ask for the Judy Garland room, I want the room Judy was laid out in
pick out a casket, something simple in mahogany”
I snap upright
something simple in mahogany?
I was hoping you wanted cheesecake