27 December 2009

Post Holiday Gifts, Rebecca Brown and G.I. Joe



When I was young the day after Christmas was reserved for showing off the gifts that I had been given to my friends and vice versa. Sometimes we were allowed to play with the new toys and sometimes we only got to look.

* * *

I have been reading Rebecca Brown’s collection of short stories Gifts of the Body. The narrator of the interwoven pieces is a home healthcare worker who helps people dying of AIDS. The stories illustrate the early 1990s in which people were still dying quickly. Wonder drugs and cocktail therapies had not yet emerged to extend the lives of the men and women who had contracted the HIV virus.

* * *

I got several gifts this year in order to bring me into the new century. My partner got me a cell phone. I used to brag that I had never owned a mobile phone, that “I didn’t want or need one, thank you.” I could have gotten by without it, but now I like being able to call people regardless of where I am. And texting, yet another way to communicate…

* * *

Each of Brown’s stories are gifts that the body can give: “The Gift of Sweat,” “The Gift of Sight,” “The Gift of Mourning.” Often the stories turn on the title and skew the perspective of the reader toward something unexpected. Gratefully, Brown’s stories aren’t a series of clever gimmicks or tropes. Each is grounded in her stark language and the deft experience of someone who has worked in the home-health field firsthand.

* * *

One of the Catholic Church’s corporal works of mercy is to visit the sick.

* * *

I am always uncertain of what kind of gift to bring someone who is staying in the hospital for more than a few days. I ask them if they need any toiletries, food or things from home. I shy away from plants. Is there a need to give someone in a hospital something that they need to care for?

* * *

When I was eight, I got G.I. Joe walkie-talkie headsets for Christmas. The idea that I could communicate with my friends at a distance without using my hands seemed futuristic. In the days after Christmas I had to share my gift with others in order to use it.

* * *

Sometimes I wonder where the men that I knew are—those who died from AIDS or AIDS-related illnesses in the 1990s shortly after I came out. These men, most of them my father’s age or older, served as mentors to me.

* * *

If I put on that headset again, could reach out to them somehow?

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