Archive for March, 2019

Bohemian Rhapsody: A Look Back in Time

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019

  Not knowing what to expect, I sat down last week to watch the movie about Queen. If any of you think this is a movie review, you are in the wrong place. Instead, the movie brought me back to a time in my life that became vividly clear as one scene rolled into the next. I could see sights, smell aromas and hear noises.

  It was the early ‘90s, and I had recently completed my undergraduate studies. I was working two jobs, not knowing what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. Then, my world was turned upside down when my mom sat me down and informed me that she was going to have a major surgery. After being filled in on the risks, I tried ignoring the many thoughts running through my brain and did so for the next few weeks. 

  When my brother walked through the front door of my parents’ home a few days before the scheduled surgery, I suddenly became aware of the depth of what we were facing: moving on in our lives without my mother there to experience our ups and downs and comfort us along the way.

   The surgery would take a full day and not many of the same type had ever been done. The long list of complications associated with it were mind-numbing, especially the one that generically shows up at the end of any precautionary warnings that people are handed before they go under the knife. I had been informed enough about this surgery to know that the last thing on the sheet of paper was an actual reality with this surgery. I could only hope and pray that things would work out in our favor, but I had also learned that when it’s our time, it’s our time. There’s no stopping it, and in this game of life, nobody gets out alive, even though some will last much longer than others while trying to navigate inside the walls of the maze.

  So why did the movie about Queen and Freddie Mercury bring so many emotions to the forefront for me? Well, my brother had come home a few times prior to my mom having surgery, and during his trips, he had brought many different friends with him, friends who had a unique way of dressing. They wore flashy sport coats and unique hats, almost emblematic of the things seen on Michael Jackson’s videos and in Prince’s performances. These people – and my brother – seemed different, like they were living on the edge, in a world that hadn’t become socially acceptable yet. Maybe, just maybe, they were changing with the times and I hadn’t caught up yet to what was happening in the fashion world.

  Although my brother had dated a very nice girl before he left for college in Montana, I now suspected that something was different. My brother seemed to mix well with his new friends, and some of the friends seemed feminine.

  It was in the low ‘80s the day my mother got operated on. I made sure I didn’t have to work so I could be there while the doctors tried performing a miracle. Sitting in the waiting room, my palms began sweating and my breathing became choppy and shallow. I needed to get out of the sterile building and allow my eyes to take in the bright blue sky. 

  Watching my brother, I sensed that he needed the same thing. He clenched his hands together and cracked his knuckles before reaching behind his head and locking his hands together around the back of his neck and extending his head up and back while rolling his shoulders. He tapped his left toe against his right toe and pushed them into the floor and pushed his heels into the air. I could see the tension in his calves when he held the pose for a few seconds before dropping his heels back onto the tiled floor. His fidgeting made me concerned that there was something beyond my mother that was worrying him.

   When he asked me to walk out of Albany Med and go to Washington Park to sit down for a bit, I accepted his offer. My inner-self had made it clear that I couldn’t do a damn thing in that waiting room – except wait. I could wait outside in the fresh air just as easily I could wait in the stale, dull waiting room, where sickness and death were permeating through the walls and down the halls

  As we made our way down the narrow sidewalk toward the park, he began talking. Although he wasn’t really feeling me out, I don’t think the words that were coming out of his mouth were exactly as he wanted to put them. He seemed in tune with the ways of the world and knew a lot about the phenomenon that was creeping across America – AIDS. People had been dying, including some of his friends, and he seemed lost in a world filled with people who were running scared from gay men. People, in their stereotypical fashion, believed that AIDS could jump off these men and find a new home in others’ bodies. At that point, the odds were not good for anyone diagnosed with the disease, and most people knew that a positive diagnosis was a death sentence.

  After making our way to a bench in front of the pond in the park, we silently observed the ducks in the water. Five ducklings followed their mother in single file, some sticking their heads into the water to retrieve unlucky minnows for a meal. The V that formed behind them gave me a gentle reminder that as quiet as it seemed, another creature’s world was being rocked by the tiny movement of water cast aside as the ducks continued swimming toward the fountain, just as my world had quickly begun to experience something that could be compared to thunderous waves crashing against an ocean dike.

  The few minutes of silence was deafening. Although I couldn’t hear my brother’s thoughts, I could see them racing around the track inside his mind, not knowing how to free themselves from captivity. Then, as clear as the blue sky above us, I listened to his voice as words began to flow like the rays of sunlight finding their way through the leaf-covered trees across the pond.

  Within minutes, I came to learn that the wait was eating at him like a pack of hyenas devouring a freshly fallen gazelle that was battling to stay alive. The tone of his voice never changed when he told me his nerves were shot from waiting for the results to a “test.” Although he never told me the name of the test, I was certain that it wasn’t the last civil service examination that had been given a few weeks earlier. 

  With numerous people, including famous actors, musicians, and some of his friends, falling like flies, he was waiting for the results from the same test that had told many of them a story they never expected to hear. After all, the disease came on in full force, and the players had minimal to no chance of survival. I realized that he needed to share his thoughts with someone. At the time, it probably seemed safe to share them with his youngest sibling, so I sat quietly and listened.

  After the brief exchange, we got up and made our way to the waiting room. As we walked up the hill along the side of the street, we shared a few laughs and truly enjoyed the rays of sunshine that could be seen in every direction. The dark shadows from the large buildings kept us hidden, but they couldn’t hold us back. I gently patted my brother on the back and said, “Everything is going to be okay.” 

  I’m not sure if I was trying to convince myself, him or the unknown presence in the sky above us when I spoke. I was talking to anything that would hear me, and I was praying with everything I had that my mother would come through the operation. Not only was that weighing on my mind, now I had to worry about my brother. I loved him, and it didn’t matter if he was straight, gay, bi, yellow, purple, black or red: he was my brother, my only brother. 

  After that day, we never spoke about what happened. As the years passed, it seemed like the moment in time that I experienced with him was a dreamlike image that found its way into my thoughts every now and then out of nowhere. Although I still worried about him, I came to learn during that week that when it’s your time, it’s your time. There’s nothing you can do about it when the time comes. It doesn’t matter how big or small you are, and it doesn’t matter how rich or poor you happen to be. Death has no favorites, and nobody survives the game of life: there will be no last man standing.

  Now, almost 30 years later, “Bohemian Rhapsody” found it’s way onto my television, and I was thrown back to this time.  Along the way, I had almost forgotten the battle my brother faced in one of the scariest times in the United States. The younger generation probably doesn’t have a clue about it, or if tit does, it certainly will never grasp the fear and paranoia that spread across the heartland, from the big cities to the mountains. People were afraid to touch anyone who might be carrying the AIDS disease. Maybe I was ignorant to the ways of the world, but I always looked at my brother as my brother, and I’ll be forever thankful that he survived the scare. I was always sad for him, knowing that he had lost many close friends and even a few iconic people he looked up to, including Freddie Mercury.

  I’m not sure why I wrote any of this when I sat down, other than it’s the first thing that found its way into my mind. I’ve always respected my brother. I would do anything to be as smart as him, and I’ve always been fascinated by his intelligence. There are very few things in this world that he doesn’t know something about. He also has more historical knowledge stored in his brain than most people could comprehend. When he was chosen as one of the top students in the “Who’s Who of American High School Students,” they picked the right person. Although he’s a family member and I might be somewhat biased, I haven’t met many people who can compare to him.  I have always admired the variety of people he knows and speaks to on a daily basis. His circle of friends and acquaintances never ceases to amaze me.

  Now, we have drastically different lifestyles than we did when we were growing up, but each of us has found our place in this world, and we have flowed down the river of life just like the water that trickles down tiny streams, finds its way into rivers and eventually mixes in with water from all over the world when its journey begins again in the ocean. 

  My mother still looks over both of us as if we are still young children. She has survived the test of time, and both of us couldn’t be happier about that. We never could have asked for a better mother, a mother who gave so much of herself to make sure we found our way on the paths we chose to follow. She never discouraged either one of us, and she has always given us confidence and reassurance that we are doing the right thing. She let us make mistakes and learn from them, even if she knows she should step in and warn us of what might happen.  It has always been obvious how proud she is of both of us, and that pride can carry a person a long way, especially when you know your existence means the world to the one who gave you life.

  I’m glad that “Bohemian Rhapsody” brought me back to that summer day when my world could’ve easily caved in and the sinkhole could’ve swallowed me. Instead, we all learned a lot about each other, and we have never stopped learning. Change is constant, and we cannot predict what might happen from minute to minute, day to day, week to week, month to month, or year to year. That’s why we should all enjoy every day for what it is: another day to be ourselves and enjoy the life we have been granted. You don’t get a second chance so go create your own music and sing your own songs. You might just be amazed where the trail will lead you if your willing to take a chance and follow it when it appears brushed in and hard to see.