Friday, July 5, 2013

Fantasmas de San Francisco: Corner of 15th and Dolores Street

David was a friend I made while we were receiving radiation treatment for our respective cancers. We met in the men’s locker room in UCSF’s basement at their Mount Zion campus in January 2010.

Davidcito was born in 1939—the same year my dad was born. He was originally from Utah but moved out to San Francisco in the 1960s so he could be free to be the vibrant gay man he was. As far as I know, he never left the city. He loved opera, film, literature and once blared a famous opera—I wish I could remember which one, but I don’t—from the music store he worked at in Salt Lake City and walked out into the middle of the street, facing the store, and waved his hands to and fro as though he was conducting the score. He told me these stories weeks before he died on May 7, 2011.

Before he left Planet Earth, I would walk over to the condominium he and his partner, Jimmy, had over by 15th & Guerrero Street. By then, David’s cancer had spread from his anal canal to his liver to other surrounding parts of his body. He was frail compared to the man I first met before my 7:45 a.m. radiation treatments.

On those weekday mornings, we would gingerly walk around his block, his arm nestled around mine. His gray hair was cropped. His beard had grown out. He would tell me about his siblings and nieces who were coming to visit from Utah. He would make me laugh with a few of his stories, especially some funny ones about all the good times he had with weed and mushrooms. I remember how tranquil and peaceful our walks seemed. Birds chirping in the trees we passed. Sunlight trickling through their leaves, Mission Dolores a block away. It felt nourishing to slow down with David. By then, my lymphoma had been in remission for a year.

Months before he died, I remember a walk we took to Church Street to eat an early lunch. It was September 2010. During the summer, he had a surgery to snip off part of his liver where his cancer had spread. While we walked up to this corner of 15th and Dolores, David told me more about the spread of his cancer.

The tone of his voice was not somber or dejected when he told me how grim his prognosis was. His voice was simply matter-of-fact, which made it more difficult for me to take in. By the time we got to the crosswalk, my eyes were filling with tears I was trying hard to hold back, especially when he told me, “We all have to go sometime.”

As we crossed Dolores Street, David hooked his arm around mine. I could feel myself lighten when he did. I looked back at a driver that stopped to allow us to cross. In that moment, I could see myself and David through his eyes. I felt so honored and fortunate to be able to care for this beautiful man who put his arm around mine.

“I used to think that cancer would never get me,” he told me. “Not David Hardy! I’m too tough. But—I found out that we’re all vulnerable. All mortal.”

“Mortals!” I said, shaking my fist.

In snapping pictures for this blog column, I revisited the block David and I used to walk together, two years before.

To my surprise, I didn’t feel really sad to walk along the very same sidewalk we once strolled together. The afternoon sun was out. A small U-Haul trailer was parked on the sidewalk. Somehow, seeing it filled me with some sense of solace; I thought of the brand new galaxy of memories that would be founded by whomever was moving into that tranquil part of the Mission. A chain of life continuing on.

But that whole area of the city bordering the Castro District—the block on Guerrero between 15th and 16th Streets where I ducked beneath an apartment building to sob after my September lunch date with David in 2010; Chilango Restaurant on Church Street; and even seeing Mission Dolores in Hitchcock’s Vertigo is tinged with my friend who left. I knew David for a smidgeon of his life. I only got to know the version of him that struggled mightily for his life.

Even now, I stare out my window facing west, toward San Francisco, Elton John’s “Daniel” playing, the sun setting. And I’m crying. It just doesn’t seem fair that David’s not here to see this same sunset when I know how badly he wanted to stay. Part of me is grateful to still carry this sorrow but it still doesn’t seem fair. I’m not sure if I’ll ever shake this feeling, however long I live.

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