in his own words

Following Shane’s death, I found myself on a quest.  He’d been meticulous in leaving copious notes of instruction on how to do just about everything, from closing his checking account, to lists of friends to notify, to notes on his memorial and what to do with his most-prized possessions.  He’d thought through everything so well, been so prepared, and yet I found myself increasingly irritated by him.

As I searched the house, going through paper after paper, I couldn’t believe that he’d been so zealous about the factual, the every day — the mundane even — and yet had not left a personal letter for me.  Some communication of how he felt.  Of what our love had meant to him.  I was being selfish, I realize now, in expecting him to have put down on paper such feelings, and yet I found that I needed it — almost desperately.

Perhaps it was because, prior to his death, he hadn’t been able to really communicate.  Thoughts were garbled, then words were gone altogether.  In the end, he couldn’t even blink for “yes” or squeeze my hand.

We’d had a moment, before his speech had gone, where he’d been angry.  I wasn’t doing things the way he wanted — not understanding his needs.  And while we’d patched things up, there remained a tinge of lingering doubt. Did he really hate me?  Was he simply overwrought, lashing out?  Or maybe trying to push me away to save me the pain of losing him?

And I hated him for leaving me.  Yes, for leaving, and for being so damned fucking anal with his endless piles of instructions, and so thoughtless as to never consider a letter for me.

In the days after his death, I went through every drawer in the house.  Read every letter and scrap of paper I came across.  Looked in places, both obvious and not, where he might have left something.

And then I found it.  A simple slip of paper, with a few scribbled lines, tucked behind some pages in his Day Runner. I had almost missed it.

Those few words, written by his own hand, were all I needed.

******

If you’ve ever seen the movie Spitfire Grill, you’re already familiar with the concept of house raffles.  In Yankee Magazine, which Shane loved, every so often there would be an ad for a house raffle.  For a variety of reasons, people would ask for a small entry fee, along with an essay on why you wanted their house, and award the house to some lucky winner.  Shane became fixated on one such house, and wrote the following, which gives a better sense of who he is than I could ever communicate.

I’d imagine that this essay may be one of the more unusual essays you receive. I’m quite sure most people who have entered this contest are looking for a place to live. A fair number may simply be looking to win the property in the hopes of making a killing by selling it right away. I, too, am looking for a place to live as well as hoping to increase my net worth by winning your beautiful home, but the reality is I may also be securing a place to die. I have AIDS.

I figured I might as well state that fact right off the bat. My guess is I may have instantly put myself out of the running with that little piece of information, but in the event I haven’t lost you yet, I’ll continue. I really do have a very good reason for entering this contest.

Two summers ago, eight friends and I rented a house on Linekin Bay in Boothbay Harbor for a week in August. Although I was born in the Berkshire Mountains and raised in New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley, I’d never been to Maine. I’d been all over New England, but not to Maine. I was hooked. Absolutely obsessed. Ever since that visit, I’ve found myself constantly fantasizing about living there.

I know the average person may wonder why I’d be so willing to give up my life in sun-kissed Southern California for the seemingly less comfortable life of a northeasterner, and the fact is, I’m not sure I can explain it. It seems to me almost a spiritual thing. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for nearly 13 years.  I’ve made quite a life for myself here – a large number of friends and acquaintances; a fair amount of professional success (nothing to brag about, but I take care of myself); a good deal of recognition for my involvement in community and volunteer activities, etc. – still, each year when I travel back east for a summer or winter visit, despite horrendous humidity or blistering cold and snow, I find it harder and harder to return to my digs in sunny Southern Cal.

Maybe it’s because most of my family is still located in the northeast. My mother and younger sister both have homes in central New York State. I will admit, the thought of living nearer to them; of seeing them more that once or twice a year; of having them close enough that I could decide on a whim to visit them and be able to do it, is intriguing. Yes, having family closer may be part of it, but still there’s more.

Could it be all of the friends that I left behind when I “went west”? It’s true, I admit it, my deepest, “bestest” friends remain the friends I have “back east”. Maybe because these are the ones I grew up with. Maybe just because they’re from the northeast. See, I don’t think I ever really became a Southern Californian. Oh, I’ve learned over the years to honestly love many things about life here in the west. Nevertheless, I still order most of my clothes from L.L. Bean. I hurry off to the nearby mountains each January at the first mention of snow. And each fall, when I know everyone in New York or Massachusetts or Maine is layering a nice shetland wool sweater over their corduroy shirt, I’m left to pine away, staring at my own wonderful collection of shetlands and raggs and Irish wools, carefully stored in cedar and mothballs, waiting for the one or two weeks I spend each year in climates cold enough to use them.

I was certain it would fade. That kinda little spot inside of me that missed the east. I was so sure that time in L.A. would fill it with new pleasures and interests. I was, in fact, partially correct. As I’ve already said, I don’t loathe my life here. I have found new pleasures and interests, but there’s still a part of me, that particular spot I spoke of a moment ago, that has never stopped yearning for east coast things. The first day of spring after a long, cold winter when you can leave the windows open for a hour or two in the afternoon. Those same long, cold winter days seen instead, as a blessing for providing a good excuse to stay inside with a book and a nice fire (of slow burning hardwood, incidentally, all we get in L.A. is pine!). The way lawns smell when they’re mowed on a humid summer’s day. And, of course, the sight of the same country road I took for granted all summer long, suddenly repainted with yellow and gold and red and orange in late October. It seems that after all these years here California, I still can’t get over missing these things.

Not too long ago I had the good fortune to travel to San Francisco. A very lovely city, indeed, possibly one of the loveliest cities I’d ever seen. Something seemed to click. The city is older than L.A. and full of charming architecture something that Los Angeles definitely cannot boast. And they have weather in the “city by the Bay”! Believe it or not, sunshine day in and day out, the way it tends to be in L.A., gets old very fast! Yes, I really thought I might have found a solution to my increasing interest in leaving Los Angeles. I thought I might pack up and move north to San Francisco. But then a few weeks later, I made an extended trip to the east for Christmas. My trip included many things I’ve always wanted to do, but never had. I visited Stockbridge during the holidays; rode in a hansom cab through a snow-covered Central Park; visited some of the historic homes that line the Hudson Valley. I knew then that I wasn’t going to find what I was looking for in San Francisco. I knew it was time to start looking into the possibilities of moving back east. Back home.

I realize I started this essay off with a bombshell and I haven’t really talked about it yet, so let me return to that discussion. I’m not just looking for a place to live, I’m looking for a place to live what may be the most precious days of my life – the days I have left. The truth is, I’m really very healthy. I’m what’s known as asymptomatic, which means I am infected and diagnosed with AIDS but to date, the diagnosis is mostly a technical one. In other words, I haven’t had any major complications to speak of. I lead a basically normal life. However, I don’t ignore the fact that this could change very quickly. As a result, like most people facing the possibility of a shortened life expectancy, I’ve examined the quality of my life and decided I’d like to make a few changes. The very first change I’d like to make is to leave Los Angeles and for all of the reasons I’ve already mentioned above, and a few more to boot, I’d like to leave Los Angeles for parts east.  Northeast to be specific.  And a lot less urban.

When I first saw your ad in YANKEE I must admit I didn’t nibble. The prospect of actually winning a new home in the area of the country I longed to be in seemed beyond my wildest dreams! I don’t have financial problems to speak of, but certainly obtaining a home without spending all of my savings would be an excellent way of keeping what money I have available for any medical expenses not covered by my health insurance. So after my “moment of truth” during my trip home this past Christmas, I took another look at your ad.

Let me take a moment to explain why I even chose to mention my having AIDS in this essay. I realize it was a fairly controversial thing to do. It wasn’t necessarily to illicit sympathy. It was, in fact, because I figured the only way to win this contest was to have a very interesting essay and I don’t think I’m creative enough to come up with anything that interesting unless of course it happens to be the facts. I took a shot that this would be the only essay you’d get from someone with AIDS and I guess I just hoped that that would help make it interesting. Besides, it’s obviously the main reason -I’m so interested in moving at this time. How could I honestly write an essay on why I’d like to win a home in Maine and not mention the single most forceful reason I’m dealing with?

In closing, I’d like to address a question that I would imagine might be on your minds. You may be wondering what would happen if you were to award me ownership of the house and I should die in the not to distant future. I’m sure one of your objectives in putting this contest together was to insure that this place which has meant so much to you would end up in the hands of someone who would care for it as much as you have and hopefully for a long time. I’m certain I could care for the place very much, unfortunately, I can’t guarantee for how long. And for that reason, should I win this contest, I would instruct my family to do two things if I die in the not-too-distant future: first, to make sure the house ends up with to someone who will care for it as much as you and I have – maybe by sponsoring an essay contest like this one; and second, I’d ask them to do something very special with whatever profits they may realize from the sale or surrender of the place. I’d ask them to give those profits to the AIDS charity of my choosing. In that way this place could go on to be a help to others with AIDS, and it would be cared for and looked after in a way that would provide you with some peace of mind, too.

Anyway, that’s my story. If you’ve read this far, I thank you for being so generous with your time and open-minded in your considerations.

– Shane Sawick

 

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