A Life in The Bar, 1969-2000


Dancing boys

Older gents
(And boys seeking their favour)

6 St Joseph St
Townhouse once George's:
6 St Joseph St, since the V3 Lounge & other incarnations, all much (if not quite) the same.

The place seemed a soap opera: a continuing cast playing out acts on a single set; each episode offering new twists, more of the story.

I loved it right away.

January through Easter

Rawhide, George Hislop's basement bar on Hayden Street, had closed some time in 1992. Inveterate publican that he was he opened a new place in 1993, eponymously named.

George's Townhouse was on St Joseph Street, not on the south side that had seen so many gay venues but on the north, right across from Colby's in one of a row of late Victorian houses. It had been a Mediterranean restaurant.

George turned it into a spot meant, he said, for older gentlemen. I felt I qualified, retired or nearly so, if only 43. I half expected a fireplace, wingback chairs, maybe cognac.

On my first visit in the late summer of 1993 I found instead a small bar paved in blue tiles (recalling its previous incarnation) tucked into a raised space at the front, a pool table at the back, a few stools and tables and chairs, none comfy, and fewer older gents than boys of the sort who often seek them out, eager to ply their wares. I loved it right away.

Behind the bar I'd often find George, always good for gossip, or his business partner Rick James, erudite, a raconteur, or a nice kid named Robbie. He had a red crewcut and an engaging "here I am" forwardness that felt familiar to me. He was from Cape Breton, not quite Newfoundand but sharing the regional style.

Many of the boys there were from Down East -- direct, easy, if some a bit scruffy. A few were more local, some hustling, some just good at pool. The "older gentlemen" were not always much older, few older than I. None seemed predatory, more avuncular -- and that felt familiar too.

They all mixed comfortably, the place not too loud for talk. George would sometimes turn on the TV and a gaggle would gather for a movie.

I saw then that George ran bars because he liked being in one, with a few old cronies and a bunch of cute kids sharing beer and talk and sometimes each other.


George's became fodder for many tales to Jane; a soap opera, with a continuing cast playing out on a single set an ever unfolding story.

I told her about Roger, a former seminarian who'd worked in the North, eating whale with the Innu through the long Arctic night; about the boy often with him -- when it wasn't a tall Lebanese named Nasser: Todd, in town just six weeks from Halifax with his little brother Norman. Todd liked showing pictures around, himself and Norman as kids, with their mother.

A few nights later we got Norm, too -- very little: five foot, tops -- and a hot shot pool player. I once caught the end of an exchange between him and Rick James, something about friends. "If you've got any," Rick jibed. "They're coming!" Norm smirked. "Yeah, but that's relatives."

Norm was a little chipmunk, a charmer if a bit too little even for me: he looked about 12, though older. He wasn't always well; I'd learn he had leukemia.

There was Scott, another redhead from Nova Scotia, pug faced with a broken nose. I took him home once, but only once. The next time I saw him he told me he'd been bashed, robbed, the gang even taking his Doc Martens.

And there was Dino, studying TV production at Ryerson, smart, polite, classic Italian handsome with a beautiful big hawk nose. George Hislop once came up, an arm around Dino, and said: "This boy's got a great big dick" -- George occasionally having his data firsthand. Dino smiled in satisfied embarrassment.

After that, having been introduced as it were, Dino would often sit and talk with me. I felt quite flattered. He celebrated his 21st birthday in the bar.

I told Jane about Phil, a big Celtic boy next door; he might have stepped directly off the bench of a Catholic college football team. He was a doctor at Wellesley; he'd leave his on call beeper behind the bar. All the boys called him "Doc," especially when they flirted with him and they did often.

One night I watched a kid ply Phil with quasi medical questions and then, with a grin, hand over his health insurance card. This one was about five foot six, trim, imp faced. He'd sat beside me one night on a stool at the bar, his tight jeans cupping a crotch astoundingly packed for such a little guy. I guessed he was about 19. When he grinned it lit his whole face, his eyes crinkling up almost closed, just a twinkle behind his dark lashes.

I watched him play pool, very well. He stuck his hand under his T shirt once to scratch his chest, his stomach exposed: taut, subtly rippled, a nice belly button. I found him utterly edible. And he was -- for a fee.

On a later night I asked if I could take him home. He looked at me with a bit of a smile. "Well, are you a member of the Metropolitan Toronto Police?"

I said I wasn't. He could have checked my references with George, but he didn't. We went back to my place, and to bed.


What a vision this boy was. And soon I was trusted with that vision, that body in bed if mostly for sleep; with his talk, with him, with Shel.

Going on about Newfoundland back in 1990, I said I would someday meet a boy from Paradise. Well, here he is: Shel.

I had told Jane about him before, one of the many players in my tales from the bar. After that she'd get endless tales, all about Shel.

Wednesday, November 17, 1993, to Jane:

You might have guessed you'd hear more of Shel. I did indeed succumb to his charms, last Friday night. The sex, such as it was (after two hours of talk here he was tired and so was I), wasn't worth the fee, but Shel himself was.

With all the boys I've paid (just Kelly and Ricky before, now that I think of it) that's been the case: it's been worth it for who they are, getting to have them here, talking.

Talk with Shel told me he's 20, not 19, a foster child since he was six, taken from his mother, his father unknown. But life's an adventure, he said with a grin -- on that elfin face a ravaged, slightly overbite grin. No dentistry. The rest of him seems not ravaged at all, but for the hickeys he sports on different, random spots each time I see him. He's trim but not at all scrawny, smooth skin over gently curving and unpumped young muscle, neat little hips.

I woke up to him with his arms thrown up, his head to one side, legs angled out; covered from the waist down but his torso exposed -- shoulders, chest, nipples, biceps, armpits; a beautiful face too young to be thought of, quite yet, as handsome. And asleep.

In all a wonderful sight. I left his very apparent erection under the sheets and got up to make coffee.

I saw Shel a few night later, again at George's Townhouse. He seemed a bit distracted, nitzy, on edge. He was there with an older, taller, more studied boy, Jonathan. I gathered it wasn't going well. I said to him: "If you need me you can call." I gave him my number.

He called later the same night, still at George's, wanting enough money to get into The Club Baths. He had nowhere else to stay.

I stood on the balcony to see him come along Dundonald (George's is just down the block, across Yonge). I was ready at the door, handed over his loan and he said, "Can I come in? Do you have a sandwich or something? I haven't eaten all day." I popped an English muffin into the toaster.

So, an uncle again, to a gorgeous boy wiping grape jam off his face in my kitchen at half past midnight. Another sweet, messy child.

I told Shel that when he needed a place for the night he could stay with me. Not for sex, necessarily: I had quickly become more to him than a "date," and he to me no mere hustler.

He did stay, on and off, there sometimes not to stay, just to visit. One night I gave him enough money to go work the baths. "Such an irony," I said to Jane, "paying him to go when I want him to stay. But paying him to stay would make me a trick, not a friend." That's what he said I was: his friend.


In time he rescued his duffel bag from a bus station locker and dragged it back to my place. It looked nearly half his size and weight, holding all his worldly goods. For quite a while they sat spilt out in the hallway leading to my bathroom. I didn't mind stepping over them, a minor inconvenience.

In exchange, I got Shel.

He stood in that bathroom one night, shaving, wearing only a pair of black Calvin Klein briefs (mine, given to him). I sat on the edge of the tub, watching him bend over and slather his face, stand up and lean back, his hips forward.

That stance gave his body wondrous contours: the gentle curve of his smooth stomach, the longer one running from his shoulders down into the small of his back, out over those briefs sitting low on his hips and cupping his full, tight little bottom; sweeping down the backs of his thighs, the swell of each calf -- what a vision this boy was.

And I was trusted with that vision, that body in bed if mostly for sleep; with his talk, with him, with Shel.

Yes, a sweet messy child if not a child, really. Certainly not the child Ricky had been.

Tuesday, December 7, 1993, to Jane:

An episode: It was last Friday night, 8:15. Shel was here asleep, sleeping because he hadn't the night before. Jonathan called, I got Shel up, they talked, he got dressed -- and the buzzer rang. "That'll be Jonathan coming to get you," I said. But no: Ricky! ...back from Venezuela! -- and dropping in, as usual, by surprise. This will be fun, I thought.

I introduced them at the elevator: Ricky tanned from his sunny wedding trip (he fell in love with another girl there) and looking as fey as ever despite his rapidly consolidating heterosexuality; Shel by contrast a butch little stud in a T shirt that said, "But Mom, he is the right girl."

A lovely moment. Shel thought Ricky was cute.

It almost happened again tonight, this time the other way around. The buzzer rang at 20 to eight; I thought it might be Shel, who'd called to say he'd be over around 8 -- but it was Ricky. I anticipated another overlap but Ricky stayed only long enough to phone the bar where he thought -- but wasn't sure -- he was due to play pool at 8:30, to phone three locations looking for yet another girl, one he met last night. Then gone, a bit chagrinned after he'd asked if he could come back and I'd said no, Shel was coming (I'd said that right off the top, but in 20 minutes he'd forgotten).

Shel arrived at 8:30, to my great relief: for all that his life is a mess he's so much more together than little Ricky.

Well, even the most indulgent uncle likely does best with just one nephew at a time.


Shopping, banking, getting his drugs, his lunch -- until Terrell said: "If you don't stop I'm going to chain you to the bed!"

That's where we sat, smoking, watching The Young & the Restless, that soap soon too familiar.

When I first began spending days with Terrell, he was well enough for brief jaunts. We'd take Alex, the little schnauzer pup Mark had bought him, out for a run and a poop.

But often after that I'd arrive to him lying on the sofa under a big comforter, shivering, chills alternating with heavy sweats. He was on morphine by then and many other drugs, some conflicting with food, some with each other. Working with him once on a dosage schedule I had a hard time fitting all of them into one day.

He had decided to treat his MAI and by October felt better, but only for a while. In November we got in homecare workers who could make meals, clean, do laundry. People from the care team were there too, of course, other friends calling or dropping by. For a time his mother was there, like many parents at such times swooping into the unknown adult lives of children long ignored. She had birthed Terrell, but had not raised him.

With all this and visits from nurses, too, it could get rather busy. Terrell was a genial host, long adept at working a room. But now he was a bed bound impresario and often less happy in the role. A long lost friend called once to say how hard it was for him that Terrell was dying. "Not as hard as it is for me," Terrell said, matter of fact; without self pity, but direct.

Once when another who'd sat yakking too long had left, Terrell looked at me and rolled his eyes. I said to him, "Honey, when I'm in your shape I'll want to be alone a lot more often than you've been."

I told him about Michael Lynch holding his final visitations and then, living on for months, not holding them again. Terrell said: "Smart man."


In November he stopped his MAI meds. He was still on gancyclovir, sleeping pills, pain killers, the morphine of course and three drugs for his lungs.

He asked me once, "What do you think would happen if I stopped those?" I said he'd probably get congested, fill up, have trouble breathing. "Well," he said, "maybe that would be faster." I said it likely would, but might not be a pleasant way to go.

He and I could talk like this, Terrell resolved to his death and I not afraid of it. He and Mark could not. I was not his lover, just his friend. I would miss him, but not every hour of every single day.

Still, I could sometimes feel a bit daunted. Once in December I had to stay overnight with Terrell, sick and throwing up, Mark briefly away. Eliot Carew, the care team member who lived in the same building, was due in the morning. I wanted to be home by 10 am: I'd told Shel I'd meet him there to lend him a shirt and tie for a job interview.

Elliot couldn't make it. Her husband came up just in time: Shel got his duds -- and a quickie too, more in the mood for it than I, due right back at Terrell's.

Even with homemakers in there could be too much to do. Once after a trip to the bank, the drugstore, the supermarket; bopping up and down to get his drugs, his lunch, empty the urinal, fill the humidifier -- Terrell said: "If you don't stop I'm going to chain you to the bed!"

That's where we were, most of the time -- on the bed, smoking cigarettes and watching Oprah or The Young and the Restless, that soap's characters soon too familiar.


Terrell felt well enough by Christmas to invite the care team in for dinner. It was Shel's first Christmas away from home (or foster home), sad for him, his only gift a sweater, from me. He might have spent the day anywhere, professional invitations on offer, but he didn't want to work on Christmas.

I asked Terrell a week before if he could stand one more holiday dinner guest. He agreed with pleasure; he'd heard a lot about Shel.

Shel was touched -- and then spent the week in a quandary of indecision about whether he should go. On the 25th, having slept at my place, he went to Colby's at noon; I thought he might not come back. But he did. We headed off at 3:30.

"I thought it was dinner," he said -- meaning to him a midday meal, not an evening one; that was supper. He wanted to be back at Colby's by 7:00. He stayed at Terrell's past 9:00, finding his host genial (they played Nintendo together), Alex friendly and everyone else there, too. They liked him.

He was, after all, quite a charmer.


"How can I arrange people to be here if you don't tell me what you need?" I asked Paul. He shot back: "Why should I have to tell people what's needed?! Can't they see?!"

On November 17, 1993 I'd sat down at 6 pm, continuing a letter to Jane but not planning to get very far.

I expect the phone to ring and that it will be Paul. David was awful on Saturday night, even more cranky, grim, withdrawn. He'd got up the night before at 3, was getting dressed, convinced it was time to go downtown to the St Lawrence Market. It took Paul half an hour to talk him down and back to bed.

When the right time came Paul went to the market alone, the first time in six years David has let that ritual pass him by. He's not

-- but here Paul calls, and I'm going up.

Same day, midnight:

I can't remember where that "He's not" above was going. But this evening wasn't too bad. I'd expected Paul to call because he had earlier in the day, said David had stayed up past him last night, tried carrying a glass and a bowl to the kitchen, fell, broke the glass, cut himself -- Paul's worst fears, that David will hurt himself, realized -- and Paul had stored up his fears for the moment, blew up at David, said there were limits to what he could take.

After dinner that Saturday, Paul -- David safely in bed -- cried, said he needed more help. It had been on offer, if not formally arranged. Homemakers were in by then but couldn't deal with everything.

David had had another fall, taking a shower, this time with Paul doing training far off in the burbs. The homecare worker, a small woman, couldn't get him up. She reached Paul but it took him an hour to get home, and for that hour David lay naked in the tub.

The next Saturday we put together a schedule of regular afternoon shifts, Ed Jackson, Gerald Hannon, David's sister Janet, and I to fill them, homecare already booked in the mornings.

On December 18 I told Jane David had been "remarkably civil and engaged at dinner last week, more frail tonight but accommodating and calm." He had been sleeping a lot, sleep I suspected his means of resolution. We had a fine dinner that night: champagne to start; lamb, burgundy, Stilton and ice wine, David with us for all but dessert.

David's latest homecare attendant was a pleasant, slightly queenly young man named Craig Russell (no relation to the outrageous queen of the same name). David said he liked Craig's arms. On the Tuesday before that dinner, Paul told us, David had said, "Well, I think I'll have a shower now" -- and then, turning to Craig: "Could you give me a hand?"

So that hurdle was finally past.


On New Year's Day I was up for dinner with Gerald, David slouched in his chair, hardly there. Once we got him to bed Paul lit into us: our help wasn't enough, he needed more.

I told him we had shifts covered for every day he'd be away in January. No, he said, there were more now. "Why don't I know that, then?" I asked him. "How can I arrange people to be here if you don't tell me what you need?" He shot back: "Why should I have to tell people what's needed?! Can't they see?!"

I reminded him of a day when I had seen: I had called, found Paul distraught, said I'd come up so he could take some time alone, maybe go to the Y.

"Yeah, sure," he said, "and then you said you had to be home by 5:00 -- for your sex toy of the week."

So there it was: his coupled life was real, mine just silly, Shel a sex toy. My life was nothing when not spent in the service of David Newcome. Or rather, Paul Pearce. I'd long known that my caring there had really been for Paul. Now he was exercising on me the tyranny of the dying -- by proxy.

Walking home with Gerald I fretted that, saying Paul had crossed a line, a line that death and grief might offer the impulse -- but not true justification -- to cross. I would have to tell him some day: even this, even death, doesn't excuse everything in life.

In time I did. But it would be a very long time.


Shel was my protector. It may sound odd -- this indigent boy, his life unsettled -- but in spirit it was true. Shel was big on honour, standing ever firmly by my side.
Wednesday, January 19, 1994, 10:30 pm, to Jane:

I'll start with Shel, because, as usual, Shel just left. I was very happy to see him tonight, later than usual; I'd wondered if he was all right. He has a job now, as a courier, on foot. He started just after New Year's, had the flu coming on and, just his luck, worked his first two days in our first raging blizzard of the year.

But he's plunged diligently on ever since, his voice shot not only from the cold -- his own and the weather's (it's minus 22 right now) -- but from yelling over the subway roar into his dispatch radio: "Thirty seven to base! Over!" I know this routine: he's tested it from here. Even from bed.

He's been here more in the last while even than in December. He moved his stuff out the Wednesday after Christmas to the apartment of an on and off sugar daddy, but that didn't work out. Without his bag he was here four nights the next week, through to mornings when he had to get up by 6:00 for work. I got up too, sometimes. The bag was back ten days later but only for the weekend: he'd met a boy named Scott and, after much hesitation, moved in with him.

But even with that he's still been here. The usual -- the routine that when it slipped today made me worry -- is that when he gets off shift he calls, comes over, plunks down often with his parka still on, sticks his woolly shod feet (four layers of socks) up in my lap and lets me rub his toes while he talks.

What a Newf he is, feelings suppressed or covered in bravado. He went on tonight about my windows, glaciers of ice inside in this cold, rather pretty I think and not a problem but that it's sometimes too chilly to sit at the little table just beneath them. (And you know me: I don't make a fuss.) But he was going to call the super, call the landlord -- I shouldn't have to put up with this!

This is how he could say he cares about me after he knew I'd been worried about him today. He's big on honour, big on taking care of his friends. He knows I love him. I say so but not often. His answer is simply to be here again and again; to call when he can't be here and read me his waybills to tell me how he spent his day. It matters to him that I should know. And that feels very good.

I would again see Shel come to my defence, or try to -- this indigent boy, his life ever unsettled, standing firm by my side. Shel was my protector. That may sound odd, practically speaking, but in spirit it was true.

He'd do it at George's. We were less often there together now, but when we were I could sense him on the lookout for come ons, minor scams he knew well but thought I might not. Even when I did (which wasn't always), I loved his watching over me.

It was a role I rarely let anyone play: Barry once in his way; Shel now and his ways familiar, born of the same culture, as was his upfront forwardness, his reserved inwardness, too.

Rick James at George's once said, "Shel wears his heart on his face." He did, his grin animating every feature. But when his heart was heavy his face was too: his brow pulled down, his eyes hooded, off in a distant stare. He wouldn't easily say then what was on his mind. I knew not to push, simply to wait; he would talk in time if he needed to. I had learned all that with Barry.

I respected this reserve, even loved him for it, a boy determined to figure out on his own a very difficult life. And I found it a lot more appealing than some privileged middle class preppy doing self therapy out loud.


Shel would get into playful horny moods, grin, grab my crotch, clutch his own. I'd get his pants off and go down on him.

My hormones were not his. But my pleasure came nonetheless -- in being trusted with his cock, his body, his sleep. And his pleasure.

Some of Shel's visits were escapes from bad dates, one a man who had tried to fuck him without a rubber. With me condoms were not an issue. We didn't fuck.

We did have sex after that first paid night, if not often, not as trade, with affection but mostly as release for Shel's raging boy hormones. He'd get into playful horny moods, grin, grab my crotch, clutch his own. I'd get his pants off and go down on him.

But he never came that way. His big fleshy cock and balls seemed out of place on his neat little boy frame. I'd suck him hungrily but then he'd take himself in hand, jerk hard, fast, finally splashing all over himself. I'd lick the cum off his body.

Once at George's well after closing, he told me, things got quite hot, Shel stiff and eager fucking a boy on the pool table. I wasn't jealous: sexual possessiveness was impossible with a boy who'd sell his body to almost anyone, even hard to call up when the sex he had wasn't "work."

But I did think of him as a hot little stud, did hope to know his moves, his rhythms, his face -- especially his face -- as he worked himself deep into me.

I never did. In bed, after a squeeze or two, he needed to be left alone to sleep. He wasn't much a cuddler, a kisser. I did miss that some: I loved kissing. After all, I'd been told by a pro I was good at it -- for an amateur.


But I didn't mind. My hormones were not his. My pleasure came in being trusted with his cock, his body, his sleep -- and his pleasure.

I loved being with him as he pumped himself firm, thick, eager; caressing him, kneading the muscles of his chest, his shoulders, his butt, urging him on; loved feeling the spasms of his body as he came, watching him run his slickened hand down and up, pulling his foreskin over the head and back, squeezing hard, milking the last of his sperm. Then he'd lay naked, dripping, spent.

"It gives me a headache," he said once, leaning back on me. I stroked his temples, snuzzled into the loose waves of his sand brown hair.

It is no small thing to be allowed this of another's body, trusted to share it. Even without such scenes I'd have been happy, Shel's mere presence, the sight and smell and sound of him, so rich.

Telling Jane about the boys at George's Townhouse, Shel just one of them then but now the one with me, I said: "It's no accident I love these pups. They're my antidote to death."


David Newcome
Determined (even blind):
David Newcome; a photo taken by Paul Pearce in Madeira.

Do the dying choose their moment? I don't know. But it would have been very much David, always wanting to do everything on his own.

On the afternoon of January 20 a new nurse arrived for David: Bryan, rather intense. We went to get him up at 5 pm, Bryan pushy about it, sitting David up before he was ready.

He asked for a Coke, got it and then kept trying to put it down, as if on a low table that wasn't there. When Bryan tried to take the glass David pried his fingers away, irritated.

I said: "David, you think we're in the living room, don't you?" That's where that table was, always beside him. "Yes." "Well, we'll be there soon but we're in the bedroom now, so there's no table. It's confusing, isn't it?" "Yes." "I can hold your glass when you want," I said. He gave it to me. I told him he could sit there as long as he wanted.

I knew this resistance was David, not dementia: his routine had been broken, David such a creature of routine. Bryan was still impatient. "So David, what do you want to do?" "Who, me?" he said. "Yes, you." "Oh... make a million dollars."

After dinner we got him back to bed. I didn't mind then being in the patient service of David Newcome. He was polite, as always, thanking us for the hefts up, the plunks down, his essential civility, like his insistence on routine, still intact. He was still David, if David going away.

I said to Jane, "I've come to think that in extremis means the same, only more so." I would use that line in his obituary.


David Newcome died on February 4, a Friday, at quarter to ten in the morning. We had thought he'd go the day before, not cogent then but awake, agitated.

He'd never talked about pain, but did wince when we had to move him. We had morphine by then; it calmed him. Paul, Ed Jackson, Craig Russell and I had sat with him, monitored his breathing, expecting it to change. It did not.

When I called on Friday morning I got Eddie. He had stayed the night. "He still here, much the same," he said -- but was called away from the phone. Then he came back: "He's gone. Just now." In a rare moment when no one else was in the room, David had stopped breathing. They went back in to find him dead.

It's said that the dying choose their moment. I'm not sure I believe it, but it would have been very much David, always wanting to do things on his own.

I went up. We sat with him for a while, then Craig and I arranged him, dressed him, combed his hair. I was comforted, again, by this ancient ritual now so often left to professionals, this laying out of the dead. When we were done Paul said: "He looks too dead." But Paul was calm, dealing well.

I left at 1 pm -- heading straight from David to Terrell. He was good with me. He usually was, but I usually didn't cry with him and he let me, calmly, as we lay propped up on his bed. I spent some time fretting care team schedules, calling people; a few had missed shifts, unsettling Terrell. But he stopped me, took my hand and said, "It's all right."

I was glad to be with him then -- though it did seem odd to me, having just come from dressing a corpse, to still be worrying about morphine doses. Terrell's by then were big ones.

At 5 pm I went back to Paul's. Alan Miller was there, Ed and his lover Sam, who cooked dinner. Paul lit the candles and set out all the right wine glasses; we had two beautiful burgundies. Ed asked if Paul wanted him to stay the night again but he said no. He told me later he'd slept well.


Paul didn't want to live alone, & didn't think I should either. When he got back from Madeira, we set out house hunting.

Paul planned a memorial for David the next Thursday night, a party, nothing solemn, to be held in the apartment. I told Shel about it. He wondered if he could come.

I asked Paul, saying the request might seem odd. "It's not odd at all," he said. "I'd like to meet him" -- the sex toy of the week thus redeemed. I suspected they'd like each other, Paul poking jibes, Shel grinning back a smart retort. As I told Jane, so it was.

When we arrived Paul found Shel at the hall mirror, trying to fix his hair after I'd said he should take off his courier's cap. "Get away from there, don't be so vain! Go have get a drink. Cash bar, you know!" (Of course it wasn't.) Shel said: "So, you gonna pay me to drink?" He had Coke.

Later I coaxed Gerald into the back sitting room for a cig so he and Shel could swap notes on the sex trade. I thought Shel should meet someone nearly 50 and still turning tricks -- though Shel's not much any more, now exploited in far less lucrative ways.

Paul offered a few words to the assembled, mostly thanks, and then said: "Now the reception's over and the wake begins -- so drink!" Two days later he was on a plane to Madeira, where his parents spent half the year. He and David had visited often, a good place to escape for a while.

When he got back we would set out on an adventure new to us: house hunting; a place for the two of us together. Paul didn't want to live alone -- and thought I shouldn't, either.

Over dinner just before David died, the only dinner David missed, Paul had said, "I've thought about you more in the last six weeks than I have in years" -- thought about having to do it all again, the next time with me.

I asked him, "Do you really want to?" "No, I don't want to," he replied. "But I know I will." I wrote to Jane:

It wouldn't be Church & Wellesley but it wouldn't be far. Rosedale is not far and Rosedale, more or less -- anything within a few blocks of Yonge between Bloor and St Clair -- is what Paul would want. It's where he's always been, or nearly.

He knows that, for me, it would have to accommodate whatever I might want of Church & Wellesley by then. Which is to say Shel, or someone like Shel -- my boys, or who knows, men, for as long as that's who I want to be, or can be.

In two months I've been to The Barn once; George's Townhouse three times, once with Shel. So who knows. It's a sensible idea; Shel, Terrell and my mother were all relieved at the thought. I suppose you may be, too. I do know -- from experience even though not yet in my gut -- that the ten feet from my bed to the bathroom may someday be too much for me.

Still, after that Saturday night talk I walked into this tiny apartment, so my own, so much where I want to be, looked out to the ghetto skyline and said: god, I love this place. But I'll do it. I'll go.


More medical mystery tours

Sunnybrook map

Many wings

Angio, etc, A1

Outpatient, C4

Clinic HG
All over the map:
A map thankfully provided. The many hallways, floors & signs of Sunnybrook.

Terrell wouldn't recall the end of that long day -- certainly not consenting to this tube sticking out of his chest. He said: "They're trying to kill me."

On that afternoon when nurse Bryan and I had got David out of bed, Terrell was home from hospital after an adventure of his own.

Two days before, a nurse flushing his Portacath felt resistance, pushed hard on her syringe -- and there was a pop. We wouldn't know what happened until five days later, when Mark took him to Sunnybrook for X rays.

The internal catheter had come off the chamber, travelled down his vein and curled up in the right ventricle of his heart. It could take major surgery to get it out, which Terrell might not survive and wouldn't consent to anyway.

An angioplasty surgeon made a small incision in his groin and threaded a fine probe from his femoral vein up the vena cava and into his heart, hooking that piece of plastic and pulling it slowly out. The Portacath was removed, a temporary line put in Terrell's arm. With that he went home.

The next Friday he was back, asking me to go with him, Mark so distraught on the last round. He needed a new IV port and could get a gancyclovir drip while we were there. We arrived at 9 am; Julie Phillips, a nurse on Anita Rachlis's team, said we'd likely be out by 3:00.

Terrell had the choice of a new device put in the arm or a more conventional Hickman catheter in the chest. He asked about risks. Much the same either way, the surgeon said, just a slight risk of the lung lining getting nicked putting in the Hickman. Terrell chose that, the arm line still largely untried.

I left him in Radiology, Wing A, Floor 1, went to the outpatient surgery waiting room, Wing C, Floor 6. They said they'd call me. They didn't. I went back down to Radiology, found him on a stretcher in the hall, and in pain.

A porter got him up to C6; I gave him a morphine dose already an hour late. I called Julie about the gancyclovir; it wasn't essential, she said, but Terrell insisted. I got him to the HIV Outpatient Clinic, Wing H, Ground Floor, Julie waiting for us.

There he wanted to get dressed -- no small task, an IV line in his arm, he groggy by then and nearly too weak to stand. But we did it. It was the first taste I'd had of Terrell as David had been: adamant, uncomprehending. When I said I needed to go out for a cigarette, Julie smiled.

Radiology called. He had been nicked, an X ray done after the procedure showing minor lung collapse. They wanted him back. So I wheeled him down, had to undress him, sit him up for the shot, put his clothes back on again. The lung was worse; he'd need a chest tube to release air from under the pleural membrane to help it reinflate. He would have to stay the night, at least.

Terrell was hardly there now, but he groaned. Dr Rachlis came down. "What luck you have, Terrell," she said. He was admitted to her ward, D4. I went home, getting there at 7 pm.


Well, a day in the life as it could be, once the hospital got its many hands on you.

I called the next day; Terrell was asleep. I went up the day after, Terrell awake and feisty. He remembered none of the last few hours of that long day -- certainly didn't remember consenting to this tube sticking out of his chest.

The valve at its end was thick, long. A nurse said he'd been waving it around in his sleep. "I dreamt I was a majorette," he'd mumbled. "I was the major majorette." But he didn't remember that, either. He said: "They're trying to kill me."

A week later he went home with that tube in him, the Hickman too. David had died without a tube in him, not even a needle for months. Here was Terrell, stuck, encumbered, the failings not of his body but technology. He was miserable.

But he steeled himself, met with the care team and regaled us all with hospital horror tales, his comic skills intact.


The team was getting weary, confused. I'd seen this with the Lynch Mob, the long up and down course confounding expectations they'd likely brought: a sad time, maybe, but a calm one, predictable.

There were medical attendants in now, one of them Craig Russell: after David died I got Mark to call his agency and ask for him. They were there much of the time, blurring the role of care team members in their own minds -- and in Terrell's, too.

He assumed the team would still cover shifts, but there was no need now to "cover" when a nurse, a homecare worker or an attendant was always there. The team were there as friends now, and wanted to be.

But they did, as we say, have issues: topping the list was Terrell's smoking. He was so frail now that a cigarette would quiver in his hand, verge on falling out. He and Mark had a fight about it. He did once drop one: despite his shaky state he shot up fast off the bed. We found it.

"Don't tell Mark," he said. I didn't, but while he was smoking (I, too) I never took my eyes off the butt quaking in his hand.

In time Mark and Terrell talked about letting the care team go. I advised against it: friends have their uses. So we stayed, months more as Terrell slowly faded, soon down to 90 pounds, retreating into himself and away from us.

Even from Mark: in the late afternoon, home from work, he'd come into the hazy bedroom and sit on a chair, Terrell and I on the bed. I felt obliged to stay my shift but suspected I should at least give up my place to Mark, maybe go home early and let him and Terrell have some time together alone.

They didn't get much now, needed it, things still to work out. But I stayed on.


Shel's selection:
"Put It in the Book!" from The Roar of the Greasepaint -- The Smell of the Crowd; mad bopping to a show I'd done in high school.

"His imp grin is very happy making for me," I told Jane. "It would be nice to have that go on."

I was seeing less of Shel now. He had moved out on Scott and in with an older man named Jack. It seemed to be going well enough. That was good: he could sometimes be too much for me, my calmest times with him when he was asleep, tired out from his long days.

In February we'd gone to the café at Badlands for supper. "Come with me to George's" he said. "Watch me play pool. Just for half an hour." He knew I was tired; I knew he needed a night to go be his nitzy self, should have left him to it but I gave in. He was oversolicitous, guilty, when I said goodnight there-- but had to ignore other distractions to be so.

He joked once that I couldn't handle him. He was right: his bouncy boy energy was a joy, but could sometimes make me feel tired and old. I told him that once. He said I was just being silly.

Thursday, March 24, 1994, to Jane:

Shel just left. [The line had become a theme.] I was sitting in bed reading after that, felt the impulse to sit down here and asked myself: why is that when Shel has just left I want to tell you about him? And it's this: I love by articulating, as you've long known. I want to talk about him.

He was very beautiful tonight, here with a new boyfriend, another bicycle courier [Shel on a bike now]. He'd met him at Colby's, a tall, geeky boy named Andrew. Shel wanted to show me Andrew, I'm sure -- but also to show Andrew me.

He kept telling him things about me, about the songs he listens to here (he played them), the bottle of Kahlua that he bragged is kept here for his brown cows (thank god there was some left!); talked about coming to sleep here during the days when he was living his nights at the baths; made a point of saying what a mess he'd been then and how long ago it was -- four and a half months, which I suppose can seem a long time when you're 20.

I'm always a little shy of him physically when he's got someone else around. But he circled past Andrew as they were headed out the door to give me a big off the floor hug. We're fine.

I expect this is something that will go on, though I don't fret that it may not. As I said last time, that's about me, my sense of myself. But his imp grin is very happy making for me. It would be nice to have that go on.

On Sunday, April 3, I got that grin again, Shel's face lit up as he eased his bike out of the elevator, careful of a bag holding potted tulips, cut carnations, and a card: "For a special man at Easter." He had signed it, "Love always, Shel."

He was excited about his new business card. He'd made 10 of them at a coin machine in the Bloor subway station, but had spelled courier wrong. So we gathered up change, trekked off and made 100 more. He was very proud of them. I sent one to Jane.

He didn't leave until 8, had slept for two hours while I cleaned the stove. When I gushed and hugged and smiled at the flowers and the card, he said: Well, you're the closest thing I have to family here. (Then he called his mother.)

So I suppose it fits that I play Mum, doing housework while he sleeps, and Dad too, sitting on the floor with him as he fussed before leaving over various new attachments on his bike. He makes me feel indulgent, proud of him and, simply, loved. I'm very lucky indeed.


Three days later I called his number, got Jack. Shel wasn't there. He had moved out at 2 am Monday, the wee hours of that day we'd just spent together, having met a trucker from Newfoundland headed off to Vancouver.

It didn't seem premeditated: he'd paid his April rent -- and there were all those business cards. But he had a sister in Vancouver. Maybe he was homesick, more unsettled than I'd known.

I've said I didn't need him, and I don't, that he's his own man. He said he trusted me because I never tried to run his life, and I didn't. But I did like the idea that he'd be around and I was sad and disturbed last night -- sudden grief at unanticipated loss. I guess that's the risk I run being a parent: kids leave home.

I'm better now. Maybe he's not lost; maybe he'll come back in time, or call, or write. Now it's my turn to trust. He's a strong kid and he's probably alright. But you know how much I hate waiting.

Well, don't fret it for me. I'll try not to. There's nothing to regret. He's made me happy over the last five months and I might never have had that at all. (But I do seem to have this thing for Newfs who fly the coop!)

Go on to 1994: Apr-Dec / Go back to Contents

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January 2000 / Last revised: October 8, 2001
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