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Being in a family way

So there I was, sitting in room 2611 of INOVA Alexandria Hospital and thinking "This is where I should be." My brother Diego had had his appendix removed a few hours before, and like any good family-member-in-town I had been there to see them wheel him out of the operating room. I didn't find out until that morning, when I was at work and Diego's friend Julie called me and gave me all the when-where-whats. I called the family in Costa Rica, left a message with my dad's secretary because I couldn't get a hold of my mom in San José and my dad was somewhere around the campus where he teaches. I don´t like leaving messages like that--they always sound more urgent than they are.

Diego's doing much better now. Julie, his girlfriend Victoria, his friends and I have made up a tag-team of sorts keeping him company. Hospitals are not pleasant places despite their attempts at hanging up pictures and building gift shops in the lobbies. Screams of pain from rooms down the hall, those horrible green-and-beige tile-and-furniture combinations, bedpans and curtains and machines that beep only remind one of all the things that can and do go wrong.

He's walking now, which is a good thing. I picked him up from the hospital yesterday and got him home, then we ate Peruvian rotisserie chicken and I hung out with Victoria while he napped. I've always liked Diego's girlfriends.

Today (Sunday) I bought a desk for my computer, went to a Peruvian independence day festival, and began writing my graduate school applications--or at least the initial piece of a statement of academic purpose. I need to finish the essay-writing part of the application by Friday.

I'm still smiling from a conversation I had Saturday at the Eagle. Leave it to DC's sole gay leather and biker bar to be one place where I can consistently count on meeting people with interesting things to say. This time it was a fellow whose bright, wide smile lit up the otherwise dark and humpy bar. Eventually, after much of this mutual smiling and nodding I approached the bar, he said hello, and we started talking.

The details of the conversation, or at least of most of the 40 minutes are somewhat fuzzy, mostly because they were still in that level of "hey, howyadoin, good beer," but soon the conversation drifted in other ways. We started talking about sources of inspiration for writing. He shared insights on why it is important to smile, not a silly, dumb smile but a cordial, friendly smile. "I don't understand why everyone goes around here looking so serious, as if their feet were held down by the weight of the world," he said at some point. Not momentous words, mind you, but words that struck a chord with me at that particular moment. A mention of his goals for the evening (getting plastered) led onto a better mention of other kinds of goals. Let the career in computer training, software development and such move about and evolve into a sandwich shop by age 40. Carrying through with something good and meaningful. Having a goal. I mentioned that I write as a passtime, and that inspiration is sometimes hard to come by. He mentioned we writes poems, and we talked some about those. I mentioned how training for the ride had been a source of writing inspiration, and he mentioned he's been HIV+ for fifteen years. He opened his wallet and pulled out a printout of one of his poems, which I presume was a response of sorts to a recent emotional difficulty with becoming attached to a man significantly younger than he is and with whom he'd never be able to be intimate given they were discordant. Granted, his words were nowhere near as academic as my retelling, which gave them all the more power. I realized that there aren't many people out there who will carry litle printouts of their poems to share with imperfect strangers.

I wonder if perhaps I've become too bitter. I think that there is benefit from bile, of course, but perhaps I've taken it too far all the time. A smile every now and then can't be all that bad.

We talked about family, relationships, about outlook, and well before his mentioning his HIV status I was already impressed by his general positivity and good vision, an impression which was only heightened by his revelation. His being so full of goodness reflected on all those who walked by and said hello to him--people who actually stopped and who very obviously cared about him. They were not just blowing kisses on the air next to his cheeks.

I'm still smiling.