I met him in 1991. He was my age, exactly, but our life circumstances were significantly different. He suffered from a somewhat disfiguring disability. His parents – first-generation immigrants from southern Europe – had recently thrown him out because he was gay. He was homeless, sleeping in porn theaters and in the homes of men he met in porn theaters. I sort of assumed this homeless hustler wasn’t long for the world. Half the gay men I knew at that time were sick or dying. A homeless hustler? Surely, a ticking HIV time bomb. Over the course of a week, I came to know a lot about him. I tried, hard, to be helpful to him. While I succeeded in earning his trust, or at least, in earning more trust from him than he was accustomed to bestowing, I failed, utterly at helping him. Out of some combination of my inability, his limitations, and the realities of the time.
I didn’t see him for a few years. When I next ran into him, on the subway, he didn’t remember me. He seemed confused, a little… scared… by how familiar I looked to him, but he couldn’t place me. I could almost see him imagining me as one of his hundreds of tricks. I tried to contextualize myself, but it just freaked him out. I seemed to know more about him than, I gather, he ever told any of those tricks. (One thing I knew was his name – first and last.) He turned tail and, literally, ran away from me.
Since then, I see him every few months. Circumstances conspire to bring us near one another. I generally try hard to avoid coming into his gaze. I don’t want to make him uncomfortable.
I saw him today. He looked well, healthy, still homeless. Twenty-two years later.
He awes me.