Swan Lake and Memories: Letter to My Son on What Would Have Been His 59th Birthday

Kauai, 1987

Kauai, 1987


Last month Russia’s premier ballet company, the Mariinsky, came to town to perform at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Their program included Swan Lake. I am such a dance addict that I even enjoy bad performances, which was not the case here. As soon as the lights dimmed, the magic of the music and of the dancing enraptured me and effaced the world’s ugly politics and the tedium of everyday life. Beautifully coordinated ballerinas cavorted on the stage and once again the audience relived the tragedy of Prince Siegfried’s mistaking Odile, the evil daughter of the villain Rothbart, for his beloved Odette, the doomed queen of the bewitched flock of swans. The Russians had devised a happy end for the fairy tale, which negates the fact that the failure to recognize one’s true love deserves damnation.

Suddenly my thoughts took me back to 1988 and to San Francisco. I was on one of my long visits and on the spur of the moment I invited you to come with me to see Swan Lake. Together we enjoyed the San Francisco Ballet’s version of this bravura piece.

Six years earlier, the AIDS virus had infected you. We both knew and denied the fact that your days might be limited. For me, as I hope for you, the intense decade that followed was a mixture of high and lows. I was terrified, and clutched at every good omen, superstition and treatment opportunity that crossed the then-futile path to a cure, no matter how ridiculous or quackerish they appeared. Nightmares woke me up at night and I panicked when the phone rang unexpectedly. Yet we grew very close and I experienced deep joy doing many, often ordinary, things with you. Fortunately these memories stayed with me more than those of my anguish.

Just last week I unexpectedly came across the photo album of our trip to Hawaii in 1987, the year that the virus started to seriously impair your immune system. I was astonished at how happy we both looked. When we left the San Francisco airport you were so weak that you could barely lift my suitcase because AZT, the first of the only partially effective anti-HIV drugs, caused anemia. Before leaving San Francisco your doctor reduced the AZT dosage. Your strength returned rapidly and we had a ball. We fell in love with Kauai, the bird’s eye views we took in from a helicopter, its beaches, its rugged coastline, its food and our little apartment with its lanais.

We spent another six years trying to pack the love of a lifetime into whatever time you had left. We spent quiet times in San Francisco, Maine and New York. You traveled with and without me. You acted in two plays, ate in restaurants, spent a lot of time in doctor’s offices, charmed most of those you met, and fought with others.

You always took such joy in small things, like getting a lei, a free drink, solving the NY Times Sunday crossword puzzle, mixing a new cocktail. We all miss you. You were such fun to be with that in many ways life lost its luster, but I also remember you admonishing me in the hospital “not to cry,” and my promise to you that I would be alright, even if I lost you.

The last time I saw you well was in February 1993. I had come to San Francisco to celebrate your birthday on February 19th. Your many friends and I made the usual fuss. You were such a birthday nut.

Nobody suspected that this was going to be your last. I was always glad that you were spared most of the debilitating effects of this horrible disease, just as I weep that the antiretroviral drugs that turn AIDS into a treatable disorder were not discovered in time to save your life.

David, your love left all of us strong enough to continue life without you, but we miss you terribly.


3 responses to “Swan Lake and Memories: Letter to My Son on What Would Have Been His 59th Birthday

  1. “We spend another six years trying to pack the love of a lifetime into whatever time you had left.” You did that splendidly and with panache. What a wonderful remembrance, Suzanne. I never met David, but I feel his happy spirit through you and all the people he loved and the throngs who cared for him so much.


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