The week after my lover Stuart died, I took our wolf-dog, Kaz, out into the wintry New Mexican woods. Snow had softened the ground’s harsh clays. The sun was shining brilliantly off the white-clad junipers and little piñon trees. Kaz led me in a romp-and-tumble over the hills and down some arroyos until we both ended up, limp and panting, in a valley floored by a frozen brook.
I was in that state of heightened awareness that often accompanies deep grief. I’d hardly eaten for a week. For all the two years Stuart and I had spent together as lovers, best friends and channelers, his sudden death had taken me utterly unprepared.
He had developed ARC after having been infected with HIV in an accident at the Key West lab where he’d labored as a medical technologist. We had assumed that either AIDS would kill him some day or old age would. The former had seemed less of a possibility as, one by one, his ARC symptoms had gone into remission. We’d put it down to clean living and the effects of our metaphysical researches. (This was before advances in medical science provided AIDS patients with chemical cocktails designed to bolster immune response.)
But I had found him one morning anyhow, body cold, vacated, and neatly arranged on his bed. The medic who examined Stuart after I had called 9-1-1 later told me that Stuart’s death had been a reaction to a painkiller he had taken for an abscessed tooth due to be extracted the following Monday.
I came to a different conclusion. A month before Stuart had told me he had had a “dream” in which he had gone into a coma and I was sitting by his bed in the hospital. After his death, it struck me that, consciously or not, he had been warning me that he was planning to commit suicide. I still believe this to this day.
That winter afternoon in the valley, I hunkered down and watched Kaz nose cattails. Gradually the sunlight seemed to take on personality. It seemed to shine not on me but for me, and I knew, abruptly and impossibly, that the sunlight was Stuart, somehow. He seemed undismayed that I had been calling him a selfish bastard all week.
You must understand that I am not given to visions. My psychic experiences tend to be quiet, undramatic, noticeable mainly because I have trained myself to recognize them when they occur. Stuart was the visionary. Every time he surfaced from a deep trance channeling session, he said to me, “It’s so beautiful there, where I was; one of these days I’m just going to stay.”
In the valley, dusk fell. I called Kaz, started carward, and in my altered state got lost in the shadowed streamcourse. Nothing looked even remotely familiar to me. The moon came out, and there was Stuart again. Guard-dogs barked at a farm. I felt afraid. I glimpsed mental images of barbed wire, German uniforms, German shepherd dogs pulling at leashes, and myself at a dead run for a clipped fenceline. In my fantasy memory, Stuart was there, saying, “Through here!” He pushed me ahead of him so that it was he, not I, whom the dogs brought down.
As I have said, I am not given to visions. That night I asked the sky, “How do I get out of this arroyo?” A prominent star winked, then burned steady. By its light, I spied a side-track I had not noticed before. Following the track, Kaz and I found ourselves back on the road we had taken from the spot where I’d parked our station wagon.
Stuart again. You’ll have to take my word for it.
Up to that time, Stuart’s death had been the most devastating thing that had ever happened to me. This has changed in the years since. Since that winter I have climbed the years to sixty-two. I have lost Kaz, to a hit and run driver, and three subsequent dogs, one to old age, one to liver failure, and one to cancer. I have lost friends to AIDS, including my beloved little brother; lost my teeth, my health, my career in horticulture, my self-respect, and most of my financial resources. And since Stuart’s death I have never had another lover. I have kept love at arm’s length from fear of having to go through a loss like that again.
Stuart’s death was the most terrible thing that had ever happened to me. But I am certain that it was not the most terrible thing that ever happened to him. The night in the arroyo taught me that. I’m certain that death, for Stuart, had been an explosion of joy.
I drove home that night with Kaz’s paw on my right shoulder. Three months later, on an empty road near our house, some guys broke Kaz’s back with their speeding truck and I had to say goodbye to him, too. I buried his body in my rented garden, between the French tarragon and the double coreopsis. For two weeks I had nightmares that somehow the vet’s needle hadn’t put Kaz out of his misery; that somehow I had buried him alive; that he had awakened, stifling, with dirt in his lungs. Of course it was I who felt buried alive: trapped in the physical plane, unable to get free of the pain and horror of it.