Have you ever known one of those sparkplug types who seem to do just about everything with pizzazz? They're like displays of fireworks, turning ordinary get-togethers into spectacles. Something about the way they talk - the ideas they get - the way they carry themselves - gives off an engaging glow: They're entertaining, and they can be inspiring too. My friend Steve was one of the Fireworks People.
I'd been trained as a volunteer companion/confidante to a person living with HIV. This was in the years before antiviral cocktails and infected individuals weren't always living the vibrant lives many do now. Some took on buddies to decrease their isolation and otherwise help them through difficult times.
Steve was my first client. I was unsure of myself in this new role, despite the training. I couldn't hide my nervousness.
But we got along famously, right from the get-go: He was amiable, he was bright and he had personality Out-To-Here. I’m more the quiet type, but I’m drawn to flashy people.
On my second visit I realized Steve had picked up on my self-doubt. And I learned just how quirky he could be:
He'd left the front door to his home unlocked. He heard me enter and called out from the bedroom, “Come in here!”
And there he was, laying on the bed, flat on his back. He was almost entirely covered by a blanket, from the top of his head to his ankles. All I could see of him were his bare feet. His toes wiggled rapidly, and he gave them voice, an affected falsetto: “Welcome back Tank! Glad you could come over again Tank! Nice to see you Tank!”
On the underside of each of his toes was written a character: H E L L O T A N K ! ...Hello Tank!!! Hello Tank!!! he squealed.
I convulsed in laughter, as did he, as he pulled himself out from under the covers. The rest of the visit was spent washing the ink off his toes, and a friendship was born.
Now I think I may understand why he concocted this craziness: He was responding to the uncertainty he sensed in me during our first meeting. The buddy/client dynamic was unfamiliar territory. It might get completely crazy, he thought, and he wanted to see if I were up to handling it. And, if i could, he wanted for us to bond. And bond we did. Instantly.
Months pasted and Steve’s health declined. He became increasingly demanding and irritable. But he was surrounded by a large group of loving and generous family members and friends who would do anything for him, regardless.
Steve knew he was loved, but he amused himself by pretending we all hated him for what he was putting us through. As retribution, he decided he would throw what he called "The First and Last Steve L.'s Caregivers Appreciation Party”. His idea was to give 24 of us the opportunity to 'get back' at him for what he perceived as his cantankerous behavior.
The night of the party he taped large photographs of himself onto the walls of his bathroom and stockpiled raw eggs and plastic squeeze bottles of ketchup and mustard. His plan was that guests would enter the bathroom in pairs, recounting stories of his abuse. Then we’d hurl the eggs and squirt condiments on his pictures as symbolic acts of retaliation.
It was a ridiculous exercise. But we did it. We had to.
As it turned out, Steve wasn't feeling well that night. He sequestered himself in his bedroom for the duration of the party and didn't witness the scene in the bathroom. But we went ahead with the 'revenge' anyway, just as he wanted, without question.
Steve passed away a month later, in June of 1994.
Steve was that display of fireworks – loud, colourful, full of surprises. His show was over long before anyone was ready. But he lived his life with panache, touching everyone in its wake. And he goes on living in many of us.
How do you think Steve would feel about my posting his picture online and using details of his final days as blog fodder?
Are you kidding?!?!? He'd LOVE it: Mister Steve, the centre of attention, once again, all these years later. He'd be thrilled to know he’s still very much alive in my life - and now, in yours too, at least for the moment. He was an incorrigible show-off.
And Steve'd get a real kick out of me, his quiet buddy, announcing this story to the world at large. I mightn't have letters written on my toes today, but I may as well have: The blogging phenomena is probably just as wacky. Steve would definately approve.