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short story    
 
photo of Alicia Erian

































  Betrothed

I took my first trip to San Francisco in the fall of 1986, to see my Uncle Martin, with whom I have always been close. Before I arrived, he told me he had a friend he wanted me to meet, Dave. I was nineteen at the time, in college on the east coast, and very inexperienced. I desperately wanted a boyfriend, though no one seemed to want me (probably because of the desperate thing). It did not occur to me that it was impractical to have a boyfriend I would never see, except on vacations, which I could barely afford to take.

In San Francisco, everybody seemed mopey-my uncle, his girlfriend, their friends. A couple of days into the visit Martin told me Dave had just been diagnosed with AIDS, which he had contracted from an old girlfriend. Martin said, "Thank God you didn't come sooner. If you had hooked up with him before he was diagnosed, if something had happened to you..." His voice trailed off. Suddenly, before we had even met, Dave and I were intimates. I knew his deepest secret, that he was going to die soon, and he himself had nearly killed me.

When Dave and I finally did meet a few days later, he didn't look sick. He was, in fact, a goof. I took pictures of him and my uncle and one of their buddies hugging the mailman in front of Dave's apartment. Later, Martin and his girlfriend drove us to the ocean, and Dave and I sat in the back seat together. I couldn't think of anything to say to someone who was going to die, which frustrated me. The reality was, I still wanted a boyfriend, and hadn't counted him out. In fact, he was tops on my list. Surely I had at last found someone who wouldn't be so picky.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, but Dave and I began corresponding a little after I went back home, so that when I returned to San Francisco in 1987, we were more familiar with one another. He still didn't look all that sick, though he had lost some of his earlier zip.

One night, the gang (Martin always seemed to move in packs of seven or more) went to see Lolita at The Red Vic, on Haight Street. Instead of auditorium seating, the theater was filled with rows of old thrift store couches and chairs. I had never seen the film before and laughed out loud at Peter Sellers. Dave sat next me, in his own chair, and when I looked over at him, I finally saw the man who was dying. He wasn't paying attention to the movie at all. It must have been dizzying, having to sit in that glorified Salvation Army while Humbert fucked that clean little girl. I took his hand and he held mine back, powerfully, and I felt I had revived him.

The next day we met on Haight again, just the two of us. We sat in a bakery, and as I write this, my mouth is filled with the taste of chocolate chip muffins, which must have been what I ate. I have no idea what we talked about. Not dying. We were on a date, for godssakes.

After leaving the cafe, we walked to the end of Haight, then entered Golden Gate Park, walking some more until we found a funny little mound of grass with trees surrounding it. It was nature's equivalent of a raised platform in a dance club, and we took it for ourselves, thinking we had stuff to strut.

Dave was my destiny. He had been betrothed to me by my uncle, illness be damned. He didn't much care that I was desperate, which only made me less so. I needed love quick-fast-in a hurry, so I wouldn't get insecure, and he needed it that way because, at twenty-eight, he had, horrifyingly, stumbled into his twilight years. I think we probably did end up talking about dying that afternoon. I'm sure I cried. We clung to each other. He put his tongue in my mouth and I was not afraid. I knew saliva was safe. Later, we exchanged the mound of grass for a bed. Dave awoke in the middle of the night, drenched in his own sweat, and that was safe, too. Even the semen that still bubbled out of him couldn't hurt to look at.

He died of pneumonia when I was doing a semester in London the following spring. The call came, oddly, while Martin was visiting me this time. It was around two in the morning and there wasn't much to say. We put some music on and lay in our respective beds, thinking about our friend who had drowned on dry land.
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    Copyright © 2001 by Alicia Erian. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.