Friday, 23 July 2010

For Andrew, on His Birthday

By my best calculations, today would have been Andrew’s 48th birthday.  Born Douglas Andrew Hannapel, he went by Andrew everywhere that wasn’t Nebraska, where he was Doug or Douglas to everyone.  He hated that.

I first met Andrew by phone.  We were both receptionists at the offices of 21st Century Film – me in New York and Andrew in L.A.  Basically, we’d spend most of the day on the phone, as we connected one or the other person in either office to each other. My boss would ask me to get Nini on the phone and I’d have to dial LA and Andrew would pick up and say “21st Century Film” and I’d say “Hey, it’s me, is Nini there?”  If she were on the line, we’d hold so I could get her for my boss as soon as she hung up.  So we’d chat.  I think we probably spent a good few hours a day on the phone shuffling Melanie to Blaine, Menahem to David, Priscilla to Alain, while I was balancing the checkbook, signing for packages, or putting him on hold to take other calls.

The first time we met in person was my first real trip to LA.  By then the NY office had closed and I don’t think he was working at the LA office anymore.  We met at a former version of Café Stella, in what was a pretty empty little courtyard.  It bears almost no resemblance to the bustling mini-metropolis that’s now the Intelligentsia, Silver Lake Cheese shop mecca for hipsters and foodies.

We sat awkwardly – we were used to the phone.  We had no email accounts.  No cell phones.  Um, no computers, even, in our office!  We did write letters, though.  Tons of them.  He’d tell me everything.  I’d tell him about all the bad dates with bad men.  He’d say, “Girl, you don’t need that one…unless he’s got a big d*ck!”  He made me laugh.  In person, we were awkward.

Andrew was funny.  He was generous and he was drag-queen bitchy when necessary.  That meant he was a great friend.  He always had your back and nobody would mess with you cause if they did, even if he never met them, he’d verbally cut them up so bad…even if only to you on the phone.  Sex & The City wishes it were as funny as Andrew on a tear.

He told me pretty early on he was sick.  At the time, being HIV+ was still a death sentence and I’d already lost a lot of people.  By the next year, he was back in Nebraska living near his parents.  This was not something he wanted to do, but he knew he couldn’t make it on his own in L.A. anymore.

When I drove cross-country with my friend so I could move out to LA for grad school, we planned our trip to go through Lincoln, NE.  There Andrew took me to my first ever Target – he pronounced it Tarjhay – and we ate a huge lunch and then had ice cream.  When we got back in the car we couldn’t move.  And then we didn’t move, we got stuck in a tornado on the way to see Cathy in Kansas!

Our letters were colourful.  Not just in language and stories, but in actual colour.  Andrew was big on confetti.  Sequins, stickers.  Well, so was I.  So these amazingly decorated envelopes would show up and out would stream confetti everywhere.  I had a little glass jar in my apartment for the stray Andrew confetti.  It got so I couldn’t open his letters anywhere but my room – if a roommate or a co-worker saw it – they’d be like – is that from Andrew -- don’t open that here – it gets everywhere!

I did the same for him, always looking for new and better stationery to entertain him.  He’d send pictures of his apartment (he painted it magenta and pink for real), his cat, and lists of the videos in his VHS collection (lots of Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn and Joan Crawford).

He’d send long descriptions of medical procedures I hoped I’d never have to go through.  They sounded horrifying, but I read them, to be there, to witness, and to be his friend.  Sometimes the handwriting was shaky.  He’d complain about his weight when the meds made him balloon up, and again when different meds made it so he couldn’t keep any food down.

He held on a good long time.  Just not long enough.

In one phone call, after I was out of work, I was lamenting that I couldn’t even go out and get a cappuccino.  A few days later, a box showed up.  There was a cappuccino machine inside.  I was shocked and so excited – nobody I knew even had one!  He was like that.  I kept it in perfect shape, completely spotless for about 12 years (until I stupidly took it on location and left it to the make-up trailer and they ruined it).  Every time I made a coffee, I thought of him.

For his birthday in 1994, he invited a group of his friends to meet him in his beloved San Francisco.  I guess he knew already it would be his last birthday.  I don’t think I did.  He rented a hotel suite.  He took us all out to dinner on Friday night in the Castro, which he loved.  He bought presents for everyone.  He got tickets to Beach Blanket Babylon.  Saturday night we had a huge dinner served to us in his huge penthouse suite in the hotel.  There were about ten of us.  We didn’t all know each other.  We had heard about each other, some of us, and everyone knew at least one other person.  It was a fun, but sad night.  Andrew didn’t want to go back to Nebraska.  He didn’t want to live the life of the dying.  He simply had no choice.

He lasted about 6 months after that, I think.  He was ragingly sick for a good 4 years.  He took every pill they gave him.  He tried everything they prescribed.  Had he held on for another 6, maybe 12 months, if he was healthy enough, he could’ve been one of the first people on the cocktail.

He wasn’t perfect.  He’d fall into drinking too much, or recreational drugs, even near the end, when he knew it was depleting his system. I could never blame him; he simply had no outlet at all for his physical pain.

Andrew was older than me, but he liked to lie about his age.  I remember the first birthday I had when I got to be older than he was and I thought, Andrew didn’t make it this far.  It was sobering.

You are your life.  You are your actions.  You are your circumstances and you are your times.  Born or infected a few years later, he might’ve lived fairly routinely with his status.  There are people who made the same mistakes he made, just a little bit closer to medical innovation, who are living healthy functioning lives.

Sometimes I think of Andrew as a soldier on the front lines of HIV.  He was brave, he was gallant, he never lost his sense of humour.  His life cleared a path for those who came after him with the disease.  He was a guinea pig, sure, but he never once said I give up.  Never once refused treatment.  He’d write in depth about the lesions, and the pain and the way they couldn’t find veins anymore, but he never didn’t go through it.  Wracked with pain, he’d describe long phone calls with civil servants about his disability and medical coverage – no one should have to go through that.

He died too soon.  Quite literally.  He was almost there, he just didn’t know.  I think about that, whenever I’m tending toward giving up.  I think that I may be closer than I know and that it wouldn’t be becoming to his legacy or his friendship to give up.

Drewski – this is the piece of the quilt I swore I’d sew for you, but never did.  But c’mon, we both know I wasn’t the crafty one!  And a girl like me don’t sew!  There’s a star with your name and you are remembered as a flame in hearts.  You give me courage and remind me not to give up my sense of humour, no matter what.

It’s your birthday! Let’s celebrate it!  Margaritas, funny hats and streamers for everyone!

This is the only mention of him I could find on the web.  It’s funny for me to see him so young, but it definitely is him, not only by the picture, but by the testimony.  Douglas Andrew Hannapel.

Good friends age like fine wine.  He might never wanted to have been this old (oh, he was vain), but I think given the alternative, we would have all preferred him to be here.

Keep your friends close.  Buy some property on an island and send your enemies away.  There are enough problems and distractions in life without them.


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