Sorrowful Story Earns Its Happy Ending

Sorrowful Story Earns Its Happy Ending

Hal Campbell 10 Jul 2007
by Randall Neece
Alyson Books
Remember how flooded the book market was in the mid- 90s with AIDS memoirs? One gay widower after another shared his grief with the reading public over the loss of his partner in the late-80s and early-90s. We learned of the early I-don’t-feel-well period, the first trip to the doctor’s office, the reaction to what was accepted as a death sentence diagnosis, the various mood swings of the patient before a final resignation of the inevitable, and the survivor’s coping with his loss. Most were extremely well-written (surprising since so many were first-time publishing efforts), heart-breaking, and great testaments to the adherence to the “in sickness and in health” phrase to the very end.

But then, like all trends in literature, the AIDS memoir had its time in the sun and was eventually bumped from book shelves to make way for the next wave of gay literature which was, I’m sorry to say, an overall shallow collection of fiction. (The 20-somethings finally had their chance to flaunt their drugs-and-parties lifestyle in print since so many of the great writers were now gone).

But now the AIDS memoir is slowly making a comeback. This time, however, the authors are not the grieving partners of AIDS patients. Instead, they are the patients themselves. Long-term survivorship due to all the new drugs–especially the protease inhibitors–is now becoming commonplace. And leave it to composer Stephen Sondheim to provide us with another anthem symbolizing our situation. “There’s a Place for Us,” the WEST SIDE STORY lament commonly sung at funerals in the ’80s when our friends were dropping faster than we could write sympathy notes to their families, has now been replaced by “I’m Still Here,” from the ironically named musical “FOLLIES.”

This brings me to GONE TODAY, HERE TOMORROW by Randall Neece. After having a required routine physical examination, the author– a rising 35 year-old television producer– received a letter denying him life insurance. The cause for the declination was, “due to abnormalities detected in your blood.” In 1988 no gay man on the planet could miss the subliminal message behind those words. And is if the letter weren’t depressing enough, it arrived when the author and his partner, Joe (last name not revealed), were planning a ceremony to commemorate their first five years together.

At this point the memoir begins to resemble its predecessors from two decades before. We follow Randy through his endless battles with one infection after another. (I marvel that he was able to recall all those excruciating details. When I look back on what I went through during those early years following my diagnosis, much is just a blur.) Year after year, incident after incident, with Joe at his side Randy comes close to death, only to be blessed with a last minute medical miracle. But what good is a miracle if the life a patient is left with is devoid of happiness? Who wants to force himself to keep going when his existence is comprised of enslavement to a pill schedule, ceaseless diarrhea, making doctor appointments, forcing himself to eat despite intense nausea while at the same time he watches his weight plummet, and constantly craving sleep? And yet Randy did keep going and–astoundingly–in 1997 he was actually able to return to his profession as a television producer.

This is where the book steps out of the shadows of the earlier generation of AIDS memoirs. For the rest of Randy and Joe’s story, we watch them completely restructure their lives, culminating in the development of a successful business. Their love for dogs leads them into a world of raising show champions, judging at shows, grooming, and the managing of the ultimate pet hotel. At the book’s conclusion the business is still thriving and Randy’s health remains good. Amazingly, he is still involved with television producing and directing when he can get away from the dog world.

If ever there was a justified happy ending to a book, this is the one. Randy’s story is an inspiration to all of us afflicted with a medical condition that attacks our souls as well as our bodies. It also shows that some miracles don’t make their presence known until they’ve been around for a while. But often it’s not until they turn into blessings that we appreciate them. Patience truly is a virtue.