Kissed by a Dying Man: Nonfiction by Aiden Arata

“When I Say Together I Mean Between Us”


It’s impractical for Brad and I to be together, because he’s dying, and at the same time everything else seems like bullshit. When I say together, I don’t mean romantically. I mean present and intentional; I mean aware of the gallery air conditioner pinballing energy between our arms. Now, here, tonight. Tonight Brad and I are together because we both happen to be at a performance series, because it’s put on by my feminist coven, Moon Church, and because Brad’s a longtime friend of the artist spitting Yukon gold fingerling potatoes at her synth player.


Brad. What a name, what an inaccurate name for my friend. He lacks the glamour or the beauty of the name. I looked it up after he told me he was sick, but before the potato dance, as if I would find an encyclopedic lift of his senior yearbook photo in Google Images. Like under that, in a serif font, some sort of explanation for how you get here, how you evolve onto your couch on the night before Valentine’s day, alone, a little high, a series of auto-synaptic reflexes playing out across your MacBook Air, blipping the words “pancreatic cancer” over and over again on facebook chat.


A baby name website says Brad means “dweller at the broad wood,” while an online dictionary says that a Brad is “a slender wire nail having either a small, deep head or a projection to one side of the head end.” When Brad told me he had cancer I sent him a digital facsimile of a frown.


Brad wants our together to be romantic. I can’t. The pillar that rules beauty universal also denies possession of beauty. To say you see beauty in someone is inaccurate: really, you’re copping to the shock of realizing that for a second—a single second—this person has managed to momentarily hold onto the lip of beauty’s gaze as beauty’s leaving the room—or—beauty has grasped them, like a hook of smoke catches on an outstretched hand. Tonight, here, now.


A spit-slick fingerling hits and then slides down my shin. I didn’t expect to see him. Actually, I never really expect to see Brad; we rarely make actual plans. The first time I ever talked to Brad it was because he asked if he knew me from somewhere. He didn’t.  At that time though I consumed mostly sucrose and amphetamines, I was pretty friendly. “Do you want some?” I used to say, holding out a baggie of blow or a donut, and he’d tell me for the first or third time that he doesn’t do that kind of stuff anymore, and also, he’s diabetic. I pawed at him in apology, which he accepted. He started to paw at me in earnest. We formed a distant but dedicated friendship this way, like how if you claw your way through smoke, you are bound to catch some.


Brad is twenty-seven years old. I know he has a kid brother with pretty bad Autism, and he’s from Virginia, and he’s poor in a way we don’t talk about. Brad was engaged once. His DJing intuition is sublime. He had a nasty dope habit for I don’t know how many years, a long time, but I didn’t know him then. Maybe it’s a different kind of meaningful for someone diabetic. More meaningful maybe was that while he was a diabetic dope addict, he was slinging sundaes at Cold Stone. He started using early enough that now he looks sort of under-developed, like neotenic in a way that isn’t kawaii, but like an amateur photograph. His head is pink and round as a bud in April.


Brad laughs at jokes about stuff my parents say but he doesn’t joke about his own. He doesn’t really mention them. Or I was never paying attention. Whenever I was talking to Brad, before this, I was avoiding him. I was distancing myself enough to be likable. And now I’m far away, and he likes me, and he’s going to be a dead thing. Once before tonight we jimmied the door to my roof. We got up there but didn’t know what to do. Brad started to piss off the side of the building; he worried it would hurt if it hit someone, and stopped. We spent a long time in the control room, watching a massive mechanical interface compel the elevators.  Gear, rope, sheave. Maybe this is when he told me about his life. It was noisy in there.


I’ve searched online for Obamacare, Medicare, discount drugs in Chinatown, alternative medicine; but I didn’t bring anything with me. Brad gets paid under the table so he can’t afford the insurance he’s forced to own. It’s a good system, he reassures me. Some people just fall through the cracks. I Google “black market pain pills,” like I would find anything. When my computer is slow to load I imagine it’s busy masturbating. It helps me forgive.


When they turned the heat off in his apartment, in January, Brad came to mine. We lay in my Ikea HEMNES twin and he tried kissing me but didn’t get very far. It was maybe a second. That’s not the shameful part. What is though is that during the second, we were both dying. This leveled the playing field, and somehow I feel like it’s the biggest lie I let him believe.


Because I didn’t bring resources, I open a tab and ply Brad with fine whiskey to meet the minimum. Brad says he wants to quit drinking. I’m in recovery and I call him a pussy anyway, because I can’t listen to him say he desires restraint, without asking the obvious.


The pillar of Brad is such that he is both the wood and the nail.


I gotta get out of here, I say to Brad. Brad downs his drink and asks if he can come over and look at the links I’ve found. I say I dunno. Early morning. I don’t say, I gotta get out of here, this art series smells like the inside of my mouth. I don’t say, the way we resent me sends bolts of blood in and out of my heart: it makes me so alive.


Some other night in my apartment, Brad pulled out an insulin syringe. I stood in a ring of stovetop light and touched the smattering of track marks on his stomach, and knew that shuddering in the blue glow, I looked as surprising and promising as an oil slick. I felt curious. I felt nothing.


Photo by Aiden Arata

Aiden Arata’s written and video work has been featured on Potluck, Medium, The L Magazine, and other online and print platforms. She tweets and instagrams at @aidenarata.


Curated by FORTH Nonfiction Editors.

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