There are plenty of people who have died of AIDS who are not represented on the AIDS quilt.
Then there’s David Mount. He has at least three panels.
I met David in the 1970s, at college, where he was the roommate of a casual friend. For some reason I never quite understood, David and I quickly became very close. We nursed each other through the traumas and triumphs that twenty-somethings endure.
Not long after we met, David came to the realization that he was gay. (I don’t know if those two events are related in any way.) He went to San Francisco to explore this new aspect of himself and discovered that he was a hot commodity -- for the first time in his life. He’d walk down the street with that flaming orange hair and guys would whistle, honk and wave. And always, always the question: "Is that your real hair color?!?"
He loved the attention and reveled in his neon hair color (yes, it was the color he was born with). He went to the bars and the baths and took to carrying "The Gay Liberation Song Book," a title which seemed almost redundant considering the joy David found in his sexuality.
I’ll never forget the first time my mother met David. She was visiting me at my college apartment when there came a knock at the door. I opened it and there he stood, dressed to the nines -– oh my, David was a snappy dresser -– and carrying an umbrella. It was a bright, sunny May morning but I guess David had decided the umbrella completed his ensemble. He was inquiring as to whether I needed a ride to school. I said no, I was cutting class because my mother was visiting, and David, this is my mom. Mom, this is David Mount. Pleased to meet you.
Mom and I got in the car to go to lunch and I mentioned casually that David was gay. "Oh," she replied, "I thought he was weird."
My parents had never brought up the issue of homosexuality when I was growing up, not even once. It simply never came up. And thus I had no way of knowing that gay people were awful, sinful people. The first time I had seen a lesbian couple holding hands I was filled with a sense of awe that anyone could think that such a thing was wrong. The thought that crossed my mind at that moment, and continues to dominate my thinking on the subject, was: It’s none of my business whom anyone chooses to love. It wasn’t then, and it isn’t now.
By the way, it’s none of your business, either.
But my mom was very troubled that I was consorting with such a person. She urged me repeatedly to stop being friends with David. Once I asked her why, and it turned out that she was convinced he would teach me to be gay. How, exactly? She didn't have an answer to that question.
Every summer I’d spend a few weeks at my sister’s home in Idaho while she was pregnant with one or another of her babies. Mom would be there too, and without fail, as reliable as the sun itself, David would send me a letter every couple of days while I was there. They’d be chatty little missives about what he was up to, or the hidden meanings in "The Wizard of Oz," or a philosophical tract about the role of romance in a young person’s life.
My mother couldn’t figure out why a person like, like that would be such a faithful correspondent. "What’s in it for him?" I’m sure she wondered. Finally I heard her mutter, "Well, he’s reliable, I’ll give him that."
He loved to make up funny names for me on the envelope. I might be "Chiquita Lipps" or "Peaches Lagrue" or, my favorite, "Verbina Trueheart." He was usually "Boris" and had an odd return address. (One time he was writing from "Glory Hole, New Jersey.") He’d affix a collage of one-cent stamps on the envelope in pleasing arrays. There were many letters, so he had the chance to get really creative. Rest assured I saved every one of them, for they were works of art.
When I was living in Los Angeles he stayed with me. I often stayed with him in San Francisco. Even in a one-room apartment he always made room for me. We’d go to the beach, eat out, catch a movie or a play, and talk, talk, talk. He knew every little secret of my life.
David was my very best friend, best I ever had. Everywhere I ever lived he came to visit, and vice versa. Through him I met an army of fabulous people and this odd assortment of fruits and nuts became a close-knit bunch, almost exclusively by virtue of our friendship with David.
Oh my, was he a fastidious soul. Always properly attired, his clothes were hung in an exacting order, by season, event and color. He was a regular fashion librarian. He was also the only man who ever accompanied me on a trip to shop for clothes, and he would have chosen all my clothes for me if I’d asked him. He seemed to think turquoise was my color.
I made a shirt for him once, a russet-hued silk shirt that, if he didn’t adore it he sure fooled me. It was a presumptuous gift but the fabric had screamed "DAVID!" at me.
His health was usually iffy. I thought of him as a bit of a hypochondriac, but as a regular visitor to the baths and (ahem) private clubs, there was often a genital wart or some other malady to tend to. That didn’t bother him much: "The doctor gives me a pinch in each cheek and out I go." But as the AIDS epidemic took hold of San Francisco and gave the city a hard shake, we began to worry about David. He stopped going to the baths and became a fervent proponent of condoms, but it turned out to be too late. David got his diagnosis in 1986.
The confirmation of his HIV status changed his outlook on life considerably. He went through a lot of therapy that enabled him to express his rage at being so very mortal. Suddenly, oddly, he became a much more loveable person. That’s not me talking; that’s all the people who got to know him after his diagnosis. David began to live his days more fully and was much more involved in his day-to-day interactions than in the past. Gone was his longing for the all-consuming romance of his life; now, conversely, people came into his life full of compassion and respect. He dated more frequently than before.
"Oh, this guy pissed me off!" he complained to me one day. "He saw the lesions on my face and put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Hang in there, man, I know what you’re going through.’ Well, who asked him?!? The nerve!"
"Hey," I replied, "you could be living in Texas and have people throwing rocks at you instead." He admitted that was true, but he hadn’t requested anyone’s pity. He walked around with the lesions on his face and wore them almost as a badge of honor, defying people to react to them. He’d grin and say, "Look at me -– I’m tie-dyed!"
One Friday he called me at work. I asked him how he was doing. "I’m unhappy," he replied in a pouty voice.
"Because none of my friends has taken me out for Sunday Brunch in the longest time," he whined. Well, I thought that was just adorable. We’d done so many brunches in the past, and it turned out that one of the very best in the whole Bay Area was just a couple miles from where I lived.
"That’s terrible!" I replied. "Your friends should be ashamed of themselves! On an unrelated topic, would you care to go for Sunday brunch with us this weekend?" He accepted the invitation graciously.
That Sunday he arrived in the early afternoon. He said he was so tired, so very very tired, that he’d had to pull over a couple of times to take a nap on the 15-mile drive to our house. But he was feeling better now. So we hopped into our car and went to the best brunch spread in the Bay Area.
I was nervous about how the waiters would treat David, sitting there proudly displaying the infamous lesions of Kaposi’s sarcoma on his face, but I needn’t have worried. They clucked over him like he was Diamond Jim. They made sure his champagne glass was always full and even fetched things from the buffet so he wouldn’t have to make the trip himself. I was so proud of them that day.
We got home and David said he was tired. He stretched out on the bed in the back room to catch a few Z’s. He slept for several hours, well into "60 Minutes," and I began to be concerned. I came back and woke him gently. I explained that if he wanted to stay the night that was fine, but he needed to know that I’d be going to work early the next morning.
He roused himself, stretched, put on his shoes, thanked us for the brunch and kissed us goodbye, promising to call when he got home. That call didn’t come till after eleven, because once again he’d had to stop and doze on the way home.
David Mount died the next morning around 9. I can’t tell you how glad I am that we took him to brunch that Sunday, or how guilty I would have felt if I’d tried to put it off another week.
I knew he’d be proud -– odd, but true -– to have a square on the famous quilt. I contacted the quilt people to find out how to go about it. They told me the quilt was going on display at the Moscone Center soon, so I decided to take a look at it before I made a square for David.
We went down and cried buckets as we looked at all the love stitched in to that fabric, all the creativity and sense of loss on display. They had a listing of everyone honored on the Remembrance Quilt, so I looked up David Mount. I
knew he had friends other than me, and quite possibly someone else had already done a square for him. I was shocked to find that there were three squares in the name of David Mount. Now, this is not what you’d call a common name. I don’t know what three people or groups sewed David’s name into the quilt, but they obviously felt as close to him as I did (and still do).
I am impressed. He didn’t live nearly long enough, but he clearly touched a lot of lives.
Almost every day I think about how my life would have been different had he survived the AIDS menace. I miss his humor, his love, all the large and small contributions to my life. I almost never have had a dinner party since his death in 1987. I miss my dear, absent friend.
Oh, if only he had been able to live long enough to take advantage of the AIDS treatments that have reduced HIV to less than a death sentence. My life, and those of his many friends, would be so much happier.
My closet, of course, would look entirely different – probably a lot more turquoise.
Ironic, isn’t it? David Mount refused to live in the closet, but he had a lot to say about what went into mine.