There is a lot of speculation about what happened to Mitchell, but to me it is pretty clear now. My first instinct was to think that he ended his own life somehow. He had broken up with his boyfriend and had generally had struggles with depression and anxiety, among his health problems including but not limited to HIV. Now that his final affairs are coming to a close I realize that Mitch was far to narcissistic to ever kill himself. I think that the wear and tear on his body from degenerative disc disease, and a plethora of medications for all sorts of ailments including Adderal, became too much for his body to handle and his heart stopped. This is what his family believes and what I believe and either way, it’s very sad.
Mitch had his ups and downs. In NYC we shared that apartment, The Compound, and he would open its doors to anyone who needed a place to stay. It was truly, at times, a boarding house for the wayward, and for any amount of selfishness he displayed there was an equal amount of generosity. He was generous to a fault.
In our last conversations I encouraged him not to lose ground in his struggles with drugs and his health as the result of some stupid boy. He took that to heart. I reminded him that he was a whole person and anytime he felt lonely to remember that he was not alone.
When I moved back to North Carolina he moved back to New York. The distance and my own busy life caused me to neglect his calls sometimes, to go periods without reaching out. But when we communicated, Mitch listened to all the ins and outs of my life, and there are things about which I could only talk to Mitch, as only Mitch would understand. Despite our disagreements on certain things, Mitch was one person I could count on to know where I was coming from in what I expected and wanted from the world. Even when I was appalled by him (“MITCH!”) I knew that we had far more in common than our differences. And he loved me for both commonalities and differences, and I him.
Mitch had been on a search for meaning in his life, he searched for God and spirituality and love. I wish that he could see how loved he was, how many people have reached out to his family. How many people will be at his memorial service tonight.
My mom informed me: “It’s going around he had AIDS. Do you know?” This of course rubs me all kinds of wrong ways. First the ignorance of what AIDS is versus HIV. They are not interchangeable terms. Second, the fact that this “rumor” is “going around.” Mitch had no secrets and was pretty open about his HIV status. So while people may be gossiping about the dead, whispering that he was infected with a disease, the fact is it was no secret and while a source of conflict and suffering for him, not a source of shame.
In the South, society deems few things worse than being queer. One of those things is being a “queer with AIDS”.
I told my mom that being HIV positive does not make someone a bad person. I told her that it bothers me that people, even people close to the family, would be whispering about this when Mitch would speak about it at regular conversational volume. Unlike Mitch I have to leave well enough alone, though. I didn’t want to get into it further, for any question to turn to my obvious sexuality, or for her or anyone to say something stupid along the lines of myself being in danger by breathing his same air.
Meanwhile Mitch’s family didn’t really hear me when I shared that he was a member of the MCC in Winston Salem. They wanted the pastor at the service to be one who knew Mitch, so they got one who pastured at their church when he was a child. Nevermind that he had a pastor in Winston more recently, and many friends in that congregation, all of whom will attend his service. It would be pointless for me to advocate for something different than what they are going to do.
In Mitch’s honor I am going to make an effort to do something that he did with his family: set the precedent that I will not avoid, deny, or be silent about who I am. I told Mitch I admired that about him, whereas I have allowed there to be something easier for me, just not talking about who I am, what my views are, and how I live my life.
Mitch had his flaws, his mistakes, and his moments as we all do. In the end though I will remember him as someone who loved people, easily made friends, and made me laugh.
At his service tonight I will make sure that we are not honoring the wrong person.