John had fierce itching nothing would stop. It would get so bad he tried to kill the bacteria on his skin by taking baths with large amounts of Clorox added to the water.
When he regained some strength, he set up his will and durable power of attorney, bought a new dishwasher though the old one still worked, and volunteered to visit men in his AIDS support group in the hospital or at home when they became ill. This gave him goals and the sense his life had hope. He found joy every day and lived by “Do not possess what you can never really own.”
John improvised on the piano to work out his complicated relationships. He photographed patterns in the sand and in eucalyptus bark. Once we took a walk deep in the woods near St. Mary’s College in Moraga, hopped on a lone picnic table, and shouted the lines of a play we made up to the attentive oak and bay trees. After John quit his job as an English teacher at Monte Vista High School in suburban Danville, he wrote me a note, “I know everyone around school is going to be talking about me in hushed tones. I’m irresistible gossip. Students too. God, what a choice bit of rare flesh to sizzle on the grill of public discussion.”
As a teacher, his goal was to instill a lifelong appreciation of literature in his students. He would occasionally show them movies, too. Hopelessly playful, John threw little pieces of liver at his students one day. They were watching “The African Queen” and he wanted them to know what leeches were like.
We formed a support group of about 12 friends, AIDS volunteers, and medical volunteers to fill John’s needs. He named us the Herlinettes. My main job was to take him on adventures, the scarier the better, to cheer him up. Sometimes he surprised me by wrapping my head in a large towel and driving me around in his car, it seemed in circles. After he took the towel off, the schoolteacher in him would charge me with telling him where we were. Once we were parked on a corner facing a house about three miles south into Oakland, and I was completely disoriented. Another time we were near a reservoir in the middle of a herd of goats. Sometimes we’d take the train to San Francisco and go where we weren’t allowed in the Transamerica Pyramid Building or wander about in Chinatown’s darkest alleys.
This is Part III of an expanded story from Chapter 4, The Enneagram of Death. Part IV will appear on April 30. Read reviews of The Enneagram of Death – Helpful Insights by the 9 Types of People on Grief, Fear, and Dying and Elizabeth’s 6 other books and CD: http://www.wagele.com
Also, Elizabeth will give a talk on The Enneagram of Death May 25 at 7:30. East West Books, 324 Castro Street, Mountain View CA 650-988-9800 http://www.eastwest.com