Sunday, November 27, 2011

Marc. A Remembrance

This isn't the first ode to a client dying young about whom I've blogged, but, I assure you, it will be the last for a while. I suppose my adolescent romanticism remains with me and one of its allures is the early death of an attractive boy. Perhaps, another motivating factor is the desire to memorialize a loss from the days of plague; losses that often came so frequently that grieving was interrupted by the next loss and, so, continues.

Marc was fifteen when he became my client at the Gay Social Services Project in the late Seventies. He was on the short side and had features that clearly showed aboriginal genes in his inheritance. His eyes were black, his hair jet black, his complexion rudy and his teeth a startling white. To me Marc was an attractive boy; he was very aware both of his attractiveness and that he had made a conquest. His inclinations were towards older men, whom he approached with a winning flirtatiousness. Though clearly pleased that I had been assigned as his case worker, he was savvy enough to observe boundaries and never in the years that he was my client did he make an overt sexual gesture. I, myself, realized that observing a professional boundary was essential if our relationship was to be productive. Nevertheless, the sexual energy that passed between us contributed to the effectiveness of our working relationship; to deny its presence or to think negatively of it would be both hypocritical and a manifestation of a sex-negative mentality.

Marc came to the Gay Project as a self-referral and he knew exactly what he wanted: to take a step our of poverty and toward autonomy from a rather suffocating family environment. Being aware that the generosity of protective services would not extend to supporting those particular objectives, he knew he must present his situation in a compelling way. In addition to his physical assets, Marc was possessed of an extraordinary, cunning variety of intelligence. He was, in the several meanings of the word, foxy. Marc had begun to lay the plans for his social advancement and liberation from family early; making the decision when he graduated from elementary school to switch from the French to the English school system; a transfer which would be against the law in the Quebec of today and was not unusual for the upwardly mobile. At the time I met him, his English was impeccable and without accent. He seldom spoke in French.

His home life was extremely impoverished both economically and emotionally. When he was five or six the father, a truck driver, deserted the family. Although Marc knew who and where he was, there was almost no contact between them, which suited the two of them just fine.The father had moved on to form a new family and made no financial contribution to the one he had abandoned to welfare. Marc had a brother who was two years younger with whom he didn't have a very positive relationship; largely because he was encouraged to act as the boy's surrogate father; his brother resented that parental role and Marc resented being expected to exercise it.

In addition to acting as a surrogate father to his brother, Marc was placed in the role of surrogate partner by his mother. While the brother had his own bedroom and a more normal relationship with his mother, Marc had always shared his mother's bed after his father's departure. Although that would have seemed suspect in middle class families, it passed as a simple matter of necessity for a single parent family living on welfare. Although there was, allegedly, no sexual contact between Marc and his mother, there did seem to be an immaturity on her part and, perhaps, an intellectual limitation, which expressed itself through a dependency on Marc for both financial and emotional support.

Another step taken to advance his financial situation was to find a relatively well paying job, working for a man who had a warehouse in his neighborhood for an importing business. His employer was, not surprisingly, an older, English-speaking, gay man. I had no idea how Marc met him and thought it best not to ask. His boss seemed to take an active interest in his welfare, scheduling his work around his school schedule and helping to financially support his family; the relationship did not seem to be sexually exploitative. Almost all the money he made was turned over to his mother at her insistence; much of the rest went to support the purchase of marijuana, which was Marc's substance of choice in finding relief from the stress of his life; when stoned he was the essence of chill.

Marc's plan for assuring his independence was to be accepted into a programme of supported, independent living for youths from sixteen to their completion of their high school diploma; at that time usually being about eighteen years old. His mother, given her dependence on him, opposed his moving out of their home, consequently, it was necessary to go to youth court in order to obtain permission. Ordinarily, that permission would have been difficult to obtain because his family life was neither exceptionally neglectful or abusive; it was simply a reflection of  poverty.

The court process was rather sad and pathetic if you considered his mother's participation, and a clever demonstration of confidence, maturity and persuasiveness, if you considered that of Marc. He was aided by the fact that he requested the process take place in English, as was his right, which meant that both the questions of the judge and my own testimony was, also, in English. Consequently, his mother, being unilingually French didn't understand much of what was happening, despite some attempt to provide her with a translation. The trial was considerably less than politically correct when considered from the contemporary standards regarding the primacy of French in Quebec and left me feeling somewhat uneasy simply from the perspective of justice being served.

The case presented to the court focused on the destructive nature of the demands placed on Marc by his mother with particular attention paid to the expectation that he share her bed. Much to my surprise, although his father was absent from the hearing as expected, the fluently bilingual paternal grandmother appeared in his stead and spoke in favour of Marc's living on his own. Her testimony had been quietly arranged by Marc and contributed to the sad impression of his mother's inadequacy.

Marc, once he had permission of the court, moved into an apartment and shared it with a close, gay friend his own age. I saw him every other week until he finished high school. He continued to be a model of responsibility: going to school, working at his part time job and being very active in our Gay Youth Group. We frequented the same bars, so I also saw him from time to time in a social setting. On one occasion he introduced me to a large, bear-like man, whom he said was his new lover. He was an ex-Marine and owned a farm outside of Montreal. After graduation Marc went to live with him, they worked his farm together and I rarely saw him in bars; however, when I did, he related that they were both very happy living together.

It was in the mid-eighties that Marc called me and said that he was HIV-positive and wanted to come see me. In our subsequent conversation he related that his lover had developed Aids and wasn't expected to live more than a few months. He was extremely distraught and determined to care for him as long as possible on the farm. When his boyfriend died, he asked to see me again and shared the grief he was experiencing. I held him while he sobbed uncontrollably; experiencing, once again, in that physical intimacy the erotic component in our relationship; odd that one strong emotion often evokes another; as lovers experience in make-up sex after an angry exchange. By that time, Marc, himself, had become symptomatic.

Several months later Marc called again to let me know he had moved into a hospice in Montreal, as he was too ill to live alone on the farm. I visited him once a week; at first he was dressed and sitting in a chair in his room; later he was confined to his bed and didn't bother to dress, wearing only a bathrobe. In his room he had a large poster, very popular at the time, of a muscular, oil-covered man, holding a tire in one of his hands. Marc's body got thinner and thinner and his face more skull-like. On one occasion, his grandmother was visiting at the same time and, though she was very friendly, I wondered if she felt any anger toward me for having supported Marc in his decision to live a gay life-style. I could understand her wishing he had stayed at home in the rather dysfunctional relationship with his mother; at least he may not have been lying here dying.

The last time I say Marc he was very feeble; nevertheless, he asked me if I would accompany him to a park, just a block from the hospice, where he could score some dope. I asked the staff if it was OK for him to go out for a walk and they, being wiser than me, said, "Sure, he can go anywhere he's able to go." I waited what seemed like an hour for Marc to slowly and painfully get dressed; helped him put on his pants and shoes; supported him out the door of the hospice. We very slowly walked about half a block, when Marc stopped and said he couldn't go any further, asking to be taken back to the hospice. Naturally, the staff were expecting our rapid return. We helped him back upstairs, undress and get back into bed. I left, crying. It was so sad to witness his defeat and resignation.

The next time I visited the hospice, the staff told me Marc had died several days previously and asked if I wanted to sit and talk with them. I declined and left; once again, crying on my way to the Metro. In some way, not connected to that of a boyfriend, partner, or lover, I had loved him. Unlike most people I have known facing death, Marc never shared with me any regrets or fear of dying. He seemed to accept his wasting, discomfort and imminent death with a kind of equanimity rare for the young. In one of those experiences most of us have from time to time, when the brain weaves together the information available to it and fills in a blank to make an experience coherent, I was walking I down a crowed street. A young man in a group of young men, looking somehow familiar, is walking towards me; my brain joins that sensory data with memories and finds an image that seems to match the young man; overlaying that image with desire and hope; comes to a mistaken conclusion and I think, "Oh, there's Marc!"; immediately, a less imaginative part of the brain makes an instant, though sad, correction, "No, he's not Marc. Marc is long dead. Anyway, even if he were Mark he would have been the age of a man approaching retirement,  just as you are an old man."


  1. This is a sad story. There were so many others.

  2. So true. Hope you and Ron are active and well! I was remembering recently the conference we gave on Aids in Vancouver.

  3. You must have admired this young man a great deal, before and after his death.
    As sad as I found the story, I found myself filled with envy of the young man's character.
    I wish to share this with a younger gay person from today's generation -with the cocktail that saves people who are HIV +, least these stories are forgotten because they are not being told. Thank you for this.

  4. Thanks for the thank you, Tim. You're right that I did and do admire Marc. He's one of the people I've known who I feel continues to be present to me.