Rose and Butterfly: A Love Story

I Beginnings

Tall, blond, blue-eyed Emmet, a just-hired, fresh-off-the-plane techno-nerd, meets debonair waiter Philip, a wirey mix of Spanish, African-American and Irish ancestors, a human ratdog with a mustache and the panache of Barishnikov. They settle into a three-bedroom apartment in Sunnyvale.

At an employee holiday extravaganza in San Francisco, Bill and I dance next to them, I in my gold lamÈ halter top and pants, the men in tuxes.

II. Fun and Games

Dinner at our house. Philip lights up one of those nasty little clove cigarettes out on the deck. Then he grabs my arm and launches into a two-step, steering me confidently, ignoring unintended assaults on his toes. He turns the boombox to a country station and the four of us line dance in my kitchen to some song with ìboogieî in the name. None of us can keep up with Philip. They are the first openly gay men I hug and kiss.

We dine at their home. Philip claims he baked the perfectly shaped apple pie sitting on the kitchen counter. I know better but allow myself to be the chump. We play a board game. While Philip and Bill strategize, Emmet and I catch up on gossip and spin our latest theories: he insists time isn’t linear, it’s concurrent; I tell him disco isn’t dead, it’s just waiting for John Travolta to lose 40 pounds.

III. Arizona Iced Tea

We meet the boys at Annie’s Burgers, a gay hangout downtown. They have both tested positive for HIV and are getting married. I bat at lurking apprehensions hanging about the happy news, but they always return.

We receive an announcement featuring a rose and butterfly designed by Emmet, then attend the ceremony in September. Philip looks very tired, but kicks up his heels after the ceremony anyway.

In January, we visit Philip at Stanford Hospital. A bout of pneumonia. ìHere, try mine,î Philip offers. That’s how I get my first taste of a peach Arizona Iced Tea.

IV. Bottles and Candles

We visit sometime in early spring. Wearing nothing but an adult diaper, Philip suckles a baby bottle to ingest nourishment because his mouth and throat are infected with a thick coating of thrush. Near the end, Emmet urges Philip to let go right in front of us; he can’t stand to watch Philip suffering anymore. Shortly before his death, Philip lights a candle. When it burns down, Emmet lights another candle with the flame. He keeps this up until the memorial service a month later, hanging onto anything that belonged to Philip, including the damned baby bottles.

V. Rose and Butterfly Revisited

Emmet uses the money from Philip’s life insurance policy to buy a house that he remodels to turn into a hospice for AIDS patients. Like the raja who commissioned the Taj Mahal for his wife, Emmet builds a monument to Philip. A photo of the Beloved is sealed inside a wall. Emmet places a time capsule of Philip memorabilia under a fireplace hearth. The rose and butterfly design are carved into the corners of the entry’s bleached oak floor and etched into the glass panes of the kitchen cabinet doors and the shower door of the master bath.

I want to be loved that much.