1989—I met Marcus Lutsky at Uncle Charlie’s Downtown in NYC in the Spring of 1989. It was a Saturday night and I was on the prowl. It was late. I hadn’t really met anyone yet, mostly because I had been standing around watching music videos and trying to make eye contact with a bartender who I had a big crush on. Coming to my senses that I was never going to bag the bartender, I sniffed around the bar looking for a more promising catch until I saw him—big, blusterous, laughing and commanding the attention of a group of guys around him. Sufficiently drunk, I waited until he had stepped away from his group, and went straight up to him.
“So what would it take to get you into my bed tonight?” I boldly asked.
He smiled. We exchanged a few pleasantries and small talk. Marcus was an actor—good looking, thick, muscly with a strong brow that felt vaguely Neanderthal—in a good way! He looked and talked very working-class Long Island, which I found sexy. A few subtle, then not-so-subtle body gropes, a deep kiss and before long we were in a taxi heading to my place.
On our first night together he told me he had tested positive for the AIDS virus. No one at that time would say he had AIDS, just that he had “tested positive”. I don’t remember if people even used the term “HIV+.” It was just AIDS, all caps AIDS, and we all danced nervously around the word. His T-cells were hopefully high and he was in good health he said. I told him it didn’t matter. I figured we were being safe. I was also a romantic; for me, love is unconditional. If he ended up being “the one” for me, I would have hated to skip over him, just because of a “condition.” Besides, he had only just tested positive. That was all.
We dated through the summer, mostly dinners out, then went home for sex. There were trips to Jones Beach, picnics in Central Park and days spent just walking the city. Ours was a fairly private relationship. He was closeted—he worried about his acting career and bartended in a straight bar in the East Village.
On my birthday, he gave me a small sterling silver pen with the words “lamp” engraved on it. He always called me his lamp, his light. It made me bit uncomfortable being the center of such adoration, as I sensed Marcus falling in love. I was a bit more reticent with my emotions, but I kept at it, hoping to feel the same about him.
In late summer, Marcus began to experience some mild health issues, nothing too serious, mostly just fatigue. He was experimenting with all kinds of alternative treatments and vitamins for his condition and had been reading Marianne Williamson and “A Course in Miracles,” and Louise Haye religiously. We were in our early thirties and we felt invincible. In hindsight, I realize we both walked a thin line between positive thinking and denial.
As summer moved into fall, we decided to take a trip to France together. We started in Paris and from almost the start Marcus was feeling a bit “off,” but we pushed on. Loading ourselves up on wine, cheese, baguettes and paté, we headed down through the Loire Valley, and on to the wine country of Burgundy. Liza Minelli’s Losing My Mind blared on the radio every five minutes. It was a big hit at the time in France—with Marcus and me doing our own road-trip karaoke, hamming it up with the slightly unhinged Sondheim lyrics:
“The sun comes up, I think about you,
The coffee cup, I think about you,
I want you so, it’s like I’m losing my mind”
When we returned to NYC, we continued dating. The weather got chillier and Marcus came down with a really bad cold that wouldn’t go away. He starting looking gaunt and grey. Finally, late one Saturday night, I convinced him to go to the hospital. We arrived at the admitting area and the nurse on duty began asking a lot of questions about his symptoms, before finally taking him in for tests. I worried it might be pneumonia or something worse. I stayed in the waiting area. At some point the nurse came out to say something to me.
“Excuse me, but…” I hesitated. “There is something you need to know, Marcus has AIDS.” I blurted out. She was silent for a moment and then asked a few questions very unemotionally. I had never said those words out loud. It was now real. Marcus had AIDS.
We checked Marcus into a room. I hugged him stiffly in front of the nurse and left. A few days later, I took him home, but he was too tired to work much over the next few months. He was too tired to do much of anything. I would go over and spend the night in his small studio, which had begun to smell of sour sweat and stale vitamins. His emotional dependence on me grew. I found myself becoming more distant, not wanting to share his restless nights. I wasn’t in love with him and I couldn’t hide it. I wanted to be in love with him, but I wasn’t. The pang of guilt followed me and grew louder.
By the new year, Marcus was feeling better, started to work again, and was excited about some upcoming auditions. I stayed around, trying to be in love, but the clarity of that first night in the hospital had stuck with me. I knew I wasn’t in love with him and could never really be his “lamp.” A few weeks later we broke up.
In March, I went off to Australia on a business trip. When I returned a couple weeks later, I got a call from a straight bartender friend of Marcus’ who I had been introduced to and who had known we had been dating.
“Hey Tom, Michael here. I just wanted to call and tell you…” He paused. “Marcus died last week.”
“Oh…” I replied stunned.
“There was a service for him last week..”
We talked in unfinished sentences until there was only silence between us.
“…thank you for calling” I said, in the uncomfortable void. He hung up.
I wanted to talk with him some more, to find out what had happened, but I could hardly form a sentence. My mind was empty and my body was numb, fighting off the shock, sorrow and then fear that was enveloping me. I didn’t know what to do. I laid on the couch, pulled my legs up close to my chest and closed my eyes.
“All afternoon doing every little chore,
The thought of you stays bright,
Sometimes I stand in the middle of the floor,
Not going left, not going right.
I dim the lights and think about you,
Spend sleepless nights to think about you,
You said you loved me, or were you just being kind?
Or am I losing my mind?”