David and I sat up in bed in the Pensione Mimosa, which was just down the street from the Pantheon in Rome. It was after dark in February of 1993, and we were reading a paperback version of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. I’d read a page, tear it out of the book and hand it to David. He’d read it and then place the page on his bedside table. I wasn’t really reading the Hemingway—just scanning the pages—but it was a good distraction.
It was my idea to move to Rome, but it was David’s dream. He’d taught architecture in Rome and had been trying to get back. I’d met David five months earlier, and I liked the idea of being an expat, even though I wasn’t an adventurous person.
Before we left the States, David had made plans for us to stay with his friend Mark until we found a job and settled in. David knew that Mark was ill—he’d been diagnosed with brain cancer—but Mark assured us that everything was fine with his health. The day before we flew to Rome, however, Mark’s girlfriend Monica, who was a doctor, called to say that he’d taken a turn for the worse, and that it would be impossible for us to stay with him.
Mark died of a morphine overdose our first week in Rome. We stood in All-Saints Church—an Anglican church just down from Piazza del Popolo—to mourn him. Nine months later, David and I would stand in another church back in my hometown to mourn my brother Mike, who’d overdosed on pentobarbital in a hotel in Times Square.
Marcella, a woman we knew from a local alimentari, had made arrangements for us to stay at the pensione on credit. Marcella was a small woman with dark hair that she held back with barrettes. Marcella was one of the few Italians with whom I could talk; I liked her because she spoke English, and I spoke no Italian beyond basic greetings and restaurant vocabulary. She assured the landlady at the pensione that David and I would pay our bill in full when we left.
The room at the Pensione Mimosa was large with two double beds that David and I pushed together in the evening, and then pulled apart in the morning so that the cleaning woman wouldn’t see that we were sleeping together. To the left of the bed was a large porcelain sink with a brown water stain running from the cold-water tap down to the drain.
On the bed between us were a half eaten loaf of bread, orange peels and a bottle of water that we shared. This was all we could afford for dinner, but I hadn’t eaten much. My stomach was tight and heavy as if it were filled with rocks.
We were smokers then. When we lived in the States, we smoked Marlboro Reds. In Rome, however, we couldn’t afford American cigarettes and had to settle for the Italian brand MS, which was cheap and awful tasting. Officially, MS stood for Monopolio Statale (“state monopoly”)—the historical name came from the Latin, Messis Summa—“best crop,” although this was a dramatic overstatement. Most Italians called MS Merda Secca (“dried shit,” which more accurately described the taste), or Morta Sicura (“sure death,” which was also an apt nickname).
The ashtrays on both of our nightstands were overfilled, which reminded me of the ashtray that sat on the side table of my father’s La-Z-Boy. He too was a heavy smoker, and I remember my childhood home filled with smoke and used butts and the smell of tobacco.
We’d been in Rome for three weeks, and each day our situation grew worse. We knew that we couldn’t pay the bill at the pensione, or, for that matter, afford another pack of cigarettes.
Earlier that day, while we sat on the steps of the fountain in front of the Pantheon scanning the want ads in the English newspaper, David suggested that I call my brother Mike for help. David thought that Mike would understand our situation. Mike was also gay. Besides, David said, Mike was in the best financial position to lend us money—he was a lawyer living alone in New York City. It took me a long time to agree to David’s suggestion. I’d spent my life trying to impress Mike, to make him proud of me. I hated the idea of having to admit that I’d failed. But I didn’t want to disagree with David about calling Mike because I was afraid David would leave me.
I wasn’t the adventurous guy David assumed I was when we met. On our first date, I’d gone on about living a life of purpose and wonder: a romantic life I imagined without ever having experienced. When we walked around Rome, David became frustrated with my lack of intellectual curiosity. When we visited churches, he’d point out the Cimabue crucifixes and the Bernini statues and the Giotto frescos while I fidgeted next to him, wondering what time we were going to eat lunch.
I left the bread and the orange peel and the bottle of water on the bed, put my half of the Hemingway down, stubbed out my last cigarette of the night, and turned my back to David when I lay down to sleep. I couldn’t sleep, though. My mind was too busy mulling over the phone conversation I’d have to have with Mike in the morning.
Mike and I were raised in a family of business people who knew the risk of lending money. Once, when I was between jobs and couldn’t pay the rent, I’d asked Mike for help. He refused, echoing the lesson of our father—an accountant and a stoic—that money-lending promoted laziness and immorality.
I lay awake all night, knowing for certain that Mike wouldn’t help us.
In the morning, David and I walked out of the pensione. David knew the way to the SIP office (the Italian phone company) in Piazza di San Silvestro. I was tired and irritable, though, and rather than follow David, I set off on my own. I turned left on Via Santa Chiara.
“It’s this way,” David said, standing in front of the pensione.
“No, it’s not,” I said over my shoulder without breaking stride.
I’m stubborn like my father. As soon as David said that I was going in the wrong direction, I knew that he was right. I kept walking in the wrong direction, however. When I came to the corner, I didn’t have a clue which way to turn.Finally, I turned around and marched back to where David was standing.
“Let’s go then,” I said, extending my left arm as if I were being generous and allowing him to lead the way.
As we turned right on Via Chiara and passed in front of the Pantheon, I stayed a few paces behind David. He led me through the Piazza di Monte Citorio and the Italian Parliament with its handsome caribinieri standing guard, past the heavily ornate column of Marcus Aurelius, and across the Via del Corso. On the other side of the Corso was the Rinnascente department store where, when we first arrived and thought that money wouldn’t be a problem, I bought my first article of Italian clothing—a blue dress shirt.
The SIP office was on the far side of the piazza in a fortress–like building with thick iron gates and large wooden entry doors lined with brass studs. I stood in the piazza for a little while, finishing my cigarette and getting up the courage to call Mike.
I didn’t ask David to go inside the SIP office with me. I had to make the call by myself, I said, as if I were slipping into a confessional where the acts of contrition I’d be asked to make for my failures were mine alone.
Once inside the front doors of the SIP office, I walked along a corridor until I came to a bank of tellers behind a glass partition.
I was nervous and sweating when I approached the teller—a man not much older than me with thick, slicked-back hair and couple of days worth of stubble on his face. I said, “Chiamo casa” to him, which made me sound like a frightened first grader asking to call home. The teller dismissed my lame attempt to speak Italian with a swipe of his hand. In English, he asked for the number I wanted to call, and then calculated the cost for a five-minute conversation. I paid, and the teller pointed to a booth where he’d place the call.
Inside the booth, a small box kept track of the time of the phone call. I waited until the phone rang and picked up the receiver. When I heard Mike’s voice, I started crying uncontrollably while Mike asked several times who was calling. Fifteen seconds had ticked away on the timer before I could say a word.
When Mike and I were growing up, I was a sensitive boy who made our mother birthday cards with dried flowers and craft-paper butterflies glued to the front. I was always picked on by other boys—including my brothers—who called me a fag. I wanted Mike to have protected me, not because he was strong or knew how to fight, but because, I thought, he was empathetic. He wasn’t, particularly.
Once, though, on my 16th birthday, Mike sent me a card with a picture of Van Gogh’s “Irises” on the front. Inside the card, Mike had hand-written the lyrics to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” the anthem of the gay community. I hadn’t picked up on this clue, however.
I kept that card for years as proof that Mike loved me.
As the first minute rolled off the clock in the phone booth, I told Mike that David and I were in Rome. Mike, of course, had been to Rome many times. He spent a good part of our phone conversation giving me a list of restaurants that David and I could never afford to eat in.
Finally, I asked for the money—I only needed a couple of hundred dollars. Before Mike could say a word, I spent much of my allotted time trying to convince him that I was good for the money, as if I were talking to a loan officer, who’d questioned my credit worthiness.
Mike sounded nonchalant. He said that he didn’t have a problem giving me money. He even offered to wire me a thousand dollars.
“No need to pay me back,” he said.
I was ecstatic. I spent the remaining balance of my time talking to him about being in Rome as if we were used to having casual conversations.
Later, after Mike died, I understood that his generosity was less an empathetic act and more a divestiture of assets that people who are planning to kill themselves engage in.
By the winter of 1993—when David and I were in Rome—Mike knew that he was HIV positive. He’d found out six months earlier. He never confided to me that he’d contracted the virus, or that he planned to take his own life.
Because of Mike’s money, we were able to stay in Rome a little while longer, enough time for me to find a job teaching in an American high school in Arezzo, a small Tuscan town two and a half hours north of Rome. We had to return to the States, however, while the school processed my visa.
While we were back in the States, David and I were invited to a memorial service for a man we barely knew who’d died from AIDS. We felt like interlopers at the service and spent most of our time walking around with a drink in our hand and making small talk.
As we were about to leave the memorial service, a woman came up to us. She was thin with wild grey hair. She was enthusiastic to see us, as if we’d been long-lost friends who’d met up again by chance.
“You’re angels,” she said to us, grabbing our forearms.
We hadn’t done anything angelic except show up and give our respects. We thanked her and tried to get loose from her grasp.
“No, really,” she said. “I can see angels, and you two are radiant angels.”
We thought that she’d had too much to drink. We laughed. She frowned.
“I’m dead serious,” she said. “You don’t have to believe me, but you’re angels. Real angels.”
We stopped laughing, nodded our heads dutifully, and removed her hand from our forearms before making an exit.
A few months later—at the end of October 1993—Mike died.
It’s one thing to lose a brother, but as a gay man it’s another thing altogether to lose a gay brother.
I thought that Mike was the only person in the world who understood me. We’d grown up gay in the same conservative religious family. He knew what it was like to sit at our dinner table and feel like an outsider. He understood the fear of living with an intolerant father, who expected his sons to grow up into men who’d uphold his values and live by his moral code. Mike felt the same shame that I felt, I thought, of disappointing our saintly mother.
When Mike died, he left me to deal with our family on my own.
Shortly after we buried Mike, my work visa came through, and David and I returned to Italy.
Of all the documents concerning Mike’s death that I’ve looked at in order to come to terms with my grief, his death certificate is the most benign and the saddest. The certificate was filed on October 29, 1993 but not released until February 4, 1994, after the autopsy had been done and the toxicology report had been issued.
The certificate is an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of embossed stationery with a royal blue border etched with oak leaves. In the bottom left corner is the seal of the City of New York and in the bottom right corner is the seal of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The header reads “Death Transcript” as if this were a record of some accomplishment he received in school, a commendation for having completed a life that he found so difficult.
His death has a number: 156-93-060219.
His name is squarely typed out: Michael J. Barnes.
It’s one of the last times, I imagine, his name will appear on a document that attests to his having lived. It will no longer be written out on invitations to weddings or anniversaries or dinner parties. After some time, it will no longer be printed on the envelopes of utility bills or bank statements or pieces of junk mail. It will no longer be recorded on census rolls or voting records or apartment leases. It will barely be inscribed in letters between friends or family. His name will disappear, I fear, as if he never existed.
Below his name, the certificate records the place of his death—Manhattan, 1605 Broadway—and the date and time—October 28, 1993 at 3:12 PM. It gives his sex and his age: Male, 34 years.
In the section that records the cause of his death, it states: “Acute intoxication by the combined effects of pentobarbital, ethanol, quinine, sertraline, nortriptyline and diphenhydramine.” A cocktail of poison that he’d read about in a book published by the Hemlock Society.
The certificate gives the manner of death as suicide, and the medical examiner firmly affixes his signature, vowing that “on the basis of examination and/or investigation, in my opinion, death occurred due to the cause and manner stated.”
At the bottom of the certificate, under the heading Personal Particulars, the certificate lists Mike’s address in Manhattan on E. 11th Street, his birthdate, social security number, and his occupation. It also lists my parents’ names, and the address where they live—the same house in which we grew up.
Finally, the certificate gives the location where Mike is buried: Oaklawn Memorial Gardens, which sounds peaceful and contemplative like a place where the worries of everyday life can be forgotten.
By the time the death certificate was issued, David and I had moved into our apartment in Arezzo. I taught in the American high school just up the road, and David worked in an Italian architecture firm.
While we lived in Italy, I talked about Mike constantly. I spoke his name every chance I could until his story became one of the many stories I told about my past. But I hadn’t really grieved for Mike. The stories I told were anecdotes that prevented me from sitting quietly and allowing sorrow to run its course.
Before he died, Mike had introduced us to an Italian friend, whom he’d met while studying abroad in Angers, France during his junior year in college. Nicoletta (or Nikki) was from a wealthy family that had ancestral ties to the old Italian monarchy. Her family’s home was in Milan but they had a villa just outside of Genoa and an impressive palazzo in the town of Sarteano, 70 kilometers south of Arezzo.
Within our first two months in Arezzo, Nikki came to visit.
David and I lived in a nondescript modern apartment building on Via Poggio Bracciolini, just outside the city walls. Our apartment was on the first floor. Above us were two other apartments occupied by young Italian couples.
Nikki arrived on a Friday. When she pulled up in front of the apartment in her blue Peugeot, she bounded out of the car to greet us. She was a big woman, and wore an overstuffed North Face jacket, thick wool herringbone pants, and a knit cap. She had on gaudy make-up: sparkling green eye shadow, heavy rouge, and bright red lipstick. She wasn’t much older than David and me, but she looked like my great aunt Nell whose heavily perfumed house I visited as a kid at Easter.
When I saw Nikki, I thought that she was exactly the kind of person Mike would befriend. When he lived in New York, Mike had an eccentric group of friends, who were completely opposite the boring and predictable people we knew growing up in our middle-class, Midwestern neighborhood.
Nikki stopped short when she first saw me. I knew that I looked like Mike—people had been telling me this my entire life. At Mike’s funeral, his friends, who’d never met me, had the same shocked reaction as Nikki had.
David pushed forward and greeted Nikki with a handshake and a friendly smile. She hugged him, while continuing to stare at me over his shoulder, trying to determine if I was real or not.
When she decided that I wasn’t a figment of her imagination, she came over and hugged me tightly. “Caro,” she cried into my ear. “Caro, caro, caro!”
David unloaded her car, remarking on the amount of food she’d brought: an enormous coppa, dried sausages, wheels of cheese, loaves of bread, freshly-pressed olive oil from her family’s orchards, and bottles of wine from their vineyard.
Inside the apartment, Nikki threw off her coat and her hat and took a quick look around. I lit a cigarette and took a long drag on it.
Compared to the places Nikki was used to staying, the apartment in Arezzo was small. Off the entryway there was a dining room that we never used, two bedrooms, and a single bathroom. We had a small kitchen with a green Formica table where we ate all of our meals. Off the kitchen was a terrace where a washing sink was located and a clothesline that stretched from one side of the terrace to the other. The floors of the apartment were a terrazzo marble.
After giving an obligatory compliment on the apartment, Nikki decamped into the kitchen to prepare food for a party she insisted was going to take place. She hadn’t told us she wanted to have a party, so David and I hadn’t invited anyone over. We tried to protest, but Nikki wouldn’t listen to us.
Nikki put a large pot of water on the stove to make polenta and asked me to slice the coppa, which smelled raw and organic like the inside of a good butcher shop.
While I slice up the coppa, Nikki launched into a series of lessons on how to survive in Italy. She warned us about nosy neighbors, and said that while we could trust Northern Italians, we should be aware of those who lived in the South. They were unsophisticated, she explained. And besides, she said, they cooked with too much oil, while her kinsmen in the North preferred cooking with butter like the French, with whom all Milanese had a closer affinity. She told us to be careful of Italian men, who were only concerned about their reputations, and to distrust all Germans tourists. She never gave an explanation why.
The olive oil that Nikki had brought us was cloudy, unlike the clear oil we bought at the store. Nikki explained that this was the sign of good olive oil, a true Italian olive oil that still contained its sediment. Let it stand for a couple of months, Nikki said, and the oil would settle. Unlike her other advice, Nikki’s lesson on olive oil was accurate.
Nikki told me all of this in one long string of sentences that never seemed to end while she waited for the water to boil. At first, I thought her chatter was a sign that she was nervous to meet us for the first time, but David and I came to understand that it was a particularly annoying trait of Nikki’s. Nikki never stopped talking—not that entire weekend, or on a trip we took with her to Lago Trasimeno a few weeks later, or when we met her for dinner, or when we visited her in Sarteano toward the end of that spring. Her constant talking filled the space around her as if she were trying to protect herself in a cocoon of words.
Nikki stood over the pot of boiling water and very slowly poured in the grains of polenta. David pulled out a pack of MS and offered Nikki one. She chided him, pointing instead to her pack of Gitanes. She said they were the only brand we should smoke. We could never afford them on our salaries. They were better cigarettes, of course. They were French after all.
When dinner was ready, it was only the three of us. Nikki cried, imagining that we’d organized a great party for her, one where we’d introduce her to our friends, and they, of course, would be impressed by her obvious pedigree.
In the morning, Nikki packed up her things in order to head down to Sarteano where, she told us, she was having dinner with a few of her cousins.
When I escorted Nikki to her car, I hugged her goodbye and said that I looked forward to her next visit. She held onto to me tightly and whispered into my ear, “You know the Indians killed him, don’t you?”
These words didn’t register in my mind. They were just a string of words in a never-ending string of words that she’d brought with her that weekend. I was tired of hearing her voice, which was pitched an octave above annoying, and let these words slip away as easily as I wanted her to slip away.
I nodded as if I agreed with Nikki. She kissed David on the cheeks, said, “Ciao,” and zipped away.
A month later, David and I took the train down to Nikki’s palazzo in Sarteano. Like Arezzo, Sarteano is a walled town in the Tuscan hills. Nikki’s palazzo was on the main square. It was an impressive house with views of the Val d’Orcia. She took us to an expensive restaurant for lunch, and as with her initial visit in Arezzo, she spent all of our time together talking, giving us lessons and warnings about living in Italy: the outrageous price of utilities, the dangers of driving on the AutoStrada, the way some local merchants cheated tourists and expats.
When Nikki dropped us off at the train station after lunch, she once again hugged me and whispered into my ear, “The Indians killed him.”
This time, I caught what she’d said. I was so taken aback by the absurdity of the idea that I stepped away from her. I couldn’t figure out what she meant. Indians? What?
I thought for a moment that Nikki knew something about Mike’s death that I didn’t. While I hadn’t yet seen Mike’s death certificate, I had been to the morgue in New York to identify his body and knew that he’d committed suicide because the police and medical examiner had told me he had. I knew that Mike was HIV positive and that in his suicide note he blamed his diagnosis for robbing him of his life. I knew from his friends that he was an addict of either alcohol or Restoril, which his doctor prescribed for his insomnia. I knew that he hated being gay. I knew that his death had devastated me, even if while we lived in Italy I tried as hard as I could to keep that devastation at bay.
“Mike died of an overdose,” I said to Nikki, still perplexed by why she’d say such a thing.
“No, no, caro” she said, shaking her head. “He was killed by Indians.”
I didn’t know how to counter what she’d said. None of it made sense to me. Perhaps, I wanted to believe her, as if it would be easier to accept Mike’s death if he’d been killed by Indians rather than having killed himself.
We said goodbye to Nikki, walked into the station, and boarded the train back to Arezzo.
I didn’t know what to make of Nikki. She was strange and she talked too much, that was obvious. But I hadn’t yet realized that she was also crazy.
A few weeks later, Nikki called to say that she’d made dinner reservations. She wanted to introduce us to family friends who lived in Arezzo.
We met Nikki at Pizzeria Al Parco, which was just down the street from the train station in Arezzo. David and I had been there a number of times. The food was good, and we liked the hostess, who was tall and had bleached-blonde hair that she kept cropped close to her scalp.
Nikki introduced David and me to her friends: Alberto and Carla, a glamorous couple—he with his dark hair and Van Dyke beard and she with her bella figura—and Guigliermo and Barbara, who were warm and familiar in the way good people are. Carla and Guigliermo had grown up with Nikki.
Nikki began speaking the minute we met her at the restaurant. Her talking, however, didn’t seem to bother her friends. They simply talked over her so that while David and I talked to Nikki’s friends—who turned out to be very nice people—Nikki maintained a steady monologue as if she were talking to someone else completely: an invisible friend, I thought.
A month later, Alberto and Carla invited us to their apartment for dinner. They lived in a modern apartment building near the Stadio Communale, and their apartment overlooked the soccer fields.
During this subsequent dinner, Carla gave us a little of Nikki’s history.
Nikki was an only child whose mother died when Nikki was young. Her father was still alive but he was frail. He worried that when he died there’d be no one to look after Nikki, who needed looking after. She wasn’t well, as we’d come to realize, and had suffered a number of mental breakdowns. She’d been in and out of hospitals. Family and friends were concerned that she belonged in a long-term care facility, but that her father would never commit her. They also knew that the chances of Nikki taking her own life were great, but no one seemed to be able to do anything about it.
It was a difficult story to hear.
After Mike’s suicide, I regretted that I never had the chance to save him. I don’t know what I could have done, but I wanted to have had the possibility of doing something.
It was so difficult to be around Nikki that when we were with her, we couldn’t wait until she was gone. Contrary to the woman who believed David and I were angels, I didn’t feel any empathy for Nikki. Rather, I was annoyed that Mike had left her with us. She wasn’t my problem, I told myself, especially since her family and friends were well aware of her mental state.
In late April of 1994, the cold dampness of winter evaporated and a field of red poppies bloomed in an empty lot at the end of our street. The neighborhood smelled of fennel and figs. In a few weeks, school would be out for the summer, and David and I could begin taking side-trips to Venice and Milan, and back to Rome.
One afternoon, after I’d returned from teaching and while David was still at work, I got a call from Nikki. She couldn’t stop crying. In between sobs she said, “The Indians tried to kill me.” When she calmed down a little, she told me that she’d been driving in Milan and the Indians had tried to run her off the road. They’d been following her for months, she said, and they were intent on killing her the way they’d killed Mike.
I wanted to be kind to Nikki, thinking that if I could do nothing else for her, I could at least be kind. I tried to be compassionate and reassuring. I tried to think of something practical to do like call Carla or Guigliermo and let them know what had happened. But I wasn’t kind or compassionate or reassuring. I did nothing to help her.
I’d grown tired of Nikki. Her incessant talking drove me nuts, and while at first I thought that her insane theory that Mike had been killed by Indians might lessen my grief, it now felt as if she were making fun of Mike’s death.
“Mike poisoned himself,” I hissed at Nikki over the phone. “He fucking killed himself. Can’t you get that through your crazy head?”
She whimpered as if she suddenly felt a sharp pain in her gut.
“It was the Indians,” she repeated. She’d stopped crying and her voice become soft, as if she’d resigned herself to not being understood. “The Indians killed him,” she whispered. Then, she hung up the phone.
When I put down the receiver, I was trembling. Nikki’s call had made me angry. I wasn’t an angry person. My father was an angry man whose anger flowed just below the surface and boiled over at unexpected moments: when dinner was late, when someone (me) had used his best pen, when he found out that two of his sons were gay, and when one of them had killed himself. But I wasn’t my father. I didn’t inherit his temperament, I told myself—and continue to tell myself.
After hanging up with Nikki, I went into the front room of the apartment, sat down on the couch, and lit a cigarette. It took chain-smoking three MS’s before I could calm down.
Over the coming months and years, Nikki would call or drop a letter in the mail, but I never returned her calls or answered her letters. Instead, I let her slip away until all communication between us stopped.
In the end, I don’t know what happened to Nikki. Perhaps she’d finally been institutionalized. Perhaps, she died.
Nine months after we moved to Arezzo, the school at which I worked became insolvent and closed its doors. I didn’t have the fortitude or the wherewithal to find another job. Instead, I gave up and returned to the States—David stayed behind in Italy for a couple of months before joining me in New York.
In giving up on living an expat’s life, I felt as if I’d disappointed Mike, who’d saved me when I called him from Rome looking for money. In giving up on Nikki, I felt as if I’d similarly failed him. But what did it matter, I told myself. Mike was dead, and regardless of why or how he died, the transcript of his death had foreclosed all other possibilities.
Almost every year, David and I return to Rome. We’ve established ourselves in New York now, and the time we spend in Rome is far less hectic and desperate than that first time. We have the luxury to stay in nice hotels and eat out at good restaurants. We have the time to stroll casually through the cobbled streets and marvel at a city that we’ve come to see as our second home.
Living in New York, I feel Mike everywhere, as if he isn’t dead but simply away. In Rome, I feel the loss of him less sharply. My grief, however, is still with me. It’s become part of me like a vital organ that I can’t live without.
When we are in Rome, we drop by the alimentari to visit Marcella. We walk past the Pantheon and over to the Pensione Mimosa. We remember those horrible cigarettes we once smoked. Occasionally, we think of Nikki and my brother and the phantom creatures that haunted them. And I think, it’s good to be alive.
A.W. Barnes has published essays in the journals Sheepshead Review, Gertrude Press, and If And Only If. “Morta Sicura” is part of a collection-in-progress titled The Dark Eclipse: Essays on Suicide and Absence. He lives with his husband and dogs in upstate New York.