Hunter was just a teenager when we first met - grant it I was just 21, and I think he was around 18 or so. But he had such a level head on his shoulders at such an early age and we quickly realized that we had the same passion for movies and music and began to spend whatever rare free time I had, together.
His personal life was unique, as his mother was an openly-gay woman who was in a relationship with another woman ... i.e. Hunter had two moms. So, they warmed up quite easily to his own homosexuality when he realized who he was and encouraged Hunter to meet other lesbian and gay friends and bring them over to their house in New Jersey. It was like a little queer youth group, hopping on the PATCO line to Ferry Avenue and it was lots of fun
... but the best times were when Hunter and I hung out alone.
Soon we were crossing that line from friendship to dating and spent the next year or so in a whirlwind of romance and excitement. We went to shows together - watched videos til sunrise and just bonded. We were both music whores - constantly buying records and making cassette mixes for our Walkmans. We kept our close friendship even while developing a relationship ... as much as one can develop a relationship at such a young age.
In 1986, Hunter grew restless. As much as we loved each other, he wanted to experience what the world had to offer. He had come out and fallen almost directly into a relationship - never understanding the freedoms of being a single gay male. We discussed this at length and i realized that, if I really loved him, I had to let him go. It was an evening of tears.
We remained great friends - although I sort of lost touch with him for about a year or so while I was dealing with my own life issues (see earlier posts). He was in school for film and was working with TLA Video. We reconnected in 1988, once I had gotten settled in my new position at the radio station. I actually folded him into my new world by having him as a regular guest on Kids Corner to talk movies for the family! He was perfect and it was wonderful to see him again. We went out to dinner a number of times and our friendship was in full swing once again. We never stopped loving each other, even after all those years.
Somewhere in 90/91, Hunter and I had a long conversation where he confided to me that he had tested HIV positive. I was devistated. Grant it, I had dealt with AIDS for almost a decade but this one was hitting me at an emotional level that I wasn't prepared for. I quickly felt to blame, since had I not let him go, he would have remained negative. After time, I understood the reality of the situation and moved away from that guilt.
I spent many hours by his side at his little apartment at 9/Pine, overstocked with vinyl and memories. I traveled to his mother's house once he moved home, unable to care for himself anymore. I visited him often and we had many conversations about the world and about what would happen once the world entered the 21st century. He listened to his mix cassettes constantly - his music was his medicine. It soothed the pain that had overtook both his body and mind and allowed him to escape to a land that was free of troubles.
I had long, emotional chats with his Mom over tea while Hunter slept in his bedroom - and when he woke and called out for someone ... anyone - one of us would go in and entertain. I sat with Hunter as dementia took over his mind and he was no longer able to recognize people or things. I remember him screaming in frustration once because his TV remote wouldn't work and when I went in to see what was wrong, i secretly took the 'remote' from his hand [which was actually a pack of cigarettes - he no longer recognized what a remote looked like] and said that the batteries were dead and went over to the other side of the room, tears streaming down my face as I picked up the actual remote and returned it to his hand with the news that I had put in fresh batteries. The channel changed, he was happy and went back to sleep.
I cried more than I can remember that year. During this same period my oldest friend Phil Maynard was also dying of AIDS. I met him when we were both 15 in NE Philly. We were best of friends though everything and he too suffered from dementia before dying. I shuttled myself from New Jersey to NE Philly - neither Phil or Hunter wanted to discuss the obvious all that often, so the visits were a complicated orchastration of movements designed to avoid the unavoidable. Like being in a room with an elephant but never mentioning the beast.
I was surrounded by people losing their mind and at times, felt like I was joining them in the process. When I wasn't at work or visiting either Hunter or Phil, I would return to my small apartment in NE Philly and just get high to forget. It never really worked.
Hunter went into a coma in the fall - and remained there for a few weeks before dying. His memorial service was held at the Quaker Meeting House at 15/Cherry and a week or so later, I went back to his Mom's house. There she gave me a shopping bag, which held a shoebox. Inside were all of Hunter's homemade mix cassette tapes.
The tapes he made in the late 1980s for pleasure. The tapes he listened to as he was dying, for escape.
I listened to those tapes for a few months after Hunter's death. Then I moved into Center City and stored them in my closet ... until last night. I've had them on ever since.
I miss Hunter more than I miss anyone. His was the hardest death I ever had to experience, but I wouldn't have done it any other way. I was there as he came out as a young bright-eyed gay teenager ... and I needed to be there when he went out as a proud young gay adult at just 25.