I wanna do something that matters.
Say something different.
Something that sets the whole world on its ear.
I wanna do something better with the time I was given.
I wanna try to touch a few hearts in this life.
Leave nothing less than something that says
I was here.
Debbie watched Michael and his family back down the driveway from the living room window and waved to them. After they got to the end of the street, she let out a sigh, closed the curtain, and turned the CD player back on. Humming along to the music, she turned to the tree and plucked an ugly, lumpy, red and green ornament from an upper branch.
"Sis, when did you start listening to country music?"
"Holy shit." Dropping the ornament, she turned and put her hand to her mouth to stifle a scream. "Jesus, Vic, you little fucker. You scared the hell out of me!" She reached out and gave her brother a big hug. After a moment, she let him go and punched him in the arm. Hard.
"Asshole, look what you made me do! Michael made that for me in the fourth grade!"
"Are you kidding? He's been trying to figure out a way to break that thing for years. He'll nominate me for sainthood." Vic picked up the CD cover next to the player, and said, "Just when did Kristin Chenowith start singing country music? Didn't she play a witch on West Wing?"
"How the hell do I know? Do I look like an encyclopedia?" Debbie snapped. "Be careful with that, it's a gift from Jenny Rebecca. What are you doing here?"
"Where else would I be on Christmas?"
"I don't know. Someplace with clouds, a harp, and Birkenstocks."
"Birkenstocks? Do people still wear those?"
"Shut up. Since you're here, make yourself useful and clean that mess up."
"Sorry. One of the benefits of being dead is not having to clean."
"Figures." Debbie stomped off to the broom closet. "Where the hell did my broom go? I told Emmett to keep his hands off my cleaning supplies. Every time he feels the need to reorganize, I can't find a damned thing for at least a week."
Vic laughed softly and pointed to the other side of the room next to the refrigerator. "So, what is the song, and why is it on repeat? It's sappy enough to raise the dead."
Debbie glared at him, got the broom and started to sweep up the pieces. "You're real funny, wise guy. It's just a song."
"If it was just a song, five times in a row would have been plenty."
"I don't know. I accidently hit the repeat button. Go take your meds and leave me the hell alone."
Vic looked at her for a long moment and said, "You know damn well I don't take meds anymore."
Debbie pointed the dust pan at Vic and said, "Right. Because you're fucking dead." She bent down and swept the broken ornament pieces into the dust pan.
"You're not still pissed off about that? It's been years."
Vic tugged on her wig, and said, "You better get ready, or you're going to be late."
Debbie swatted his hand away and emptied the dust pan into the trash can. "For what?"
"For the After-Christmas Fabulous Artistic Gift exchange at AIDS Project Pittsburgh."
Debbie put the broom and dust pan down, retied her apron and started to organize dirty dishes to wash. "Does 'not having to clean because I'm dead' include drying dishes?"
"Yes, it does."
Debbie lifted one eyebrow and pointed to a drawer. "Tough. The towels are in the same place they’ve always been."
Vic started to mutter, but grabbed a hand towel from the pile. "Well? What time does it start?"
"The FAG exchange doesn't happen anymore. It went on a ‘hiatus’ whatever the fuck that means a couple of years ago, because there wasn't enough interest. It never got started up again. Fuckers."
"That's too bad. It helped a lot of people."
Vic stared at her for a minute. "What the hell is going on with you?"
"Spill it Sis, or on the count of three, I'm going to drop this fabulous Christmas plate on the floor, watch you clean it up and laugh."
"You wouldn't dare."
"Oh no? Watch me. One. Two ..."
Debbie said, "Drop that plate, and I'll cut your nuts off."
"Two and a half ..."
"Fine, I'll tell you."
"Give me the plate." Vic handed the plate back to her. Debbie whispered, "Sometimes it feels like a dream."
"AIDS. Sometimes I think I'm the only one who remembers."
"Deb, that's nonsense."
"Yeah. I know. It's just there's a whole generation about ready to take over and guide the world, and they don't know what happened. They don't know about the fight, the death, the panic. It's just something they read about in health class and have to struggle to remember. When I tell them to play safe, they look at me like I'm some kind of fucking nutcase."
Vic tweaked Debbie's nose. "Well, you have been known to do a great impression of a nut."
"Vic, I'm serious. Nowadays, it's just a couple of pills a day and they forget about it. Yesterday, I heard a news story that talked about clinical trials for a vaccine. In a couple of years, people will get a fucking shot, and there won't be any more AIDS."
"And that's bad, right?"
"No, that's what I wanted, dammit!"
"Then why are you upset?"
Debbie threw the plate on the floor and yelled as it shattered, "I don't know!"
"Okay." Vic pointed to where she had put the broom and dust pan earlier.
"What about all those people who died? What about all the diarrhea, the purple spots, the fear, the smells, the fundraising, the candlelight vigils, ACT UP, memorials and hospitals? What about the goddamned AIDS quilt rotting in a warehouse somewhere? What about you? You're fucking dead! What about me?"
Debbie stopped and put her hand over her mouth. Vic asked gently, "What about you?"
Debbie grabbed the broom and dust pan and furiously started to sweep.
"What about all the shit I went through? What about all the time I spent begging God to keep you alive? What about the thousands of doctor visits we went to? What about the nights you were too sick to sleep, so I stayed up to make sure you were okay?"
"You never said you minded any of that."
Debbie screamed, "Of course I didn't mind it. What else was I gonna do? You're my brother."
In the silence that followed, the only sound was Debbie's ragged breathing.
Debbie whispered, "What about all of us who watched our friends, lovers and family members die horribly? What about all of us that were left alone? How can all that just be forgotten and swept under the rug? Don't we deserve to be remembered?" Debbie angrily swiped at the tears running down her face.
Vic took Debbie by the chin and forced her to look at him. "That's the way life works, Sis. Horrible, deadly things happen. They're scary and we feel like we'll never get past the hurt. Then the world moves on and it all becomes part of history, and we forget about it. Except during the late nights when we're playing, ‘remember the old days when we had all of our teeth.’” Vic paused for a moment, and then said, “We heal."
Debbie started sobbing uncontrollably, rocking back and forth. "I can't."
"Yes, you can."
Debbie broke away from Vic and went to the living room to stare at the Christmas tree. "I think I'm stuck. I forgot how to live without being weighed down by AIDS, and everybody else just moved along easily.” After a moment, Debbie whispered, “I feel so alone without you."
Vic moved behind her, and put her arms around her waist. "You're not alone. You're surrounded by people who love you."
"Yeah, but they aren’t you."
They watched the Christmas tree lights flicker for a while. When the song started again in the background, Vic said, "Sis, I don't know the answers to all of this, but I'm pretty sure they'll start to show up after you turn off that fucking song."
Debbie laughed, wiped the tears from her eyes, listened to the chorus one more time, and turned off the CD player. She patted Vic on the cheek, and said, "I don't suppose you eat ice cream anymore, either, do you? That whole dead thing?"
"I may be dead, but I'm not crazy."
Debbie kissed Vic on the cheek. She turned to the freezer and asked over her shoulder, "Remember when it used to be just vanilla and chocolate? Now, it’s Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey. Don't get me started on that new 'Schweddy Balls' flavor. So, what’ll it be? Vic?"
Turning around, all she saw was the tree flickering with a soft glow.
"I love you, Vic."
The glow flickered a bit more strongly and subsided. Debbie turned back to the freezer.
"Chunky Monkey it is."