Chateau Neuf du Pape!


Robert swore in fine wine tones. 
Chateau Neuf du Pape!” he'd proclaim with the hint of a flare. 
Robert had an extensive vocabulary and liked to rub it in. He was superior. Excuse me.
I lived with Robert briefly in 1985. Me and my boyfriend Billy. It was a tiny apartment in the back of an abandoned storefront. Billy and I slept on a futon stuffed in an alcove carved into one side of the hallway. We had to bend our knees to lie down even though we were short.  
Robert was impatient with us. He said we didn't do our "fair share." We knew when he was mad: He ignored us loudly - usually within banging distance. 
Robert's bed was over the kitchen. He had to climb a ladder to get to it. The bathroom was down some steps. It had a claw-footed bathtub that lured me with warm bubbles. Scented candles crowded a shelf attached to the wall. Scattered on the floor lay a collection of gay porn magazines.
Hard to look at. Hard not to. 
Robert was tall and slight and looked older than he should have for his twenty-three years. He called himself an artist and wore a black beret and round wire-rimmed glasses under a shock of unnaturally white/blonde hair. His skin was pale as if it had never seen the sun. He was easy to pick out in a crowd. 
At night, sometimes even on cold evenings, Robert put on his long wool coat, donned his beret just so, and went out. Billy said he went to the Wall. The one near the train station. Billy told him it was dangerous and not to go but he went anyway and did things gay men do, but with men he didn’t know.
Robert hung out at a nightclub on the edge of town. Billy and I strung along at times. Jubilant gay men packed the place. Wild-eyed and dancing to Donna Summer like there was no tomorrow. It was a giddy time. These men were "out" of the closet and out on the town. 
The last time I saw Robert he still wore a beret but his sunlit mane was gone. His cheekbones were too sharp. It had been two years. He sat on a bench in front of a church, one leg crossed over the other. Beyond the black rod iron fence behind him was a small graveyard. The kind with gravestones older than your ancestors, half tipped over and leaning askew, their once deep etchings all but erased. No matter. Those people stopped being missed a long time ago. 
Robert was happy to see me, I think. I asked him how he was.  
"Just dandy," he said with a sideways smirk. 
He seized a drag from his cigarette like he had just came up for air. I had my camera and snapped a picture. In the darkroom, the photo revealed itself in the tray of developer. The rod iron bars behind Robert looked like a prison. He was the last thing to come into focus.
Robert died of AIDS soon after. So did so many young men like him.