Borrowed TimeI’m not sure I can do this. I’ve wanted to teach Paul Monette‘s Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir or Becoming a Man: Half a Life’s Story but have always been too afraid to do so. Until now. My Lesbian & Gay Lit class is starting Borrowed Time for Wednesday’s class. I’m not sure I can do it.
Borrowed Time is Monette’s chronicle of his relationship with Roger Horowitz, his partner of ten years, as Roger is first diagnosed with and then dying of AIDS. It’s one of the most important accounts of the AIDS crisis during the 1980s, a classic text of Lesbian & Gay Literature.

I’ve taught portions of Monette’s last collection of non-fiction essays, Last Watch of the Night: Essays Too Personal and Otherwise a couple of times, but this is my first time teaching Borrowed Time. In fact, I’ve never been able to finish Borrowed Time — it’s just so intensely tragic. One of the essays in Last Watch of the Night, “3275,” which is the plot number of Monette’s grave site with Roger, ends with a call to arms:

We queers on Revelation hill, tucking our skirts about us so as not to touch our Mormon neighbors, died of the greed of power, because we were expendable. If you mean to visit any of us, it had better be to make you strong to fight that power. Take you languor and easy tears somewhere else. Above all, don’t pretty us up. Tell yourself: None of this ever had to happen. And then go make it stop, with whatever breath you have left. Grief is a sword, or it is nothing. (115)

I can’t help but approach Borrowed Time with this passage in my mind. Reading it has always felt so devastating that I can’t help but cry through parts of it. It’s difficult for me to feel angry about the losses the gay community has suffered from AIDS and all too easy to feel sad and crushed by them. I’ve never known anyone personally who died of AIDS, so maybe that’s kept me from anger.