Harry Brian Binder was the bravest person I have ever met.
He's probably looking down at my from heaven pissed as can be that I just gave away his real first name (everyone else knew him as Brian). But part of our relationship was me giving him constant grief, so deal with it Harry, if you're watching over me -- and I sincerely hope that you are.
I met Brian my freshman year in college, his sophomore year. We rushed the same fraternity and became pledge brothers. Brian was "different" from the rest of us and being young and naive, I initially wasn't sure what to make of him. At first I put up with him but as I got to know him he became a friend, and then a better friend and then practically a brother.
But as I said Brian was always different and he was, to us, a bit of a loner, constantly going off and doing his own thing. It didn't bother us too much though as he was their when it mattered most. I think in the back of our minds we all knew what was up with Brian, but to our credit, given the era (mid 80's) we really didn't dwell on it too much.
I'll never, ever forget the day Brian asked if he could speak to me privately. It was about two months or so before he was set to graduate. We sat down and he told me his "big news" -- he was, in fact, gay. My response, "THAT'S your big news? Dude, tell me something I don't already know."
That immediately broke the ice and that was that, no awkardness or anything of the sort, though in retrospect, it was a pretty defining moment: he was the first gay person I personally knew (or at least the first gay person that was officially out). We gave hi crap about liking boys; he gave it right back about us liking girls. It was good solid fun.
Keep in mind, too, that this was a different era; coming out then was a fairly big deal. Now it's almost in vogue.
So, flash forward, and Brian graduates and I return for my senior year. Brian and I stay in touch and he informs me that he's moving to Los Angeles for the weather (he originally hailed from Detroit area). At the same time, I notice that Brian is committed to a healthy lifestyle to an almost excessive degree: he's exercising, eating a nearly macrobiotic diet, etc. I should have known something was amiss.
I graduate from college and move to New York and Brian, my main man and roommate Todd and I start hanging out a lot: Brian is dating a guy in NYC and is spending a lot of time in the City. It's all good.
And then Brian drops the bombshell.
He breaks it to us that he's not only HIV positive, but has full blown AIDS.
It's 1991 (or so) and this is a death sentence.
Todd and I are staggered and Brian reveals to us the full story: he's didn't tell us the full truth when he came out to us in college, because he was fearful of being completely ostracized. In fact, he was diagnosed as being HIV positive early in his junior year of college. According to him, he was one of the first students ever diagnosed with HIV in the history of the University of Michigan.
Now stop and think about this for a moment. While we are being jerky college kids, worrying about jerky things, this poor kid is alone at 19 with a death sentence hanging over his head like damocles sword. At the same time, he's trying to maintain a semblance of a normal existence, and has no one to share this with.
This is a burden that to me, is nearly incomprensible. Even today, I feel tremendous sadness and even a degree of remorse for what Brian had to go through, alone.
I wish this story had a hollywood ending, but sadly it doesn't. My good friend Brian suffered tremendously and died before he got to see 24.
I will say, however, that he lived a rich life.
I will also say that though Brian would often get mocked for being a bit effete, at the end of the day he was the toughest son of a bitch I know. When I was going through my cancer nonsense, he was my inspiration. He continues today, to be an inspiration and I look at our friendship and relationship as a true blessing in my life.
I think of you all the time Harry, and miss you a lot.
Rest in peace, amigo.