Thursday, April 3, 2008

Remembering H. Brian Binder

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.

6 comments:

neil s said...

This is a great tribute. I hope it somehow finds it way to other people from his life or other who never knew him but can be inspired by his toughness. As I mentioned, I will try and send it to Dr Back from U-M who was very close with him.

Crazymamaof6 said...

poor guy! to have to live and die alone with that. SUCKS! you are a great friend to remember him and to fight your fight with that kind of bravery.

DRC said...

Howard,

It's David Craig, Brian's partner. Believe it or not, it's been 17 years since Brian passed away. But perhaps more remarkable is that Brian's family remains my family, or rather they insisted on it. This is very rare. Most of my friends were left out of the wills, evicted from their homes and never heard from their late partner's family again. This is a great testament to Brian and his amazing family.

I'm very close to his nephew, Seth, who was 3 when we first met and is now the age Brian was when we met. I've attended his bar mitzvahs and graduations and we've travelled the world together. I'm also very tight with his parents, siblings and other nephews and nieces.
Sadly, his father just passed away from cancer last month, which brought up many painful memories and emotions from 1992, but ever-resilient, the family marches on and remains as loving and supportive as ever.
I miss Brian daily and have never fully moved on from the loss. Occasionally I'll google him like trying to reach out and grasp a ghost. That lead me to your blog. Reading this wonderful affirms and reminds me of what an extraordinary person he was...and what extraordinary friends he had.
Thank you and I wish you all the best,
David Craig
David@medianation.biz

DRC said...

Howard,

One last thing. In the wake of the Prop 8 ballot measure in CA last year, I put together a little protest called A DAY WITHOUT GAYS. Surprisingly it took off and the Facebook site garnered a million impressions, over 250,000 people signed up to take the day off, and there were 20,000 wall posts. I also received alot of press attention and was given the opportunity to write this commentary on CNN.com which continues to go viral to this day. As you will see, this has more to do with Brian.

http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/12/09/craig.gay.marriage/index.html

David

Stephanie Thomas said...

I just read your blog post, Howard, and thank you for writing such a great tribute to one of my best friends.

Best,
Stephanie

Seth Binder said...

Howard,

Last year David and Stephanie wrote to you on this blog, this year my father has posted it on his facebook site.

I remember when he passed away and we had the memorial service... everyone said what a great friend he was, what a great person he was. Every year this day comes and it surprises me how long it has been since he passed. I thank you Howard for writing these words because you are further acknowledgment of what a great person he was and why he was so special to so many of us!

This man changed my life in so many ways despite my young age at the time (7 years old), but it is truly special to know he effected others who were not in the family as well.

Seth