Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Excerpt from No More Tomorrows by Rodney Lofton

There are really no words to describe how I felt when I edited this novel. While I have a love for books and have read several thousand at this point in my life, very few have actually brought me to tears. This one did. So much so that I was tempted to couple this novel with a box of tissues on the stands. Everyone who has read it thus far has been touched by it. The two main characters in this book share a love that most of us crave for our entire lives. I really hope that you give this book a chance. I guarantee that you will be touched by it and take a long, good look at what is happening in your own life. Blessings, Zane

After awaking from a restless sleep that has plagued him for weeks, Mark Jones awakes to the realization it is his last physical day on earth. Mark begins to reflect on his life of living with HIV and his love for his HIV negative partner Kevin Williams, who despite his initial reservations has embraced and loved Mark knowing that "death would come knocking soon." This love story traces the relationship between Mark and Kevin from the very first date, the very first kiss, the first time they made love and the last time they would say good-bye.


My Side

It was hard to believe that twenty years had passed since I entered the doors of the old building. I stood there watching others enter and exit as I did twenty years ago today. It was as if time had stood still. The building had not changed, maybe a power wash or two to clean it up, but nothing else. The grounds of the property remained the same, littered with the debris of street trash from the gusting wind, settling to find a home from the savage cold. I watched the faces of the men and women as they came out of the big doors, searching for clues to see if their smiles, or their tears, would reveal their futures. Like poker players, they carefully kept their cards and their answers to themselves. I watched as they wrapped scarves around their faces—not to protect them from the cold, but to hide the unfortunate information they had received. Part of me wanted to offer a kind word of support, a hand to hold, but I remembered the day for me as if was yesterday and the empty feeling I felt when I received the news.

My eyes began to water as I thought back to that day, the one that changed my life. Hearing the phrase: “You have tested HIV antibody positive.” I shuddered as the thoughts ran through my head again. Back then, there weren’t a lot of advances in medicine or treatment for persons living with HIV. I was told by so many that I would die and I believed it. I spent the greater part of the last twenty years preparing to die, only to awake one morning and realize it was a diagnosis, something that I would have to contend with for the remainder of my days.
The flashbacks of my life played out in mere moments, but the thoughts were so vivid and detailed; I relived them in my dreams. I made a promise to myself back then if I made it to twenty years of living with HIV, I would return to the place where life changed for me and prove that HIV was not a death sentence. As I stood there braving myself to enter this place, I was saddened by what I saw.

I pushed the heavy doors, making my way into the building. I relaxed my jacket a bit as I looked around. The faces that adorned the posters had changed from the days when I had first visited. No longer hanging on posters were photos of emaciated white gay men. No, the faces had changed to showcase beautiful brown-skinned women, holding delicately the lives of their children in their arms. The young faces of the Chelsea crowd of New York were now replaced by butter pecan-flavored Latinos from Washington Heights. The faces and ages had changed, but the outcome was still the same—HIV POSITIVE. I noticed the brochures. They were now multilingual to address communities that had not seen the devastation I had lived with—losing friends and lovers alike to this horrible disease. At any given moment, I could take off my coat and replace the black and brown faces on the posters. The white face that greeted me with kindness years ago was substituted with a sister girl and her neatly cornrowed braids, adorning her head majestically. Her smile offered warmth to those seeking the answers to why they came here. She politely nodded in my direction, acknowledging my presence. Rather than tell her I had journeyed here on some sick anniversary, I picked through the bowl of condoms placed on her desk and returned the smile. I needed to get out of this place. I began to suffocate from the history I had created here and needed to make a quick exit. As I headed toward the door, the hallway seemed to elongate, making my exit longer and never-ending.

I gasped for air as the bitter cold slapped me back to reality. The doors closed quickly behind me, stifling the voices and the tears that I imagined would pour from the walls and the small offices. Each person would sigh of relief of dodging a bullet or hear those words that would do for them what they did for me—change the course of their life. I headed for the rental car and cried. I turned the music up so no one passing by could hear my sobs, not for me, but for many whose lives would change. Twenty years had passed and folks were still testing positive. I managed to pull myself together as I made my way to the tunnel to the Jersey Turnpike, heading back to my reality. I was alive. I had made good on the promise to live with this disease and to return to where it had started. The second part of the promise awaited me as I found my way back home to Washington, D.C. to celebrate this anniversary of living.

My friends thought it was twisted of me to celebrate twenty years of living with HIV. It was like a second birthday celebration. I had friends who actually turned back the clocks and shed years off of their actual lives, to remain young forever, even if the indication of their age showed by way of frown lines, age spots and the like. But not me; I was happy to see another year. I gladly wore my HIV status as a way of saying, “I’m still here.” After I accepted that I was going to live, each year I treated myself to a cake with the correct number of candles to indicate the number of years I was living with HIV. It was wonderful to see a new candle burning brightly each year on the sheet cake that read, “Happy Living.” This year was no different. I went about planning the same as I did every year.

Three weeks before the celebration of life, I finalized the details of my “Happy Living” party. The invitations were already in the mail and the RSVP’s were coming in via voicemails and e-mail invites. Before I had headed to New York, I had solicited the help of friends to decorate the small, quaint house I was paying way too much for on D.C.’s Capitol Hill. I would have very little time decorating after returning from New York and wanted that out of the way.

The bar was stocked; the drinks would be flowing, along with the forced laughter for such an occasion. The German chocolate cake from Ben’s Chili Bowl was placed as the centerpiece of the table, with the candles waiting to be lit. I counted them off as I placed each one around the phrase, “one, two, three,” continuing until I hit the big 2-0. My friends were making a fuss in the kitchen, as I made my way into the shower to prepare for the party.

The hot shower felt good as it washed away the pain and tears from the quick visit to New York. I ran my hands across my body, caressing it, embracing myself. I held myself tight, hugging me as only I could. I was happy to be alive and knowing that I was alive made me cry. My tears of joy were lost within the water trickling from the showerhead. Hey, what can I say, I am a punk. I cry a lot. I stepped out the shower and took a moment to admire my body as I dried off. There was a little more of me to love, but it was distributed in all the right places. As I turned around to take in all of me, I carefully searched to make sure there were no visible signs of disease. Although it was a celebration of life, I still had the fear of finding something that wasn’t there before I got in the shower. This would indicate to me that I was dying. I couldn’t see it, but it was there. I quickly dismissed the thought as I continued to prep for the evening. I could hear the partiers from downstairs as I got dressed, checking myself in the mirror. Like Bette Davis in All About Eve, I wanted to make a grand entrance, but in a very butch way. Well, thinking about it, Bette was kind of butch in that movie. I smiled at the thought and descended the stairs. One of my friends was able to secure a couple of Cedric’s mixed CD’s for the party. I made sure to invite my neighbors to the celebration, to disarm them from calling the cops. Everybody likes free food and booze, even if they have to be subjected to throngs of men embracing, holding hands, sometimes kissing. Booze will make you look the other way—maybe encourage one or two of the closeted neighbors to take a walk on the wild side.

As I continued downstairs, I was a vision in black. The black Johnny Cash came to mind as I maneuvered the spiral staircase. The partygoers were given a revised version of “Happy Birthday” to sing, incorporating the phrase “Happy Living.” My friends and family who came out to share this event with me were aware of it, but dates, new boyfriends of some, were unaware, but they went along with it.

I smiled as I saw my mom’s face. She had weathered this storm with me. It was her hug and her love had gotten me through the most difficult parts of the last twenty years. Her arms were the first I reached for as I made my way off the final step.

I whispered in her ear, “You were right; we got through this.”

I could feel the trembling in her voice as she responded, “I love you.”

I didn’t want to break down as I had done in the past. I allowed the embrace to linger for a moment and as we parted, I saw the happiness in my mom’s round face. I listened as the words of the revamped song raised the roof of the house.

I made my way through the crowd gathered to celebrate with exchanging hugs and polite conversation. My friends had really outdone themselves on the budget that I had provided them for this occasion. Cedric’s voice drifted from the speakers, inviting everyone to dance. Of course, there were those who stood around with their disapproving stares and thoughts, but fuck them. This was my party. I stopped at the makeshift bar and asked my buddy Sam for a shot of tequila and a Corona. The Cuervo burned a bit, but I was used to it; no training wheels here. I took a quick swig of the beer, soothing the burn, and made my way to the dance floor to shake what little ass I had.

I drifted in and out; eyes closed reliving the last twenty years. The days of hitting Tracks and the Bachelor’s Mill came into play. I found myself on their dance floor with beautiful bodies surrounding me, sweat dripping off the finely chiseled and worked-out torsos that brothers had worked all winter to achieve. As I lost myself in these memories, I could see the faces of so many disappear from that dance floor. Those I had admired for their swagger, and had envied because of their six-packs, had vanished before my eyes in my dreams. Some I had the pleasure of entertaining on a more intimate and personal level faded away with each year I recounted. The crowded dance floor became empty as I searched for familiar faces and eyes to respond to, only to see empty spaces where they once occupied. This is what HIV did to our community—my community. I was left standing alone on the dance floor. The friends—gone. The lovers—gone. I stood there in my dreams, in my solitude, aching for someone to reach out to me, to see them once again, but it didn’t happen. The music blared as I found myself spinning around, hoping to have others replace them, but no one showed. I wanted out of this trip down memory lane. I opened my eyes quickly to see the light. It was not time yet. It was not my time to head toward the light. The lights that searched for me were the burning candles of the cake.

My thoughts were interrupted as my hand was grabbed and guided toward the food table. There before my eyes were the candles reminding me of life. Unbeknownst to my well-wishers, was the heaviness my hard carried at this moment. The dream of the last dance with friends and lovers struck a chord with me. I longed for those days of carefree living and loving, but my reality was now constant doctor visits and a strict drug treatment. I managed a smile to disguise the sick I felt in my stomach. Each candle represented a year of life for me, but added more to the list of those who died. I heard the chorus refrain in my ears as I was encouraged to blow out the candles and make a wish. Blowing out the candles meant erasing their memories. I couldn’t do that. My hesitation allowed the candle wax to drip onto the coconut. With the refrain, I heard the voices of those who went before me, celebrating this moment with me as well. They reminded me that I was still here and to take advantage of living. I would not be snuffing out their lives, but honoring them by living mine. I took a deep breath, inhaling the various scents, and held that breath. The chants of “make a wish” forced me to close my eyes and silently whisper my wish to myself. I was a selfish bitch; I wanted more than one wish, but I wasn’t going to be greedy. I settled for two; the first wish was another year to live, to celebrate life. The other wish was always out of reach after being diagnosed: I wished for someone to love and for someone to love me. I blew out the candles, making sure to get each one with this one breath. As I opened my eyes, his eyes met mine.

Love is a motherfucker. Like Stephanie Mills, I needed and sought the comfort of a man, but only found little boys pretending to be men. With a big smile and a trick hip came game and dishonesty. Many assumed I was desperate because I was living with a chronic disease. They figured my life expectancy was short, and I would put up with anything in order to have someone in my bed, or arms, for that matter. Initially, I found myself seeking out the love and attention of others. I needed to feel like the man I once was before being diagnosed with HIV. I wanted to feel desirable, so I found myself accepting anything and everything offered to me. There were the brothers who promised to be there through thick and thin, to wipe tears and offer comfort. But after they got their nut, they left. Then, there were the white boys, who became motherly and smothering. They were well-informed about HIV disease and the effects it had on the body and the psyche. But their concern for my welfare far out-shadowed any possibilities of simple love, patience and understanding.

So rather than focus on the love that would nurture me from someone else, I focused that search on myself. On that new journey, I discovered the true essence of me. In a moment of self-reflection, I found the greatest love that I could possibly receive was from me. The numerous faces and body parts that graced my door and bedroom were substitutions for what was truly missing—me. After this epiphany, I got my ass off of the couch and away from the number of sex websites searching for a temporary fix; I decided on some long-term goals.

For starters, I started to seek others who were like me. I found myself attending local support groups in the area, not for dating purposes, but for that uplifting support. I found it therapeutic to meet others like me, some long-term non-progressors, as well as some who were in the final stages of the journey. It was refreshing to share and hear from others what struggles we all shared—love, compassion, being ostracized and being embracement. I would walk away from the meetings at night, reinvigorated, energized and empowered. Sometimes it was difficult to attend a meeting and see an empty seat of someone you had come to love and respect because they were called home. It was moments like this that made living with this disease unbearable. But I would take with me the contribution that man or woman had made to my life. I held onto the thoughts, the words and the love they offered, without asking for anything in return. It continued to nourish during those moments of silent tears in the privacy of my own home to mourn their passing.

The next step was to work on the physical. I had spent the greater part of my life relying on the good looks everyone complimented me on. I was always able to maintain what God granted me, but I never took the time to work it out like talking about. That first day in the gym was intimidating. For a moment, I thought I was at the bar, watching these cock-diesel guys flaunting and strutting about the locker rooms like proud peacocks spreading their feathers. A couple of times, I caught my eyes drifting from head to toe of these men, noticing who was wearing a jock strap, and the one or two who allowed their manhood to swing freely. I avoided the machines these men used; the last thing I needed was the scent of a smelly-ass crotch tempting me as I worked out. It was trying, to say the least. The taunts and looks of come-hither eyes, bodies I dreamed of, lying next to me. Damn. But I hung in there. I purchased an iPod and let my thoughts drift into the music and relax the burning muscles that ached from years of not working out. After a while, I noticed the difference. My clothes started to sag a little, but the ass I so hoped for was now developing. My gut no longer hung slightly over the belt that held it in place, and the definition of my chest started to show through my shirts. I took pride in discovering what was underneath the layers of life and fat in my new form.

The third step in this new path of life came in the form of career. I had spent my life working jobs, with no clear career path. I would stay long enough in a position until I grew tired of it, or it outgrew me. I was graced with life and a strong support system to help me carry the load of living with HIV. Therefore, I wanted to give back to the brothers and sisters who didn’t have the support from their families and friends.

I found myself an old man among recent high school graduates maneuvering through the classes of Howard University to finish my degree in social work. Eventually, after graduating, I found a position at a national HIV/AIDS advocacy organization focusing on advocacy. I now had a career that allowed me the opportunity to address the concerns of persons living with HIV/AIDS and their allies. I was afforded the opportunity to travel and share the messages of living positive. At times, I found myself burning out from sharing so much of my story, depleting my spirit and soul. But it was so rewarding when someone was able to hear the message and make positive changes within their own life. I gained a little recognition doing the work. I was interviewed by BET and national newspapers for quotes and stats on HIV/AIDS in the African-American community. I almost felt like a celebrity. I would sometimes find myself in an airport making my way home from a conference or event, only to see the eyes of some checking me out. At times, I believed it was because of the new look and fresh outlook that drew these individuals to me. I could see the pensive stares as they attempted to remember where they had seen me. Some would be so bold, especially the brothers who were drawn to the newly formed ass, to approach me with some lame-ass lines, from “you look familiar,” to “I think I have seen you before.” I would acknowledge their statements and remind them of a recent interview I had conducted on HIV. The lust that initially greeted me was replaced with a hesitant, “oh okay,” and a quick retreat. This would be my existence; the fear of being with me because I was positive, but there was a greater cause down the road.

On the flip side of trepidation, were those who wanted to take care of me. Some of the guys I found myself involved with went out of their way to protect me from any and everything. A simple cut or bruise became a possible trip to the emergency for them. I got to the point where I didn’t want someone hanging over my shoulder all the time to protect me; hell, I had a mother for that.

So I found myself patrolling the internet, chatting up brothers and white boys alike. At first it was America Online. For a while there, you could chat men up in the neighborhood for friendship or no-strings attached sex. With some, I was honest about my HIV status, especially after seeing the photos they had sent. I was horny, not desperate. After revealing my status, some would respond with the obligatory “I’m sorry to hear that, but I can’t risk it,” or I would be blocked. In some cases, it was a blessing; even on a bad day, I wouldn’t fuck them. Others, who knew about HIV and knew how to protect themselves, would be willing based on the photos I had sent out. Sometimes the photos were not of me. I wouldn’t send a face pic to save my life, but I was able to find a dick pic that resembled mine. That seemed to secure me a date for the evening.

With some, it was the need for company. A nice glass of wine and some good conversation outside of the friends I shared my innermost thoughts with. Although it would end after they left, it was nice to have a “date” for a few hours. It was an end to the means of being horny for simply that moment. They would leave satisfied, and I was content, but there was a certain emptiness that lingered into the late hours of the night.

I became bored of AOL and moved on to bigger and better websites to curb my appetite for comfort and friendship. As always, it played out like the rest of the sites. So, I stopped looking and invested my earnings into good ol’ porn.

Just like the internet, porn satisfied the savage beast. For all too brief a moment, I was able to do what I needed to do, without the thoughts of being misled, rejected or scorned. I was able to release myself in the privacy of my bedroom, grab the towel in the nightstand, wipe off, and turn the lights off.

This newfound “reconnection” with myself was working. I looked good, I felt good, and I was doing well in life. But in the back of my mind, was the lingering thought of love.

Coming out at an early age allowed me the fortune, and sometimes misfortune, of falling in love. With some of my past lovers, I found the connection that you sometimes dream of. With others, it was just to occupy time and space. Nevertheless, I found myself jumping from one relationship to another. I wanted what I saw on television and in motion pictures; the perfect house, two cars, maybe a kid or two, the white picket fence, but I wanted it all with another man. Some promised the possibilities of fulfilling those dreams, while others tainted them. But I always held out for the hopes in the back of my mind that it could possibly happen. I was, after all, a dreamer.

Unfortunately, being dealt the ultimate blow of an HIV diagnosis quickly turned those dreams into unreachable limits. I even stayed in the relationship with the man who infected me, only for fear of being alone. Here I was a relatively young man, in the prime of my life, living out my dreams I dreamt at night, only to have it all taken away with one statement: “You have tested HIV antibody positive.” The relationship I was involved with was shaky. And as soon as it was confirmed for him I was positive, he continued to show his ass and treat me far worse than he ever did. I realized it wasn’t good for me to stay in that relationship; not emotionally or physically. So I took what was left of me from that situation and retreated into myself. Walking away was probably the most difficult thing I could do. At that moment, I presumed that I would never find anyone who could love or would appreciate what I brought to the table. I never wanted anyone to complete me, just complement what I was able to offer. So the depression hit.

After wallowing in my own piss for a period of time, I woke up from the depression and realized HIV was no longer a death sentence. The only thing that was killing me was me. From that moment, I vowed to live, and if love presented itself, so be it.

In twenty years, I became the man that I dreamed of loving. I became the romantic paramour of my own needs. I treated myself, because no one could do it better than me. I loved me the way I wanted to be loved. I pampered me the way I wanted to be pampered. I embraced me on cold nights, the way I wanted to be embraced. For the first time in my life, I found the love I so desired and wanted within myself. Like Iyanla said, “Clean your house and prepare it for yourself before you invite anyone in to share it.” Baby, the house was Spic and Span clean, and I was ready for him. I stopped looking for him because I was looking in all the wrong places. I searched the clubs, the internet, searching for HIM. Little did I know that when I stopped looking for him, he would find me.

It’s My Turn

Now let me tell you upfront, I am not your average gay man. First and foremost, I am a black man; it is obvious by the color of my skin—deep, dark coal. Some call me blue-black and I wear it like a badge of honor. Growing up, kids used to say hurtful things like, “I can’t see you unless you keep your eyes open or you smile.” My momma was always there to make sure to heal the wounds of the hurtful words. With each passing day of my youth, she encouraged me to embrace the smooth silkiness of my beautiful complexion. It would become one of the many traits that would draw others to me.

That, and a big dick she knew nothing about, but I am sure she had an idea since I was made in the mold and the spitting image of my daddy. I knew I was my daddy’s son when I caught glimpse of him accidentally stepping out of the shower. He was a proud, dark-hued man who had taught me confidence, character and conviction. Despite the jabs kids threw my way, I walked proudly with my head held high and chest rising above all the bullshit.

In school, I noticed the guys taking peripheral peeks at my abnormally large dick in the showers after a sweaty gym-class session. I smiled as I took my manhood in my hand, soaping the appendage, making sure to cup it in my hands to showcase the thick vein through the soap lathering the shaft. I would catch them looking before they darted their eyes away. I would close my eyes and laugh to myself as I rinsed away the soap residue and walked out sans towel.

Now, I knew at an early age I was gay. There was no sexual abuse or molestation involved that swayed my decision. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not taking a crack at those who were; my attraction was something that was always there. The same looks that greeted me in the showers after gym class, I more than willingly returned. It was hot to see brothers freely swinging underneath the steam from the hot water, soap running from the nape of their necks, sliding down slowly to rest right at the crack of their asses. Sometimes I found myself getting hard, but this was not the place for it. I would linger in the showers at times, giving my eyes the feast they desired.

One day after class, I stayed a little later than usual. I had the early stages of a pulled muscle in my calf and treated it with additional heat from the steam. I found myself doubling over in pain as I bent down, reaching for my leg to massage it. I was lost in the pain as I noticed everyone leaving, with the exception of the one guy we all made fun of.

He wasn’t the most masculine brother in the school. I must admit I fell in with the crowd of classmates to make fun of him when he was unable to excel in the class. But he was cute. He was shy in his demeanor and self-confident enough to ignore the taunts of those who called him out. He broke my concentration as he asked if I was okay.

I continued to massage my leg as I winced in pain. He moved closer to me, resting his hand on my shoulder. He assumed I didn’t hear because he asked again about my condition. I raised my head slightly to see genuine concern on his face. He wiped the water from his eyes and continued to look at me. I stood up, backing away from him for fear of anyone walking in, but by this time, the locker room was empty. As quickly as I stood up, he replaced my position; kneeling and extending his hands to my sore calf. He began to massage in a gentle, circular motion. What I couldn’t do to relieve the pain, his touch did. He grabbed the soap, and lathered his hands to create enough foam to massage deep into the tissue. I rested my back against the shower stall enjoying the touch.

His hands felt good against my skin. I closed my eyes as I enjoyed his continuing touch. I was drifting back to those stolen moments of hidden gay porn magazines tucked neatly in the back of my closet. Never once imagining that the images I jacked off to would actually come into play in my life. As I focused on the touch and the images I played in my head, my dick hardened a bit. I felt more heat than usual around the head as I opened my eyes and noticed my masseuse was gently flicking his tongue across the head of my dick. He looked up at me, seeking approval. I silently acknowledged both his handiwork and oral skills without begrudging him the taste he wanted.

I got harder as the hot saliva in his mouth replaced the water from the shower. From his ability to relax the back of his throat to accommodate me, I knew he had done this before. I looked down at him as our eyes met. I was amazed he was more than able to take me in his mouth. I watched as my dick disappeared in and out of his mouth, all without gagging. The hand he used to relieve the stress in my leg was now making its way up and down with the same amount of soap and precision performed on my leg. I didn’t want to appear to be forceful, but I couldn’t help it. I grabbed him by the back of his head, my back securely resting against the wall to brace myself. I forced my dick deeper into his mouth, trying to hit tonsils. This brother had skills. Without pushing me off, he continued to open his throat deeper, allowing me to explore the joys of the back of his throat. Before I knew it, and with my fear long gone, I continued to pump the back of his throat, until I shot my load deep in his mouth. When I finished, he raised his face way up to mine, allowing the water to enter his mouth and gargle a bit. After spitting out the combination of cum and water, he leaned in and kissed me. I brought him closer to enjoy not only his full lips, but the taste I left him with. This would be the first of many shower encounters throughout our high school years.

After him and high school, there were the occasional brothers throughout college. Some were there just to blow me. On rare occasions, I found myself breaking one or two in the ass, but I was searching for more. Not that sex was a bad thing; I wanted something with a little more substance. I saw the images of the white gay men and their lives of living and loving another man, and that was what I wanted. You know the images —the perfect house or condo, with the two-car garage, two-income household, and the families that embraced this love between two men. It was initially difficult for my parents to come to grips with me being gay. I guess I didn’t fit the image of what they had in mind when they thought of gay caricatures. But after some difficult moments, and at times, harsh words, they learned I wasn’t going to change.

After college, I dated a bit, but nothing too serious. There was one man I met and fell in love with, but the drama of his bullshit turned me, and my heart, off to any others. Every time I turned around, I questioned the sincerity of brothers. Was it my heart they wanted or my dick? I could respect one if he came correct and upfront, but the beating around the bush shit wasn’t my cup of tea. So it was with much reluctance I accepted the invitation to this dude’s “Celebration of Life” party. There I realized the games no longer applied. It was there I would find the love I searched for.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, please support Strebor Books by purchasing it at your local bookstore or you can order it online at the following link:


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