"Thank you for being so patient with an old man," Virgil Thomson said in a high, shrewd simper as I stepped inside his apartment at the Chelsea Hotel on 27 May 1987. I handed him the week's work. "Pshaw!" I laughed. "Who's old?" He smiled with delight. "Ned tells me you're writing a ballet." His interest was merely polite. "Uh huh," I said, "at MacDowell."
"Honey, did you study strict counterpoint?" he asked. "The strictest, Virgil," I laughed. "Invertible, and so forth?" he asked. "Uh huh." "Eh?" "YES!" I shouted. "And you're still studying with Ned?" "No." I said, "That was a couple of years ago." "Sorry," he said. I walked over to the Duchamp as he instructed me on how to proceed with the reduction of the suite from Louisiana Story. He looked up at me. "It's lovely, isn't it?" he asked, in an entirely different voice. "Mmm," I agreed. It was one of those perfect moments.
I excused myself and headed for a date with a young ballerina from the City Ballet. Things between us had become strained, in part because she had informed me a few weeks earlier that her previous boyfriend had tested positive for HIV. Even for a straight male, AIDS had turned sex in Manhattan into a game of Russian roulette. Furthermore, emotional intimacy frightened me, possibly because I was afraid of the crazy things I might say in unguarded moments. I was too selfish, too raw, and too resentful of time stolen from composing to be of use to anyone else. I had become quite the egoist.
Waiting for my date, I called the health clinic from a pay phone at the corner of 14th and Fifth Avenue and asked for the results of my recent HIV test. I was put on hold. The first coin dropped as a new voice came on asking why I was put on hold. "I have no idea," I replied. "Listen. I want the results of my blood test, if they're in." Beat. "Oh," replied the nurse in a strained voice. "What's your code number?" I gave it. I was put on hold again. I thought about every woman I had dated for the past two years. I thought, "This is the way I feel before going onstage—a combination of anticipating the worst possible news and the potential for ecstasy." I thought of how well Mother had told me of her cancer, and then how well she had fought her battle with it."Hello?" It was the voice of the clinic's AIDS specialist. Why was he on the line? "Your results are—," he began. At that moment a bus rushed by and the taped operator broke into the line, demanding another quarter. "—Normal," he said. "—Deposit twenty-five—." "What's that?" "—Please deposit twenty-five—." "Oh God, that's great—." "—Next three minutes." He rushed to get the words in: "Good luck." "—Please deposit—." "Thanks," I said, and replaced the receiver. For a long time I just stared at my hands.
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