Saturday, November 24, 2012

Cedric Brown, RIP

Our friend Cedric Brown died this week. At least we assume he died. Just before leaving town last Tuesday night we received a call from the intensive care unit at San Francisco General Hospital. Did we know a Cedric Brown?

Well, yes, in a way …

The hospital was looking for a Cedric Brown's next of kin or anyone who should be notified that he was dying. We asked whether he was still conscious, but they said they'd made him comfortable and unconscious with heavy doses of morphine and this time he wasn't going to make it. We didn't go to see him, but rushed to catch our plane.

We weren't kin, but I wasn't surprised my number had turned up in his records. We'd known Cedric, a homeless gay man living with Crohn's disease and HIV, for about a decade. He would turn up periodically at our door, begging for help, usually, at least ostensibly, to buy his latest medicine. The various stop gap expedients available to people without money or health insurance would get him repeatedly admitted to hospitals when near death. But then he'd be tossed out, unable to pay for the drugs, or the adult diapers, or the lotions for his erupting skin -- and still homeless.

Because Cedric was an appealing guy, not a drug user or obnoxious, he had a small army of social workers and acquaintances who kept him afloat, more or less. For whatever reason, probably because of his sexual orientation, he'd lost contact with any blood family. Before he got sick, he traded on his good looks for survival. After he got sick, social service agencies repeatedly placed him in housing -- but something always went wrong. One place, he brought in a forbidden hotplate so he could make meals for his friends on the same corridor. When one day he left it on and fell asleep, causing a small fire, he got thrown out of that place, though everyone felt terrible about it.

People often felt terrible about Cedric. But there never seemed to be anything adequate to change his situation.

Usually Cedric lost his housing because he had had yet another emergency room episode and, after a short stay in a ward, he'd be "too sick" for his past housing.

I wasn't always kind to Cedric. He was an inconvenient acquaintance. And the relationship with a person who needs you so desperately materially is seldom comfortable. Sure, his need meant that his professions of friendship couldn't be taken entirely at face value. But at the very least, I think it is fair to say we grew accustomed to each other and felt a kind of fondness, beyond the irritation and the insatiable need.

The world as it is didn't work for Cedric. That's the world's loss. Insofar as I'm able to believe the dead persist somehow, somewhere, beyond this location in time and space, I hope he is in a better place. He never deserved to have it as bad as he had it in this life. Rest in peace, Cedric Brown.

2 comments:

Ronni Bennett said...

What a lovely, touching tribute to a kind-of friend, Jan. I think most of us must have or have had such relationships and you've caught the mixture of caring and ambivalence well.

Indeed, RIP Cedric Brown.

Anonymous said...

I had the pleasure to work with Cedric at one point. He will be missed. Thanks for this post.

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