Buffalo Death Mask script

Scene 1
image: black and white face turns slowly. Then replaced with another face that blows a smoke ring. A hand reaches into light. Music: Machinefabriek/Jasper Tx

titles appear onscreen:
Your face arrived
so much later
than the skin
you grew over your childhood.

Your words. “If you’re cold tonight
you can sleep here. Just sleep.”

Wishes always return us
to the scene of the crime.

I walked over in his direction
because I liked the shape of him.
What he said was “Hi.”
And I found myself thinking
“Here you are at last!”

The question you couldn’t ask.
Why are we still here
when so many are gone?

You are newly confined to bed
alert and responsive
and every day I try to be grateful.

I was rubbing your feet
which ached with cramps
as they turned inward
on your newly useless legs
when you reached across the table
to touch my face.
Your hands seemed to say
We’re still here!

Scene 2
Image: timelapse cityscape, night transit, man walks in light. Tara runs (2), car drive, Stephen paints (superimposition), woman to altar, black. Man on fire, Stephens superimposed (from The Perils of Pedagogy by John Greyson). Forest fire. Mike with nagra. Mike with shingles. Mike in Northern Ontario light. Pat, Louise, Emma, Kerri, Christi-an, Pat, Esma. CNE night. Mike swims.

Mike: I discovered pine beetles in my apartment. Tiny specks with legs. They’re not bedbugs, they’re not cockroaches. They don’t bite you.

Stephen: How do you know they’re pine beetles?

Mike: I looked them up. And then my maintenance supervisor dude from the building came by and announced, “Pine beetles.” “Should I be worried about that?” “No, you’ll just clean everything here, everything. And it will be fine.” I threw out 22 years worth of HIV-medication bottles.

Stephen: How come you’re saving them, are you a hoarder?

Mike: No, it was the only thing I’ve saved.

Stephen: Empty pill bottles?

Mike: I thought one day I would do something with them. And one day never came.

Stephen: Well it’s interesting because those things have all changed, right? They go in and out of fashion as you wear them out. What number of cocktail are you on? How many have you used?

Mike: Not many.

Stephen: Really?

Mike: I think I’m on number four.

Stephen: I’m on four or five.

Mike: That’s not many.

Stephen: Over a ten year period?

Mike: Ten years?

Stephen: No wait, it’s more, sixteen years. The drugs came online in 1996, right? September 1996. I know because I was just about toast. CMV (cytomegalovirus) had started and I weighed almost nothing. I was a total disaster area. I jammed my foot in that door as it was closing. I started the drugs when I got back from kayaking with John and went on medication the next day. They didn’t work for the first month, I felt just vile, and then on the thirtieth day the light started shining again. (laughs) I was riding in a car and felt strangely happy, which I hadn’t felt in quite some time. I thought, “Oh I don’t feel like projectile vomiting.” It’s amazing what that does for your sense of well being. (laughs) I was on Saquinavir which was not the best of the drugs.

Mike: None of the early drugs were the best.

Stephen: And then I went onto the wasting ones, like 3TC and DDI.

Mike: Norvir, that was also called something else.

Stephen: They always had two names, I’ve never really understood why. It’s like an alias.

Mike: It’s so that the parents can talk together and the kids won’t know what they’re saying.

Stephen: I’ve given up on the names. They ask me sometimes, “What are you on?” and I have no idea. It’s like, you know, you’ve had so many lovers you can’t remember all their names. (laughs) I’ve been on so many drugs, whatever. What’s your name again? Norvir? DDI? Yeah, I’ve been sleeping around with them all for quite some time.

Stephen: I’m almost positive I seroconverted in 1982 in Haiti, because we had this very wild sex with a fellow by the name of Ti L’homme, who was anything but petit. I can’t imagine it was anywhere else, because the symptoms started showing up in 1985.

Mike: What were the symptoms?

Stephen: I got shingles at the age of 28, twice over the course of two years, in my legs of all places. It’s a weird place to get it, right?

Mike: I don’t know what’s weird with shingles. People get it on their face.

Stephen: Yeah, when they’re 90. Not when they’re 28. (laughs)

Mike: I didn’t get shingles until I was in my 30s.

Stephen: Did you get it on your face?

Mike: No I got it here, on my chest.

Stephen: Isn’t it awful?

Mike: It’s fucking painful.

Stephen: It goes on for months. I still have neuropathy from it. After half a bottle of red wine it’s like being plugged into an electrical socket. The nerve damage is still there.

Mike: The body remembers.

Stephen: The disease is writ large across your body in so many different ways.

Mike: Did you know in 1985 that you were HIV positive?

Stephen: Alex was diagnosed with ARC at the time, an acronym for AIDS Related Complex. He was having night sweats and losing weight. Then it just became obvious that he hosted a series of opportunistic infections on and off until his death.

Mike: From the mid-eighties to…

Stephen: Yeah, from about 1986 until 1993 when he died. I think because I’m a mongrel I didn’t get sick until quite late. I have the genetic superiority of mixed blood to get at these things from different angles, whereas he was a thoroughbred and they could take him out right away. But as soon as he died I went down the hill.

Mike: Do you think there’s a relation between his dying and your health?

Stephen: Yes, it’s very depressing losing someone you’ve loved so deeply. This is someone I was with for almost fifteen years, someone I went through all of my changes with.

Not only do you lose them, you lose what they remembered about you. And if you don’t fully understand yourself, then you’re doubly bereft. Suddenly you start to feel the hollowness in yourself because you had it backed up, with these people. And you didn’t even know it was there sometimes. You know they’d be like, “Remember when you did that?” And you’d be like: “No, I did not.” And they’d be: “Oh, so totally you did that.” And everyone else can triangulate it and go “Yeah, don’t try and get out of it.” It’s about being known too. Suddenly if you don’t have these people who know you, then where are you?

Scene 3
Image: People in fog, Machinefabriek music.

Scene 4
Image: Mike with shingles. Scott and Santosh kiss. Mike in hallway, waiting room, medical office. Tree shadow.

Mike: I also couldn’t tell anymore: am I sick? Am I dying today? There were so many days like that. I’m tired. Am I really tired? Am I dying tired?

Stephen: I got that sense when Colin died that he was pissed off that I hadn’t died before him. He had done all this worrying about me, and suddenly he was checking out before me. There was a certain kind of animosity directed towards me at the end. It’s something I could recognize because I had other friends who were in the same boat, but maybe not as far down the river, and I became angry, even resentful. Oh, they’re so healthy, I hate them.

I hadn’t anticipated the difficulty coming back from that brink. It took me three or four years to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. How do you start again from below zero? We were in the integers at that point in time. It was time to rebuild a rationale.

So much of my sense of self is about being loved. I need love and I had lost my love. I thought: I’m down a pint or two or three. Who is going to love me again? How will I live when I can’t be loved?

Scene 5
Image: black and white superimposed faces and light. A face slowly rises through the frame, eyes closed. Another face appears. Fade to black. Machinefabriek/Jasper Tx music.

title: Stephen Andrews, Mike Cartmell, Phil Hoffman
Machinefabriek, Jasper Tx

title: Mike Hoolboom