Stephon shuffles now when he walks, an old man at 43.
His eyes sometimes go vacant in the middle of a conversation, like someone has turned off the lights. He used to dress so snazzy but now his clothes sag sadly. And he is forgetful, sometimes sending the same text message over and over.
“Do you like porn?” he texts to me.
“Yeah, sometimes,” I answer.
And hour later.
“Do you like porn?”
“Stephon, you texted me the same question like 45 minutes ago.”
“I’m so sorry man, I forget things sometimes now.”
Stephon used to be the shit. A slender, clean-cut country boy with an 11-inch dick he was a valued commodity in the gay world. He was not very handsome or even muscular but white boys ate him up. As long as that black anaconda stayed hard.
We met online about four years ago, banged a bottom together but soon became friends. He had been an enlisted man in the Army and then worked dead-end civilian jobs like reception desks and retail but he managed to drive a spanking new Acura, had a boat docked on the Chesapeake Bay, and lived in a home with expensive furniture.
I was relatively new in the gay world then. But now I have figured it out. Stephon was a kept boy.
And then he disappeared for two years. No phone calls. No Facebook posts. Nada.
Until one day my cellphone chirped and it was Stephon. But it wasn’t Stephon. It was this new guy who walks slowly, zones out in the middle of a convo, and wears baggy clothes that look like hand-me-downs.
Here’ the story. Stephon caught syphilis and got antibiotics. But a year later he started fainting at work. He didn’t have medical insurance and no one would treat him for what he thought was some neurological ailment.
“You were in the Army. Can’t you go to the VA?,” his sister asked.
“Oh yeah, that’s right,” Stephon said.
So he goes to the VA and they find out no the syphilis is not cured and it has spread to the brain, dug in and carved lesions, which is the reason Stephon is fainting and having short-term memory loss.
So now he is cured but not really cured because his brain is still addled. He can’t work. Has no car. Has no place. The well-to-do white men who used to look after him are gone. Things got so bad for a time he had to live with his brother, who hates that Stephon is gay because they were raised in a very conservative, Pentecostal family where homosexuality was considered an abomination.
“Those nasty white boys gave me syphilis,” a bitter Stephon now says.
But I have to call him up on that. In further conversations I discover he hated wearing condoms because they fit poorly over his big dick. So he mostly had raw sex.
“So Stephon you can’t blame anybody else man. You have to take responsibility for your own health.”
“And by the way, if you were having unprotected sex did you get an HIV test?”
Stephon looks at me long and deeply and says nothing. He doesn’t even have to respond because I know the answer.
“Stephon, are you taking medications for HIV? You can stay healthy if you do.”
“Immanuel, I’m so forgetful now I can’t remember to take my pills on time right after I eat.”
“Stephon, do you have a social worker or something to help you out? Man, you have to look out for yourself.”
“Yeah, I got a social worker but she doesn’t help me with keeping pills organized.”
“Mama, Mia!,” I think to myself. I want to reach out and slap him. But what can I do? Negro is grown.
So when Stephon visits from out of town I try to spend time with him and talk with him and encourage him.
My partner Morgan and I hosted Thanksgiving Dinner for a few friends yesterday. Stephon was in town and we invited him. He was the last to arrive at 9:30 p.m. because he was visiting friends in the hospital.
I pick him up from the subway station. The turkey and trimmings are cold but I heat them up in the microwave. Stephon sits alone at the dining room table because everyone else has eaten and had seconds and thirds hours before.
I offer to make him a bed for the night but this new Stephon is like a child, restless with a short attention span.
“I have keys to my buddy’s house and I’m going to spend the night there,” he says. “I can take the Metro.”
He is grown and I have to let him go. I drive Stephon back to the Metro station. And he shuffles off into the night.