The tomatoes are dead. Well, most of them, anyway. I woke up early this morning to water the garden before I left for the airport to continue my book tour for Candy Everybody Wants. I knew from the second I opened the kitchen door that they were doomed. It was unseasonably cold last night — the low 30s, according to weather.com. While I didn't spot any frost, I've been in the country just long enough to know which garden plants can survive the weather, and which can't.
Sure enough, most of the tomatoes looked like limp, slimy pieces of seaweed in the dirt where I'd planted them two days ago. And I was leaving for two more weeks. I'd have to start over — late — when I returned.
A few of the tomatoes, however, looked stronger than ever — like their character had been stiffened by the bracing weather. I comforted myself with the idea that these few survivors must be somehow bionic, and would reward me with an overabundance of fruit.
As sad as I always am to leave the farm, I was equally excited to be en route to Atlanta, which I called home for four years in the early 1990s. Atlanta is where I finally grew up.It's where I first struck out on my own, and began my dragging, drugging, and drinking while dating a series of (mostly) unfortunate guys. If that doesn't sound very "grown up" to you, well, it sure seemed more mature than hiding in the corner as the shy, awkward, nerdy kid.
[Oh! I just noticed that I'm flying over Manhattan right now on my flight from Albany to Atlanta. Feels funny to be flying over the apartment I haven't been home to for three weeks, and won't return for yet one more. I wonder what Brent's doing down there at this instant?]
I'm also very excited that tonight I'll be reading at OutWrite Bookstore. I have a long history with OutWrite. My best friend and roommate in Atlanta, John, used to work there. He was a young writer as well, and we used to spend hours at OutWrite chatting while perusing the new books and magazines. He and I paid special attention to Paper Magazine, New York Magazine, and The New Yorker. We both knew that, as writers, we'd eventually wind up in NYC so we thought we'd get a head start by vicariously living through periodicals.
When I finally did make it to NYC, leaving John behind unfortunately, I continued my dragging, drugging, and drinking with even more abandon. This is the period I wrote about in I Am Not Myself These Days. I was a drag queen living in a penthouse with a male escort. It was like nothing I'd read about in The New Yorker. It was even better.
Clive Barker's film company. He passed the manuscript to the amazing Clive, who liked it enough to call HarperCollins and tell them that they should publish it. So they did. Thank you, Clive.Some writers get mad when I tell the story of how I Am Not Myself These Days got published. Many writers spend years sending query letters to agents and publishers. I happened to sit next to the right guy in a plane. His name was Joe, and he was the Executive Producer for
The funny thing is that I'd never read any of Clive Barker's books before. Fantasy and Horror have never been at the top of my book pile. But my old pal John was obsessed with Clive. He had signed books and movie posters all over his room. He always tried to engage me in Clive's work, but I was too busy — you guessed it — dragging, drinking, and drugging. The highlight of John's life was when he was sent by the owner of OutWrite Bookstore to pick up Clive at the airport for a reading. John recounted every second of that drive to me for many many months following.
I'm crying right now thinking about it as I'm flying on a plane to OutWrite at this moment.
John died of AIDS in 1999.
It was just a couple of years after I'd moved to NYC. My best friend in the whole world died of a disease that he'd caught as a teenager before many people even knew what it was. He'd never even told me that he was HIV positive the whole time we knew each other, finally revealing his illness during the last weeks of his life.
I'd lived a far more dangerous lifestyle than he ever did. I don't know why it was him and not me. I do know that it probably wasn't that much of a fluke that Clive Barker mysteriously came into my life in such a big way after John had died. I believe in that kind of stuff — dead people in the clouds watching over their family and friends.
It could just have easily been me posthumously seating John on a plane next to my idol, Armistead Maupin. More easily, in fact, since I was much more at risk for AIDS than him. But it wasn't me. No scientist in the world can explain away this reversal of fortunes.
For whatever reason, some tomato plants make it through a cold night while others don't. The ones that make it aren't bionic. Just lucky. But I have, as a result, tried to grow up a little bit stronger.
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Once a world-renowned drag queen by night and an award-winning advertising creative by day, Josh Kilmer-Purcell is the author of a popular monthly column for Out magazine and a screenplay based on his bestselling memoir, I Am Not Myself These Days. Kilmer-Purcell and his partner divide their time between Manhattan and a goat farm in upstate New York.
Books mentioned in this post
Josh Kilmer-Purcell is the author of Candy Everybody Wants (P.S.)