I'm Not Sorry Yet
On the cover of the cassette case was a melancholy panel I xeroxed from Chester Brown’s Ed, The Happy Clown, which was and remains my all-time favorite comic book. On the inside was written the names of the songs and “In memoriam Ivan Brown.”
I had been volunteering for GMHC, and Ivan had been my first “buddy.” He was pretty near death when I first met him, and he never left St. Vincent’s hospital during the months I spent with him. He seemed like a saint to me. He was from Bushwick, an unpleasant Brooklyn neighborhood, where he had lived with his sister. Not many people came to see him now except, occasionally, his brother. I later found out that this was because it was simply too painful for those who loved him to see him in such a state.
Near the end he was in the ICU, hooked up to a ventilator and a large number of tubes. They ran cold water under his sheets to keep his temperature down (hence the title of the cassette). One day I came to see him and saw that he was unplugged. I was surprised and delighted and came close to him. His eyes were open, and maybe I said something to him. Then I noticed he was dead. I was alone with him in that room for a few seconds before death, like a wave, pushed me out.
The funeral was in the South Bronx, and I got lost. I arrived an hour late, but that was OK—his family arrived an hour or two later, their limo having gotten even more lost. I was the only white person there, but nobody cared. I said a few words during the service. Afterwards we took him to the crematorium; his cousin was planning to scatter his ashes over his mother’s grave in North Carolina.
A few weeks later his ex-boyfriend, Sterling, a fireman who lived in Prospect Heights, held a post-mortem birthday party for Ivan, and served crabs and Alabama slams. I had a great time talking about Ivan to all his old friends and family and dancing to tapes he had made. That’s what the first song, “The Party,” is about—well, that, and the day of his death (“the change in your eyes”).
Some of the other songs have nothing at all to do with Ivan, but are about other things I was going through and doing at the time. And I’m pretty sure Ivan wouldn’t have liked this tape at all. It’s whiny straight-white-boy music. He preferred Prince.