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Remembering, and Saying Her Name

In the Summer of 2008, I received a curious package from Bonnie Goldman, the editor of TheBody.com. Inside was a Flip video camera, what was then a new-fangled device that allowed you to take video footage with a camera the size of a pack of cigarettes.

It came with a simple note. “I think you should try this,” it said.

How did she know? I wondered. I had never mentioned to her that I once taped a special for my newborn niece, back when video cameras were the size of footballs and editing consisted of painstakingly recording segments from one VCR to another. “Carly’s Video” consisted of magic tricks, songs and a dramatic reading of “Yurtle the Turtle.”

And yet, Bonnie had the notion that I might have some fun documenting my life as a gay man living with HIV. Immediately, I bought editing software online and started to learn it. But I had my doubts.

There wasn’t anything particularly special about my life, I complained to her in a phone call to her New York office. And a lot of it, like my ongoing struggle with drug addiction, was downright seedy.

“Tell the truth,” she said. “The more honest you are, the better it will be.”

I trusted her judgment. In my writing for TheBody over the previous years, Bonnie had always demanded the best of me. We regularly debated topics and my approach to my written pieces, and anything that sounded too easy, that contained more platitudes than honest emotion, was questioned. The same would hold true for the video episodes that I quickly began producing.

In September of 2008, “My Fabulous Disease” premiered on TheBody.com. The first episode was an introduction to my life, and already I was being playful with the camera and the potential of video. It concluded with the mantra that Bonnie had instilled in me. “I can’t promise this will always be entertaining,” I said. “But I can promise I will always be honest. So. Let’s see what happens…”

Since then, plenty has happened. When I spent time in Michigan caring for a brother dying of cancer, the camera was there. When I was treated for facial lipoatrophy by getting injections of facial filler, I brought the camera. For everything from my thoughts on barebacking to touring a gay sex club to drug relapses to HIV criminalization to the international AIDS conference in Vienna, I documented everything using the inventive gift sent to me by Bonnie Goldman.

When Bonnie left TheBody a few years ago, I missed her counsel and her friendship. She was maddeningly hard to reach in the two years after, and I wondered if our friendship had been purely professional.

And then the news, in January of this year, that Bonnie had died after a long struggle with cancer. She had fought it privately, and I felt ashamed for having wanted more contact during what was clearly a difficult time.

Only now, months after her passing, am I finally writing about her death, something so deeply felt I haven’t found the words. I am searching for them still.

Life keeps showing up. New people populate it, projects come and go, video episodes of My Fabulous Disease are made. And it has been too long since I have said her name out loud. Bonnie. Bonnie Goldman.

We all come across things, tokens from a person, from a life we treasured but has faded from view. A photograph on a shelf that we pass in the hallway. A shirt in the closet. A book. A recipe.

A broken video camera that has outlived its purpose, that I cannot bear to throw away.




  1. Czarina Flo April 9, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    A touching tribute.
    Bonnie sounds like she was quite a woman.

    I do not ‘do’ video but I have carefully saved the last dozen voicemail messages my beloved Dad left me in the months prior to his last 6 months, when he was not feeling well enough to leave messages.
    When it was time to change phones recently, I had the messages transcribed to mp3 format saved on my pc’s hard drive.
    When I hear his “Hi, hon. Where are you? Late again?” it’s like he is still here.

    Keep on keeping on, Mark.

  2. Subversive Librarian April 10, 2012 at 1:03 am

    Thanks, Mark, for sharing this. I didn’t know Bonnie, of course, but I’m certainly grateful to her for sending you that camera — and for knowing talent when she sees it. You are a gift.

  3. Mommie Dammit April 10, 2012 at 9:47 am

    I’m very grateful that many of us have been blessed with a Bonnie in our lives, those rare and wonderful people that see something beautiful in us and help us share it with the world around us.
    Your last comment about our tokens of remembrance of these people was poignant, as I sit here looking at the ring I gave my beloved Danny on our first Yule. He came into my life at a time when I had completely shut down, opened a heart long used to its iron walls, and taught me Joy again. And there’s my Gram’s rocking chair, which her great-grandfather made and brought with him from Germany. It’s plain, simple, and the wood is nearly black with age – but it serves as a bond to the woman who taught me what real love is, and that I am a very special person.
    Danny has been gone for nearly 30 years, and Gram for 20 this Thanksgiving. Both of these “tokens” are anchors connecting me to two people who brought about powerful changes in my life, and they are invaluable to me as remembrances.
    So, my dear Mark, you keep hanging on to that broken camera. Some people, like the tokens they leave behind, are priceless treasures – no matter how far removed.

  4. Bobby April 11, 2012 at 11:32 am

    Thanks, Mark. Love your work!

  5. Tom Donohue April 12, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    Mark, I didn’t know Bonnie passed away. What a sad loss. She was a wonderful woman. It saddens me to hear about this so late. *hugs*

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