Vicks Vapor Rub and Weed

When Chris was nearing the end, he took comfort in watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show and smoking pot. His dog, Charlie, curled up inside the ratty gray sweatshirt that reeked of stale sweat and Vicks vapor rub. I would curl up next to Chris, feeling his ribs poke my side and inhale the spicy-sweet scent of weed. 

We had been best friends for three years. I’d never known him before AIDS, his brain addled with toxoplasmosis, his body covered in lesions. I’d never seen him weigh more than ninety pounds. He was always cold to the touch.

“I used to be beautiful in drag,” he told me. Over and over again.

“You’re beautiful to me now,” I whispered. Because he was. And I’d rub his thin, rubbery body with Vicks which calmed him, while he sang, “I’m a sweet transvestite from Transylvania” . . . in what must have once been a sultry voice. Now it was just weak and squeaky. 

“I want you to marry me,” Chris said on the day before he died. “Maybe that way my parents will love me again. If I’m married to a woman, you know.” They had disowned him when he came out.

I promised him I’d marry him. “You’d be the most beautiful bride,” I said.

Chris died in our sleep with the smell of Vicks vapor rub and weed wafting in the air and Charlie the dog curled up in his chest.


Richmond, VA. Julie Harthill Clayton's work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Internet Review of Books, Curve Magazine, Lambda Literary, GayRVA and more. A paralegal by day, Julie spends her free time knitting, writing, and reading anything she can get her hands on. She is working on her first novel. She lives in Richmond with her partner, local artist David Turner, and their mischievous and loving hunting dog, Max.

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