Keep singing : two mothers, two sons, and their fight against Jesse Helms /
by Patsy Clarke and Eloise Vaughn, with Nicole Brodeur ; foreword by Allan Gurganus.
1st ed.
Los Angeles : Alyson Books, 2001.
xxxvi, 178 p. : ill. ; 21 cm.
1555835724 (pbk.)
A Look Inside
First Chapter

Chapter One

Mark Clarke, Superman

    Mark Clarke stood out in a crowd, both figuratively and literally. At 6 foot 7, he was always the tallest person in the room unless, of course, he found himself in the Celtics' locker room. But given Mark's interests, that was highly unlikely.

    Because his death has so obsessed the rest of my days, I sometimes forget that he had a life, which is not fair. He had a wonderful bunch of years. Granted, there were not enough of them, but those he had were top-notch.

    Isn't it funny how we humans say that our dear departed were happy, fun to be around, above average in every way, and many other glowing descriptions that were often denied them in life? Well, here goes another human: Mark was all those things and more. But then, I am his mother, and memory is colored by love. The urge to prove my evaluation is strong, so here goes.

    Statement: He was happy.

    Proof: He laughed more than he cried, even at the end. He made us all laugh more than we cried, except at the end.

    Statement: He was fun to be around.

    Proof: When he was little he would drape a piece of black cloth around his gangly frame and race through the house like Superman. He was silly and loud, and mostly we laughed at him. Sometimes his older brother, Bruce, would shake his head and say, "You've got to do something about Mark!" Being unsure about what I should do, I did nothing, which might have been wrong. Mark stood behind the door when responsibility was delegated, but he had both hands stretched out when it was time for nonsense and fun.

    Part of childhood is the memory of kitchen smells. Our children used to breeze in after school through the back door and ask, "When's dinner?" Like most families, we had to struggle to get everyone there at the same time, what with school, games, and meetings, but most nights we managed.

    I remember one time I made an apple pie and it was a huge hit. Now, I am not one of those women who cooks meals that children are likely to favor with remarks such as "just like Mom used to make." Occasionally, however, I hit a home run. The apple pie night was one of them. Recognize, now, that this was long before the days of pre-made, refrigerated pie shells, so I sifted, rolled, and filled the whole thing with hand-peeled apples. My pride was as pungent as the aroma. Apparently the memory of that meal remained with Mark for the rest of his life. Funny how those little incremental incidents take on a lasting place in the pantry of our minds.

    From that time on, Mark offered a standard joke about it: "Why don't you ever make a really good apple pie like you used to?" So, every so often I'd offer the treat at the end of the meal. As he grew older, Mark lost his interest in sweets, but not the playful desire to needle my cooking skills. His answer to my offer, be it the symbolic apple pie or cake and ice cream, became "maybe later." Of course, we all knew it was just a courteous reply, and he wouldn't eat dessert. So, in the course of time the word dessert was replaced with the phrase, "maybe later," as in, "Will you have some 'maybe later'?"

    Funny little family memories.

    In his last years I became an avid worker of crossword puzzles. Wordsmithing has always fascinated and entertained me. As the traumas of my life multiplied, I frequently turned to this activity to relieve my mind of hard thinking. As we sat in Mark's hospital room waiting for what we didn't understand, I worked the clues in the daily paper. Mark was, I thought, in and out of consciousness, but mostly out of the wide-awake world. His favorite aunt, Marilynn, was with us biding the time, and we were both seeking answers to a puzzle ... the one in hand and the larger one that filled the room.

    As I remember, the clue under discussion was something like "a powdery soother." "Hmm ... a powdery soother," I mumbled. "Now, what could that be?"

    "Let me think," Marilynn mused.

    From the hospital bed where Mark rested came his voice: "Talc."

    He startled me with his awareness and incisively correct answer. We had thought he was completely out of it. Not so at all. He was very much with us even though we had no sense of his alertness.

    This incident stays with me even today, when I feel so separated from Mark because of his death. Those who have lost a loved one will understand what I mean. There are times when the sense of loss almost overwhelms me, and then something happens that whispers a reassurance.

    Recently, on an international flight, I was watching a steward move up and down the aisle at his tasks. He was tall, blond, and huskily built. He did not resemble Mark except in coloring. As I was watching him come toward me with the drink cart, our eyes met and he smiled. In that moment, I saw Mark smile at me with the mischief and charm that had been his hallmark. The plunge into memory was as if I had heard "talc" from those white sheets, telling me he was still with me, even if I hadn't the ability to know it.

    Statement: He was above average in every way.

    Proof: When he was just a youngster he made an offhand remark to the effect that "Danny's color is orange." Danny was a schoolmate who probably never knew he was orange.

    Somewhat taken aback, I asked him what he was talking about. He looked confused and said, "You know, the color around him--it's orange."

    That was the first time I realized Mark could see auras.

    I made such a fuss about it that he pulled back. Not long afterward, he claimed not to see "the colors" anymore.

    He hated being different. Like all kids, he wanted to belong.

    Further proof: When he was a teenager, he told me, very seriously, that he knew he would die a young man. I hushed him and said he shouldn't talk like that. He just looked at me as though he were much older and wiser than I. I've never forgotten that moment.

    Now, motherlike, I've told of his exceptional qualities, but there were other things. He was irresponsible and lazy. He never denied this. Rather, he would chuckle at his faults. Unfortunately, so would I. Somehow, what was not a laughing matter became a laughing matter.

    Mark had an amazing way of justifying actions that the rest of the family criticized, thereby diffusing our accusations of laziness. I remember being at the beach at our much prized house, where worries were meant to evaporate and be replaced with nothing weightier than the latest Anne Rice novel or the question of whether to have scallops or shrimp for dinner. Mark's father was quite industrious and took ownership of Conched Out (beach houses have to have funny names) very seriously. So he painted, repaired, and mowed whenever we were there.

    Mark, on the other hand, lounged, read, nibbled, and strolled on the beach, lotion in hand. One time one of us lost patience with his apparent indifference to the work to be done and suggested he might help out. With a surprised look, he replied, "All you have to do is ask," and rose to the occasion both literally and figuratively. That's what I mean when I say we couldn't really stay irritated with him; he was just too good-natured. Still, responsibility sat lightly on him. Sometimes I envy that.

    When Mark graduated from college with a degree in biology, his father and I expected him to find a job. But he really wasn't interested in a job that would take him away from the beach house where he had spent his college days, so he quickly found a "temporary" spot where he could ponder the future.

    That spot was as a lifeguard at a resort pool. It was a great place, Mark told us, because if it rained at all--even sprinkled--he was relieved of working for the entire day. As you can imagine, it sprinkled frequently. Mark acquired a super tan and had lots of time to ponder the future. He eventually worked his way up to a job as a clerk in a Florida T-shirt shop.

    This is where he was when our family bubble of happiness began to evaporate. This is where he was in March 1987 when his father Harry's plane crashed. Harry had been flying his own plane home to Asheville from a meeting in Raleigh. The plane took off at 11 P.M. and went down just outside the Asheville airport right after midnight. He was almost home.

    It was a sad time, and much of it is dim in my memory. The body has a way of numbing emotions and blanking out awareness of pain.

    But I can still see vivid scenes.

    In the South, funerals are great gatherings filled with tables heavy with fried chicken, green jellied salad, and overcooked vegetables. One part of a table is devoted to cakes and pies and tiny biscuits stuffed with bright red wedges of ham. Casseroles dripping with melted cheese offer the taste that mothers must have in mind when they say to a finicky child, "Eat! You'll feel better." If the food is plentiful, relatives are even more so. Many cousins and in-laws only come together when a family member "goes on." That euphemism seems to make it easier for us.

    So, when Harry died, everyone came home--Mark, from Florida; my daughter Judy from San Diego; Judy's husband, Speedy, who came immediately with my son Bruce and his wife, Diana, from Raleigh; and my daughter Candy, who drove in from Lake Lure, 30 miles away. People poured in, filling our big house with flowers and plants. We all milled about this stage set with people and petals and food, not quite knowing our lines.

    Yet, when necessary, the right words quickly rolled off our tongues. Southerners are nothing if not appropriate.

    One scene that took place at the time, I never witnessed. I only heard about it, but it is more vivid in my mind's eye than if I had been there myself.

    Candy and Mark were standing in the sunporch, looking out the windows at their dad's garden, newly planted with the spring vegetables he would never harvest. Mark began to cry silently, and as his shoulders shook ever so slightly, Candy put her arm around him for comfort.

    But there was no comfort for Mark then or for a very long time afterward. The words he spoke revealed an agony much more complex than simple grief.

    "My dad's dead," he said. "Now he knows all about me, and he hates me!"

    I never knew this until years later, after Mark had finally told me he was gay. Candy knew, of course, and tried to tell him that his dad did not hate him, that he loved him. I hope Mark believed her, because I do.

    After Harry died, Mark came home to live with me and to try to figure out what to do with his life. I don't think I was much help, because I couldn't even figure out what to do with my own. So much of our lives had revolved around Harry.

    It's hard to explain Harry Clarke. His presence filled any room in which he found himself. This is not to say he was bossy, belligerent, or aggressive. He simply had an inner calm of knowing who he was, what he was about, and who he loved. And those of us left behind were bereft.

    I missed the phone ringing and the sound of Harry's voice saying, "OK, doll, I'm leaving the office. Want to go to dinner?" And Mark missed him being there as a bulwark against his insecurities; the biggest one, Harry never knew.

    So Mark and I both felt as if we had been relocated to a different planet where we didn't speak the language or know the customs. Even the food tasted different.

    Mark had tried marine biology, lifeguarding, data processing, selling T-shirts--what was left? Of course! The theater!

    In fairness to Mark, this idea was not as off-the-wall as the time he told me he thought he would go to divinity school because he liked the robes that Episcopal priests wore.

    I had been active in theater, teaching and performing for as long as Mark could remember. Mark had even taken part in a children's performance with a good bit of joy and success, so his decision to go into theater seemed to offer possibilities.

    Auditions, apprenticeships, and finally graduate school occurred in very rapid succession. He moved back to Florida, and his life changed forever. At a theater where he worked for a time, Mark met "his person."

    Mace Graham was a young, talented, handsome man who was the theater's musical director. Very soon after their meeting, Mark called to tell me he was moving in with a young man to share expenses. That sounded unusually practical for Mark, but I was grateful for small favors. The move was accomplished, and they lived together for a year or two before I started to wonder why I never heard about a girlfriend anymore.

    It seemed strange to me that on trips home for holidays or visits, Mark found it necessary to call this "roommate" at least once a day. And the calls were long and filled with intimate-sounding conversation--not exactly like a couple of guys kicking the tires.

    One day while Mark and I were driving together and he was telling me some story that involved Mace, I finally blurted out, "Mark, are you gay?"

    Instead of a direct answer, Mark launched into an explanation of androgyny that would have made his sociology professor proud. When he finished, I thanked him for the information and repeated my question.

    He told me he hadn't decided yet but would tell me when he did.

    That scared me, but I've never been one to let a worry go easily. So I pressed on with my questions.

    Mark stopped me, and said, "Mom, are you trying to push me into thinking I'm gay?"

    Well, of course, that did it. I retreated into my foggy hope that I had misunderstood the whole thing. But I hadn't.

    Mark returned to Florida, to Mace, and to his world that was completely separate from us: his conservative, rightwing family.

    About three years after his dad's death, Mark called from Florida to tell us he wanted to go to law school. From T-shirts to theater to law school? A gigantic leap for most people, but Mark never even broke his stride. His brother Bruce was a lawyer. His sister Judy was a criminal-defense attorney, and her husband Speedy was also a practicing lawyer. Why not Mark? I was so glad to hear of a reachable focus that I urged him to take the LSAT and apply to schools.

    One of my secret longings was that Mark could do it and show he was made of the same stuff that had made his family "successful." And he could have done it. He was accepted to a good law school in California and was doing well, according to his professors.

    But something happened in his first year. He began to experience disquieting physical symptoms. He had chronic diarrhea, his gums bled excessively, and he had thrush in his mouth. An alert dentist asked him if he had been tested for HIV. Mark said he hadn't, whereupon the dentist urged him to do so.

    The test, of course, was positive. The only person Mark would talk to about this catastrophic diagnosis was Mace, who was still in Florida. Mace must be tested too. HIV is such a capricious predator. It claimed Mark but spared Mace.

    Neither Mace nor Mark knew what to do. The doctor who diagnosed Mark told him AIDS was going to kill him but that if he continued in law school, it would kill him faster. So Mark dropped out of the school where he was doing well and actually enjoying it, and returned to Florida and his devoted Mace. He could not bring himself to tell me what was happening to him.

    I, of course, was furious. All of my old fears and aggravations about Mark's lack of responsibility and his inability to stick with anything reared up. Once again he was proving his critics correct, those who said I should "do something about Mark."

    Well! If this was the way he was going to behave, he'd be on his own--no more checks from me!

    It was a year and a half before I learned the truth: that my son was dying and was facing death with more courage and maturity than I could have imagined possible. Where I had perceived weakness and was disappointed, I now recognized strength and was proud.

    The way the truth became known to me was accidental.

    I was planning a visit to West Palm Beach, where Mark worked at Saks Fifth Avenue selling men's clothing. When I phoned him, he made reference to a doctor's appointment, and I remarked that he seemed to be spending a lot of time visiting the doctor for such a young man.

    He tried to turn the thought aside, but I wouldn't let him off. I am not stupid. His lecture on androgyny was still in my memory bank. He was still living with Mace, and his days of dating beautiful girls were a thing of the past.

    I knew AIDS was an ever-present fear in the gay community, so our phone conversation went like this:

    "Mark, are you HIV-positive?"

    Silence. And then: "Mom! What a question."

    Again: "Mark, are you HIV-positive?" I knew evasion when I heard it.

    And again: "Mom, I can't believe you asked me that."

    "Then answer me, and I won't ask again. Are you HIV-positive?"

    A longer silence this time.


    "Are you gay?"

    Quickly this time: "Yes." The double whammy.

    And now the silence was mine--but brief.

    "Well, that's out," I said. "Now, how can we help you get better? We want you to be all right. We love you."

    A new fear came into my life that day. The first part was understandable, because it was fear of losing my son.

    But the second part was less understandable and felt unnatural: I was afraid of what people would think. I look back now and wonder how that fear could have lived in me, but I know it did, if only briefly.

    Someone asked me recently if it would have been harder to accept Mark's homosexuality if he had not been ill. A thoughtful question. If I'd had the luxury of time, it might have taken me longer. But when you face the ultimate reality--that death is imminent--truth is a blinding light. And so it was with me.

    Mark lived for two more years after that phone call. They were not easy years. He spent more and more time in and out of the hospital. His towering frame had become stooped, and in his own words, he "tottered like an old man."

    Christmas of 1993 came, and Mark knew it would be his last. He was determined to spend that last holiday with his family in North Carolina. Mace couldn't go because of his job, but he knew how much it meant to Mark, so he encouraged him. On December 24, Candy and I met him at the American Airlines gate. He was wearing a sling now, the result of a newly implanted shunt in his shoulder. A shunt is a last resort used to inject the many medications an AIDS patient must take.

    Mark smiled, truly glad to see us, as we were him. It was a grim little procession. People stared as we wheeled an obviously very ill young man. I pushed the chair; it was a complete reversal of the way things should have been.

    Thus began the saddest Christmas I've ever experienced. There is no point in relating one sad thing after another. There really was nothing happy or good about that time except that we were together.

    When Mark left to return to Florida, Mace took him back to the hospital, where something truly remarkable occurred. The doctor put Mark on an intravenous nutrition program that improved his condition beyond all expectations. He was able to go home, continuing this treatment. He gained weight, his spirits rose, and we began to hope. I returned to my teaching commitment in San Diego, and our skies were brightened.

    Just as I was completing my stay in the West, Mace called and said things had taken a bad turn, and that I should come back quickly. I went straight to the hospital from the airport, my bags flapping from my shoulders. I was familiar with the AIDS wing and knew where Mark's room probably was.

    As I turned down his hall, I saw a nurse I recognized standing outside of a room. She saw me and waved me on as though to hurry. My breath left me, and I thought, He's gone. Oh, please, God, don't let him be gone .

    As I turned into that white room, my emotional distress was so strong that I felt surrounded by loud, discordant sounds. But the moment I entered the room, I stopped still, and silence swept all of the clamor of my emotions away.

    There before me lay my youngest child, his long frame almost hanging off the foot of the bed, even with the extension the hospital had provided. He was sleeping the sleep of the exhausted and the dying.

    Seated in a chair next to this misshapen bed was Mace, his devoted companion. The chair faced Mark, and Mace too was sleeping, exhaustion and grief across his face. The sight that stays in my memory is of their two hands clasped together.

    That moment was the turning point in my understanding of a love and devotion that had always mystified--and, perhaps, repulsed--me. There, in that room, where Mark would breathe his last breath, I stood and prayed silently: Oh, Lord, please let me remember this. How could I have ever doubted this love, this devotion?

    So far, this prayer has been answered, and I have never doubted it since.

    Mark did not die that day. He lived a few more weeks. In a way, I think he was spared a great deal because his last diagnosis was toxoplasmosis. "Toxo," as the doctors call it, can cause blindness, brain damage, and a host of terrible manifestations. Fortunately, Mark was excused from these experiences.

    I had been in Florida with Mark for a while when I decided to go back to Raleigh and get my situation in order. It was March, and of course, no matter what's happening in your life, you have to pay your taxes, so I had to go home to do that. I had to arrange for the cat to be put in the kennel. I packed up my knitting and my crossword books and was prepared to go back to Florida.

    I had come back up to North Carolina on a Friday and was to return to Florida on Monday. That Saturday, my daughters, Candy and Judy, went down to be with Mace and Mark so that someone from the family would be there for the weekend.

    Mark had a little dog named Meeper, a Japanese Chin that weighed maybe four pounds. Mark was so big, and Meeper was so small, and they loved each other so. Hospitals frown upon dogs visiting patients, so that weekend, Candy and Judy brought Meeper to the hospital, hoping that Mark could come out in the wheelchair to see him. They got their towering brother into his undersize wheelchair, attached his IVs, tucked his feet under the blanket, and wheeled him outside.

    By this time, Mark had had a stroke, and half of his face had fallen. He was extremely weak. The girls got him outside, where he drew stares from nurses, other patients, and their visitors. He was obviously in bad shape. Candy and Judy brought in Meeper and placed him in Mark's lap, and Mark leaned down and petted him, out in the clean air, without the smell of antiseptics or medicine and without the rustle of emergencies.

    It was a comfort, two sisters visiting their brother. Candy, blond and 12 years Mark's senior, gazed at her brother with the maternal look she'd had for him all his life. Judy, lanky and brunette, kept the laughs going. To Judy, 10 years older than Mark, her little brother could do no wrong. I think she would have sold her soul if it would have saved him.

    Candy and Judy took pictures of their brother. After a while they took him back to his room and the dog back to the house, got on their different airplanes, and flew back to their jobs. The next day, I arrived.

    Something made me not unpack. Something made me go to the hospital first. So I arrived there at about 10 in the morning, my bags lying in the corner, and stayed for lunch. Mace and I talked about what the weekend had been like, how Mark was feeling. I kept putting off going to my hotel room. Finally, I said to Mace, "I think I'll wait until after dinner, and then I'll go over and you can stay while I get settled in and I'll come back. But I'll wait until Mark's had dinner."

    So they brought in his dinner: Thai chicken. I've only eaten that dish once since then. Mark was in the bed and Mace was sitting and watching television, and I fed Mark, just as I did when he was a baby.

    I cut up the chicken and gave him a piece as he rolled over toward me--he still had a good appetite--and he ate it. And he had his favorite drink, Mountain Dew, with one of those crooked straws you can bend. He had a bite and then a sip. And he rested a minute in between.

    At one point he leaned toward me, and I leaned toward him. He went into a fetal position, and his body began to shake, and he spewed blood from his mouth and convulsed, his eyes rolling back in his head. I screamed, and Mace called for help. They coded it and the cart came, and it was just like television.

    I have this memory of bells clanging, but I probably imagined that.

    They came in, around six of them, all around a cart, telling me to move out of the way, and they put up a sign on the wall that said KEEP BACK! DANGER OF CONVULSIONS. They strapped him down, they confined him, and they jabbed him full of medicine.

    I found myself at Mark's feet--remember, he was 6 feet 7 inches tall--and I had his feet in my hands and I was rubbing them. I heard myself singing. I heard my voice singing this song--the song I sang to all of my children.

Rock-a-bye and don't you cry,

Rock-a-bye, little Mark.

I'll buy you a pretty gold horse

To ride all around your pasture

    I rubbed his feet and sang this baby song. All of a sudden I realized, as we do at times like this, the irony and ridiculousness of my singing that song when my son was in his death throes. And I stopped because it wasn't appropriate, and I stepped back.

    One of the nurses at Mark's head looked up at me and shouted, "Keep singing!"

    So I went back to singing and rubbing his feet. I realized later that you don't know what a patient in that condition can hear, and if there was any chance that I comforted him, it was worth doing.

    Mark was never the same after that. He talked for the whole evening--and as fast as he could. I could understand the words, but they didn't make sense. He just strung names and words together like mismatched beads on a string that had no end. We would sometimes catch a phrase, but we wouldn't know what he meant. Mace and I just stood there, rubbing Mark's hands, saying, "Rest, Mark."

    The next day, one of his doctors came in and called us into the hall. "He's not going to last past this afternoon," he said.

    Doctors have a way of saying the most God-awful things as if they're saying, "We're going to have tea at 3.' And of course, they have to, because otherwise everyone would stay in a state of absolute capsizing all the time. I understand that.

    Mark had two primary physicians: Dr. Weiwora and Dr. Rosada. Dr. Weiwora was a teddy bear of a man, a bit rotund with an easy manner. He was fatherly toward Mark, who loved him. During that awful Christmas visit in Raleigh, I realized how very dependent Mark was on this man. He called him almost every day with his problems, and Dr. Weiwora always eased his immediate worries. Of course, this was always long distance, which made me even more aware of the magical kindness that dear man extended.

    Dr. Rosada was very different, but just as essential and caring to Mark. He had a bit of a Spanish accent and was much smaller than Dr. Weiwora. He was the one with us in those final days. It was he who told us Mark would not last past the afternoon. Gently, with his soft brown eyes saying what his voice could not utter, he helped us accept the last page of Mark's life.

    Dr. Rosada looked at us and said, "I can put him on the morphine drip with your permission." I didn't know what a morphine drip was. And I looked at Mace, because I recognized, by that time, the strength and reality of their relationship. If it had been my son and his wife, I would have turned to the wife and said, "What do you want to do?" Because I would think that was the right choice, the right person.

    Mace looked at me, and he was so young then in my eyes. I saw the terror in his face. "I don't know," he said. "What do you think?"

    "I'll do whatever you want to do. But I think we should put him on the drip, because he's obviously in such distress. He's not himself."

    Mark feared two things most: losing his looks and losing his mind. Now he was doing both. Mark had told Mace to "let me go if I reach that point."

    The doctor put Mark on the drip and repeated that he wouldn't last past that afternoon. I went to the phone and called Candy and Judy and Bruce and told them Mark was dying and probably would not last through the day.

    Neither of Mark's doctors returned to that vigil room. At the time, I kept thinking that the doctor would come soon. Later I realized that the doctor would not come soon because his work was over. It was left to us to close the door. In retrospect, I think that men like these doctors can only bear so much agony in their chosen work. They had both cared for Mark, physically and lovingly, over several years' time. They liked him. Watching him die was their pain as well as ours. And they had to watch patients die over and over. No wonder they had to spare themselves the last moments.

    So we were left with the nurses. Saints they were. They cared for us, the family, as well as for Mark. They joked and laughed with him till he could no longer play his part. One wept with us at the end.

    Mark's brother and sisters had only recently been at his bedside. They all had jobs in far corners of the country. Candy is a high school biology teacher in Skyland, N.C.; Judy is a well-known federal defender based in Spokane, Wash.; and Bruce is a labor lawyer in Raleigh.

    Mark's illness had certainly ebbed and flowed: There were times when he suffered from extreme nausea and headaches. Other times it was neuropathy, when he lost the feeling in his feet and needed help to walk. And at the disease's very worst, he convulsed.

    So I think at the moment the other children felt I was being overly fearful. I also think they simply could not believe their kid brother would die. Judy even said, "We were just there. He looked so much better. Really, it's not going to happen yet. He's better."

    Bruce had been to the hospital and bought Mark a comfortable recliner to sit in after he went home. I remember how much it meant to Mark that his brother came. He said, "Bruce is just like Dad." He could pay him no higher compliment. And I don't think Bruce could believe that his brother would not go home.

    Candy said, "Call me back if you really think it's that bad."

    I called her back and said, "I really think it's that bad." Candy and Marilynn, my sister-in-law, caught a plane and arrived in time to be there for Mark--and for me.

    I remember that long, awful night. I had gone for almost two days without sleep. And when awful things are happening, your body gives out; I couldn't stand it much longer. Literally, I couldn't stand up--and Mace couldn't either.

    The nurses were so kind. They told me to lie down, and I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. Not long after that, somebody shook me and said, "You need to come back now."

    I got up and went back to Mark's room, and Mace was there. He'd had his rest too. So I did the stupidest thing: I went and ate breakfast because that was an ordinary, understandable thing to do. I went downstairs and had my cereal and French toast. And my son was upstairs dying in bed. My mother had always said, "Eat. You'll feel better." I didn't.

    I went back up to Mark's room at about quarter to 10. And that's when the nurse took Mark's vitals. I saw tears running down her cheeks when she looked up at me and nodded.

    Was I sad? Of course I was sad. That's a given. But I also felt a sense of release. Just the day before, I'd stood at his window and prayed: Lord, take him . So yes, certainly, I felt relief for Mark.

    Mostly, I felt an incredible sense of failure. In some distorted way, I believed Mark's death was my fault. Mothers feel the need to be omnipotent and omnipresent. I felt very ... singular ... and full of failure. I had failed the thing that mattered most: caring for my child.

    But I know that's irrational because we raise our children giving them the greatest gift of all' We let them go.

    It was March 9, 1994, exactly seven years after Harry had died in that plane crash. Mark's death felt almost as things did when Harry died: a turning point in the script of my life that I had to play out. At that time, I knew I would get through it. Because you do.

    Of course, the family came immediately. The necessary arrangements and phone calls were made. I remember one of those calls especially. After my friend on the other end of the line expressed her sorrow, she said, "Patsy, what do you want us to tell people?"

    "Tell them the truth," I answered. "He was a gay man who died of AIDS."

    The double whammy.

    During the in-between days before the first memorial services (one in Florida, one in North Carolina), we did the ordinary things mourners do. One of them was to pick up the roll of snapshots that Candy and Judy had taken of Mark and Meeper that last weekend.

    Judy and Candy looked at those pictures together. I think I had seen Mark with more realism than they had. I don't know why. But both of the girls looked at those pictures, and it was very clear--it couldn't be mistaken--this was a dying man. You couldn't have wished for him to live any longer.

    "I thought he was so much better," Judy said. "How could I have thought that?"

    It made me realize that so often our eyes see only what we will them to see.

    I'm glad we had those pictures, as ugly as they are, because they made us realize it was time for Mark to leave this world.

    As the door to Mark's life was closing, a different door in my life opened, one that showed me an understanding I had not dreamed possible.

Copyright © 2001 PATSY CLARKE, ELOISE VAUGHN, AND NICOLE BRODEUR. All rights reserved.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2001-02-19:
"As for Mark, I wish he had not played Russian roulette with his sexual activity," declared Sen. Jesse Helms to Patsy Clarke, a long-time friend and political supporter, after she wrote him about her son's death from AIDS. Her world and political sensibilities shaken, Clarke, along with her new friend Eloise Vaughn, who had also lost a son named Mark to AIDS, formed Mothers Against Jesse in Congress (MAJIC), a national group of women dedicated to both raising awareness about AIDS and removing Helms from office. MAJIC quickly garnered writeups in People and the New York Times, and Clarke and Vaughn were invited to speak at the 1996 Democratic National Convention. Written (in conjunction with Nicole Brodeur, metro columnist for the Seattle Times) in plain, honest prose, the story is not so much about AIDS, or even politics, but about how two similar yet different women Clarke, a religious conservative Republican, and Vaughn, a religious Southern Democrat grow, as individuals and as a united team, questioning their past beliefs and prejudices and engaging with the world in a new and powerful way. There are shocking moments of pain as when the local funeral home refuses to take Clarke's son's body, telling her, "[T]his funeral home doesn't handle deaths by AIDS" but also moments of quiet insight, as when Clarke, taking the campaign to a gay bar, realizes that her son would have felt more comfortable there than at home. While occasionally edging toward the teary, Clarke and Vaughn's story is a powerful lesson in how personal experience can be the root of political change. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
This item was reviewed in:
Publishers Weekly, February 2001
Booklist, May 2001
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Bowker Data Service Summary
This is the true story of two mothers who had both lost their sons to AIDS and their fight to drive senator Jesse Helms from office for his homophobia. The story gives new face to the fight against bigotry and hatred.
Main Description
"Keep Singing is about as moving a document as I have ever read, a real testament to the human spirit. Full of suspense and pathos, the book reads like an engaging novel. I found myself in tears one minute, then furious five minutes later."-Lee Smith, author of Saving Grace and Fair and Tender Ladies On June 5, 1994, Patsy Clarke sat down and wrote a long letter to her friend Jesse Helms. In it she recounted the last night of her son Mark's life. She had hoped to touch the heart of the notoriously homophobic senator, to ask him to soften his antigay stance, and to end his opposition to AIDS research funding. She failed. His callous and self-serving reply, in which he said, "I wish Mark had not played Russian roulette in his sexual activity," first broke Patsy's heart-and then it made her furious. Together with her friend Eloise Clark who had also lost a son-also named Mark-to AIDS, they formed Mothers Against Jesse in Congress (MAJIC) to drive him from office. Keep Singing is the inspiring true story of two women, driven by the desire that even in death their children would be given the simple human respect that is due everyone, and who gave a new face to the fight against bigotry and hatred. Patsy Clarke is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Asheville with a degree in Drama and Literature. She remains active in theater in her home of Raleigh, NC. Eloise Vaughn graduated from the University of North Carolina, and was a junior high-school teacher for 15 years. She now lives in Blowing Rock, N.C., and remains active in AIDS causes. An Excerpt: How I Learned to Love Liberals Harry Clarke had our kitchen table custom-made so that it would be large enough to accommodate our whole family on a regular and comfortable basis. He wanted it to be the place where he and I, our four children, and my mother and father could gather to be nurtured both physically and intellectually, a place where we feasted on Boston cream pie and the news of the day with equal relish. This round oak table became the hub of our lives, around which so many of our family's notable events occurred. Thomas "Speedy" Rice asked for Judy's
Main Description
Keep Singing is the inspiring story of Eloise Vaughn and Patsy Clarke, two women who became the unlikeliest of activists and gave a new face to the fight against bigotry and hatred. In 1995, after having each lost a son to AIDS and after failing to persuade the notoriously homophobic senator Jesse Helms to soften his antigay stance, the two women formed Mothers Against Jesse in Congress to drive him from office. Their journey would carry them from their quiet North Carolina homes to the stage of the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Their battle would put their names and faces in the pages of People magazine and The New York Times. And their lives would be changed forever, driven now by the desire that even in death their children would be given the simple human respect that is due everyone. Book jacket.
Main Description
The inspiring true story of two mothers, one a former friend of Congressman Jesse Helms, who have seen their sons die of AIDS and together formed MAJIC (Mothers Against Jesse in Congress). Their story carries them from their quiet homes to the 1998 Democratic Convention in Chicago, and their lives are changed for ever by their desire that their children be given respect in death. 'Heartbreaking, heroic, and courageous. They exemplify everything a loving, supportive mother should be.' Betty De Generes, author of Ellen
Publisher Fact Sheet
When their sons died of AIDS, two North Carolina mothers, infuriated by the callous words of Senator Jesse Helms, formed a PAC to drive him from office. While their mission was not successful their message & their story made international headlines, & gave a new face to the fight against bigotry & hatred.
Table of Contents
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Tests and Blessings: A Duet for Altos, A Foreword by Allan Gurganusp. xiii
Introductionp. xxvii
Prologuep. xxxiii
About the Titlep. xxxv
Mark Clarke, Supermanp. 1
Mark Vaughn, by His Motherp. 25
How I Learned to Love Liberalsp. 43
Eloise Vaughn: A Life in Politicsp. 57
Mothers United Through Their Marksp. 69
Why We Had to Actp. 85
The Power of Mothersp. 109
The Response of Othersp. 123
After the Electionp. 139
The Positive Side and the Things We Can't Explainp. 155
Roll Call of MAJIC Mothersp. 175
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

This information is provided by a service that aggregates data from review sources and other sources that are often consulted by libraries, and readers. The University does not edit this information and merely includes it as a convenience for users. It does not warrant that reviews are accurate. As with any review users should approach reviews critically and where deemed necessary should consult multiple review sources. Any concerns or questions about particular reviews should be directed to the reviewer and/or publisher.

  link to old catalogue

Report a problem