Today is my brother’s birthday, Chris. He died in 1995 of AIDS at the age of 33. Yes, he was gay… and fun, and hilarious and lived at full speed while he was here. Born just ten months before me, he was my pain-in-the-butt older brother and best friend in the world.
The below was written by a friend of his, Mike Mason, for his Celebration Of Life memorial. Mike’s words perfectly capture Chris’ feisty spirit and unbridled life energy which I wanted to share with you today.
Chris Hampton was a man with a genius for living. He knew what clubs to go to, what CD’s to buy, which thrift stores were cool, which gym everyone was at, where to get a custom 50’s swimsuit, who to call, who to insult, when to arrive, when to leave, how to go all weekend without sleep, how to keep the boss from suspecting on Monday morning.
Over the years, I saw him on a hundred dance floors, a small whirlwind pulling friends into a joyous orbit, and today I cannot bring myself to understand that the center of so much has collapsed.
Here’s the first thing I learned about Chris: He was not a guy to shrink from battle. Ten years ago, he worked as a waiter at a restaurant on Peachtree Street called Cafe Society. It went bankrupt suddenly, and one of the first conversations I had with Chris concerned his determination to sue the owners for back wages. This was not to be an exceptional conversation.
For as long as I knew him, there were disputes – dramatic, almost Shakespearean – involving car accidents and rent deposits and breakups and jobs. Chris was quick to draw his sword, sing a war whoop, and charge the enemy. I loved that about him.
He was restless. I suspect that he hated silence and emptiness, that he cherished noise and furor and friends and a full Filofax. For the last few years, he insisted to me that he’d become a homebody. I never believed it. This was the guy who dragged me to a Christmas party where a leather-clad woman with a bloody nose let her Doberman eat his way through the buffet. This was the man who showed up at a Halloween party looking like a cross between Peter Fonda in Easy Rider and Liza Minelli in Cabaret, with just a dash of Pee Wee Herman.
To this day, there is a ball of crumpled metal underneath the front bumper of my car because Chris said something, I can’t recall what, that made me laugh so hard I drove over a parking curb at 4am at the Cove.
I remember Chris rising out of the Chattahoochee River, a laughing tangle of love beads and algae, yelling as our raft sailed past: “love ya, mean it, miss ya already!” Somehow he was waiting for us at the end of the race. That much was typical: I often felt he was waiting patiently for the rest of his friends to catch up.
Here is what AIDS wants: It wants us to stop living as fully as Chris lived. AIDS is a dark angel passing overhead, and it reaches for the brightest of us, like Chris, because it hopes that by extinguishing their stars, it may also snuff the spirit of an entire community. It hopes that those who are left behind will lead compromised lives, perhaps lives not even worth living, because of the losses we have suffered.
Today, I think the dark angel has lost a battle and Chris has won. The sicker he got, the more we learned from him about living fully, and drawing our swords, and refusing to compromise. Imagine the mortification above. The dark angel of AIDS looks down upon us now and instead of seeing a light extinguished it sees scores more burning brighter.
Occasionally, I have a dream about the day a cure is found. On that day the dark angel comes crashing to earth and I am there when it lands, miraculously, in Piedmont Park, among rows of gay men lying on the grassy hillside. We are not pleased. I find I am holding the love beads Chris Hampton used to wear. So, I walk over and wrap the necklaces tight around the monster’s greasy neck. Before long, the fallen angel is flapping angrily along the ground, toward the sewer, unable to fly again because the crowd has ensnared it in love beads.
Goodbye, Chris. Love ya. Mean it. Miss ya already.
You can read more about Chris and his life and death and how it got all twisted up in my own life in my memoir Sex, Suicide, and Serotonin.