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“It can’t be happening again,” Michael Ausiello thinks when he learns his boyfriend, Kit Cowan, has a growth. Years earlier, Ausiello watched helplessly as his mother lost her own cancer battle. Unfortunately, it (cancer) is happening again and Ausiello has to deal with both the diagnosis and aftermath. For Ausiello, this involves writing. The founder and editor-in-chief of TVLine recounts his soulmate’s fight in raw, tough detail, giving us a front-row seat to some of the worst moments a human can face, while at the same time gifting us with an adorable, touching love story. Spoiler Alert also provides a rare, contemporary glimpse into the life of a gay widow and caregiver, and reminds us that though we have created viable treatment options for HIV/AIDS, there are still other things a young queer man can die of.
The title reflects Ausiello’s line of work and proves something interesting: that knowing an ending doesn’t always spoil the experience of reading. Life, like reading, is about how it happens and who it happens with–not just how it ends.
So how does it happen? Ausiello and Cowan meet at Webster Hall in a post-9/11 New York brimming with sadness. If you’ve ever had that unique experience of meeting the one, and knowing it almost right away, you’ll probably relate to his description of their first date:
This thing with Kit felt … special. Although I’d only had one prior long-term relationship, I’d been on enough dates by the age of twenty-nine to know that one of these things was not like the other. Yes, there was the obvious physical attraction, but it was more than that. There was an in-sync-ness. A connection. A shorthand. It was like we got each other, without fully knowing at this point exactly what it was we were getting.
Cowan’s temper, closetedness and cheating challenge them, but they push through. (That Ausiello talks about Cowan’s faults is refreshing because there’s a tendency not to do that after someone dies.) Their relationship vibrates with humor, respect and warmth. They are well-matched and enjoy each other’s company, even when they’re not doing anything special:
I loved being around Kit. Nothing else in my life brought me the kind of immeasurable joy–not my job, not my family, not my friends– as sitting across from Kit at Barnes & Noble, passing magazines back and forth to him. It was easy. Comfortable. Fun.
The couple is celebrating Ausiello’s birthday when Cowan admits he’s not feeling well. When they finally get the ultimate prognosis, it’s devastating:
“Stage 4,” she said, her air of sunshine and happiness now replaced by darkness and dread. I looked at Kit and his face suddenly became bright red. He smiled nervously, spontaneously letting out an “OK…”
Dr. Davis saw us both reeling. “I’m sorry,” she said.
“Bottom-line this for me, Doctor,” Kit said, barely able to contain his swelling panic. “What are we looking at here?”
“You mean in terms of time?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“We don’t like to give numbers. Our patients are not numbers….. ”
“Please, Doctor,” Kit interjected.
Dr. Davis hesitated, before carefully replying, “About a year.”
I grasped the corner of the desk, supporting myself so my knees didn’t buckle. I looked at Kit. I saw the shock invading every pore of his body. I felt it invade mine, too. Was this what an out-of-body experience was like? Because I suddenly felt as if I were looking down on someone else’s apocalypse.
Dr. Davis continued to talk, but I couldn’t hear a word she was saying. Kit began to sob. “I need a minute,” he cried out. “Please give me a minute.” …
“I am not leaving you Kit,” I exclaimed. “Please don’t ask me to leave you.”
“I need a minute!” he screamed, before escaping to the examining room’s private bathroom. He shut the door. And then it started. The wailing. The most horrible sound I had ever heard in my life.
It’s soul-crushing to read, so one can’t even imagine how difficult it must have been for Ausiello to write. That Ausiello had the strength to reveal the hardest points of their journey means you will be the richer for it, even if it also means you may have to put this book down often just to take a breather.
Once the worst is known, Ausiello works on getting Kit the best treatment, ensuring he is comfortable, and making the most of the time that is left. They fight until it is over, and when it is, Ausiello, though obviously decimated, can still see some humor:
As I stood there inside his closet, I fought the urge to pull an Ennis Del Mar with my own shirt. I fought it hard. Even though no one else was in the bedroom or even the apartment, I felt judgmental eyes watching me, going, You’re no Heath Ledger.
Given what has happened, Ausiello has every right to be angry, but Spoiler Alert is not an angry book. After you finish, you feel that it was wonderful that such a beautiful soul lived and that these two were able to find each other.
At one point, Cowan begs Ausiello to live the rest of his life for the both of them. Ausiello agrees, but it’s an impossible task. What Ausiello has done is made certain that Cowan’s one special life will never be forgotten. The hero died, but the spirit lives.
Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies
By Michael Ausiello
Hardcover, 9781501134968, 320 pp.