It was 10 years ago now that I lost Matthew to the damn virus . I didn't want to face it until now . With the imminent loss of Rose , I am forced to face the fact that I have lost all of my close friends to the Damn virus . I was the one Rose wanted to go to the wall if she ever came down with Omega . I leave the send off Party / Ritual in order to etch her name on the memorial wall . According to tradition it must be done before the person is sent into exile . No one has ever returned from exile the saddest thing for me is that I will have to etch my own name . If I ever come down with omega because I have no one that I would trust enough with the memorial speech . The wall now contains roughly 115 million names Etching the name is the easy part. Now comes the hard part the memorial speech the way the world will remember Rose .

" This is How I remember Rose . my first thought is there has never been a time in my life that she was not my friend . She is a beautiful soul and that is the only way I know how to say it . I see her as a beautiful radiant & kind soul . I can not describe what she has meant to me all of these years . Thoughts of her and her disappointment in me should I give up , have kept me going when I had no desire of my own to live . hearing from her brought a light and hope into my oftentimes dark and dismal world . Her voice was always reassuring to me . When she said that she tested positive for Omega everything in her voice said I am at peace with what the world has thrown at me . Even though I don't feel the acceptance of destiny that she dose , surprisingly her calmness softens my anger at the world and the destiny that brought me to this place . My only regret in our relationship is that I didn't tell her how I felt about her sooner . I hope when I face death in what ever form it comes for me , that I face it with as much grace dignity and serenity as she has . this is how I see Rose . May she be as beautiful to you as she is to me & may all of those whose name appears on this wall never be forgotten ."

I move down the wall to her brothers name it is long past time I record something in remembrance of a long gone friend . I guess with Rose's departure I seem to be able to deal with the loss of all of my other friends . I guess fresh emotional wounds make it easier for me to address the older wounds , I was unable or unwilling to deal with previously . I record a short message for my friend Lucas .

" I am sorry that it took me so long to do this Lucas , but we drifted apart as friends long before you came down with Omega . I still haven't figured out what happened between us as friends . I guess you grew up faster than I did . That was a difference you didn't want to deal with so you left me behind . I miss your friendship even if you were an arrogant ass more often than a good friend , I guess I will see you in the next life . Try not to grow old before your time and take care of yourself , and those that care about you ."

As I move down the wall toward where I know Matthew's name is , I spot a pair of names I recognize from my elementary school years . I did not know they had passed all I knew was that a couple of years after my family moved we had lost touch . The first of the pair is John . I want to listen to what John s friends have recorded before I record anything . The first voice is Johns own it is like a ghost out of my past . " know this all who hear this I was a loyal friend to all who chose to be my friend . I learned how to be a friend by someone being a true friend to me long ago . I still pray for him . When I etched my name on this horrific wall his name was not on its surface . If the fates are kind it will never appear on its surface . I leave behind a wife and 2 children may there names never be upon this dark monument , they are all that make my continued existence bearable ." I pause the recording . I feel it is important that I stop and pray for a moment , the prayer is simple . " let John be the first of many to return from exile ." I resume the recording many voices I do not recognize say good bye to , John each in their own way all seem to share Johns pain in leaving all that he loves . I add my voice to the many others who give there memories so that others may know who he was . " I knew John in elementary school his close friends back then called him "mouse". his family was as poor as my own back then , although we didn't care about that we were friends and that was that . When one of us had money we would play pinball or video games at the local pizza parlor . When neither one of us had money we spent time hanging out at each others house . I miss the simplicity of our friendship ."

The other name I recognized from elementary school , the name brings back memories of her . Donna was the first person that I met that accepted everyone unreservedly , for who they are as they are . If she judged people she kept those judgements to herself . As I reach to start the recording of goodbyes , I see my hand is shaking . I start the recordings with an almost religious reverence . I close my eyes just as her voice starts . I see in my mind an image of her , as she was when I knew her . Until I heard her voice I thought I had forgotten what she looked like . She says " I have come to terms with my illness . There is something comforting in knowing you only have a certain amount of time left to say and do the things you want or need to do in this life . I will miss everyone that has been part of my life . I will see you the next time around ." Someone taps me on the shoulder . I open my eyes and see for a minute Donna as an adult . I almost say her name then with a shock of realization , I know it is her twin sister Diana . Startled I apologize and step back she says "it's ok ." With a start of astonishment she recognizes me and embraces me . She says "that was from Donna ." she releases me and says "please record something she would have wanted that ." I ask her " when did Donna find out she was positive ?" she says " our 22nd birthday . " I say with deep sadness in a low voice "that long ago I wish I would have known ." she says "there was nothing you could have done , so it's ok & don't worry she was surrounded by friends ." I tell her that I don't know what to say after all these years . I will have to think of something to say before I record anything . I make a polite excuse I don't remember now & I regret . I leave Diana reluctantly , knowing that there must be an enormous void in Diana's life . I move further down the wall to say good bye to other people I have lost through the years .

I find my long time friend Peter's name . He is the person that I miss the most of all of those who have been taken by the damn virus . He became my closest & only one of very few friends to see me through the toughest part of my life . All of my other friends distanced themselves from me . He comforted me when I needed it most , he pushed me when I got complacent . He always gave the best of himself to anyone , who he loved & he loved freely . The world is a much poorer place without him . I told the wall all that and more when we lost him . I touch the Black Glass beside his Name and am somehow reassured that all is as it should be . I listen to my voice from 6 years ago , it reminds me that I came here to say good bye to friends . Listening to what I said six years ago gives me the strength to continue , and finish something's I should have done long ago .

I catch sight of the first of my friends that came down with Omega Tom . He was like an uncle to me , you know the fun uncle who never really grew up . I was unable to go to his funeral . The virus took him so swiftly he did not go into exile . All of us that knew him said that exile would have changed him , into a bitter & dispirited person . It was better for our memories , I would like to think he knew what exile would do to his spirit and chose not to fight the virus . I know I need to record something , but I am not sure what . I look up from his name and look down the length of the wall Diana is sitting on the ground looking up at her sisters name ,with tears running down her face . A couple of paces from me a big muscular man with a shaggy untamed beard , is leaning with one hand on the wall . His head hanging down and his eyes shut . Seeing this I know what to record in remembrance of Tom . " This is how I remember Tom . He was like a really cool uncle or big brother . He taught me that a well placed whoopee cushion can be priceless . Friends are forever even if they forget what is important sometimes . technology is always cool , especially when you get it to do something it was not designed to do . I miss him as I know every person who has lost another to the virus misses those they have lost . This wall is a testament to the fact you are not alone in your loss . Share your memories of a loved one so they may live on in our memories and the memories of others ."

After I finish recording my memorial to Tom . I look back to where I last saw Diana she is gone . The big muscular man is still there I don't know what possessed me in that moment . I walked up to him and asked him to tell me about the person he lost . He looked at me with out understanding for a moment then something inside him understood . He told me about his brother Justin . How he during the early years as the exile program was being set up , Justin volunteered for many experimental treatments . He told me how the treatments took their toll on Justin's body , and how Justin kept his spirits up until the very last day of his life , still hoping for a cure . Justin's Brother asked me to tell him about who I lost . I tell him all about Rose and all that she means to me . I also tell him how her acceptance of the situation has given me , the strength to say good bye to all of the others I have lost . Strength even to remember some of the people who have just drifted out of my life . How in her memory I want to see if I can reconnect with all of those friends that drifted out of my life . He embraces me warmly and thanks me . As he leaves I think I see a glimmering of hope in his eyes .

I finally find the name of one of my closest friends , and the person who shoved me from his life with despicable accusations . Beginning the toughest period in my life . Matthew I should have healed this emotional wound long ago . Somehow I just could not deal with all of the feelings before and since his departure . I start to listen to the voices of those who have said their good byes to Matthew . The first voice I hear is the voice of his first wife Silvia . Just hearing that voice sets off my anger . I shake with anger as I walk away , before , I try to put my fist through the Black glass of the Wall . I don't even hear what she says about Matthew that day .

I walk around aimlessly for an hour maybe more . I end up at a meditation garden not far from the memorial wall . I know that I need to regain my mental equilibrium so I sit down on a large flat rock in the sunlight . I stare at the garden in front of me , soon I am wrapped up in my own thoughts and nothing outside myself registers .

Two years after my Trip to the Wall

Last week I had my semi annual omega test . The results came back today I tested positive , as soon as I hang up the phone . I go to my bedroom and start screaming , cursing , and yelling obscenities with all the volume I can muster . I have just three days before being shuttled off to exile , it is hard to leave all that I have known for so long . Even though all I have is the ruins of my former life . I guess I should go to the wall and get this over with . I want to enjoy my send off party . I plan to drink every last one of my co workers , family and friends under the table . before I get on the plane even if it means I am doing shots at the gate .

I go to the wall it is time to etch my own name into the Black glass . That part is not hard I just type my name into a special terminal inside the visitor center . The hard part is the memorial message . "My name is well you see it in front of you on the wall . I was just like so many who ended up here on this wall . I never thought it would happen to me . I had a job I loved I was a professor of cultural anthropology . Just like you I have lost many of my friends to the Omega virus . The last time I was here my friend Rose asked me to etch her name on the Black glass . There is no one in my life that I would give this heavy burden to , my family would try to sugar coat or idealize my life . I don't want to be remembered that way the fact is , after I etched Rose's name on the Black glass my life took a nose dive . I think I have finally hit bottom with testing positive . I only have one thing left to do here at the wall , before I go to my send off and that is record a long overdue message for a friend . I hope to see him in exile his name is Matthew he is a friend I lost a long time ago ."

I slowly walk down the wall past countless names to the spot where Matthew's name is etched . With some trepidation I start the recording of voices . The first voice is Silvia's I struggle and suppress my anger enough to hear what she has to say . While I will never be friends with the woman because of her lies & the lives that she ruined . Hearing what she said in memorial to her ex husband , I think I may eventually forgive her for all the suffering she caused . The second voice I hear is the voice of his oldest child Eric who is now seventeen . I hear his voice many times throughout the recordings every thing from his five year old voice to his sixteen year old voice . I also hear the voices of Mathew's many friends describe him and remember his friendship , and most of all how he forgave them even when his anger and disapproval was justified . His friend Hank said it best . "its like Mathew is trying to ask forgiveness from someone in his past , that he can't find and can't let fade into his past . When the recording stops , I know that this is where my voice will be to extend the memory of my friend just a little bit further . I take a few deep breaths and then , I record my Memorial message ." Matthew whether you hear this message or not I need to say a few things . Number 1 you have always been my friend and always will be my Friend , even if you choose not to bless my life with your presence . Number 2 Any and all bad feelings I had over the incident 15 years ago have long since past . Any burden of apologies or forgiveness on my part is out weighed by not having my long time friend , to share the joys & sorrows of life . Number 3 If you are still alive in exile I hope to see you . I have just tested positive . I am going to need as many friends as possible to help me figure out what to do in my new life . God and everyone else knows I screwed up the old one . Just think crash and burn that is what happened to my life . It all went spiraling out of control after Rose tested positive . I will tell you all the details when I see you next .

I remember the last time I was here at the wall like it was yesterday . After I redressed all of those emotional wounds except one . I spent a whole day in a nearby meditation garden . Someone must have thought I was a statue of Buddha , because there was incense burning on a small plate that somehow appeared in my hands . After I gently set the plate down I stretch my sore muscles . I go back to Donna's name on the wall and recorded a short message . " Donna I did not know you for very long , but your acceptance of everyone for who they are , as they are without judgment left an indelible impression on me . Thank you I believe that your example has made me a better person ."