This is the eighth installment in a series of blog posts chronicling life with my partner, Robert, who died of AIDS March 21, 2002. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, Part 5 here, Part 6 here, and Part 7 here.
Sometimes in our lives, we are lifted to a higher level of consciousness, unlike any place we have ever experienced. It is at this time and place that we see everything very clearly. We look at ourselves with a much greater understanding of our motivations, and our likes and dislikes. We see others, too. Our collection of everyday people appear in a light seldom seen. Naked, with a light shining on them, our co-workers, friends, and relatives either wear themselves without pretense, or we see them living in a lie. We can use this newly discovered gift of seeing the truth to help others instead of condemning them. We come to the realization that if we condemn or judge others, we are ultimately condemning ourselves.
When Robert came into my life, people were naturally curious, which was nothing extraordinary in and of itself. I was asked the typical questions: "Where is he from?" "What does he do?" "How long have you known him?" Eventually, though, it was my friend Frankie who asked the inevitable question:
"So, where did you meet him?"
My response was honest. I told him I met Robert at a Christmas party held by an HIV/AIDS service organization.
"Well, what does he do for them?" was the next question.
I've never really been good at lying, so I just told the truth: "He's a client, Frankie. He is HIV-positive. He might even have AIDS at this point. I don't know for sure."
"Oh, he has AIDS." A paleness came over Frankie's face. He didn't react the way my other friends had reacted when I'd told them I suspected that Robert had AIDS. I looked at his face, into his eyes. He looked away from me at first, and then he asked me if I was still going to the Red Cross Ball with him.
I told him, "Sure," that I would go.
"Meet me at the embassy residence. You can leave the car there. Now, please take me home. I need to work on my designs," he said.
As I drove Frankie home, thoughts were running through my mind at an alarming speed: "If Frankie has AIDS, too, what about all my other friends?" I thought. "What about me? If I get tested, and I'm HIV-positive, who's going to take care of me if I get sick?" After wearing myself out with worry, I got to a point where I just couldn't think one clear thought.
I dropped Frankie off and headed home. There was a decision I had to make. Robert had blown me off. He'd left a "Dear John" letter on the kitchen table. Nearly a week had passed, and I hadn't heard anything from him. I could leave things as they were, but I felt almost cheated that he hadn't spoken to me face to face, deciding instead to just leave a note. I thought a trip to his apartment would bring some closure to this brief relationship. I was confused and hurt.
The next morning, after waiting until the hands on the clock reached a respectable hour, I drove east to Robert's apartment, ignoring road signs, radio music, and all other traffic on the road. Obsession is not just the name of a Calvin Klein cologne; it's a routine behavior for some of us.
Robert must have seen me coming. He was standing in the doorway, waiting for me.
"Well, I knew you would want to come see me," he told me. "Sorry about the note."
"I'm not an easy to person to blow off, particularly when I find myself quite fond of someone," I responded.
"Gary, I just don't want to drag you into this mess. My family, my health, my life..." He stopped for a moment and covered his eyes with his hand. Then he continued: "I've got bad blood. I don't know what's going to happen to me. We could--"
"Robert, I know you have AIDS," I interrupted. "You also are about to lose your apartment, maybe even your car. Now you're trying to push me away. I don't know what's to become of you, but I know you need help."
The first thing that Robert needed was a place to live. Amanda, his niece, had already packed up and moved back in with her mother. Robert had to look at his options and then make a decision about where he was going to live. I had to make a decision, too. Could I take care of Robert? The only other living being I had ever taken care of was my Persian cat, and I had serious doubts about my role as her parent. It's not that I was negligent. Actually, it was quite the opposite. I was overly concerned. Any unusual behavior would make me panic, and I would call the vet immediately.
Here was someone I grew to love in just a few short weeks. He was pushing me away, and I seemed to be pushing back, wanting to get closer to him. What was I trying to prove? Was I helping Robert or helping myself? These were the questions that haunted me. I had plenty of time to think about them, too -- nine years and three months, to be exact.
To be continued...