This is the 11th 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, Part 7 here, Part 8 here, Part 9 here, and Part 10 here.
"Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever."
There were some friends of mine who stopped coming to our house, for fear they might catch something. One of them actually told me that they wouldn't be coming over as long as Robert was there. If I wanted to meet him somewhere, that would be fine.
I never saw him again.
What's sad is that ignorance is actually more contagious than HIV, and is far more likely to spread at an alarming rate when left unchecked. Aside from preventing us from growing and learning about those on the other side of ourselves, ignorance can also be dangerous. In the early 90's, there was far more misinformation about HIV/AIDs, than there was factual data. But the truth was there if anybody bothered to check the reliable sources.
My patience was tested one night in December at, of all places, an AIDS Candle Light Walk. It was my first one. Robert wasn't feeling too good, so I went alone. I can do the alone stuff just fine, but it's always nice when I run into a group of my friends when I'm out. So, when I noticed some ladies I had met at a party the previous weekend, I joined up with them for our walk. Seeing the sidewalks of my little town lit with candles got me all misty eyed, and I was moved by the support I was feeling from all these strangers, some of whom I recognized from all around town. Many of the people were nameless to me, but seeing them was comforting just the same. That feeling of solidarity always gets to me.
When the walk was over, someone suggested we go to the corner coffee shop for something warm to drink. It was a natural feeling to want to stay with this group that I had walked with and enjoyed getting to know. As we all huddled outside on the benches, the conversation turned to AIDS, and those we had just prayed for in the church sanctuary and then walked to show our support.
"I heard that the typical AIDS patient has had sex something like 2,000 times, or maybe it was higher," said one of the ladies.
"I heard the same thing," someone else said.
'What gets me is that my friend with breast cancer did nothing wrong or over the top, and here she is with this disease that'll change her life forever. It just doesn't seem fair," said another.
"I have had breast cancer too," admitted one, "and no, it isn't fair, particularly when you see all the money going to AIDS research."
"Oh, I didn't know. I'm so sorry," one of the ladies added.
Then the lady who started this conversation looked at me and asked, "Do you know anyone with breast cancer, Gary?"
Before I could process what all was being said, I heard one of the ladies say, "To tell the truth, anybody who gets infected now, deserves AIDS. We know what causes it."
I don't know, maybe because these ladies were lesbian, I was expecting something different than what I was hearing. But I was too angry to really care about any of them, or what they thought about AIDS. An image of all of us "bad," gay boys who were giving the LGBT movement negative press flashed in my mind, as I excused myself from their company.
I was half way home and still angry, so I decided to drive until I calmed down. Finally, after a drive through the one main street in town, I headed home. Robert still hadn't told me about his doctor visit, but I had noticed a clear shift in his mood and demeanor. He was so lost in thought that sometimes he didn't hear me when I spoke to him. Nevertheless, I was always eager to see him, no matter how long I'd been gone.
I came upstairs and was greeted by Robert almost immediately.
"We got to get to the hospital. Grand Mom is there, some kind of problem," he said as he raced upstairs to change. While I waited for him, I couldn't help but notice how vibrant and alive Robert looked when I walked in the house. Before I left for the AIDS walk, he was under a quilt on the couch complaining of a sore throat. He barely wanted to move because he was in so much pain. Now, he was darting around the house like a humming bird.
"I'm ready. Let's go," he said.
We were greeted by Tootie, Robert's mom, at the door of Room 321 in the wing of the hospital where they put all the heart patients. Robert and his mom talked while his Grand Mom sat up and stared at them. She looked disconnected from all that was happening to her, so I suspected dementia.
"Where's her things?" Robert asked.
Tootie pointed to a paper bag labeled Giant Food where Robert found a hairbrush. As he began brushing his Grand Mom's hair, she started to beam, and I could tell she recognized his touch. Then he looked over at me and said, "That Frankie guy. Don't have him come down anymore. I don't like how he talks to you. He's full of crap."
I said, "Yeah, I know."
"Life is about learning, Gary. People like that will hold you back. Don't you want to learn as much as you can? I certainly do," Robert said.
To be continued...