Loving the Sacred through Word and Image. B-Down Gobo Light Show – Memories. A Wordpress Production

Living with AIDS …

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I don’t think I’ve told these stories in any specific order that made any sense, but I have written about certain events in my “life-time line.” So let’s talk about being gay, coming out and my entrance into all things gay, since Pride is a topic as of late.

I’ve told you that I knew that I was different the first day of junior high school, the first day that I walked into the locker room. The boys, the smell of sweat, there was an immediate reaction to what I was experiencing. I’ve never changed in front of boys before, and I had not hit puberty as of that time. But I would.

I was freaked about my body image, and I surely was not prepared to shower in front of a stranger, let alone other boys. That fear remained for a while, until I got into sports and that fear was slowly abated.

I knew, and in hindsight, my parents new. But only my step mother did anything about it, as indirectly as she could. Bringing like minded people into my world was her way of educating me and my parents. My parents had serious issues with gay. (That’s not for here!)

I was attracted to the boys I was friends with. I had both male and female friends in good numbers so there wasn’t a disparity between the sexes in my world. I did not sexually identify until I was well into high school, and that was by force and heterosexual peer pressure. I had never heard about boys coming out where we lived or in the school that I attended. But when I was in High school, one of my friends came out in the Youth Group at church and he got a lot of persecution and abuse. So I did not say anything to anyone.

I was into wrestling, soccer and the swim team. I eventually lettered in swimming my senior year of high school. That was a big deal for me. Looking back at high school, there were many of us flirting with the ‘fence’ because later in life many of us found ourselves in the same location night after night. I went to the Prom. You want to hear a great story?

Iris Toro was my date for the prom. It was an “All nighter Prom.” We had the party at the Eden Roc hotel with dinner and dancing on the beach, and then we were invited to cruise on a boat on the intra coastal waterway overnight, so that we wouldn’t be on the streets overnight. Her mother – up until a few days before the prom, would not giver her permission for her daughter to spend an entire night with me. I guess she was worried about my carnal desire… That was farther from the real truth. I was a Catholic boy bred on the theology of no premarital sex. So she was afraid of me? She should have looked closer to home. Because her little virgin daughter was all over me like white on rice – on the cruise and I spurned her advances. She broke up with me the next morning.

HA HA HA

I carried my secret for a long time. In youth group we were not coached either way, as far as I remember. Nobody spurned anyone, unless of course you identified. I had close relationships with a few friends and that was great growing up, because my parents were being verbally and physically abusive so the less time I spent at home the better.

Live to Tell…I’m watching the Madonna Concert as I write this…

I’ve shared that my mother had a love / hate relationship with her siblings the latter portion of our teen years. I always believed that keeping lines of family communication were important. I was idealistic. I believed in family, because it was the extended family that kept my father from killing me as a child. So I did my best to ride the middle line and always keep those I loved close to me. That summer I was 19, I went to visit my aunt and cousins in Connecticut. My mother was beside herself. She was so angry that I’d do something that she didn’t agree with.

During that trip, I had my “first” sexual experience. I had never slept with anyone up till that point in my life. But years of home study, reading material, listening to the sexcapades of my parents and even late night call in shows, I was hooked on men. I was hooked on all things profane. It was right in front of me for decades, and if my parents and others could do it, then why couldn’t I? I mean, if they thought it was normal and they didn’t have a problem with profane sex then I guess it was ok for me, right? There is a nugget of truth for you: I wanted to be just like my father. I knew him better than I think he knew himself. Hindsight is 20-20 so what I know today is based on a lifetime of experience, to know that there was a secret that laid in that closet and that my father will take to his grave.

We all got drunk on Yukkafutz… what? You’ve never heard of Yukkafutz?

Picture: 2 gallon Mason jar with clasp. Add ½ the jar of fresh fruit, one cup of sugar, fill the rest of the jar with ice. Add VODKA, until you cover the ice. Close lid, shake with a towel until jar is iced over… 15 people with straws… drinking from the jug. When you reach the fruit, a second cup of ice, more fruit more ice, and more VODKA… Close lid and shake until jar ices over. 15 people with straws, drink from the jug. Finish VODKA – eat the fruit.

Massive drunkenness ensues…

We were too drunk to function and surely not drive. During that afternoon I had set my eyes on a particular guest. I made sure he stayed the night. It was the most amazing night of my life, in a sacred and profane kind of way. I had dreamed about this, read about it, fantasized about it and finally I had arrived…

We had a few days to live the honeymoon. I kept that secret for two years. I made a lot of women jealous after that. Even envious I imagine. I returned home and work, but I was unhappy.

I had done a year in community college and a year in seminary before my 21st birthday, and I had failed at both, so it was into the workforce I went. While my peers in Seminary were beginning to self identify, I had not. And HAD I stayed in Seminary, I can’t say which way I would have turned, given the structure or the discipline. But I did not get that chance now did I?

I went to Europe in the summer of 1987 to see the Pope and the Vatican. Something was up during that trip that I was totally clueless over.

I had seen a shrink, before I turned 21, a man my step mom invited to her table many, many times. He had told me that if I was going to become gay that I had to cross the threshold. That was the inevitable visit to my first gay bar. That was Uncle Charlie’s in Miami. I had to ‘investigate’ the scene. I remember the angst driving up and parking the car outside, the butterflies in my stomach walking up to the front door. He told me to go inside sit at the bar and order a drink.

Ah! Alcohol was going to make it easier to assimilate.

I made several visits to that bar prior to my move, but I could never commit to being gay in the city I grew up in, hence the reason that I moved away. But I would eventually return to that scene some years later.

On my 21st birthday in 1988 I celebrated with my best friend by drinking my way around Miami. That was incredible. That Christmas my best friend and I went to the Bahamas on a cruise, and I got knackered and professed my undying love to my best friend.

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After that cruise I had moved away to be gay. And where do gay boys come out in Florida? At the Parliament House on the Orange Blossom Trail. I had uprooted myself and moved with no argument from my folks. My friends I had met months earlier on the cruise lived in the very apartment complex I moved into. They were going to indoctrinate me.

I was a raging alcoholic. It was the fuel of life, the elixir to make it all better, to bring men to you and really, it made for great times, as long as responsibility wasn’t something that was necessary.

The Big Night came on a Saturday night. I was dressed for the kill and we drove to the P-House. We paid our cover and walked through the piano bar and into the Foot Light Theatre. Carmella Marcella Garcia was Host and MC. I had never seen a drag show before, but I was quickly hooked. Jimmie, Dana, Rusty and Carmella, Rene and Cheena, and the list of many others graced that stage over those years.

Patrick walked me into the disco in the back of the bar; The Communards were starting up on the turntable. Jimmy Somerville was singing “Never can say Goodbye!” I danced with Patrick – my first gay dance, and then he kissed me.

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I was formally a gay boy.

My time in Orlando was amazing, incredible, sexual and profane. I made a list of mistakes as long as my arm. I knew how to clean a house, grocery shop and DRINK. I did not know how to pay bills, keep a checkbook, or be responsible, and I know that sounds stupid but I was stupid. I left the nest before I learned about street smarts. Nobody warned me about the fragility of life and the fact that of you don’t pay certain bills or maintain a house there were consequences.

Out of all the men I dated while I was away, only one was the most important, and that was Charlie, maybe because we weren’t boyfriends. But we relied on each other and we had really great sex, whenever we wanted. He was a season employee at the Tragic Queendom, so our love life was doomed from the start. There was another boy I was in love with, his name escapes me but he was a Mormon boy who went on to be one of the Great ‘Voices of America’ at EPCOT after I moved away. He took care of me when I was sick and he had beautiful eyes and a smile that lit up a room. We had a very chaste relationship and that was ok with me.

I flirted with conversion of virgin boys. I had two roommates in a 3 bedroom apartment at one time, David, Robert and myself. We had three friends who lived across the way from us in another cast complex; Dustin, John and my “buddy” Charlie. John was the odd man out. And he loved to tease me.

He wore Obsession by Calvin Klein. He would spray it on my pillows and on my towels in my bathroom. He taunted me with sex, and I was not one to say no to a challenge. We went out one night, we got drunk and he got in my bed. He crossed to field, jumped the fence and dug right in from the first moment. I have a bottle of Obsession in my bathroom today.

We had a seven day courtship. On the eighth day I come home from work early and I walked in my front door, and I had to pass David’s room in the front of the apartment. My room was in the back. I look out of the corner of my eye and I see someone bouncing on David’s bed. David was having sex with John. You see gay boys who work at the Tragic Queendom, during those years had no scruples.

Needless to say I was angry, so angry that John became an obsession. I followed him around for months with a stack of numbered index cards. I would wait outside his conquests apartments and I would later knock on the door and hand them a numbered index card, and I would leave. I stopped at number 60.

That was a truly hard time in my life. I made a lot of mistakes, lost apartments and cars, pissed off my parents and wound up in a few jackpots that nearly ended me. But that program of repetitious mistakes would be a running theme in my life until my mid thirties.

I moved back to Miami in 1991 and returned to my work roots in travel. I was dating – drinking and taking advantage of people. I moved back to my parents, and I have said before, never bring a man home to sleep with while under your parents roof, at least mine. I moved from there into a friend’s mansion, by middle class standards. I had drunken my last rent check and screwed my friend for the last time. She locked me out and that ended a truly special relationship.

I was an active, sick alcoholic living in the same house with another alcoholic who was in recovery, which I would not know this truth for four years later. I had to make amends years later for what I did in hurting such a wonderful woman in my life.

I was a travel agent for a while, until I got a job at Royal Caribbean in the spring of 1992. If you know anything about Miami – 1992 was the year that all hell broke loose. I had moved “again” to Ft. Lauderdale in the summer of 1992, just months prior to Hurricane Andrew.

James and I were living together and I’ve written about that story already. My parent’s were in Connecticut. My mother had been on the love side of the family pendulum at that point. The storm was coming and Miami was evacuating. We spent three days preparing for the worst. We were alright, my parents lost the house.

Whether or not they loved me or accepted me during that time was neither here or there. They were 1500 miles away and my brother was across the state so it was me or nothing. The day after the storm it took us four hours to drive to my parent’s home, which usually took all of 40 minutes.

The destruction was incredible. Everything had been flattened. The atomic bomb had been set off because the land was leveled. I don’t know if all of you can understand what it feels like to stand in the middle of ruins after a storm, where houses are gone, buildings are destroyed; trees that had stood for more than 50 years were uprooted and thrown over long distances. AND in Coconut Grove, there were boats and ships on the streets that had been floated up out of the water – it was like hurricane Katrina. They got flooded and destroyed. Miami is flat so storm surge comes and goes and carries everything away with it.

James and I secured the house and the neighborhood. We did daily trips to Boa Raton for supplies. The company supplied food, water and ice for our families. I had to call my parents and tell them not to come home. Can you imagine what that feels like? I gave my parent’s the news 1500 miles away, a list of things they needed if the expected to survive, and to bring a lot of cash. Because the banks had been destroyed and there was no electricity and there wouldn’t be for some time.

Four days later my parent’s flew to Miami, with what they had purchased, and we drove down to be there before they got there, because from the airport on the highway there wasn’t very much damage to that section of highway. The farther south you drove the worse it got. (I’ve got a lump in my throat just writing this)

It took them over an hour to make the trip. They had to find their way through fallen trees and downed power lines. My father got out of the car, and fell to his knees and wept. My mother was in pieces. At least one room of the house was in tact, (read: with roofing over it), that they lived in until FEMA got there.

That was truly one of the most difficult things I had to do as an adult, was to take care of my parent’s in their time of need but I did it. I was victorious. My father never thanked me, once my brother got there, I became sight unseen.

James and I were on the skids after that. He was keeping a secret and he was sick and suicidal. And on April the 17th 1993, I found his body in his apartment, he had committed suicide. The rest is history…

Fancy for some of us gays is the “Coming Out” a second time.

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Once for being Gay – the Second time was to tell your friends and family that you had AIDS and that you were going to die. I don’t know which one was worse, probably the second, because I came out on my own term and on my own time and place. I really didn’t tell anyone. So I didn’t care what people thought or knew.

But when you were gay in 1994, and AIDS was wreaking havoc on the social landscape, if you told anyone, that usually ended whatever relationship you were in, could cost you your job, your home, your lovers, your family and in the end Your Life.

I stayed alive and I got sober the first time for four years.

The one gift I was given out of all that carnage and horror was this: I learned how to observe for a time. This gift has paid off in my present life. Hi, I’m Jeremy and I am HIV positive. The other person takes a step back and their faces glaze over with that “oh, pity you look” they stop hugging you and or shaking your hand. Your family and friends begin to walk away. Your work associates are so scared to work with you or use the same bathroom, that you get fired because of utter abject fear.

I don’t know if many of you can identify with the observation of rational human beings move from rational and compassionate to irrational and heartless, IN a heartbeat. All that was needed was a few choice words… “I have AIDS.” And the crowd looses their heads and all hell breaks loose.

It was stunning just how heartless humanity became. The things I witnessed and felt were just incredible. It is a really blessed miracle that Todd and Roy and my certain friends who took care of me were there, because my parent’s went crazy.

I think what we did NOT know was worse than what we DID know.

And can you blame them? Yes, I can. There was plenty of information about passing the disease and communicability. The way straight and GAY people treated the sick and dying was inexcusable and unforgivable. I had a number of failed relationships, almost died, slipped into drugs and alcohol , survived and got sober again!! 5 years and 6 months now.

I moved to Canada, met a man, became the most responsible and accountable man that I could be, I fell in love, I got married, and went back to school. AND I graduated with a bachelors degree in Religion just last week!! Who Knew!!

Next week is my HIV anniversary on July the 8th.

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We step into the 14th year living with AIDS for me. Sadly, all of my friends are still dead, and I am still here. I still ask God why? Are we any closer to answering that spiritual question?

No, I don’t think so.

You can read all my AIDS writings over there in Pages.

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July 4th 1994

it was a nice day. Josh and I prepared the house for company; we were hosting a “friendly” BBQ in Ft. Lauderdale. Alan and his hubby and other friends from the complex were coming, a veritable who’s who of my social circle back then. It was a great day. We cooked and ate at the picnic table out back – the drag queens in the adjacent area were entertaining, and the conversation was light and campy. The day wore on into night, and fireworks were going to be shot off over Ft. Lauderdale beach. So we piled into the convertible and headed out for the five-minute drive across the bridge to the beach. Parking was a nightmare, but eventually we found a spot to sit in. I remember that things were happy and there were no worries; we were out celebrating the holiday. After the fireworks we came home and imbibed a great deal, and sat down to watch the new film out on video, “Philadelphia” with Tom Hanks. Little did I know how much life would…?

Imitate art that week?

I watched with a certain attention, as if saying to God, “I know what’s coming so please be gentle with me, because I am not sure I am ready to do this or die.” It had been a year since the first time I was tested at “Planned Parenthood” and that test came back negative.

The second test was done in a city hospital lab, and those results came back negative as well, but six months later we found out on the news that the lab had switched our (100 gay men’s) HIV tests with a retirement home lab list. It was freaky when 100 elderly folk got positive HIV tests back from the lab, OOOPS – someone made a HUGE mistake.

Anyway, that was that.

Around 8 o’clock I called my parents to wish them a Happy July 4th; there was another piece of information I needed to get across to them, and this was not going to be very easy, I had been feeling pretty sick since January, and checked 7 of the 9 symptoms off the list from “If these things are happening to you — you might have HIV” wallet card.

The conversation started light and airy, then all the air left my lungs and I could not breathe. And this is how it went

Hello…

Hello…

Pleasant conversation, then I dropped the bomb!

I have some news for you.

Yes, what would that be?

I’ve been feeling a lot sick lately and tomorrow I am going to see a doctor…

Silence.

I could hear the wheels spinning in their heads. My mother had been working in Home Health Care for a number of years and she had seen what AIDS can do to a human being; couple that with what they were watching on TV and she was having worse case scenario visions in her head!!

They were watching “Philadelphia” at their house at the very moment I called. Suddenly my mother must have looked at the TV and she screamed. Yes, that’s right, I am sick, and I need to go get tested tomorrow, it’s time. My father was listening in on the extension, and I am sure he was beside himself; his fag son was sick and putting two and two together led to only one conclusion.

Josh was sitting in the living room while I had this conversation, he didn’t say a word. I had to prepare him for what was coming; Josh and I would never see the end of the week together. In the end, I would never see Josh again.

After a bout of hysterics, I told them that everything would be all right and I ended the phone call. That night I did not sleep at all, and Josh was all over the place. He was such a quiet and calm young man; we were both young then. We had only been dating for a couple of months by that point. Tomorrow’s test was just a formality; I knew already the answer I would get confirmed in a few days’ time. I did not tell any of my friends that night. Todd and Roy were in Provincetown on holiday. But I would eventually call Todd.

Tuesday July 5th, 1994

I got up this morning, with one item on my list of things to do today, and Josh did not sleep all night and was restless and upset. I got him up and ready for work and I drove him to work, and then proceeded to the clinic where my friend Ken was working.
It was in a little “medical mall” type building. The offices were on the second floor of the suites. I parked the car, put up the top and sat in silence and I prayed. “If there is a God up there, please, whatever happens, I am not ready to die.”

I find it peculiar that certain prayers at certain times remain locked in my memory on certain days of my life. I locked the car and walked the fifty feet across the parking lot and went into the office, where I was asked to take a seat and wait. Do you know what it feels like to be told “hurry up and wait?” I just wanted to get this show on the road.

You see, where I worked, at the nightclub, Ken, my friend, was the nurse for the masses. He worked off hours at the free clinic, he donated time to events, and he did home visits and took care of all of our friends who are now dead, at that time, so he had seen a lot of friends die in the five years we lived in Ft. Lauderdale. He was a very emotional man, who wore his heart on his sleeve and I knew that.

This was a hard week for him; any new diagnosis is hard when you are such close friends and part of a dynamic community where everyone knows each other intimately. We had seen each other over the weekend at the bar; I worked all weekend long. He knew that I was sick; because he was the one I went to when things got dicey. I think he knew as I did, but I think we both wanted things to be different. Alas, they weren’t.

Ken was preparing himself to do what he had to do and keep a straight face and be strong in front of me, you know, be positive about things, and keep up appearances so that I would not crack under the pressure.

It was time. Ken came and got me and escorted me to the lab, and he did not look me in the eye the entire time I sat there, tears falling from his face. It was quick, and painless. Afterwards he sent me off into my day. I signed the papers and went for the door; Ken was right behind me. He walked me to my car, and stopped and he sobbed in my arms. I was relatively calm. You see I was only 26 years old, and many of our friends had been gruesomely sick and died long drawn-out deaths. It was NOT pretty; many of my friends had KS, and cancer and some of my friends lost their minds and many of them died alone, because friends, lovers and family had thrown them out on the streets to die. Ken and I were people who cared for these people from the day they were diagnosed until the day they died. It was sad.

He said that he would call me in a few days and let me know when the tests come back…

And he tried to leave it at that.

I grabbed him and looked into his eyes and I told him,

“I know, and when you call I will know, just by the tone of your voice!”

He kissed me goodbye and I went on with my day.

I don’t remember what I did to pass the time until Josh got off work, but we tried to live normally and not get too upset over things. All I remember is that once the word went around that I had gone for the test, my friends started pulling away. It was the longest week of my life.

Friday July 8th 1994

the week passed by without incident. Thursday I waited impatiently for the phone to ring, and every time it did, I would jump through the roof. Alas, Thursday night I went to bed, knowing that tomorrow it would come.

I got up in the morning and drove Josh to work and returned to the house. It was around 11 am that the phone finally did ring. It was Ken. His voice was shaky on the phone, and all he said was “Jeremy, you need to come to the office, and you need to come now!” Then the line went dead. I got dressed and headed over to the clinic. I already knew the answer, but you never know, right? I parked the car, and said my prayers, and I rested for a moment.

I went up stairs and logged in at the reception desk. Ken was nowhere to be found. After a little while they escorted me into an examination room; it was blue in color, very sterile and cold. I sat down on the table and I waited. A few minutes later the doctor came in, file in hand. I guess he wanted to make sure I was prepared for this.

“Well, no better time than the present,” he said.

Let’s get this over with. “Jeremy, you have AIDS and that’s the bottom line. “

“You are going to die.”

The words rolled off his tongue with the flair and style of a practiced doctor. He sat with me for a few moments while I considered my fate. I think he was hoping that I would say something.

“Thank you for that information,” I replied.

He said that we would need to do a few tests to get started; those labs would show just how compromised my immune system was, and what the next course of action would be.

I did not know how bad things were, but I would soon find out. Back then, who knew from death or life? Drugs were hard to come by, and there surely was no system of treatment in place for me to go to.

He dismissed himself and said that when I was ready, I could leave.

So I gave him a five-minute lead on me, then I gathered up my soul and I walked out the exam room door and out to the car. I looked down from the second floor and Ken was sitting on the hood of my car, waiting for me. When I got down to my car, Ken stood up opened his arms and embraced me; he was sobbing. I stood there; I guess I was in shock. I stood there and held him, while the wave ran over both of us.

I guess I was not prepared to show my cards just yet. We talked for a little while and we set out a plan of action for the next week. I would return to this lab and get some baseline labs drawn to get a more total picture of my immune system and figure out how I was going to proceed. (That’s what eventually happened in the coming days.)

I drove home. I was relatively calm. It’s funny that I was totally prepared to stand up straight and tall and accept my fate, but watching my friends and coworkers and family crack up was very disturbing. People with AIDS were pariahs! You did not touch them, you did not hug them, and you surely did not want your neighbours or family members to know that you socialized with or employed someone who had AIDS, God forbid we infected someone you knew or even transmitted our disease to you by touch or breathing in the same space!

I got home, and I sat in my space and I tried to make some decisions. Who do I tell and when? I don’t remember what I did that day, but I kept myself busy. I called Todd and Roy, and they were on vacation. When Todd got the news, he was sad, and immediately he stepped up to the plate and became the man who would save my life.

That evening, Friday, I went to pick Josh up at work; I forgot to clear the tape deck in the car. The soundtrack to “Philadelphia” was still in there. It was around 5 o’clock when I picked him up; the sun was setting in front of us as we drove east towards the house. I tapped the tape into the deck, and it started to play…

I watched Josh convulse in the front seat, and throw up out the car door. He was hysterical. I did not have to say a word to him, but he knew. When we got home, he went into the bedroom, he packed his duffle bag, without a word, he looked at me, said goodbye, and walked out the door, got into his car, and drove away. That was the last time I saw him.

Whoa, OK, one down … two more to go.

I had some dinner and proceeded to call my parents. You would have thought that an atomic bomb had been dropped on my parents’ house. My mother, having worked in the health field, said to me that I had gotten what I deserved. She and my father had had a week to consider this topic. We discussed my plan of action, and I called a family meeting that would take place in a week’s time. I wanted everyone to be informed and I wanted to know that I was not alone.

That visit did take place. And it did no good to ensure anything but the disdain and ignorance by my family to step up and get involved in taking care of the future. I had made my choice, by doing what I had done, and I got what was coming to me. My father had made that perfectly clear.

I still do not know, to this day, if James was the contact point of HIV. All I do know is that James was a diabetic and was suicidal. That he was sick those last few months that we were together, and I did his blood tests with his pen. I handled the strips several times a day. And that they tell me was the transmission point. I did not know he had AIDS until well after his death, when a friend of mine called me at work one day back in ‘93 to tell me he was sick and had AIDS. I guess it took me a few months to “seroconvert.” This is the process the body goes through when it’s finally hit with viral replication and inception of a virus that the immune system cannot fight alone.

Over the next week, I chose my battles wisely, I told my inner circle of friends. The ones on the inside of the AIDS circle (that I was part of at work.) On the other hand there was the other circle of my “social friends” that had partied with us just a few days earlier. They would never set foot in my house ever again, in fact, and it was as if I had walked off the face of the earth, because I never heard from many of them ever again. The stigma of AIDS back then was deadlier then the virus itself.

Todd eventually returned to Ft. Lauderdale. My landlord and his lover were notified.

Interesting that many years later, I was at a Pride Celebration in Ft. Lauderdale, and my landlord’s partner was in a wheelchair and sick with AIDS. When we were friends at the time of my diagnosis, they were a happy couple, with all the promise in the world. I had no idea. I did not lose my apartment, my rent was frozen where it was, and they helped me pay bills and buy food. Within days Todd had returned and he came over and we talked. (God, we spent a lot of time talking!)

I was in self-destruct mode. And the stress of being sick with AIDS took its toll. I drank around the clock, I drank at work, I drank after work, and all I wanted to do was die. Todd did what he could at the beginning to keep me on the straight and narrow. He outlawed drinking while on shift, (I was working in a nightclub then) so that kept me sober while I worked.

I would then head out after we closed to the “after hours” club called the “Copa.” It was down the street from where our club was, and they served alcohol till 6am. So I had at least two to three hours to get inebriated nightly. That lasted until the end of August.

One night, I decided that the pain was too intense that dying was a viable option, seeing that I knew what all of the men I knew went through. I was at the Copa one night, and it was hot and I had drunk myself into a very nice BUZZ. The problem here was, I wanted more, and I got more. That night, I collapsed on the dance floor in an alcoholic overdose of gargantuan proportions.

I woke up in my friend Danny’s arms. The ambulance was there and oxygen was administered. I was still alive. That was the last night I drank. That morning, Danny brought me home and he stayed in my house for a week. I could not go anywhere except work. Todd was worried that I was going to try and kill myself again. So I had babysitters when I was not at work. I hit my first meeting on August the 23rd, 1994. By that time, most of the bar staff was all sober, and three-quarters of us were sick with AIDS.

Todd had a safe rule in effect. We had jobs, and we got paid. If we got sick, and could not come to work, our shifts were covered by someone on staff. We did not get fired for being sick. The bar secured for us medical treatment through the local clinic, where one of our friends named Marie ran a community clinic/drug farm.

Ken came to my house weekly to check on me. My world got A LOT smaller.

Everyone outside my work circle walked away. It took me a long time to get over that. They were punishing me for getting sick. Like I needed any more punishment!

The religious fundamentals were making their cases for eternal damnation for gays and people with AIDS, and speaking out whenever we went in public. Funeral homes stopped giving services to people with AIDS and their families because of religious and social pressure.

Life was difficult, But, I survived, because of the community I lived in and the grace of Almighty God.

In retrospect, “it was the best of times, and it was the worst of times.” and if God gave me a choice to go back and repeat any area of my life over again, it would be that exact period of time, and I would not change one single thing.

For years after my diagnosis, my friends died left and right, 162 people. The Names Project Quilt is a reminder of all the lives I touched and was a part of, and all the men whom I knew and loved.

All the men who were CRUCIAL to my survival (our survival) all the gay men who collected money for People with Aids, the drag queens we loved and admired and partied with over the year, the diehard supporters, are all dead now.

So many boys, so many men, cut down in the prime of life. We were foolish then, and uneducated. It was only after the storm hit that the reality start to sink in. When our friends started dying and we realized that “something serious is going on” did the community got smart.

We built infrastructure. We created homes and safe spaces. We cared for those on the streets, we collected money and food. We cooked and fed people, we washed clothes and in some cases we even changed diapers.

A year later, in 1995, I moved back to Miami, after Todd and Roy moved out west to San Francisco. I did not go with them, I was too young, and I had been banking on the fact that my S.O.B father would die and I would take back my mother. Well, he is still alive, all these years later, and I did not get my mother back. Do I have regrets? Sometimes I do. I sometimes think, “what if?” but that’s all they are, thoughts. You know what they say about living in “what ifs right?” So I don’t think about what ifs anymore, just what will be.

From my diagnosis date through the first eight years of my life with HIV/AIDS, I lived in the United States, and I speak about navigating a U.S. program of medical, social and government system. I immigrated to Canada in April of 2002.

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