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When Does a Boy become a Man?

This is that story I should tell you now…

Reflecting on my life (I will be 39 in a couple of days), there was a time when I thought I would never get to this point in my life, so buckle up and read on. That was last year when I edited this chapter for my manuscript. (July 2006)

There was always one question that that haunted me. “When does a boy become a man?” I was thrust into adult decisions while in junior high school. My father’s parents both had strokes, and for some reason he was under the impression that I would be the one who could rouse them from their states of silence. I was the firstborn son, and the apple of my grandmother’s eye. Alas, I failed at my task; she never came “out of it” so to speak. And I think my father never forgave me.

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My father was an alcoholic, that I know. He was also abusive, that I also know. My grandfather was one too much more than he. Generational addiction traveled across three generations. In hindsight my father was an abused child so was my grandmother. So was my mother and my brother. I was his main attack point. “I took it for the team” so to speak. My father also has an unnamed skeleton in his closet. I know that for a fact. On his return from Viet Nam he was shell shocked and sick and I am sure he did not ever talk about it or seek help, what was there back then? not much. Men did not talk, feel or discuss. As long as we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist…

My grandfather had a package store next door and a tavern to visit daily and he did until he had his stroke. He kept bottles of booze in every place he could think of. In the furniture, in the cabinets, in the bathroom and by his bedside and even in the yard hidden in the bushes, THAT is one heavy alcoholic. He drank around the clock when I was growing up. He abused people, my grandmother, myself, he verbally abused my adult father. In turn my father abused me because the women of the family tried to protect me from him trying to kill me.

And on several occasions, my mother’s mother and my father’s mother stood in the path of Hurricane Roger who was out to literally kill me as a child. They threatened him to near death to get him off of or away from me. I remember all those times because he was an obsessed evil bastard, and he wanted me dead. At least the women of the family kept him away from me, by keeping me away from him as long as they could throughout my childhood and adolescence.

My parents were kids of the 1960’s when they had children. A very Catholic time in the North East in Connecticut. So Church was ingrained  but so was silent abuse. I know now where I came from and I have forgiven him. Much of my addiction stemmed from his model of abuse. He did what he did because of how he was raised and taught. War destroyed a generation of men.

Men and women our age can attest to this truth, if your father went to Viet Nam. I pray for his soul, but he did what he did and I retaliated and paid for my choices by their eternal punishment and ignorance. It was tit for tat, and My last TAT was the final nail in my proverbial coffin… My father was sick, and he never recovered, although I tried to save him to, he denied my efforts blatantly. So fuck me…

My mother was at a loss, God forbid she countered anything he said, preached or laid down as family gospel or law. She would have lost her life. He used to threaten her by saying if you counter me, you will loose more than your marriage, so she lived in fear of him and I think that became comfortable for her because what was she going to do, divorce the bastard? No, she would have rather died than do that. He gave her several ultimatums in my life that I know of now, he imported a wife, threatened her with immanent death and threats.

And she married him. She told me over and over that she chose HIM and not her children. So I was fucked from the get go, no matter how much she tried to protect me – he still abused me until I left home, and for the rest of my life he abused me verbally, at home and in public… Gay was Gay was Gay and unacceptable and I was damned. Add HIV to that mix and I was doubly damned… He was a freak of nature that I had no control over. Until I left the states and became my own man and Stood for my truth in light of the past. In spite of the past, I saved myself. And one day God may save him, but that is between Him and God… and that is good enough for me.

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As a young person, in my family, I took on a lot of responsibility that should never have been placed in my lap so early on. I am a third-generation alcoholic who comes from a sturdy line of heavy and abusive drinkers. I did a lot of work as a child. I was a lawn boy, a maid, a cook, I was my brother’s keeper, and, best of all, and I was a bartender by the age of 10. I knew my “place” in my family early on.

The life of children of alcoholic parents, in my opinion, is tough. Although my father provided for his family, I know that he was a fully functional alcoholic. But who am I to judge and say that? My father had a funny way of saying he loved me; as he swung the belt or whatever he could find, he would say to me, “You were a mistake, and should never have been born!” I guess that’s the demon I wrestled with for many years.

I drank my way through high school and college, and eventually found refuge inside a Catholic Seminary for my second year of college, circa 1986. I had faith in God, it never left me, and although I left the “path” several times in my life I know now that God never abandoned me. I left that seminary because I could not put God and Politics in the same sentence.

There was something different about me, my parents knew, and so did everyone else. That was news to me. The day I realized that something was different was the first day of 7th grade. It was a new school, a new schedule and a new routine. Gym was something we did every day, the compulsory hour of physical activity. I knew the first day I walked into that locker room that I was “different.” That was 1979.

They say in AA that “if you have a problem with someone, it is usually a reflection of what you don’t like about yourself!” My father had hated me since the day I was born, and now from this point he would have a new reason to hate me. In retrospect, I think this was the truth he didn’t or couldn’t look at in himself.

They also say that when we start drinking we remain the age when it began. Well, then, I was a teenager for most of my life, which proves how difficult most of my life was. You see, my father was not an active part of my childhood or adolescent development, and today as an adult he is absent from my life; this includes my mother.

I didn’t know how to grow up, so I did the best that I could, with what I had and what I knew, which I have to say wasn’t much. Those good and reliable role models were something that most of my life lacked. I had years of experience in doing adult things from my childhood; I just had no courage to sit down and realize that I had to do that for myself.

I had a good life as a child. I got what I wanted from my father, and it was a trade off. He beat me more than my brother and my mother; in trade he paid for my silence in a really big way. Was that a mistake? It probably was.

My drinking took a toll, and in my 20’s “big things” started to happen to me. I fell in love, and moved to Ft. Lauderdale from Miami to have that relationship. James eventually committed suicide on April 15th, 1993. He was sick and did not tell me. I was told that he had AIDS only after his death. On July 8th, 1994, I was diagnosed with AIDS myself. The doctors gave me 18 months to live.

WHOA! 18 months? My boss became my father, my caretaker, and my friend. My education about growing up began in earnest. Todd had lost his lover to AIDS a couple of years before we met. He began to intensively teach me everything I would need to know how to do, to take care of me and cope with what I may face in the future. There was a lot of work to do in those years.

I got sober that same year in August 1994, and I stayed sober for 4 years. In retrospect, that first sobriety was a time of learning how to live and survive, rather than work a program. I stayed sober; mind you, for those four years. I went to meetings, but I was so sick during those four years you could not imagine.

I learned all those lessons that Todd could teach me in the four years we lived in the same area, and worked together. I believe that if Todd had not been in my life then, I would have surely died sooner. (This is where you all roll your eyes and say I think God had something to do with that, don’t you think?) Yes HE did.

Insert Slip here… Fall 1998 – Fall 2000 into 2001.

God has a funny sense of humour. I was living in a studio apartment, and my landlord got me a job in an antiques store run by a “member.” I was barely surviving on what I was making. It was OK, but I was still drinking and using. Go figure!!! I hired an employee a couple of months prior to reaching my bottom. And he used to say to me every day he came into work that he “didn’t drink!” Well, good for you I would say. In the grand scheme of things, Troy would eventually take me back to my first meeting.

On the morning of September 11th 2001, I was lying in bed when the phone rang. It was my friend Ricky, and he said, “Turn on your TV, something is happening!”

It had begun.

The city of Miami Beach just shut down. It was incredible, how that one event transformed the world, my world, the city and the people who lived in that city and all over Miami. Every one started trying to find ways to help. The city’s nightclubs and bars shut down; the nightlife, as it was, was no more. For two weeks I worked online trying to get relief items to New York, via Oprah’s Message Boards.

Those two weeks of my life were a complete blur. We all got sober during those initial two weeks. The mourning period ended two weeks later. We were all catatonic; nobody knew what to do. Eventually the bars started these promotions all over town. Come and donate some cash to the relief effort and drink free all night. That’s what the entire community of Miami Beach did for the relief effort. We raised a TON of money!

The beach rose out of its stupor and I think the people on Miami Beach drank every drop of alcohol we could find, to “help those in need!” That went on for weeks. Through a series of well-said prayers, and like I said, Troy eventually took me to my first meeting on December 9th 2001.

I went to a 10 p.m. meeting and was welcomed into a community that was tight and strong. That’s where I picked up my sponsor, Charlie. He was a retired Marine, and he was one of the men who set me on my path of growing up, because until then I was coasting on God’s grace. I still have friends I talk to from that “home group.”

Four months later I came to Montreal for Easter to visit, how auspicious a religious holiday to start my “journey” in earnest. They say “Montreal is where it all started.”

And so it did for me. I came for one week; I ended up staying for two.

I returned to Miami, packed what little I had and took the next flight out. My mother was a Canadian citizen when I was born, a little lie she sat on for many years until anger pushed me to play the last ACE card in my sleeve. The distance between my parents and me was eternally ruptured the day I left the United States. They branded me a “deserter” and my father swore me off for good. With a birthright application in hand and A LOT of God’s help, I set off for the new world, never looking back.

I hit a lot of meetings during that first year of sobriety. I came to Montreal with an expectations list, as long as my arm for God. And it was no joke, when God would look over my list and I could hear HIM, in retrospect say to me, “Uh huh, well let’s see here, No, No, Not right now, I don’t think so, maybe later, and I think you should rephrase that question!”

My second attempt at sobriety would be the greatest four years of my life. Firstly, all those lessons that Todd gave me years earlier started to make their way out of my head. I found a place to live, and I started building a home while I waited for my citizenship to come, as it eventually did on February 17th, 2003.

Meanwhile I went to meetings every day and I figured out ways to survive with what I had and the money I had banked up till then. In October of 2002, I met the man I was going to eventually marry. We began to build a life together.

I was seeing a therapist, whom I still see to this day every week. Margo is one of my best friends today. It was the spring of 2003, and I had worked really hard on my program. I had climbed a really BIG mountain in Margo’s opinion. And one day she asked me, “Jeremy, you’ve climbed this huge mountain, now you are standing here looking at it, what are you going to do for you?”

I sat on that question for two weeks. I was sitting at home, here (right here) where I am now, typing this out, and I was looking at the wall – at my Citizenship Certificate, and I said to myself “A University diploma would look good up there!” So it went. I applied to Concordia University at age 34, and was accepted. I began my studies at Concordia University here in Montreal in the fall of 2003.

I was making adult decisions with my life, for the first time in my life. The move out of the United States was the best decision I had ever made in my life, because I had to learn how to survive in a foreign country, get to meetings, and work an intense program of sobriety. It forced me to put into practice everything I had learned up to that point. I had great guides and teachers, and I have a great sponsor, who tells me like it is. He’s a no bullshit kind of man.

In the spring of 2004, Peter got sick and had a nervous breakdown, and we had to extricate him from his former place of employment. He was diagnosed with Bi-Polar 2 (Rapid Cycling) disorder. He spent the better part of six months on the sofa catatonic from the different medications; it took that long to find the right “combination” of drugs to take him out of the stupor and set him up for his re-entry into the world.

I think that’s about the time I came across Chuck and the Real Live Preacher (Gordon). I started blogging when Peter got sick, as a way of relieving my sorrow and do something with myself at night. Chuck and Gordon have been incredible role models, fathers and friends to me over the last year. I respect them and admire the men they are in the world. We should all be so lucky to count men like these as friends.

I prayed for direction and I decided that I would “stay the course” and not walk away from someone I loved, just because there was a problem. Lesser men would have just walked away citing inability to cope or put someone else’s needs before their own.

Peter has become the greatest man I have ever known, because when push came to shove in the last year, he stepped up and took charge when I was sick.

I grew up really fast. I had to manage the house cash, take care of Peter’s medical needs, and mine as well, eh? I had to shop for food, cook and take care of the house and Peter. And during that time I was a full time student at Concordia.

I became accountable and reliable. I also learned how to put someone else’s needs before mine and that’s when “the boy became a man.”

We were married in a small ceremony at the Loyola Chapel on the Concordia University West Campus, on November 20th, 2004, which happens to be my mother’s birthday. Talk about re-appropriating family holidays, eh?

I became the man I wanted to be. I achieved things that I never knew were possible. I grew up A LOT in the last four years alone.

I have begun my third year of Religious studies at Concordia University this summer (2005-2006) and will continue in the fall. In December, one day at a time and by the grace of God, I will have attained my four years of sobriety once again (Dec 9 2005).

This month I celebrate my 13th year of being POZ. Back then the doctors estimated that I had been carrying for over a year when I was diagnosed; there is another entire story there. I survived!! That in itself is a miracle.

That question of “when does a boy become a man” no longer haunts me, because I know who I am today. It took me a long time to “get it!”

It was in the “realization” of who I was, and I learned to be comfortable in my own skin and to learn to love myself and to have faith in my own abilities. Today that is vitally important. I ran from who I was for many years because I was afraid I would end up like my father, and I am glad to say, I am nowhere close!

Children suffer for the sins of their parents; it took me a long time to work through these issues. I pray a lot, and I hope, and I believe in the redeemable qualities in my parents, and one day I pray that redemption may come; then again, it might not, and I am OK with that today.

Where is God in my life? He resides in my heart and in my soul. I’m still on the path, and still searching for a place to call home. The church is not what I wish it could be, nor what I want for me today. So I belong to a group of blogging Christians who follow a man called the Real Live Preacher.

They say with age comes wisdom, and in sober terms, the longer you stay sober and work an honest program, every time you share your experience, strength and hope with another human being, one learns to see the world and one’s life in a more critical way, hence the honesty and humility in the way one shares that information.

There are ways to find the paths to enlightenment, life and life more abundantly. But the wise men and women are few and far between, and finding them along the journey is like trying to find a needle in a moving haystack.

I have been blessed in the last 13 years to meet and get to know some phenomenal people who helped me along my journey. There are even men and women of fame and fortune who have impacted me so deeply that some of their stories will appear later in this book. How they impacted me and the lengths I went to to “Get Honest” with myself and others is a testament to my continued survival and good health.

I may not be a parent, nor do I speak with the tongues of angels, and there is no easy way to face the future when doctors tell you that you have been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS and that you are going to die. At least for me, that’s the way it was just a few years ago, in the year 1994.

There are lessons we all must learn in our lives. There are things that cannot be learned from a book, and there are ways to survive that won’t necessarily come from a physician so navigating your way out of a diagnosis and into your life of the future can be a daunting task. Everyone’s journey is different, but at the same time all of our journeys are the same.

I want to share with you, my readers, some of the issues that face us all here today. I would like to share with you the many pieces of the road maps I have collected over the last 13 years. I would like to give you some hope that there is life after a diagnosis.

Things are much different than they were just a few years ago. I would like you to know the “whole story,” that there is more to life than just taking a few pills each day to manage your health and well being.

There are things we must talk about, and there are questions you must have for me. The first thing we need to recognize is this, “Your diagnosis and your future is all about you, and not about your family!” After all is said and done and the truth is let go, families and friends, lovers and partners, husbands and wives will learn to cope with this issue in time.

Or they won’t and they will choose to walk away, suffering from their own inability to cope with what you are facing. That would be very sad, but it happened to me.

The desire I want from this book is to give you the tools and information that you will need to confidently listen and cope with the situation that you now face.

We know that AIDS/HIV is not a selective disease, as was first thought. The HIV virus knows no barriers, and it does not see race, color or creed. It knows not who is straight or gay, man or woman, adult or child. All it sees is a body to infect and a life to destroy. I’ve come to you, by way of this book, to illustrate to you that there is “Life after diagnosis.” I would like to show you how I did it, and give you some necessary skills and information to help you navigate family, friends, significant others, the world around you and the medical challenge that now face you.

As technology changes and the world of science broadens, the hope of a living a future to the best of your ability is possible. I am of the mindset that with the right guidance and a positive look at life, and the right motivation and information, we can help you navigate through the minefields of emotions and reactions, friends and foes and the good days and the bad days.

The caveat here is this; I will not promise you a rose garden free of the stresses that come with this disease. I will not tell you that drugs and treatments are not trying on every fiber of your being, because I know of what I have seen and experienced in my own life.

I will not share information with you that I have not worked through myself. I will not lie to you and give you a false sense of hope. I will not tell you that death is avoidable and will not happen eventually, because in the end we all must die, of one thing or another.

Like I said, some of these things you won’t learn from anyone else than from one who has walked this path, and can speak to you in the first person. I hope to show you some of the pits I fell in over the years and how I got out of them, I will talk about the problems I had with my family and the distance that lies between us to this day. I will tell you all the little secrets that I have collected over the years that may give you some courage and ammunition to battle the “dark” and show you where the light is.

Whoever you are, no matter how young or old you are I want to share with you my message of health, life and hope. Because where there is hope, there is faith, and where there is faith for some, there you will find a god of your own understanding. I believe to navigate your way out of despair and confusion; one must find a spiritual axiom to hold on to.

Life with the HIV virus is not easy, and some days it is a challenge just to stay above the water. The roller coaster of life has begun for you, so you better buckle up, put on your crash helmet and get ready for the ride of your life. And I promise that if you stick with me throughout this book, when you reach the last page, I hope that you will say two words, “thank you!”

There are times in every life, that we should not be alone, when news of an illness and facing one’s mortality meet in the same room at the same time. I have stood in that room myself, and I hope through the course of the book, to show you the skills I have learned and applied in my own life, and I hope that you will find them helpful so as to give you some guidance on your journey that life has given you.

My book was written by a gay man who had a gay experience; I am gay and HIV positive. I hope that the story I write here will cross the barriers that separate us, by race, creed, and sexual orientation. All of the stories are universal, and as well so are all of my principles. Everyone who is diagnosed with HIV or AIDS goes through many of the same issues. I hope to share with you some of my own lessons and personal experiences and anecdotes over the last 11 years. I encourage you to read without your own prejudices and preconceptions about the homosexual lifestyle.

HIV and AIDS is a “world problem,” not just a gay problem. I believe that commonality is found in our differences, not in our sameness.

How do you begin writing a book about HIV and AIDS? I have an answer for that. First you tune your television to the channel that is airing the movie “Philadelphia” with Tom Hanks. Why is this important? Because it always brings me back to the day I began this journey. The day I decided that knowledge was better than denial. The day I said goodbye to the life I had, and began to mourn all the losses that I would incur because of what was to come, and the sheer fact that people in 1994 were still ignorant and stupid.

How do you share experience, strength and hope with people like any other good author of the times? Find your voice, I can hear Lucas saying in my ear, just go ahead and write because this is the most important story you will ever tell, this is what you’ve been talking about for the last 13 years, so sit down, start typing and with any luck you might just find your groove and in that groove you might help one soul out there with the struggle they are facing today.

What I can tell you from this life, to help you out in your life, is that they never promised us a rose garden; in fact, living with the HIV virus and AIDS is more like a bed of weeds and brambles. It is a long road to wellness and only the strong survive the long haul. I am the last of a dying group of people I call my “core pod” of original diagnoses from 1994.

All the friends I knew from that period are dead. Many of my friends, those I knew personally and those I knew by association (of common disease) live on quilts, immortalized in fabric, painfully stitched, one stitch at a time, by those who loved them, in the AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Where to begin? Hmm, they have said that “the truth shall set you free” so let me tell you my truth. In the beginning I did not think I was set free. I was enslaved to a life that I did not expect, nor desired to live. In fact, there was a time when all I wanted to do was die, and though I tried to take my own life, the creator had different plans for me.

Still to this day, 13 years later, I question the Almighty God in the heavens and ask him, “Um, God, what am I still doing here?” and “Is there a purpose for my existence?” You see, I talk to God a lot, which came over time. The longer I lived, the more I wanted to talk to God, because in my “faith life” I expect an answer, it may come on my deathbed and it may come before, so this dialogue with the “One Most High” continues.