-F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Why do you ignore me?” asked the pretty girl
with the lustrous black hair and the dark and wounded eyes-eyes that had
captured my imagination from the very first time she’d greeted me and sweetly asked
me my name. “I know something must have happened to you,” she said. “Why won’t
you talk to me?”
of 1990 and I had met someone special. She loved to dance and sing and had
aspirations of a career in the theatre. We’d met while performing in a musical
production together. I played the trombone from the relative seclusion and
anonymity afforded by the orchestra “pit”, while she practiced her craft under
the bright lights of center-stage. She was everything that I was not;
unabashedly extroverted and brimming with the passions of youth and the hopeful
expectations of what she dreamed her life would become.
her questions. How could I tell her that I had been recently diagnosed with
HIV, a dreaded disease that was rapidly spreading and killing hundreds of
thousands around the globe, creating an unstoppable wave of hysterical fear,
panic, and prejudice in its wake. I was already having a bad time of it in the
summer of ’90. My brother-in-law had just succumbed to a long and arduous
battle with AIDS, which he’d contracted from the same blood products I had used
to control bleeding caused by hemophilia. We were told the medications were
Pat’s memorial service. Friends and
family gathered in the usual way as they inevitably do at such times.
Condolences were offered and pleasantries exchanged. Most of those in attendance
were aware that they were attending the funeral of an AIDS victim, but the word
“AIDS” was carefully and meticulously skirted, as if a diaphanous veil of tacit
silence had descended over the whole affair. I sat next to my brother John;
also a hemophiliac and also HIV positive. My brother was very strong and I had
never seen him cry. I silently wondered if the same thought occupied his mind;
which of us would be the next to die? The answer came seventeen years later,
when John lost his battle with hepatitis C, that “other” virus with which we’d
also been infected. His HIV status was never mentioned at his funeral either. I
had personally insisted on it.
year that Ryan White died. I had watched for several years as the story of the White
family was told and retold in the mass media. Ryan’s life symbolized the plight
of many AIDS victims at the time. He was denied the right to attend school and
forced to move from his neighborhood after someone fired a bullet into the
window of the White family’s home. Audiences around the globe watched his story
unfold in front of the seemingly endless numbers of reporters who took up
residence on the street where Ryan lived, hoping to catch a glimpse of the new
“poster boy for AIDS.” Ryan’s remarkable bravery and his long struggle with hemophilia
and AIDS ended with his death on April 8th of that unbearable year.
White’s life was highly publicized and often sensationalized in the media, his
story was by no means unique. I’d seen other stories in the news, like that of
the Ray family, whose home was firebombed and burned to the ground by
belligerent neighbors, simply because they feared the three young Ray brothers
who were hemophiliacs living with AIDS. They didn’t want them in their schools.
of a young man named Robbie, who lived in rural Kentucky. Robbie had been born
with hemophilia, but he was good in school and had dreams of becoming a minister.
When his HIV status was exposed, Robbie received threats. People in their town
said they were going to “string him up from the nearest tree”. Robbie and his
mother moved in the dead of night to another town, only to encounter prejudice
and bigotry once again, including from the pastor of his new church, who
demanded that Robbie hang a sign around his neck disclosing his HIV status to
others. Robbie had unknowingly infected his fiancée with HIV. She died of AIDS
at the age of 21. Robbie never became a minister. He became ill with
complications from AIDS. Alone, except for his mother, who was then dying of
cancer, he ended his life by means of a fatal gunshot to the head.
the object of my youthful affections that my life was composed of such
stories-a life of experiences I felt certain she could never understand. How
could I explain the fate that had befallen so many in the hemophilia community,
many of whom were merely children. How could I tell her that I lived with the
same disease that had silenced the lives of thousands of others and that had
propelled many of those lives into a reality often defined by secrecy and quiet
desperation. To these, life had come
quickly and gone, leaving not bitterness, but pity; not disillusion but only
never did. Years later, I tried to locate her, but to no avail. I wanted to
explain it you see-to make it right, to make some sense of it somehow. I am left now with only memories; a memory of
something hoped for-something that might have been, but wasn’t-the memory of a love,
once discovered and lost, never to be relived again- and a memory of the day we
you,” I whispered, as I embraced her for the last time and bid her farewell.
“You don’t love me,” she said dispassionately as she turned and walked away.
Our paths had parted now and I was certain we would not meet again. The skies
began to darken and a weary stillness settled in the air. I lingered for a
moment beneath the sprawling Oak tree which had shaded us as we’d sat and
talked one day while exchanging expectant glances into one-another’s eyes. A
sudden gust of wind claimed the last of its withering leaves; casualties of the
inevitable arrival of winter. Absent now were the familiar Mockingbirds that no
longer gathered and sang from amongst its gray and barren branches. I drove slowly away in the midst of a cold but
gently falling rain, the windshield wipers beating out their own curious
accompaniment to a long-forgotten tune which echoed faintly from the radio:
out this way.
Rainy Day”, words and music by Jimmy Van Huesen and Johnny Burke, published