Even when I was a young kid, I knew I was different. I could feel something inside of me that was not like the other kids. By the time I was a teenager and got into highschool, I had figured it out. I wasn’t attracted to the same type of people that my brother was attracted to, but it wasn’t something that was accepted during this time period, or even more so in my family.I was just scared of what would happen if I told them.. I knew that when I was 16. I’m 22 now. I graduated college a few months ago and I’m trying to find a job. My dad wanted me to major in something “manly”, so I chose engineering, but what I really wanted to go into, was art. I was planning to move away to San Francisco, because I knew I could be accepted there, and I could do what I wanted. My only hesitation is that there is some disease spreading around. I’m not really sure what it is or how to get it, but it wasn’t going to stop me from following my dream.
“Today is the day” I said to myself, I had my stuff all packed, as well as an apartment and the love of my life waiting for me in San Francisco. I called a family meeting. My parents and older brother came into the living room, sat down and waited for me to begin my speech.
“Well, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to begin my life, away from home” I began. I took a shaky breath and started talking again.
“I knew this day had to come for years, and I know you’re not going to accept it, but I am gay”. My mother gasped.
“I am sorry, but it is who I am. I’m not asking you to accept it, that is why I am leaving today, to San Francisco. My boyfriend, Nick, and I have already bought an apartment”. The looks on my family’s faces was pure disgust. The year was 1982 and I came from an Italian and Catholic family. This wasn’t accepted. My brother got up and left. My parents stared at me, not saying a word. I decided it was time to leave, and get out of that dreadful house. I grabbed my last bag and walked out the door. My parents didn’t stop me, I knew they wouldn’t, they wanted me gone.
I heard my dad yell after me “Don’t come back”. That was it, I was finally free. I took a deep breath in and smelled the fresh air and the birds chirping. I got in the taxi that I had called, and I was off to the airport. I am a free bird.
California. The warm air and the palm trees welcomed me, like that’s where I was supposed to be I saw Nick and I ran up to greet him, but I stopped myself before kissing him. This isn’t something to do in public. Being gay was still a sin here.
“How did it go?” Nick asked me.
‘“I think I’m disowned from my family” I said “But I couldn’t be happier”.
Nick looked at me “I’m sorry about your family, Tony, but we will make a life with each other here”. I smiled, thinking of all of the opportunities that were here. The drive to San Francisco was short, and soon I was standing in front of our new apartment. It was breathtaking. It was right in the middle of the Castro District, which was the “gay” part of San Francisco. Everything was lively and colorful. Words couldn’t describe how happy I was.
We’ve been in San Francisco for a week now. Nick already has a job and was off most of the time working, while I stayed home looking for a job in the newspaper. I wanted something that I could show my art skills in. So far, I haven’t had any luck. I decided to go out to look for some. This one shop in particular caught my eye. The window of the store was beautifully decorated, and there was a sign on the door that said “Help Wanted”.
“Perfect!” I thought. I walked in unemployed, and walked out with a job. Though I was only a window decorator, it was still a job and still a start at new life. Things were going great for me, things were really looking up.
Months passed.I haven’t ever been this happy. My job was going great and I was getting paid. Nick had a good job going for him too. Our apartment was looking more homey and our relationship was as strong as ever. There was something weird going on though. It was now 1983 and San Francisco wasn’t as colorful and lively as it was in 1982. The reason for this was GRID, which stand for gay related immune deficiency.They have now started calling it AIDS, which stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. I read that they switched the name because the discovered that this disease wasn’t only in gay people. At first, scientists thought that the disease was passed from gay men having anal sex. I think that what happens is that the seamen from one of the men is passed into the bloodstream of the other man, and then that causes some immune deficiency. Now, scientists have discovered that this disease can be passed through anyone having sex, as well as people using the same needles to do heroine or other drugs that you use needles for. Some guys that I work with left work, and I think it is for that reason. I started seeing newspapers and articles all about AIDS. People became even more scared around gay people because everyone thought we were infectious. The place that I once thought was so open, and that I could be myself in, was turning into a place where people like me were being secluded and pushed away from the rest of society.
Months went by. The friends that I have made are quickly disappearing. Some of them get sick and go back home, or go to the hospital. I’m learning more and more about this disease and the signs. There were these skin conditions that were signs of AIDS. I saw my friends going through some of these; they had these white hairy things on their tongue and a creamy white substance coming out of lesions on the sides of their mouths. I also saw rashes and purplish lesions on their faces and bodies that just looked so painful. Nick was feeling sick and tired, but I just brushed it off. It wasn’t serious, it didn’t seem as bad as these other people. I didn’t understand AIDS! Why was this happening to people? I knew how it was passed but why didn’t people wear a condom? Or wash the needles? Why did men go to the bathhouses and have sex with multiple different men? I didn’t feel safe anymore.
Today is my birthday, and I’m turning 23! Nick and I decided to celebrate away from the depressing atmosphere. The whole city felt sad and dead, and since Nick hadn’t been feeling too well either, we drove just out of San Francisco and found a gay bar. We drank and danced. It felt so good to finally feel alive again. Nick and I were out all night. We were too intoxicated to drive home so we found a motel and I’m sure you can assume what happened next. We both woke up the next morning incredibly hungover and happy. We were so happy to get out of that dismal town. We got ready and got back in our car. I didn’t take long to realize that weren’t out of “that dismal town”. This place had the same atmosphere. Everywhere was depressing. You couldn’t escape the disease that was killing thousands.
We got back to our apartment and stayed home from work. Nick became sicker and sicker. I blamed it on the alcohol. Bad move.
I am scared. Nick was exhausted. He barely moved ever, because he was too tired to. The only time he got out of bed was to go to the bathroom. He’s been having diarrhea for a week now. He is having night sweats, and he’s lost 10lbs out of nowhere. I decided to take him to the hospital. He got admitted, although it was no help. The doctor came in, and evaluated Nick’s symptoms. Now he had lesions all over his face, and his tongue was turning white. The doctor came back with the information that Nick has Kaposi’s sarcoma, a type of cancer. I had heard of this before, people called it the “gay cancer”. Then it hit me. I saw the doctor’s mouth moving but I heard no words.
The only thing I heard was the doctor whisper “Fag” has he walked out of the room. Tears rolled down my face, but I didn’t feel them. Nick looked up at me, his big brown eyes watery with tears. He has AIDS.
Everything is falling apart. Nick was deteriorating. Our relationship was failing. Nick was staying at the hospital and I had to work to get money to try to pay for his medical bill. We were barely talking. I’m now getting sick. At the first cough, my mind went immediately to AIDS. At this point, I didn’t even care. Thousands had died already, so why not me? All of my friends have died. Every single person I had made acquaintances with have died. I visited Nick every so often, but my visits weren’t pleasant. I walked into Nick's hospital room and who I saw lying before me, wasn’t Nick. His eyes had sunken into his face. The bags underneath his eyes were dark. His cheeks were hollow, and his skin was covered in purplish lesions. His once thick, dark hair was thinning, and he was skinnier than ever. We barely said “Hi” to each other. This disease was tearing us apart. The doctor walked in, and gasped when he saw me.
. “Do you have AIDS?” the doctor asked. I looked at him, uninterested.
“Probably” I said. He took a blood sample and went to go test it. Nick looked at me, shocked. “Jeez Nick don’t look at me like that. Of course I have AIDS. Do you know how it’s passed? Through sex. And we have had sex, so what did you expect? It was just a matter of time until I got this death sentence”. I didn’t really mean to snap at Nick like that, I was just angry. I was angry at everything, at the world. I was mad at Nick for giving this disease to me, If only we were sober enough to think to use a condom, I wouldn’t have the “gay plague”.
“I’m so sorry Tony” Nick said. “I just didn’t realize that you would get it too, I don’t want you to have to go through this. I love you so much”. In that moment I forgot that I was mad at him. I remembered just how much I loved him. I looked him, reminding myself why I gave up my family to be with him. I held into his hand tight and whispered “We’ll be okay, we will make it through this”. The doctor walked into the room, interrupting us. The look on his face gave me the confirmation I needed. I sat down and buried my head in my hands.
“We’ll get you admitted” said the doctor. I said I didn’t care if I got diagnosed, but now that it's official, it's very scary. Being only 23, and already having to face death
I’ve been diagnosed with AIDS for about a month now. I’m living in the hospital in the same hallway as nick. Speaking of Nick, he’s barely staying alive. Since the day I was diagnosed, Nick and I have been reconnecting. Knowing we both will die soon, we think that we shouldn't spend that time fighting and resenting each other. I wasn’t doing as bad as I thought I would. Even though when I looked in the mirror I could barely recognize myself, I know that I wasn’t in as much pain as Nick was in. Nick had both Kaposi’s sarcoma, a type of cancer, and Thrush, which was an infection of fungus in the mouth. I only showed signs of Oral Hairy Leukoplakia, which didn’t cause any pain or discomfort, as well as the normal symptoms of migraines, body aches, diarrhea, weight loss and lymph nodes. I didn’t feel like I had any room to complain. The only thing I really had a problem with was my doctor. I was staying in the hospital and getting the normal antibiotics, but my doctor wouldn’t give me the medicine that could help with my symptoms. He wouldn’t even come into my room, he would just stand in the doorway with his mask on. I think he was afraid of catching AIDS. It made me so mad. You couldn’t catch AIDS. This disease made gays even more hated than we were before this epidemic. I suddenly heard a commotion in the hallway. I run out of my room and see a crowd of doctors running into Nick's room. I ran as fast as I could and pushed my way through all of the doctors trying to get to nick.
“ NO NO NO NO NO” I thought “This can’t be happening”. NIck was laying there, not moving. His breathing was rapid at first and then it stopped. I heard some doctor behind me whisper
“No point in trying, his time is up, time of death is 15:23 pm”. Everything slowed down, there was a steady beeping noise going on behind me, and all of the doctors shuffled out of the room. My vision was blurred with tears, and I found myself leaning over Nick, latched onto him, my tears getting his hospital gown wet. My throat closed up, and I couldn't utter a work. I looked over at the man who had changed my life. His once permanent smile, now a frown. His once sparkling eyes were as black and dead as a grave. I barely recognized him. I crawled on top of him, trying to feel the last of his warmth. I muttered “I love you” into his chest praying that i’d feel his heart start to beat again, but it never did. I closed my eyes unable to fathom that I had just lost the love of my life.
I felt defeated. I felt destroyed. After Nick’s death, I had the hospital deal with his body. I couldn’t stand to look at it one second longer. I got myself discharged from the hospital and went home. Even though I was still sick, the doctors didn’t care if I left a refused treatment. They didn’t care about us. This was the first time I had been outside in a few weeks. The city that I thought I could strive in, was now the city that my dreams were crushed in. I walked past the store that I used to work for. The window was now decorated with skulls and crossbones, and everything related to death. The theme of the city now seemed to be death. I walked into my apartment. It was eerie how quiet and empty the building was. It was almost like it was abandoned. I unlock the door to our apartment. Well, now my apartment. I immediately went to our- my- room and pulled out all of Nick’s clothes. I then put on his favorite sweatshirt, crawled into bed and went to sleep.
I woke up a day or two later. I used to have depression and this is what it was like. It was sleeping for 36 hours straight because you have absolutely no motivation to do anything else. It was completely letting go of personal hygiene because you didn’t have the strength to stand up to walk to the bathroom. I had completely let go of the thought of pursuing life. At this point, I was just waiting for death. I can’t be completely sure of how long I stayed holed up in my apartment, but I do know that I had hit rock bottom. I couldn’t get any worst than this. I cried for hours everyday over the loss of my love. I cried over the loss of my life. AIDS was a terminal disease, there was so surviving it. Nick died within 6 months, so I had about 5 months let of this torture. I wanted to die sooner, I wanted to be with Nick again.
I’m proud of myself. It been a month since Nick died and I haven’t offed myself yet. With all of the drugs and alcohol I have been pouring into my body, I’m surprised it hasn’t shut down by itself by now.
Another few weeks have passed. This morning when I woke up, I no longer had the urge to die. It was as something had clicked inside of me. I suddenly realized that Nick wouldn’t want me to be like this. He would want me to get over his death, make a new life for myself and fight like hell to beat this disease. So that’s what I’ll do. I got out of bed, took a shower, shaved and ate real food for the first time in God knows how long. I threw up. It was probably all the alcohol and drugs trying to leave my system. I packed up my stuff, went to the bank and took out all of money and headed to airport.
“One ticket to Hawaii, Please”.
What’s the point of living if you’re not actually going to live. Once I took a step onto that plane, I never looked back
. I am a free bird.