“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow.”
― Mary Anne Radmacher
As part of the blogging class I'm taking with Liv Lane, we are posting and sharing "Brave" blog posts and linking up with each other, supporting and encouraging each other. If you are so moved, I hope you will join us.
I do not consider myself brave. After reading a couple of blog posts from my classmates, I knew that I couldn't just let them post without stepping out on the limb with them.
First off, I want to say that this blog is a manifestation of bravery for me. It is the place where I keep putting my voice into the ether. For a long time, I didn't speak out, whispered, kept that voice under control. WildRumpusing is my commitment to myself. Some days, I am brave, some days, not so much. Here is one of my bravest posts up until today. And here is another.
As I looked in my archives tonight, I realized that there was one story that I have alluded to, but I have never shared here. Deep breath. Here we go.
I guess it was June of 1986 when Roby had a low grade cold that wouldn’t go away – some fever, feeling yucky, low energy- so I took him to see his doctor. I wish I could remember the guy's name because he was an evil bastard. I took him to the doctor’s appointment where he had a full physical and some tests were done. When he came out to the waiting area, he told me he had gone ahead and tested for AIDS (at the time, that was what we were testing for – not HIV). I reassured him – no way…he’d only been with Grant and AIDS was not in Portland…really. I drove him to work and dropped him off.
A couple of weeks later – after much agonizing and worrying, I got a call from Roby in the late afternoon. I did not have any classes that day, so I was home. It was around 3:00 or 4:00pm – I was not showered but dressed in comfy clothes for around the house. I would get ready later to pick him up after he got off work at 9pm. I answered the phone and it was him – almost unrecognizeable – he was sobbing.
“Can you come and get me? I have AIDS…” and he began sobbing again.
Stunned, I told him I would be right there…the litany in my mind was so loud, but my heartbeat was louder, “Oh my God, ohmygodohmygod…” Both roared in my ear as I ran to change my clothes and brush my teeth. I paused to think about the fact that I hadn’t washed my hair before my rational mind took over. Who cares? Go to him.
I drove my yellow VW Dasher to Beaverton Town Square praying all the way, “Please let it not be true. Please God, let it not be true.” I went into the store and his co-workers all had looks of concern and compassion on their faces. I walked to the back room and Carol was there. She let me in the back room (employees only) and I found him there, still crying, but less hysterical.
“He called me on the phone and told me I have AIDS. He doesn’t treat AIDS patients, so he told me to find a different doctor. Then he hung up. I’m going to die. I don’t want to die.”
I led him out of the store and took him to the car. I didn’t know what to say or do. Once I started the car, I took his hand in mine and we held hands all the way to his apartment. He didn’t really talk much. He was almost numb – just quiet.
At the time, getting an AIDS diagnosis was a death sentence. It was early on when we still didn’t know much and there were no medicines to manage HIV and AIDS. This was in the days when we used language like, “He’s been exposed to AIDS.” Later, this became an HIV positive diagnosis. In 1986, being exposed to AIDS meant you had about 2 years to live. People were thrown out of their apartments, lost health insurance, they were beaten up, families abandoned them. Ryan White was diagnosed that year or the year after and a couple of other little boys and their communities burned their homes to the ground. We were very afraid of what would happen.
That night, Roby told JM, Susan, JC and Bill from downstairs. It was a difficult evening – I felt that I needed to be strong, so I didn’t cry in front of him. I just kept reassuring him – “Maybe it’s a mistake. We will find a different doctor.” At one point, I went across the hall and I cried a bit with Susan. I was feeling so lost and devastated – what would we do? How could this have happened?
Later in the evening, we walked downtown for some retail therapy for him. I don’t remember buying anything. He just couldn’t stand being in the apartment that night. I was in a daze. I just followed him and tried to keep my brain under control. We called it an early night but before I left, he asked me the biggest favor I have ever been asked. “Don’t tell anybody.” Of course I agreed. This would start me on a path that shaped my entire adult life. We didn't tell anyone for 9 years.
When I went home, my parents were out and I just went upstairs and in a black, brand new spiral notebook (unlike anything I would normally write in for a journal), I wrote the following:
"Thursday, June 26, 1986 (technically June 27 at 12:09am)
The doctor told Roby he has AIDS. He called him at work and told him over the phone. Roby called me. He was crying so hard he could hardly talk. I picked him up from work. I felt so helpless. I didn't know what to say or how to act. All I wanted was to take him in my arms and hug all his pain away. But I couldn't. I felt a huge wall between us. I tried to put my arm around him, but he seemed to move away. I feel numb. I didn't cry until he told Jenny (M.) and Susan. I felt like I had to be strong. Susan fell apart and sobbed. Later in her apartment, she and I talked. I cried and she somehow knew that I needed for her to tell me it was okay. We talked for awhile. Roby loves her so much. So do I. Even Jenny and I talked. She held me when I cried and held my hand for a while. I felt as if we were friends just then.
I don't know how to feel. This has got to be a mistake. It has to be. I know this is selfish, but I don't want to lose him, I can't. Not now. Not ever."
I remember that I went to bed right after I wrote that. I put the notebook in my nightstand and turned off the lights. Later, my mother came home and checked on me as I was rarely in bed that early. She gave me a kiss on the forehead and closed my door after I assured her that I was ok.
The night that changed my whole life.