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Epidemic of Grief, part 2

As a homosexual man my father was in a higher-risk demographic in the ’80s than a lot of other people. Not as high as many – He was living in a committed, monogamous relationship, and I don’t think that there was any covert cruising of Griffith Park late into weekend evenings. But he and the partner he lived with for ten years are both dead, neither of AIDS. His partner had a heart attack and died tragically alone in the apartment he had moved into after my father left him, crashing down into his stove and lying in a pool of blood until his landlord found him. My father died of inoperable pancreatic cancer in 2002, just a few brief weeks after his diagnosis. (His partner, who had been with him for at least 8 years by then is still considered part of our immediate family, and I usually call him my father’s widow.)

This past Christmas, for some reason, we were talking about relatives and my cousin Steven’s name came up. He died of AIDS in the mid-late ’90s, which I do not think that I ever knew. To be honest, I had forgotten all about him since I had not seen him since he was a young child. As the child of one of my father’s ignorant and intolerant brothers, growing up in the South, his life, short as it had been, was a painful one. He had moved to Miami to work as a hairdresser and his relationship with his family had been strained. I had not heard much about him until my father’s widow told me more in this same discussion last December. One thing I had never heard was the way that my father confronted his brother after Steven fell ill, forcing him to reconcile himself to the fact that his only son was dying and that he had better step up and do the right thing. He did. My father was never one to avoid confrontation with anyone, but this, in particular was something I found pretty admirable.

This past December I got a call from a friend who I had not heard from in many years inviting me to her annual Christmas party. During the strange catchup discussion at the party she mentioned her cranky and anti-social brother who I had never met, but who I had remembered her talking about. He had announced to his family that he was HIV positive ten or so years ago, but had admitted recently, after many years of his family fearing for his health, that he actually was not infected with HIV. My friend did not believe that he had gotten incorrect results, but that he had fabricated his affliction. There’s something in this tale about belonging and community and wanting to find compassion through a quantifiable form of suffering. I can’t really define it too clearly because I do not know this man personally, but a lie of this sort betrays a very terrible sadness.

Posted in Personal Stories.


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