8/22/90 One day towards the end of May David M. came over to my desk in UCSF’s Millberry Union and said, “Well, here’s the scoop of the year: I’ve got AIDS. I’ve given them three months’ notice.” He rolled up his sleeve to show me a light pink-purple blotch on his forearm, shaped like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. “That’s KS,” he said.
Tiny flecks of spray came out of his mouth and drifted down in my direction. When we first became friends, Dave had told me that he’d been HIV positive for 10 years. He himself never said “I’ve got AIDS” until that day. The only symptoms he would acknowledge were fatigue and thrush —until he got KS.
Within a week I was visiting him in the hospital. He had pneumonia. His lungs were so painful he woke up screaming, too weak to get a pill to his mouth. At the hospital he was given morphine. He grinned and wiggled his thumb sideways in the so-so gesture. “As highs ago, I was disappointed. I felt a slight warm tingle around my neck and then I was out.”
Throughout June he was too sick to work. A replacement was hired, a 30-year old Chinese-American woman named Letty. Then, suddenly, Dave seemed better. He was coming to work, staying four hours at a time, training Letty in the complicated accounting procedures on which a giant institution depends. “She’s very sharp” he reported one day. “She’s an MBA and she’s a virgo, which I am. Virgos make fantastic accountants.”
I asked about his own personal accounting. “Immediately I have short-term disability, 70% of your salary,” he explained, “which lasts for a year. The only taxes taken out is FICA on the first $600. In about six months I have to start picking up my own medical insurance, but that should remain at the rate UC pays for 21 months. Longterm disability kicks in after a year and that’s 50% of my salary. Also, Social Security kicks in after six months of being out. So I’m not terribly worried financially. I don’t expect this to be a long term illness for me. As soon as it starts getting really rough I’m going to take things into my own hands. I was ready to do it the day I came home from the hospital, but I took a little snapshot of what it would look like had I gone that day, and it wouldn’t have been right. My papers are really not in order —my life insurance would not have been dispersed the way I want it to.
“My theory is to leave enough money to people who are never going to have much money so it might make a difference in their life. I have a few friends like that, who have always struggled, who I love dearly, so I want to get that in order… After that I kind of feel like I’m ready. Like, I’ve done my bit here and I don’t want to go through another round of losing three friends in four months. December through February I lost this guy who I’d grown up with, Barry, who was my musical director from back in Brooklyn. He was the last to be diagnosed and the first to go. He was not as sick as the other people.
“I lost Paul, my gym buddy in November, and I went through it with him, I was in the hospital the entire time. In December my friend Jimmy in Texas passed away. That was the hardest one, that’s the one that haunts me, because we were lovers and he was the symbol of me finally getting what I wanted, the relationship I had always waited for and wanted…” How did it end? “He got AIDS and didn’t want to be with anybody anymore. So we ended the physical aspect of our relationship. But right through until two days before he died we had the best part of our relationship, which was our communication. We talked incessantly on the phone. We’d always been able to do that. I spent my entire new year’s eve this year on the phone just talking for hours and hours… He held my heart. I miss him the most.”
“Music, I’ll miss that. The idea of not hearing the next Pretenders album or the next Rickie Lee Jones seems wierd to me. But who knows, maybe I will hear it.”
At the end of July there was a farewell party for Dave, and when Savannah, his boss, wished him many good years in retirement, nobody winced. If love and affection could make it happen… “I’ve never had a party that was about me, ever in my life,” he said.
This week he was telling me about his trip to the Grand Canyon, and how his mom took the news. “I have a sister in Phoenix, my straight sister who married money. She wanted to come meet us at the airport and show me my new niece whom I hadn’t seen, a year old. So I thought it was important that she know I had an AIDS diagnosis, so based on whatever information she had, or whatever understanding she had of the crisis, she could decide whether or not she still wanted to bring the baby. She should be able to decide whether or not she wants me to hold the baby, kiss the baby, et cetera. So I told her on the phone and she basically didn’t get it. By that I mean, she doesn’t understand it in the sense that… I don’t think she equates it with me dying.
“Anyway, she came to the airport with the baby and I held the baby and kissed the baby and there was no problem with that. The problem came with my mother. Before I went into the hospital I had loaned my mother some money, as I’ve always done throughout my life. So I’m out of the hospital for the second time, I’m in bed and she calls. I tell her I’m just out of the hospital, I had pneumocystis. She immediately starts complaining about her cataract operation, and then telling me about my other sister’s problems. So I figured this is part of the hype because she wants something. And sure enough she says ‘I actually called to ask you something.’ I said, ‘Do you know what pneumocystis is?’ And she said, ‘Well I thought of asking you.’ And I said, “Well basically it means I have AIDS and it’s probably one of the first worst forms of pneumonia. It can kill you.”
And she said, ‘What?’ And I said, “What this basically means is that I have AIDS.” And she said, “What did you say?” And I said, ‘I have AIDS.’ And she said, ‘We must have a bad connection. What did you say?’ And I said, ‘We do have a bad connection. I have AIDS. And I am getting off the phone.'”
“Didn’t she know you were HIV positive?” I asked.
“I had told her that I was HIV positive and that I was taking medication to prevent me from getting full-blown AIDS. She didn’t really get it… So the next day she calls up and she’s furious, she says I’m trying to ‘separate the family’ by telling my sister in Phoenix and not telling them. I said, ‘First of all, I didn’t want to worry you. Secondly, people have different levels of AIDS awareness, and people experience prejudice –big time– because of having AIDS. And third, there was a part of me that thought it was none of your business.’ And of course the only reason I told my sister in Phoenix was because she was going to bring the child.
“So then my little lesbian sister gets on the phone acting hurt and she goes, ‘Dave, I always thought we could talk.’ “I said ‘I can’t believe I’m telling you I have what is probably a terminal illness and you’re accusing me of dividing up the family!’ She gets off the phone and puts my mother on. “My mother says, ‘She don’t wanna talk to you as long as you’re yelling.’ “I said, ‘I cannot believe this conversation.’ And she says, ” Well, what I really called to find out about is if you could sign a car loan for us.” “I said, ‘You can forget that.’ “Since then I’m in my remission, I’ve gotten all my papers together, I’ve gotten a durable power of attorney for my health and business affairs….[with his New York accent it comes out ‘adorable.’] And I’ve regained all but seven of the pounds I lost.”