“She’s in my spiritual support group at Jewish Family & Children Services with nine gay guys, Mom, and she’s straight. She’s only 26 years old, and she’s a fox. It breaks my heart that she’s going to die,” Aaron told his mom, Sylvia, during a telephone conversation.
Every Tuesday, I, Aaron, and eight other gay men with AIDS met at Jewish Family and Children Services on Sutter Street in a room just big enough for 11 blue fabric chairs positioned into a perfect circle every week at 2:30, where we did our best to help each other cope with what was once our familiar lives suddenly skewed into these real life nightmares. The group talked of loss, a recurring theme. We held hands, hugged, and cried, mourning fellow group members, whose empty chairs still warm. But by the following week, another lucky Jewish client, the guy at the top of the group waiting list, was sitting in that seat, grateful to be a part of our group before he got too sick to attend, when another lucky Jewish client filled his empty seat while it was still warm.
Every Tuesday at 4:00, I accompanied a weak and fragile Aaron half a block to the MUNI stop, where together we waited for the bus sometimes up to 45 minutes. But time went quickly talking of the horrors we endured. We laughed, too. If we didn’t, we risked spiritual death before our physical death.
Aaron wore only one pair of shoes the entire time I knew him: clogs. Clogs that belonged to Bob, the love of his life, who had recently lost his battle with AIDS in Aaron’s arms as his spirit left his body and went to a place where everyone is whole and healthy. It pained me as I watched these sentimental clogs threatened to take Aaron’s life before AIDS did.
After a few months of attending group together and waiting for buses, we moved to more intimate surroundings. Since he was too sick to travel to my apartment, our visits took place at his cozy studio apartment on Geary Street.
“Is that you?” Aaron’s voice was barely audible through the static of the speaker.
“Yeah, buzz me up.”
That rickety old 1920s Otis elevator in the lobby took me to the second floor. I tapped lightly on Aaron’s front door; it opened by itself, and I stepped inside his apartment.
Through thick Patchouli incense smoke, across the room I barely saw some bright green foliage. Aaron’s plants framed his gigantic window from floor to ceiling. I coughed, waved a hand in front of my face, and shut the door behind me.
“I’m here! Where are you?”
“Over here, in the kitchen!” he shouted from where he sat on a vinyl chair with shiny chrome legs at his 1950s-style Formica kitchen table.
I skipped to the kitchen and parked myself across the table from him.
“How’s it goin’?” I asked.
“My feet are hurting today,” he said. “My neuropathy is acting up, and my meds aren’t helping. I need to find something that works. They can send a man to the moon, you’d think they could find a medication that cures neuropathy. Am I right?”
“You’d think,” I said
Through Jewish Family and Children Services, Aaron and I spoke of our experiences living with AIDS to children, teenagers, and adults at schools, community centers, and any other places where people were receptive.
Aaron was angry about so much, including public response to this epidemic that was killing him and the absence of government acknowledgement and response. Aaron was an activist, not afraid to voice his feelings or ruffle feathers. Aaron spoke of injustice, stigma, and discrimination. This virus was killing his people and was so close to taking him.
Aaron had had AIDS for much longer than I had. I was new to AIDS, younger and quieter. My communication style differed from Aaron’s. I didn’t want to annoy or anger anyone. It wasn’t safe to share my status to the ignorant and terrified straight folks who thought they could contract this virus from breathing my air. I didn’t want to face the fear and intense emotions from people to whom I disclosed I had AIDS, a virus killing huge amounts of people. That was all I needed to keep my HIV status private.
During one of our visits at his apartment on Geary Street, he told me how hard it was to fight this disease. Aaron was battle fatigued, so tired. I’ve seen this many times since then over the years.
“Aaron, you know, it’s okay to let go.”
He looked at me with revelation in his eyes and let out a deep sigh. Aaron’s body slumped.
“It is?” he whispered.
“Yeah, it is,” I said.
I met Aaron’s mother, Sylvia, in San Francisco, when she traveled from Portland, Aaron’s hometown, to care for him.
Aaron constantly threatened to send her back to Portland if she didn’t behave. But Sylvia never misbehaved. Aaron consistently told her she was doing everything wrong, and she should know better because she was a nurse. Sylvia was a medical technologist.
To keep her sanity, Sylvia attended folk dancing classes at the Russian Center.
Sometimes during my regular visits with Aaron, I'd picked up two café mochas, trying not to spill them on my way to his apartment, where I'd crawl into his hospital bed with him, and we'd drink the hot coffee drinks together. Along with our HIV status, we had much in common, and we loved each other. Aaron and I respected one another, even though our styles were so different.
Aaron died on October 10, 1992, the night before I had been camping with my boyfriend, Cody. We spent a wet dewy night in a pup tent in a tiny secluded cove overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge. I was expecting to hear from Sylvia when she called to tell me Aaron had died.
Sadly, my time with Aaron was too short, just over 18 months, but he had a huge impact on my life. Aaron changed the course of my life, not just in the things I learned from him about having AIDS, but in the connections I made with Sylvia, Pat, and David, and the path the three of us have traveled together these past years, writing and reading together as The December First Writers. Not only are we a well-rounded group of talented writers, but each member of our group has a very special place in my heart, and we have become family.
I wish I could thank Aaron, but I think he knows.
My name is Sally.
This is the story of my life and what happened to me afterward.
Most of it’s true, but you decide for yourself…
* * * * * *
Sally's not my real name. It’s not even my nickname. I changed it to Sally when I was three years old, long before it was acceptable, cool even, to change your name just because you felt like it. My parents thought it was adorable, a phase I would soon outgrow. They would never have gone along with it had they not honestly believed that ultimately, I would learn to love the graceful, melodic, significant, Hebrew name they had carefully chosen for me, the name on my birth certificate. I never did.
Hey there! I’m Emilay, a person with many different compartments in her life, and an expert at keeping them all separate. I am writing a series of books about each of those different compartments.
Since I was about five years old, others have labeled me a Pollyanna. Today, not so much.
Today I live my life with passion. Many have called me dramatic, and they are all correct. I really should be up on a stage somewhere. My goal in life is to do at least one or more fun things every single day. I collect life experiences—good ones, bad ones, and in between ones. I’ve traveled extensively, mostly with myself and a backpack. I’m a hedonist with a weight problem. I don’t like people who litter. I don’t like people who judge others. I can’t cook. I don’t necessarily care for fanatics of any sort. I love Scarlett O’Hara. I love to sing and dance, with no given talent in either area. I love movies. I find most things funny. I apologize for nothing, ever. If you don’t like me, I don’t care. If you don’t agree with me, I don’t care. If I repel you, I don’t care. If you think I am a horrible person, I don’t care. At least I don’t care anymore, not since turning 50. Others have told me throughout my life that when I turned 50, I wouldn’t give a fuck what others thought of me. I did not believe them, until I turned 50. I say fuck a lot more since I turned 50. And now I’m offensive without even trying!
I happen to be a kind person, an honest person, an empathic person, and a person who loves all animals with no exceptions, unless you count spiders as animals. I avoid being a cat lady by having no more than two cats at any time. I am an author, a mental health patient, a long-term survivor of AIDS, a drug addict, a comic, and a person of deep spirituality, with an extremely open mind and a strong belief that anything is possible, literally. I was born into the Jewish faith. I love God and angels. I study and practice bits of Buddhism. I enjoy what I know of the Islamic faith and want to be a Muslim, so I wear a hijab during Ramadan. I love Jesus and dead ascended masters. I’m not picky about who I pray to all day, I just like to think someone is listening. I love magic and Mt. Shasta. I read oracle cards. I believe in the afterlife. I believe in heaven. I joke almost daily about going to hell for thinking bad thoughts about my sister.
I’ve been quasi married twice—once to a mama’s boy for a blink of an eye; and once to a criminal and psychopath for way too many blinks, who is constantly in and out of prison. I’ve been an atheist, a whore, an exchange student, and an inmate. I spent four months living in a half-way house with the most interesting characters. I’ve had a heart attack. I grew up in a home where my marvelous amazing self was less than appreciated, but who didn’t?
If you happen to find any of the above interesting, please check out my books called, The Emilay Series.
Thank you, and have a lovely day!
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