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    Headstall
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With Pride I Go Forth - 1. Chapter 1 Never Surrender

Happy Pride!

Never Surrender

 

I’m so fucking frail I can’t do the simplest things for myself—I should be used to it, but I’m not. There is a desperation I feel that I can’t put into words. I want to get up from this bed, but my will and strength are as feeble as my mind has become. Death hasn’t come for me yet—soon, but not yet—so I’m doing the only thing I’m capable of as I lay here. We’ll see how it goes.

I’m writing this while my achy, knobby fingers can still support a pen, not in the usual way, but I’ve figured out a grip that allows me to get the ink on paper. It’s awkward-looking—like I’m a three-year-old learning motor skills—but so far so good if you can read chicken scratches. My eyesight is another problem (recurring CMV Retinitis, thanks to this affliction that continues to steal from me). What can I say? My body keeps betraying me in each and every way.

So… my eyesight… it’s hazy—downright cloudy sometimes—but I’m better off that a lot of my friends who have taken this same journey. They’ve lost their vision completely, and many have died blind, deprived of seeing the faces of their loved ones before they passed. I just hope and pray the darkness doesn’t come until after my breath stops.

Anyway, here goes. I’ll start with… hate. Yeah, hate… I guess. I don’t know why. It just came to me now. It’s funny… hate has been something I’ve tried to omit from my rather short (by my grandpa’s standard) life. Grandpa Joe died at seventy-five, which is two and a half times what I will be when they slide what’s left of me into the crimson furnace I see in my dreams.

Dreams? Who am I kidding? Those aren’t dreams… they’re nightmares. My doctor says it’s the drugs. Maybe he’s right. Mortality is something we all must face… I just always thought I would live as long as my grandfather did. ‘Ah, the folly of youth’, he would say if he were here. Anyway, it shouldn’t take long to turn this husk to ash once the flames hit it.

What do I want to say? Oh, right… hate. I decided to start with hate. Well, hate is repulsive, so don’t go there—and if you’re sick like me, don’t take any with you when you go. Sure, it’s a hard emotion to quell, but I’ve fought it most of my life, and I want no part of that ugliness following me out of this world.

Long before I came out, I felt this disgust, this revulsion others had for me just because I was different. I’m sure some of you know what I mean. I must have been about six when my classmates starting making fun of my lisp… and my prettiness. Pretty like a girl, they would chant. It grew quickly from there over the next few years, and recess and after school were times for fear and tears, which of course made things worse. At first it was all so confusing, what they meant, but there is no better way to get educated than in a schoolyard. And you know what? Turns out they were right about me. Flamer, Nancy-boy, pussy, faggot, fruity tutti, queer, cock-gobbler, and my personal favorite, pansy (pansies are so pretty)—names I heard so often it would have been easy to forget the name my mother gave me, because no one ever bothered to use it—Michael.

Michael. I haven’t heard her say it for three years now, not since I told her back in nineteen ninety-three that yes, I’d tested positive for HIV. For some stupid reason, I figured she had a right to know. We won’t get into what she said to me the last time I heard my given name leave her twisted up mouth, though. I’m still dealing with that baggage. My doctor calls me a fast progresser, by the way, which means it didn’t take long for HIV to become AIDS. Just my fucking luck.

Sorry… had to stop for a day. Self-pity and all that. I needed some time to gather myself. ‘Gather myself’. Does that sound like a faggy thing to say? Oh well. I am what I am, and I will soon die for it. Not because I’m a gay man, but because it is a cruel and callous world that first looked at AIDS as a gay plague, brought down upon us by the lord above. As if. It’s hard to believe people are that stupid… but the proof is in the pudding.

It’s just a disease—a deficiency—a horrible one, and god isn’t the one punishing us. No, the establishment is, with non-existent funding to protect us at the beginning. So many years and lives were lost as men in power sat on their hands… watching as we died in droves. They were nothing more than cheering spectators at the parades of death.

I wonder, did they ever look at an AIDS quilt? Do they even know how many of those quilts there are in this world? All those names they should have been held responsible for? I think we all know the answers to these questions. Even now there are those who believe the funding for research we fought so ferociously, so valiantly for, should be taken away. They still want to see us exterminated like vermin—some, even when it is their own children.

I would be remiss, though, not to thank all the truly wonderful people who rallied to our cause from the beginning—you all know who they are—from dedicated researchers like Drs. Volberding, Fauci, Laubenstein, Kovacs, and Birx, just to name a few—to big-hearted celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and good old Elton John.

Damn, it sucks trying to wield this pen. I think I might know how Jesus’ wrist felt when it was nailed to the cross—how’s that for imagery? Sacrilege? Sue me. Fuck it hurts, but I don’t want to ask for more morphine. Fuck!

Sorry about that. I took another break for some days—two or three—but I’m back. Why? I’m not really sure anymore, but I think it’s because I want to leave something tangible behind in this world, even if it ends up in the trash. Confession… I always wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be so many things once upon a time, but when my people began dropping like flies, those things stopped mattering.

Okay… back to writing. It was another long night, and I really didn’t expect to see morning. My doctor made me swallow some new pills when they called him in, not that they’ll do much good, but my heart is still beating for now. I feel sorry for these caring healthcare workers who have to watch their patients die. I saw their faces when I came to… the relief they showed. I only have to die once. They have to watch it thousands of times.

Who knew simply breathing was such an exquisite pleasure. I took it for granted most of my life, and now all I want is to be able to draw a long breath without feeling the weight of a giant rock on my chest. Oh damn, I’m doing it again, getting sidetracked. I’m running out of time, so I have to make my point if it’s the last thing I do. It’s okay… you can chuckle at this. I may have lost everything else, but I can still see the humor through the darkness.

I’m sounding bitter, aren’t I, but that wasn’t my intent. It really wasn’t, yet my mind is hard to direct. It keeps wandering, and goes places I don’t want it to—like to my mother, father, and sister. Family. There’s a word I don’t use much anymore, unless I’m talking about my gay brothers and sisters. They’ve never let me down. My dad on the other hand… well… he says nothing, but my mother… oh, my mother. She uses words like knives, and I have the gashes to prove it.

Yes, Mummy Dearest, I fell from god’s grace. I was a reprobate… a wicked wretch… and a disgusting whore, as you so eloquently put it with one long breath. I sold my body in order to eat, but the thing you wouldn’t hear while I was alive was how it was never a choice. What can a feminine boy like me do, barely fifteen when his family disowns him and throws him out with only the clothes on his back? What exactly did you expect? You screamed at me for refusing to go to one of those ‘Christian’ fix-me camps, but trust me, Mother, it never would have worked. If I’d agreed to your ultimatum, it would have killed me quicker than AIDS has.

And you know what else? I know you, and I’ve never bought that you believe in god. You only subscribe to religion when it suits you. I know about the steady supply of vodka you keep in your closet, and I’ve had the rather dubious pleasure of seeing you in Mr. Corson’s car. The married Mr. Corson who meets you in the Home Depot parking lot. Enough said? Ask Ellie. She was with me when we saw the bottom of your heels through the front windshield, but she’s too afraid of your rage to say anything. That’s another thing—you swear worse than any trucker, and take the lord’s name in vain when you’re angry… which is pretty much always.

You live your hateful, sham life while I chose to live as my true self, so in my mind, I win. I bet I’ve prayed a lot more than you have. I’ve often wondered why having a gay son terrified you so, but I’ve come to the conclusion it really doesn’t matter. I will, however, let you off the hook. Me being gay had nothing to do with you. You do not get the credit for it… no bloody way.

I did it again. You’d think there was no moisture left in this body, but apparently there’s lots yet to be squeezed out. I see no point to tears, but have not the strength to stop them. Could be the drugs I’m on… I’ve lost track of what does what. It’s another morning, and today I can see the sun shining through the blinds of Casey House.

It’s a wonderful hospice despite the smell of death in the air, and the people who volunteer here are truly saints. They aren’t afraid to touch me, or breathe the same air… or to wash my emaciated and bruised skeletal remains. I even get hugs. I had an especially wonderful one this morning from Delilah—what a pretty name. If I could have done drag, I think I would have called myself Delilah Sunshine. Yes, Delilah Sunshine. I can see it on the Marquee. But of course that will never happen now. This new combination drug therapy is apparently working for some, but not for me. Still, it would have been a great drag name, and I might not be able to lip-sync as good as Michelle Ross, a true queen of queens, but I can sing, bitches!

Back again. I’m feeling so drained, but I’ve written more than I thought I could. It’s been a few days, and all I’ve done is take pills and drift in and out. It’s nighttime and I’m floating. To be honest, I’m scared. I had a few visitors this afternoon—I think it was this afternoon—the remnants of my gay family. I’m pretty sure I heard the nurse whisper I only have a few days left, but it could have been a dream. I don’t think it will be days. I won’t mind if it’s only hours. I’m ready.

One of my visitors, David, such a sweet man, a beautiful man with eyes you could fall into, wanted to stay through the night, but he’s fighting the same fight I am so I sent him home and told him I would see him tomorrow. If things had been different, he might have been the one—and I think he feels the same, but this illness killed our chance. It’s okay. I did know love once, for an entire year. His name was Charlie, and I stitched his name on a quilt. So many are already gone, and I expect if there is a heaven, I will seem them soon. Maybe even this evening, Charlie will take my hand and lead me to a place where everyone is healthy and happy and loved.

Back again. I kept getting sidetracked, but my mind is clear for the moment—apparently my lucidity is becoming less frequent—and I remember what I wanted to say. No, this scribbling is not about hate. No matter what I may have said, I don’t hate anyone… not even my mother. This is about pride. PRIDE. Such a beautiful, vibrant, colorful word. I can’t hear it without seeing the rainbow, and it still gives me goosebumps to speak it aloud, although now it comes out as a whisper. I am dying, but it hasn’t taken away my pride. I am a gay man who feels no shame for his existence on this earth, and I will die as a proud gay man. PROUD, you hear me?

I want to live, but if it meant not being who I am, I wouldn’t change a thing. We’ve fought as a family. We fought hard, and we fought long, and many of my fellow victims are beginning to regain their health. Pride parades around the world will finally outnumber the parades of death, I’m sure of it, and I can leave this world with that knowledge to comfort me. There is real hope for your futures now, so don’t give up.

I haven’t been sure who I would address this letter to, but I am now. I’ve decided I’m addressing this letter to you, Delilah. It’s up to you who you show it to. I doubt my mother will have any interest, and would shriek at my candor, but you can let her know it exists if you‘d like. Maybe my sister would want to read it… although that’s not likely either. And my dad? He wrote me off years ago, long before I came out. He told me he always knew I was a fag, and has never spoken a word to me since.

So, my angel, you can post this anywhere you think it might help other LGBT brothers and sisters, ones who might feel regret for who they are, or thinks this disease defines them. To them I say, choose pride over hate, love who you are, and choose your family. If you’re a campy little fem boy, then be a campy little fem boy. And whether you believe or not, don’t let anyone tell you the creator doesn’t love you. That’s bullshit.

Maybe the ACT building on Church Street or The Hassle-Free Clinic would be good places to post this. Those were such a big help to me and thousands of others who needed support for the road ahead. Thank you, dear Delilah, for being my friend and for taking care of me. Your hugs are like the sun—like sunshine pushing away the clouds—and I love you for the heart you are not afraid to show. Your young and beautiful children are blessed, and I thank you for sharing each new photo of them.

This pen has become heavy, and I guess I have no other point to make, so Michael John Davidson is signing off for the final time. I take pride in knowing my name will be soon be stitched on a quilt alongside those of my brave and courageous people.

Oh… and remember to donate what you can to The Toronto People With AIDS Foundation (PWA), at 200 Gerrard Street. XOXOXOXO

                                                                                              ***

 

Hello again! My hands are shaking, but I couldn’t leave my letter like it was. Delilah is helping me with my writing pad, but I can hold the pen in a normal way again. Brothers and sisters, it appears the news of my demise was premature. I was in a coma for a week, but I’ve been awake for three days now—like, really awake, you know? My mind is clear, I can breathe easier than I have in months, I have real food in my belly, and I actually have a T cell count again!

Dr. Kovacs says I’m a miracle… a miracle! Me! But the truly great thing is I’m only one of many. He’s seeing a turnaround with almost all of his patients on this new drug therapy and he’s confidant I will keep improving. I might even be able to get up and walk a few steps tomorrow. For now, I’m able to lift both my arms completely off the bed. I’ll be dancing in no time! This latest medicine—my doctor calls it a cocktail—took its good old time for me, but it’s working, so all of you in the same boat, hang in there. It might be hard to believe, but trust me… real help is on the way.

David came to see me… apparently he sat by my bed for the entire week I was out of it, and his drug therapy is making a real difference too. He didn’t even have to tell me because I could see it in his beautiful face. His T cell count has risen to over three hundred! He looks good… so good. Who knows… maybe we will get our chance after all? I sure hope so. Life is too short to waste, and love is never wasted on the right person.

See how much is changing? This was my goodbye letter ten days ago, but now it’s my introduction to the world. Say hello to Miss Delilah Sunshine, bringer of joy and laughter! She is going to be one bad bitch, I promise you. I just have to get some weight on these skinny legs—and scavenge a whole new wardrobe. Sequins. I’m going to wear sequins, bitches! And I’m going to need a wig. I see a flaming red one in my future. Yes! Think Reba McEntire, soft and pretty with a flip. And David says I have spectacular bone structure and I’ll be stunning in drag. He’s so sweet!

You can look for my debut in a few months, maybe in September on my twenty-ninth birthday, god willing. Keep waving your flags, brothers and sisters. We have more work to do, and I’ll be right by your side. I am not going anywhere! Oh, I almost forgot… I’m going to take a writing class as soon as I get out of here. They say the pen is mightier than the sword, and I feel like fencing with some idiots.

P.S. My handwriting is atrocious—barely legible—so Delilah has offered to type this out and copy it. She insists it’s worth reading and is going to post it around the community. And, she’s going to send a copy to my mother… and if that isn’t enough, I’m going to send Mummy Dearest a picture of Delilah Sunshine after her debut… you can be sure of it! This phoenix has risen from the ashes, so maybe you were right, Mother, that I am getting exactly what I deserve.

Told you, all—Miss Sunshine is going to be one bad bitch. Hell yeah, she is!

Stay strong, and remember… never ever surrender! Happy Pride!

 

 

*  

 

Thanks for reading! Michael is based on a real person who is very dear to me, and much of his story is in this one. Please let me know what you thought, and it would be appreciated if you could leave a recommendation to others in the provided box if you feel it worthy of such. Cheers!

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34 minutes ago, Albert1434 said:

This is a great story that reminds me of those awful days when I lost many of my best friends. And brings tears to my eyes at there loss. Some how I didn't catch that plague, maybe it was pure luck. I simple don't know and I have always had pride for those I have lost:yes: Some times being a survivor is a terrible thing!

Well written Gary even made me cry:thankyou:

I think there are many of us who needs to shed those tears, Albert, and Pride month is a perfect time to do it... to remember. I know what Pride means to me, and obviously you share those feelings. Yes, we both were lucky to have escaped it for ourselves, but we didn't escape it at all really. You're right that surviving is not as good as it sounds. Our hearts being broken in such a way changes us forever. Still, we recognize the sheer bravery of our community... the incredible spirit that brought us to 1996 and beyond, when hope had reason to blossom, and when HIV was no longer a certain death sentence, and we could stop holding our breath. Thanks, my dear friend. I share those tears. Happy Pride, Albert! :hug: 

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44 minutes ago, Albert1434 said:

Some times being a survivor is a terrible thing!

Indeed it can be. ❤️

 

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38 minutes ago, Marty said:

Very powerful piece of writing, Gary, which moved me to tears more than once! :thumbup:

The story of how the wider society originally treated HIV/AIDS patients needs telling and retelling, and should never be forgotten.

 

Thanks, Marty. I agree that the horrible truths of that time should never be forgotten. As much as we need to remember those, we also need to remember the ones who were casualties of a war in which we had no weapons for far too long. They were brave in the face of such horror and disregard. So many fought until their dying breath. It's what we've always done and what we must continue to do. Happy Pride, my dear friend. :hug: 

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20 minutes ago, 84Mags said:

That Michael faced death with spirit, tenacity, a sense of humble belonging and love for those who had gone before him brought me to my knees. Big, fat, raindrop tears, knees. I’m eternally grateful for the advances in treatments and the joy awaking feeling better brought to Michael. The world needs more Michael’s, not less. 

It doesn't feel like that was more than twenty years ago now, when the combination drug therapies began to work. Michael was fortunate to be on the cusp, and it truly was a miracle he woke up from his coma. No one expected it at all. But, that was the beginning of real hope for so many who had lost it. 

Yes, Michael faced death with all those things, but no one enjoys life more than he does. :)  I'm glad you had big, fat, raindrop tears, Mags. I believe we should all drop to our knees and be thankful for the way our community fought... and to remember those who were sacrificed before the world woke up. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with me, my friend... Cheers and Happy Pride! :hug: 

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8 minutes ago, Marty said:

Indeed it can be. ❤️

 

There was so much guilt right around that time. It all seemed so unfair... that if only the cocktail had been available earlier... and it should have. Michael though, wanted everyone to survive even if he didn't, and that is the bravery and love of our brothers and sisters. :hug: 

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1 hour ago, Onim said:

Very beautiful, Gary...amazing how you were able to take us through the "track of tears"...first the empathy tears (slow moving down the cheeks), then the sympathy tears (rivers down the cheeks, including the old runny mucous); the anger tears (accompanied with angry swipes of the eyes); to the final joyous tears (with smiles and hope, and the old nose-blowing)!! And all of this in one chapter...a whole new level of awesome from you, my friend...Thank you!! 💖:hug:

Thank you, my dear friend. You are very kind, but that's not unusual... you've always have made me feel good about my writing. "Track of tears"... I like that. There is a difference in the tears shed throughout, and it's cool you saw it that way. I blubbered all the way through writing it, but never thought about the different kinds of tears I was shedding. I do remember a combination at the end, when we find out Michael's mother had told him he got what he deserved when he told her he was positive. I was shedding happy tears for him, but there was such anger at his mother. Again, thank you, sweet lady, and Happy Pride! :hug:  

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A beautiful testament and story. Michael leads the way from his bed, proud and unapologetic. I hope that like others I know, his cocktail keeps him alive and writing. 

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36 minutes ago, Parker Owens said:

A beautiful testament and story. Michael leads the way from his bed, proud and unapologetic. I hope that like others I know, his cocktail keeps him alive and writing. 

Thank you, Parker. I can tell you the Michael this story is based on is still alive and performing... singing, and doing benefits for the community, and he's definitely proud and unapologetic. The writing part as well as the letter was my taking licence and telling a story. :) Cheers... and Happy Pride! :hug: 

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I was thinking of a guy that came to my cosmetology class to talk to us about his profession when I read this. He was a very good hairdresser and I had the privilege being a volunteer for him to cut my hair. He passed away a few years later in the 90's of AIDS. I even have his obituary. I would have loved  to see and hear Michael perform. But in my financial situation, that can't be possible. I bet he is fantastic. You writing this makes everyone be inspired of being a truly loving person when they know that God loves everyone, not just straight people. I will always support the LGBT community. I have a step nephew and also a nephew who is gay and I love them dearly. I also have a step niece who is lesbian whom I love dearly. People should be ashamed of themselves for putting others down. Parents too should love their children no matter what sexual preference. God gave them those children and wanted them to love them as he does. 

Can't wait to read your next story and I know it is as awesome as all your other ones.

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11 hours ago, Story Reader said:

I was thinking of a guy that came to my cosmetology class to talk to us about his profession when I read this. He was a very good hairdresser and I had the privilege being a volunteer for him to cut my hair. He passed away a few years later in the 90's of AIDS. I even have his obituary. I would have loved  to see and hear Michael perform. But in my financial situation, that can't be possible. I bet he is fantastic. You writing this makes everyone be inspired of being a truly loving person when they know that God loves everyone, not just straight people. I will always support the LGBT community. I have a step nephew and also a nephew who is gay and I love them dearly. I also have a step niece who is lesbian whom I love dearly. People should be ashamed of themselves for putting others down. Parents too should love their children no matter what sexual preference. God gave them those children and wanted them to love them as he does. 

Can't wait to read your next story and I know it is as awesome as all your other ones.

My hair guy passed away from AIDS as well. He was such a vibrant character, and I had no idea he was sick until the last few times he cut my hair... he told me, but he never felt sorry for himself... but was disappointed that he's had to miss some shifts at work for the first time. He and his partner were madly in love. Thanks for bringing this memory back to me. He worked at The House of Lords which was a very famous place in Toronto, starting in the seventies, and his clients, me included, adored him.

Michael had a slow recovery in real life. He had some memory problems, but has been his old self for a long time now. 

In a fair world, love would have no distinctions, but people have proved again and again they are scared of our differences. As far as parents, I find it hard to accept the very real fact that they will choose religion, and so-called religious 'values', over their children. Some idiot tells them being gay is a sin against god, and they believe it! I know my love for my own children is unconditional, and will be until I draw my last breath. 

Thanks for such a thoughtful comment, my friend. I appreciate that this story means something to some. Cheers... Gary.... :hug: 

Oh, and I am working on something new. :) 

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A heard hitting story, that makes me realise how lucky I am that drugs are now available to manage HIV.

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24 minutes ago, chris191070 said:

A heard hitting story, that makes me realise how lucky I am that drugs are now available to manage HIV.

I'm pleased to hear you got what you did from this story, Chris. Thank you! By the beginning of 1996, no HIV positive person expected to survive the disease. The fact is, hope was non-existent. Everyone was living on borrowed time, and waiting for the fateful shoe to drop. How suddenly things changed once word got out that a new combination of drugs(protease inhibitors) were causing real turnarounds for patients with full blown AIDS. The whole community breathed a collective sigh. There still is a long way to go. This disease still kills, and there is as yet no vaccine, but HIV positive persons can and do live long and healthy lives. Michael is very much a real person, and I wanted to tell his story. Of course, the story isn't exactly his, but he was one of the ones supposed to die, and yet he made it. He left Casey House and has never looked back. :) Yes, our community is fortunate, because we fought hard, and good people joined us. 

Thanks, buddy... I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. Cheers... G. :hug: 

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This is probably one of the most profound and heartfelt stories I have ever had the pleasure to read! It brought me to tears several times!! 

My husband and I both worked in the industry for over a decade in the early years.  He in the "trenches" as a case manager (social worker) and me in administration running and HIV/AIDS Medical Clinic.   It was emotionally very difficult, especially in the early years, when the mortality rate was extremely high.  We also witnessed far too many family and friends that ghosted someone who tested positive to the virus!  That is something I will never understand!     Thank you Gary for sharing this beautiful story !!!  David

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6 hours ago, KayDeeMac said:

This is probably one of the most profound and heartfelt stories I have ever had the pleasure to read! It brought me to tears several times!! 

My husband and I both worked in the industry for over a decade in the early years.  He in the "trenches" as a case manager (social worker) and me in administration running and HIV/AIDS Medical Clinic.   It was emotionally very difficult, especially in the early years, when the mortality rate was extremely high.  We also witnessed far too many family and friends that ghosted someone who tested positive to the virus!  That is something I will never understand!     Thank you Gary for sharing this beautiful story !!!  David

Your first line would make a really great story review... just saying. 

Thanks, David. You and your husband are to be commended for providing support to HIV/AIDS victims during such a horrendous time. You are both Delilahs, and I want to express my gratitude. 

I will never understand the ghosting either, and it's a big part of why I wanted to tell this story. So much heartlessness was present in those days, but thankfully there were people like yourselves that never stopped caring, and took the place of the families who turned their backs. Irrational fear was a part of the epidemic, and the last thing our community needed. As nice as it is for Michael's story to have a happy ending, so many of them were not. It's something we should never forget, nor should we think HIV is cured, because it's not. It is still something to be taken seriously, and young people need to stay educated. Again, thank you, my friend, for sharing your thoughts and part of your story with me. Cheers... and Happy Pride! :hug: 

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The following comment was sent to me via email, and I'm pasting it here because I think it is a very important one, pertaining both to the story and to what we need to remember. As I said in other posting... pride means something different to each of us, and there are things we shouldn't forget or be lax in... 

Hey Headstall!
I just read With Pride I Go Forth. It brought many memories to mind as I read it.
When I was a volunteer for an AIDS Project, we sang carols at the AIDS ward of the county hospital (in 1989?). I remember being shocked that everyone had to go through a metal detector. Growing up in the suburbs prevented me from realizing just how violent things got in urban hospitals.
My next shock was seeing the skeletal patients who were barely able to raise their heads while we were singing to them. I had seen the images in The Advocate Magazine and on TV, but hadn’t seen anyone who was so seriously ill in person. My volunteer work was in the Education Department and initially all I did was call people to arrange to get them into Stop AIDS meetings, but later I did go out to bars, Folsom Street Fair, a Gay rodeo, and a bathhouse to do outreach and education. I never worked with PWAs, I thought it would be too overwhelming to me emotionally.
Many years later (early 2000s?), the partner of one of my best friends decided that he knew his body better than his doctors and unilaterally stopped taking his HIV medication because of the side-effects. His condition took a sudden turn for the worse and I accompanied them to the hospital when we didn’t expect him to survive. He lost so much weight he looked like the guys from back during the worst period of the pandemic.
Somehow the doctors were able to find a treatment that worked and he’s still alive to annoy me. (He’s very opinionated and believes extremely questionable posts online. About 20 years ago, he had been convinced by a site that was supposedly about a country that incorporated the states of Washington and Oregon as well as British Columbia. He collects stamps and was thinking of buying the stamps that they suggested were available. I was able to convince him that it was fake, but there are other times when he used to forward foreign political campaigns of questionable reliability that I would ignore.)
My being too afraid to Come Out until I was in my mid-twenties kept me healthy. I didn’t start dating until my late twenties when safer sex was being promoted heavily. So I’m a few years younger than you are, but I only had a couple of close friends who died.
So much history and knowledge disappeared with the generations of Gay men who died. But I think the most tragic thing is that so many young men are unaware of our history. They seem to think that HIV is no longer a problem, but don’t understand that the cocktail doesn’t work for everyone. And even when it works, it’s extremely expensive (in the US), has serious side-effects, and isn’t guaranteed to work forever. 😞
 
Thank you for the story!
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