I’ve been living with HIV for over twenty-six years and have experienced some scary moments along the way. Thankfully, there has only been one, two-week stint in the hospital.
When the doctor told me I had only two years to live, I continued on with life as best as I knew how. Waiting for the earth to open up and swallow me was the hardest part. It played with my mind. The medications played with my mind and body. Telling people was torturous. It was like coming out all over again. Who was going to shun me? Dating and sex was abolished. I didn’t want someone to love me only to have me to die on him. Worst of all, I didn’t want to give another person a death sentence.
Around 2007, my doctor told me I would probably live to seventy, and maybe more. I was relieved – and angry. I was happy to be able to see my nieces and nephews grow up, and grow old with my friends and family. I was angry because I had wasted so many years refusing to dream of a future. Now, I’ve been granted another chance. What does a person do when they can’t physically and emotionally work a full-time job? I found that writing is something I like and am good at. Not great yet, but good. Maybe this could be a way to make a living and get off social assistance. Flight, is my first attempt. I hope the parts of my life I have shared with you will encourage you to never completely give up. There’s always hope.
My Mini Memoire
I have two parents, one sister and two brothers. I’m the oldest, and like every family, we went through some trials and hit a few walls along the way. My childhood was good, overall. I usually did what I was told and what was expected of me, (except when I stole money from my mom, cigarettes and magazines from the grocery store I worked at, and dirty magazines from the variety store).
When I looked back at these years, I realized most of my ‘life’s baggage’ was created then. I was screaming for help. My mother heard, but I couldn’t tell her what was wrong. I wasn’t sure myself. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was screaming about. All I knew is that I was different. My brain had been filled with so many opinions from my parents, relatives, teachers, the Roman Catholic Church and any other adults who took a notion to tell me what they thought of me. Most of the stuff I filtered out, but the topic of me not being like every other young man seemed to me like it was on everyone’s lips. Despite how ominous it all sounds, I had many good times with my family. After church on Sundays, we would make bacon, eggs and toast while listening to music on the record player. We’d sing, dance and most important, rarely fight. You could almost touch the love in the air. We also took vacations as a family. When I was thirteen, we drove to Vancouver. At fifteen, we visited Prince Edward Island.
We traveled in an old Bell Canada van. Dad had the outside painted, but inside, he finished himself. In the back were two long benches ran along the sides, with a table in the middle that dropped down into a bed. There was a fridge, and a cupboard for all the canned food and dishes. The coolest and most fashionable thing in the 1970’s was shag carpeting. The van was covered in it, red shag for the benches, fridge and cupboard door, and blue shag for the ceiling and floor. The six of us traveled, slept and ate in that van. I only have fond memories of those days.
High school. Some people may smile when they hear these words, others may want to cry. I’m a bit of both. In my first year, I was the only boy in the entire school history who didn’t take shop class. (I’m not joking.) What I really wanted was home economics. I opted for typing instead, which, as it turned out, was an excellent decision, and a useful skill. It was also the first time I was made to strip down and take communal showers after gym class. I looked, got noticed and paid for it until grade eleven. I was bullied, teased, humiliated and degraded. Any feelings of friendship, love and sex were buried deep. I couldn’t and didn’t trust anyone. I could regale you with stories, but it’s not something I want to relive. I wish bullies would realize that the world would be awfully boring if we were all the same.
I finished grade thirteen and eagerly awaited my next move forward.
I was going to college in Kitchener, to take their Recreational Leadership Program. My dream was to work in the recreation department at Sick Kids Hospital. For my first year of college, I lived with my aunt, uncle and cousin. It was a safe place to live, unless I walked across the white kitchen floor in my black-soled boots. I looked forward to campus life, meeting new people and making friends. I was informed, after paying tuition that the program had been taken out of the main campus and moved to the YWCA, in downtown Kitchener. There were no other students for miles.
Despite the change in location, I enjoyed my first year. I did meet new people and make a few friends. In particular, there were two lesbians who encouraged me to come out of the closet – easier said than done. I was very depressed about being gay and spent most of my time in bed. Despite attending school less than half the year, I somehow passed with B’s and C’s.
I moved home at the end of the year and worked for a Community Living Program for people with varying degrees of mental, social and physical challenges. I loved it. I worked in an apartment building, and also in the outreach program, visiting people who lived on their own. For unexplainable reasons, I came out to some of my co-workers, including Mike, the first man of my dreams. He was straight. My crush on him was blatant. I think he enjoyed teasing me. Every morning before work, he would run around a track, visible from the staff office, shirtless and wearing short, red shorts. Once, after a night of drinking, I stayed over at his place (in a separate bedroom).
By the time I went back to college, my hormones were in high gear. I was ready- and afraid. I got my first bachelor apartment, and loved it. My friend Becky took me to the one and only gay bar in the city, The Half and Half. I got drunk and lasted for a couple of hours. She also hosted her own birthday party that year and invited me. There were lots of woman and one other guy, whose name I can’t remember (I think it was a setup). I walked home in the early morning hours, with giant snowflakes floating around me. The streets were covered with a virgin layer of snow. I spent the next day cuddled up to the smell of sex on my sheets and myself. It was only a one nighter, but it was my first time, and one that I’ll never forget.
When school finished, I got a job in Kitchener, at a group home with juvenile delinquent girls. I loved it as much as I had my summer job. I made new friends, dated and eventually moved in with my friend, Don, as his roommate. He became my best friend. With his help I came out of my shell and started to like myself. I started to believe the comments many people made, that I was good looking, funny and charming. I believed it so much that I took a modeling course. Two years later, I decided to transfer to one of the organization’s group homes in Toronto, so I could start modeling part-time.
Two weeks after I arrived, I had to return to Kitchener for a doctor’s appointment with my dermatologist. I was having some genital warts burned off (OUCH) and because it was taking a long time for them to go away, the doctor decided to do an HIV test. I laughed, confident that I was okay. As you may have guessed, I wasn’t. The doctor told me I had, at most, two years to live. That was Sept.17, 1987. I was 23 years old. The doctor game me the name of a HIV specialist in Toronto and told me make an appointment.
That was the day I died inside.
My friend Kym drove me to my appointment and she has been by my side ever since. I’m a very lucky person to have two best friends. Not many people can say that.
I pushed everything to the back of my mind and continued on with work, medical visits and the strict regime of medications. An agency scheduled me for a photo shoot, and I bombed. The only emotion I could project was anger or a blank stare. My dream of being a model was over.
I continued working my shifts at the group home. Then, I switched to overnights to have a consistent schedule. Overnights are brutal on the mind and body. I lasted for two years.
Thankfully, a day shift, contract position became available, working with a young man. He was eighteen years old with the behaviours of a four year old, but willing to learn life skills, so he could go to a, “big people’s group home”. We had a lot of fun together. After three years, my life started to blur. I’d go home after work, eat dinner, watch television, then fall asleep, and not always in that order. On weekends, I slept more, did laundry and occasionally went out. Eventually, everything became too much. I had used up my sick days and started in on my holidays. My CD4 count and energy level got worse. I was exhausted and getting sicker. I must admit, drugs and alcohol played a big part. My final goal for this job was to get the young man I was working with into an adult group home. It took me another year, but I succeeded. Then, for whatever reason, the stars aligned and I was granted the luxury of a monthly disability cheque from the provincial government. I found an apartment in a non-profit building and began to concentrate on my physical health. I was entering the tenth year of my death sentence.
The time away from work was great at the beginning, but reality set in and the boredom grew unbearable. I began to smoke pot on a daily basis to avoid life. I screwed up on my rent and phone bills. Eventually, I realized that it was time to get help and start counseling. During this time, I began to write down my thoughts and feelings. It was difficult to see my fears on paper. Somehow, it’s different than saying them out loud. At first, they were only words and disjointed sentences. They soon evolved into poems, and then I tried my hand at writing children’s books. I sent my first story, “Bridget and the Shiny Prickly Honey Bees”, to publishers. No offers. That didn’t stop me from writing. In 1997, I registered for a course with the Toronto Board of Education, entitled ‘Writing for the Children’s Market’. It was fun and I learned a lot, but it became clear this wasn’t my genre.
One day, I noticed a posting in the laundry room of my building for a writing therapy group, at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital. I decided to try it. I found the written words of my life, the words that used to be so difficult, started to flow, freeing me to dream again. I began writing a novel, “Flight,” one of its many titles over the years. It soon became apparent that I needed more writing education.
During this period, I started volunteering in my building. I joined the board and eventually became president. I was chairperson of the garden committee and initiated eight, tenant, rooftop garden boxes for therapeutic values and nutritional uses. I became chairperson of the energy conservation committee and made great strides in reducing our energy footprint.
When my writing therapy came to an end, I registered for a creative writing course at the Toronto Board of Education. Writing was no longer a means to an end. I needed to write. As it turned out, so did some other people in my class. We started a group, meeting every month, critiquing each other’s work. The progress we made was clearly visible over time. Our group began in 2004 and we are still meeting and encouraging each other. It became evident that I needed more writing education. I started with an essential course at George Brown College, Grammar and Punctuation, which still gives me grief. I took another five courses in a different writing genre every January as a way of dealing with the winter blues. I took, Magazine Writing, Romance Writing, Play Writing and Novel Writing 1 and 2. The last course set flame to my writing. I finished Flight and asked Caro Soles, my instructor, to edit my novel for structure. Caro made some recommendations, but she also suggested I set the book aside, work on something else, and come back to it later with fresh eyes and perspective. I started my second novel and began developing an idea for the third. By the time I came back to Flight, my attention for detail had increased. I started to notice some inconsistencies. The final act for this novel was to find a copy editor. This is very important if you are sending anything out in order to get published. I chose Martin Townsend because of his work history and willingness to edit gay fiction.
With the help of my friends, I have put together this website to regale you with stories and pictures, so you can get to know me. Positive and negative criticisms are always welcomed. Feel free to provide comments and let me know what you think.