Category Archives: Family

Why not me?

I’m 42, soon to be 43, and I’m HIV-. I’m a gay male in the United State who grew up with the warning that if I had gay sex I would get AIDS and die. It hasn’t happened to me.

But why not? Luck. That’s all it can be.

I’m not particularly promiscuous, nor am I a prude, and nothing near a virgin. Sex can be amazing, and why not enjoy it?

I look at my friends, so many of whom are dealing with the disease in their lives. In their bodies. Living with it. Owning it. Not letting it control or destroy them.

Undetectable.

Alive.

Living, loving, and wildly still out there creating and changing the world. Fighting for a better place. Standing tall and proud and not backing down, not for the disease and not for the world, either.

Inspiring. That’s what they are.

I find that, on this day when we yell from the roof tops that AIDS is still here, still very real, and still very bad, that these amazing people stand on the front lines and fight to remove a stigma and that inspires me. I stand with them, beside them, hold their hands and shedding tears at losses just like them.

And because of dumb luck, I’m not on the front lines. I don’t have HIV, that I know, and I need to get tested today as it’s that day, and I’m pretty sure I know how it will come back, but it’s something we do.

I remember my first HIV test. It had to be a blood draw. In a doctors office. And sent away, like a macabre cereal box-top prize that would arrive in a few weeks. And it did. In a plain white envelop, with my name typed on the outside, with a single sheet inside it, and I had to steel myself to open it. I sat in the huge windows of my apartment in Bozeman that overlooked Main street and I cried as I opened the letter, sure that my world was about to crash to nothing.

But it didn’t. I was spared.

I move to Portland not long after, and met amazing, wonderful, talented people. And after a short few months, I got to go to my first funeral for one of those amazing, talented, wonderful people I’d just met. That was weird. It also started a pattern that I’ve kept for nearly 23 years of getting tested every 6 months. Not everyone died, but too many did. I still miss them, even though I can’t recall their real names, only faces or drag names or nick names or something they once said that was so funny I laughed until I cried, and it still brings a touch of joy with a soupçon of melancholy when I do remember it.

I moved to Phoenix, and met more amazing people. I was there when some found out they’d seroconverted. Most are still alive, but not all. Medical science has changed the world, but not eradicated this plague. It’s amazing what we can do, and it’s more amazing what people faced with this choose to do. Inspiring doesn’t really cover it.

I moved to Caribou, and met amazing people, who couldn’t wait to get out of The County and move to a city. I spoke about condoms and caring for yourself, and saw them leave and it was good. And things happen, and it’s not always good things.  But they stand and they fight and life continues for most of them.

I moved to Houston and got a taste of a truly metropolitan city, and worked at a nightclub of outstanding proportions. And I met many who were positive, and knew many who seroconverted and I know they face the challenges head-on and don’t shirk away from the fight. And they are awesome. And still, life continues for many, but not all.

I moved home to Montana. I met a group of gays, and found a life I love, and a community that accepts me for the bombastic asshole I am, knowing that my passion and my inability to shut up can work to make a difference in our lives. I thought maybe I could hold the virus at bay, stop it from creeping into my life here, but I was the first person called when a friend seroconverted, and we got together and I made sure he was ok and wouldn’t do anything to harm himself, and I was pissed at the virus that it was back and I couldn’t stop it. But I wasn’t going to sit down and stop fighting.

So I stand. I fight. For equality. Against the stigma. And when people ask me if I’m HIV+ I have to tell them, no, I’m not. But it’s simple luck, and I still get tested. In fact, I’m getting tested tonight, at 5:30, and while I don’t know the results, and I’m supremely lucky, I get tested with a pall of dread covering my mind because it can happen to anyone. It can happen at any time. It’s still here. It’s still deadly. And it’s not cured.

On this World AIDS Day, I stand with my friends who have been directly afflicted or affected by this scourge and miss so many of you. I want one more time to hold you, to tell you I love you, to give you warmth and a moment of safety, fleeting and imaginary that it may be. I don’t know why it got you. I don’t know why I’m so fucking insanely lucky.

I just know I want it to go away, and never bother anyone again. And I wish those it took were never taken, and that tears at my heart with sharpened claws and bloodied talons. I never want to lose another, but it seems I will because we have no cure.

Except knowledge.

Get tested. Know your status. Get on PrEP. Change the world. Love your friends.

AIDS-Ribbon

Family Feud isn’t a Game

My sister just got married. It was a lovely wedding – the bride radiant, the groom nervous. The groom’s parents beaming. The bride’s mother cried as her daughter pledged to love, honor, and cherish ’til death do them part. A year ago, I never would have imagined how things would play out.

This has been an extraordinary year for a friend. As 2008 dawned, she was waking in the middle of an alcoholic nightmare and suffering from a huge hangover. She’s also has bipolar disorder. Her parents had loaned her a car, and when they discovered that she had been driving under the influence (again!) with three children in the vehicle, they immediately took the keys and confiscated the car.

Despite having two highly marketable degrees, she was working for less than $10/hr at a dead-end job, not really able to support herself and her daughter. The combination of debilitating diseases had wrecked havoc on her life. In a little over four years she had been fired, dismissed, or quit under duress from more than twelve jobs. She had been hospitalized three times with a blood-alcohol level of .40 or thereabouts (you read that right – about 5 times the legal limit!), her daughter had been taken into custody by a state, and she had spent a month in a treatment program. Yet she refused to take the medications and continued heavy drinking.

Well, for a while. Lately, she has been incredibly successful in turning her life around. In March, she enlisted in the Montana Army National Guard. She is in the middle of her training to become a helicopter mechanic. I am surprised that she was accepted with her medical history, but the opportunity is terrific. The Guard is paying off her student loans and she will be a full-time employee when she completes her training. She should therefore always have the medication and counseling that her mental illness and addiction require – and it seems she’s taking them. The days of dead-end jobs are behind her. Before leaving for basic training, he boyfriend asked her to marry him. She is being given another chance at a bright future for herself and her daughter.

Me & Boo
Me & Boo

This is the story of my sister. I wasn’t at her wedding because I, like my mother, wasn’t invited. In her world, my mother is the ogre that tried to ruin her life. Her stories of her childhood now include a morass of abuse, neglect, torture and trauma – but none of it is real. She actually told me my mom is evil, and that everything in my life that’s wrong can be drawn back to mom. And it’s utter bullshit.

My sister is well loved by family, regardless of, and in fact, in spite of this horrible year. She gets into fights with my mom because she feels some odd combination of longing to be just like mom and abhorrence of that exact desire. My sister is her own worst critic, and instead of focusing her energies on making herself better, she’s just changed her reality to better reflect who she wishes she was – and it’s ironic that the one person she wants to be is the same person she has so effectively cut out of her life – our mom. When I said my mom cried the night my sister got married, I wasn’t lying. I’m pretty sure my dad cried, too. Neither of them were at the wedding, tho, as my sister has banished my mom so completely.

But it’s a new year, and I hope that she does well. I do love her, and I’m glad that she’s found love. I hope it can last the rather expansive reality check that’s headed her way, but like most love, I think it can. Her husband is a good guy, even if he can’t see the forest for the trees most days.

I life my life without regrets, always have, always will. I accept what I do for my choices, and that my life is what I have chosen it to be. My sister is forcing me to choose between her and my mom. I choose my mom, my dad, my other sister, my nephew, brother-in-law, cousins, aunts, uncles and the whole brood that expands and covers a good portion of the country. I will not let them go for the sake of pretending that what my sister has done is ok, it’s not.

I will gladly buy her all the Lincoln logs she needs to build a bridge and get over this, even if I have to take up a collection to get the necessary abundance. I want my family back, but I want it back in one piece, not divided by the imaginative machinations of a deluded little girl.

Renewable Life

The pic below was taken with my new iPhone right after I sauntered out of the AT&T store with it. So I have a new number and I’ve let most people know via the email that I have for you. Some of those appear out of date so if you need the new digits, shoot me an email.

Honda does the Right Thing

It’s been a stressful week. It’s the 2nd anniversary of Richard’s death, and it’s the first time that I’ve been able to spend it with Janna basically attached to her hip. During the first year of grieving she couldn’t handle being around me too much as she would attempt to convince herself it was 2005 and my being there was normal because we had lived together in 2005 while Richard was in Iraq. When he returned at the end of 2005, a new chapter of their lives started, and I helped to smooth that transition for them both since the Army hasn’t figured out how.

And then, bam! Gone.

Now, Janna, The Cheerleader, has had to deal with this loss for two years. Day in and day out she’s worked to get her life back, get her sensibilities back, and to get as well as she can. Not easy, not fast, and certainly not painless. But still, moving forward in big ways. And hanging out with her 24/7 is a lot of fun even when she’s screaming. Sometimes, because she is.

That being said, the little extra stressors in her life are not much fun. They suck. Like, transmission needs to be replaced at a cost of several grand and lots of without car time. Not making her happy.

Consider as well that the car got it’s original transmission changed at approx. 78k miles in October 2005, the second swapped out after only 25k miles and 18 months, and now the third is being swapped out for the fourth after a mere 20k miles and 12 months. Not pretty.

Worse, the car is now out of the extended warranty, so the transmission isn’t covered in any way. And as we all know, they aren’t cheap either.

But we called Honda USA and went over the events, and asked. What could hurt if we asked for help, the worst thing they could do is say no, and then we were no worse off for asking. They said they would review the case and get back to us in few days. Usually, this is corporate speak for “Let me get a social normative graph because it’s something to refer to and will take time, tricking one to think we’re making the effort, when we’re just stalling” but not this time.

After considering all that Janna has had to deal with this, it’s been sucky. Just fucking sucky. Having the car issues to deal with all throughout the Anniversary day did some good in distracting from the insanity inherent in a 32 year old widow’s life. It seemed like a good thing to me, but Janna felt that she didn’t get anything accomplished on thursday, even tho she spent the day reconnecting with various parts of her family, both the family she was born into and the family that she was married into. None of it was easy.

Honda has decided to pay all but 10% of the bill to replace the transmission. It will therefore have a 3 year/36,000 mile warranty for the transmission itself. So the little people can play their game again. And we whole-heartedly thank them.

YAY!

Southern Comfort

I’ve been offline since late last week, which was when I had a last-minute deal appear in my lap and proceed to shred my thursday and friday like a demon-possessed wood chipper. Oh so much fun.

And let’s not forget the random weather in Montana that included a blizzard that appeared at 2 am Saturday and brought along the wind from a hurricane and a couple of lightening bolts left over from last spring. It seems that the weather was being run by the same windows machine that did the fireworks for Seattle. Heavy, wet, sticky snow that was piling up sideways as I needed to depart to drive to Bozeman for a flight. Rapture.

Anyway, it ended up being a non-issue, as the new PT drives excellently (more on that lovely bit later) and the storm and I parted ways after 32 miles. I made my flight, although when I landed in Denver to switch planes, I got a voice mail from United that if I missed my flight, I could get right on the next one out of Bozeman. Nice service, really, as it had to arrive right about when I checked in, since I turned my phone off after calling home to say the snow hadn’t killed me.

Now I’m in Houston for the Second Anniversary of Hell. Mostly, it’s been pretty good. I’m not looking forward to some of the events we have to do for this, but I am glad to be here. I want to know what the word would be that means ‘an obligation that honors me to undertake, that creates happiness out of misery, and that helps all involved in different ways, but that still sucks bilgewater’. I’m sure there is a German word for it, along the lines of schadenfraude, but it’s not been made into a song yet.

Anyway, back in Houston with the Cheerleader. Back dealing with emotional wounds that blacken the sun and destroy souls, an ongoing battle that seems to finally be going our way. I wouldn’t walk away for anything, but I wish no one would ever go through this.

Gramps…

I don’t really know what to write about this, but here goes. Yesterday at around 3:15 pm my grandpa Hal passed away. While I’m saddened that he’s gone, and he will be missed, I’m glad that he’s no longer in pain. Cancer seems to grab many in my family, but his seemed particularly horrible, especially because two months ago he was still picking up wings to rivet to his airplane.

I have to point out that he had an amazing life. He had many talents, was an amazing engineer, convinced the tiny town of Helena, Montana to build a new and better airport terminal so that 737s could land, created a scholarship fund for the Technical College in Helena to help those in need get an education, which he knew was the key to a better life. He was romantic enough to buy my gramma Jane a convertible Mustang, a green 1968 dream machine, so she could drive it once, with the top down, in the sun, before cancer took her away. He remarried to Zola, and the two of them were the cutest couple at the airport, always putting some magnificent flying machine together, chasing the dream of the next flight. Zola, although his second wife, was never second best, and she treated him like a king. He was 80 years old. He had at least another 80 years to live. Damn cancer.

My impression was that he wasn’t around when I was a kid, but we lived in Denver, and Hal and Jane were in Helena, so it’s not like they were down the road and skipped visiting. I really remember seeing him and Jane for the holidays to put out the candles-in-sacks all over their neighborhood. Those are great memories, but I’m still confused to the origins of the ‘Tom & Jerry’ drink we had. But impressions can have no real bearing on reality and while I don’t remember seeing Hal and Jane much until after I turned seven, I’m sure I probably did.

Jane died when I was eight, the same year, just a few months before grandma Sporty, my mom’s mom. I remember them both, although the memories are becoming more and more just impressions. Sporty was bright, wild, amazing, and lively, and Jane was calm, graceful, elegant and generous. But I don’t really remember Hal from then.

I remember when he and Zola got married, first because the wedding was in Vegas, second because I sang “Wind Beneath My Wings” for them. A more fitting song I can’t imagine, as over the next 20 years the two of them would travel the world, visiting Russia, Australia, and heaven only knows where else. They spent summers in Helena, avoiding the crushing summer heat of their winter home in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. They flew together, Zola earned her Instrument Rating, which is a very difficult task, ask any pilot. He couldn’t have been more proud, and while the trips overseas were great for both of them, I know they’d both have just as much fun just flying around in their own planes, too. I can’t imagine what she’s going through, I just hope she knows she’s loved, too.

Hal kinda showed up at various times in my life after that, giving advice, telling me history, and always asking “Hon, when are you going to learn to fly a plane?” I never saw him angry, I’ve never heard him raise his voice but once, and that was when were in Japan and his nerves had frayed – but so had everyone else’s, and even then he wasn’t loud or dangerous, he just was upset, and that was so new and different from his calm, cool, casual-in-a-business-suit-and-tie demeanor that it shocked me. I just never saw it again.

He had a whiskey voice, even though he was a scotch man to the last. Of course, he preferred ice-cream by far. His voice could capture a room without yelling, would cut and twirl words with the faintest echo of his Southern upbringing, and would always include “Hon” when talking to anyone in his family.

One of life’s more inexplicable coincidences happened as my youngest sister Tricia just got final confirmation that she’s pregnant the same day Hal left us. He’ll miss the new great-grandchild, who is bound to be another pilot-in-the-wings, I’m sure. I don’t know that I can do you justice in telling that kid who you are, but I’ll sure try.

I will miss you Grampa. I’ll miss you a lot. Be safe on your journey, and may your soul know peace.