Monday, January 26, 2009

Angels I Don't See PART XII

Parts I-XI here

“These paintings are ugg-ah-leeeee!”

We were sitting in Dr. M’s packed waiting room when Ric decided to announce to everyone what he thought of the art work adorning the walls.

“Our dogs could paint better than that”

Dogs. Plural. We only have one dog.

Sotto voce, and turning a unique shade of red, I responded. “Shut up. His wife painted every painting in this office. You cannot say things like that when you meet Dr. M”

Amplified, and uninhibited, Ric replied. “His wife painted these? She needs to find a new hobby. Did you bring beach towels?”

“Yes. We will go to the beach after the doctor”. I was not above lying if it meant Ric would get help. However, after waiting in the waiting room for over an hour, Ric was getting testy and I knew it was a matter of minutes, if not seconds, until he decided that he wanted to go home. And by home, I mean his new imaginary beach house that he purchased with imaginary money from an imaginary realtor.

“Mr. White, come with me” the office assistant said.

We were escorted to a room and Ric got on the scale. 111lbs. One-hundred-and-eleven pounds with his clothes and shoes on.

I began to cry.

“Why are you crying? We are going to beach soon. You shouldn’t cry” he said, oblivious to what his weight meant.

Just as I pulled myself together, Dr. M joined us.

“Mr. White” he said in that thick but easily understood French accent. “My advice to you is to get to the hospital today. I cannot properly evaluate your condition without first getting the results of the blood work and that will take a few days. But I can tell you, based on your symptoms and from what I can see, you need to be monitored in the hospital for a few days until we can determine a treatment for you.

“As for you, Mr. McDonald. I think we have your results back. If you’d like I can give them to you now instead of Monday”

“Uh, yeah, ok. That would be good” I said as I replayed the “luckiest man alive” comment in my head.

Before Dr. M went to get my results, Ric chimed in. “I am not going to the hospital. We are going to the beach. Oh, besides, we know Jon-Marc’s results. He has HIV too. He gave it to me”

“Well Mr. White, I am not concerned with how you acquired the virus. I am concerned with getting you treatment. I strongly suggest you go to the hospital”

As Dr. M retrieved my file with my results I braced myself. If I was positive – and surely I was – then Ric was probably right. I probably did give it to him. After all, I was the one that, years ago, cheated and strayed in the relationship. Not him. He remained faithful throughout our 7 ½ years. All previous tests showed him to be negative. And now he was suffering the consequences of my inexcusable behavior. He never cheated.


Dr. M returned with my file in hand. “Are you positive you want your results today? I'd be happy to tell you on Monday if that's what you prefer”

“I'm positive”

“You’re negative”

Part XIII here

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Angels I Don't See PART XI

Parts I-X here

My first night apart from Ric was relatively easy. I was staying at a friend’s house that had flooded, forcing the friend and her husband and daughter to move out while repairs were being made. The second floor, the area in which I was staying, was not damaged.

Though I was not able to sleep that night, I was able to suppress my sadness over leaving Ric by focusing on the fact that Ric had not told me he was positive, thereby producing sufficient anger and suppressing the hurt.

The next morning I turned on my cell phone and checked my messages.

“Your mailbox is full. Please delete some messages” the computer generated voice instructed.

I had forty-five messages on my voicemail. Each one was from Ric and each grew increasingly desperate. Apparently, it was sinking in that I was gone.

“Hey babe, I need you to come home. I can’t find my glasses…”

“Babe, you need to come home. Trotter needs to be walked and I can’t walk her…”

“You need to get home this instant. Trotter is very sick…”

“Babe, I am moving to the Virgin Islands and if you don’t come home right now you will never see me again…”

“Babe, you need to come home. I just stabbed a man…”

The last message, left at 10:47PM and the only one that was true, said “Please come home, I think I’m dying”.

Ego aside, there was no way Ric was going to have a shot at life without me. The only thing he was capable of was creating more fantasies out of whole cloth. If I was to follow through with my plan, it would be a matter of days before Ric passed on. If I was to cave and return to him, I knew I would be his full time nurse. I was stuck between a Ric and a hard place.

He clearly understood that I was gone but he did not understand what that really meant. Therefore the purpose of my leaving – to get him help – was useless. But if I returned home there would be absolutely no incentive for him to seek treatment.

I compromised with myself and decided that I would visit Ric during the day and continue to stay at my friend’s house at night until I received the results regarding my own status. If I was not, as Dr. M said, “the luckiest man alive”, and was indeed positive I would focus on my own health first. But if I was negative I would continue to try and help Ric in whatever capacity I could.

Following my new found plan, I went back to the loft only to find every pair of shorts, every short sleeve shirt and every beach towel strewn about. Ric was standing in boxer shorts, no shirt and holding tanning lotion.

“What’s going on?” I asked, surprisingly calm.

“I’m trying to figure out what to wear to the beach. Should I wear the red swim trunks or the blue?”

He only had black swim trunks. But that didn’t really matter. He continued.

“While I am at the beach, the carpenters will be coming in to install the new cabinets. After they are done, you should join me. We can have a drink and toast our new place”

“Ric, I went and saw a doctor yesterday and was tested for HIV. I told him about your condition and, though he is very busy, he said he would see you immediately. Would you go today? I can take you and we can get this thing under control”

“I am not going to the doctor today! I am going to the beach! There is nothing wrong with me and I have my muscle relaxers to make me feel better”

Again with the non-existent muscle relaxers. Again with the denial that there was a problem.

“What about Friday? Will you go see him on Friday?”

“Sure. But his office better be close to the beach. Is it close to the beach? I won’t see him unless he is close to the beach”

“His office is not only close to the beach, it’s right on the beach!”

The beach. The Hudson. Tomato. Tomahto.

Part XII here

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Angels I Don't See PART X

Part I-IX can be found here

Throughout this entire ordeal there have been unsung heroes who have quietly encouraged me behind the scenes. As my world was, and is, falling of its axis, these angels held, and continue to hold, me up with their prayers and words of wisdom. They have never sought to save the day or fully repair the damage. Instead, they have simply stood in the gap when my own resources failed me, threw lifelines when I was drowning and provided hope when mine vanished.

My mother has listened to endless phone calls of panic, has sent money to help me with bills and has never responded angrily when I lashed out throughout this entire ordeal. Though we will never see eye to eye on most issues, she has shown me during these weeks that her number one issue is her children. Through her dedication and love she has truly lived the faith she professes. If not for her devotion, I would have given up long ago.
For Christmas one year my parents bought me a Hot-Wheel. I remember I would ride up and down my grandparent’s driveway while my mother watched. Each time I would pass my mom, I would scream “Mom, am I going so fast you can’t see me?”

Each time she would respond “Yes, so fast I can’t even see you”

Since learning of Ric’s true condition I have felt as though my life was moving so fast that not even I could see it. But the entire time, my mom has seen my life and pressed me forward, step by tiny step.

Another angel is my friend Michael, my closest friend who held me the night I found out Ric’s status, calls everyday to make sure I am ok, allows me to spew my anger. We have been through so much together and he has made sure that though all of this he would be by my side. As we end every conversation, he says “I love you, Jon-Marc”. And at the end of every conversation I never doubt it.

My friend Jen, who offered her home to me after I decided to leave Ric, gave me room to breathe when I needed it, has never asked for anything in return and always gives me glimmers of hope when mine seems to fade.

My dad, a man I had not spoken to in nearly three years, offered whatever support he could provide, from coming here to help me put my stuff in a storage unit to genuinely wanting me to land on my feet again. It pains him to see me suffer and all along he has wanted nothing more than to alleviate the heartache. His love has given light to the darkness.

These are just a few of the angels that you don’t see as I tell this story. There are many more, and as this story continues you will have a chance to meet some of them.

Each and every one are the only reason I am alive today. They are my flights of angels that carry me on.

Part XI here

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Angels I Don't See PART IX

Parts I-VIII here

It was Monday morning, December 29th and as I drove my car stuffed full of clothes and other belongings to a friend’s house, I was confident that my letter would shake Ric out of his state of denial and snap him back to reality. I really believed that once he woke up and read what I wrote he would immediately call me to say that he was willing to get treatment for his HIV as well as find a way to pay our bills and rent.

Three hours passed and Ric had not called. I wondered if he had even seen the letter. Worried that he might have hurt himself I called him and much to my relief he answered:

“Just checking to see if you got my letter”

“Yes I did. Thank you. It was so sweet. It made my day” Ric said in all seriousness.

“Thank you? Thank you !?!?! It was so sweet!?!?! What are you talking about? The letter said I’m leaving you. Do you understand what that means?”

“Yes and it was very sweet”

After a long pause he continued “On your way home would you pick up a London Broil that we can make on New Year’s? I’m going to have a party. Can you also pick up wine and beer and some snacks?”

He was dead serious. Even though we were broke, and even though I wrote him a letter stating that I was leaving him, and even though I was (and am) a recovering alcoholic, his alternate reality was as strong as ever. In his world it was not even possible for him to comprehend we had no money, much less that I was leaving. It was also impossible for him to see why asking me to pick up alcohol was a deadly request. His mind was incapable of discerning anything.

At that moment I realized that the possibility of him getting help was slim. Why would he get help? He did not even see that he was sick. Therefore, in his eyes, help was not necessary.

Though it was evident to everyone except Ric that he was probably suffering from HIV dementia, there was another matter at hand that morning that needed attention. It was the day of my HIV test. For some reason, I was not nervous at all. Like everything else in my life, that quickly changed.

“So you’re here because you think you might have been exposed to HIV? Is that correct?” the doctor said in a heavy, yet easily understood, French accent.

“Yes. My partner has HIV, did not tell me for many months and is refusing to get help even now. I just found out last week when he was in the hospital for what I thought was a undiagnosed neurological condition. It turns out he probably is suffering from dementia related to HIV. Also I have these bumps on my hands and I don’t know what they are”. I spit my words out in rapid fire.

These “bumps” had formed on the tops of both my hands and they were worrisome. I did not know what to make of them and everyone that looked at them thought they could be the manifestations of stress.

“But doctor, there is a strong possibility that I don’t have HIV. I mean, he found out in August and we haven’t…”

“Let me see your hands” Dr. M interrupted. “I may take a biopsy of these bumps. They concern me. As far as you not having HIV, I have to be honest with you. You would be the luckiest man alive if you test negative”.

With that, he took five vials of blood and whatever remaining hope I had left.

“Come back next Monday for the results and we will discuss what we need to do next”

As I left, I noted three things I learned during my visit:

I learned that five vials of blood is enough to put me on the brink of unconsciousness. I learned that I have close to perfect blood pressure.

And I learned that there was no way in hell I was negative. Why?

The previous three weeks proved I was anything but the luckiest man alive!

Part X here

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Angel I Don't See PART VIII

Parts I-VII here

Seven and a half years. That’s how long Ric and I had been together when I decided that I needed to leave in order to live. As I packed my clothes and some other things I couldn’t help but remember all the wonderful times we had together.

Here was a man that I loved more than life itself and every time I thought about my impending separation I found it hard to breathe. Literally, I would gasp like a man surfacing for air after being underwater for a period of time.

In order to walk through the excruciating pain, I had to push the pain out of my mind. I repeatedly told myself that there would be time for mourning what I had lost, but that time was not then. Every time I found myself waxing poetic about my relationship with Ric, I forced myself to stop and think of other things like what I needed to pack or what bill I needed to pay or anything just to keep my mind away from those seven plus years.

But the time came when I was to spend my last night in the loft with Ric. Oblivious to the fact that I had moved all my clothes and much of my belongings, Ric asked why I was crying.

Little did he know that I was drafting the following letter to be left on his nightstand the next morning:


If you are reading this it means I have moved out. Leaving was the hardest decision I have made in my entire life. I hope you know I will always love you and that my heart aches that our life together had to end this way.

Watching you choose to die has nearly killed me. I was so hopeful that during your stay at the hospital they would find out what was wrong with you and could correct it. But you chose to leave, against medical advice and doctor’s orders, and they were not able to give all the tests that you needed.

Also, learning in the hospital that you had HIV and that you knowingly withheld that information from me for months devastated me. And that you walked away from the hospital when you were getting help made me realize that you, in fact, want to die. Since you have chosen to die, I have chosen to leave in order to live.

And to make matters worse, your confession on your hospital bed that you did leave the scene of an accident while driving my car even though you do not have a license cut me to my core. That you would watch me anguish, for nearly two weeks, over a court summons and vehemently deny any involvement was the final straw. I realized, after your confession in front of Michael, Jen and Dr. [Stop], that you no longer care for me at all.

I want you to know that if you get help and start on meds and I am able to verify with your doctors that you are trying to get well, I might change my mind. And by help I mean that you must return to the hospital (I suggest New York Presbyterian) until they figure out what is wrong with you. But as of now, you are on your own. And you are currently on a path to die penniless and alone.

Also you will need to figure out a way to get all the bills AND rent paid as well as return to work or find a new job in order for me to return. We are financially ruined due to your denial. And I won’t be here to watch your life deteriorate.

Things you should know:

• I have taken things that I need in order to live. I have taken all my clothes, as well as some things that we own together. Someone will be back to pick up the rest of my stuff soon, including half of the furniture.

• I will begin the process to dissolve our civil union within the next two weeks. Since you are dying I am not sure you will be there when the court divorces us.

• Your bank account has ten dollars in it. When that is gone, you will not have any more money to live off of.

• The electricity and cable are about to be cut off, as well as your cell phone.

• The rent is due on the first and they will begin eviction proceedings on you by January 7th. When they evict you, they will seize all your stuff in the apartment.

• Trotter must be walked and fed. Do not let her die because you can’t get your life together.

• I suggest you urgently talk to Audrey so that she can send you some money. Otherwise you will not be able to survive. You should ask for 2500-3000. Anything less and you will not be able to pay the bills and the rent.

• Starting tomorrow I will be blocking my mother’s number from your phone once again.

• I have a new phone and phone number. You will not have access to it and my old phone number on our family plan will no longer work beginning January 1st. Therefore you will not have a way to get in contact with me.

• There is plenty of food here to live off of for a couple of weeks. After that, it’s gone.

I hope you get the help you need. All these things that you are suffering from are reversible. But soon they will not be. Soon it will be too late and you will die in a hospital room all alone. I sincerely pray that you face reality soon before such a thing takes place. As I wrote before, if you go get help at the hospital and do all that the doctors tell you, I will return. In addition, all bills must be fully paid as well as the rent. But until I can verify that you are going to the doctor, taking meds and the bills are paid, I will not be back. And since you have lied about so much over the past few months, I am sure you won’t do anything.

I wish you all the best and will miss you terribly. I cannot tell you how difficult it is to leave. I want nothing more than to walk through this with you. But the fact of the matter is you gave up on life long ago. And I will not join you on your death march.

I love you more than you could ever know. Always have, always will.



Ps. Don’t forget to walk Trotter and feed her. Walk her the right way, outside the gate, on her leash. Do not neglect her. She means so much to me and she should not suffer due to your negligence.
The next morning, before Ric woke up, I left my letter and walked out the door.

Part IX here

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Angels I Don't See PART VII


On Christmas Eve my mother, grandmother, aunt and brother visited Ric in the hospital. All except my brother were visiting from Texas on a long-planned Christmas vacation. My brother is a sophomore at NYU and he acted as their tour guide while they were here.

My heart broke that the first – and probably last – time my grandmother met Ric was in a hospital room. Though she did not know what he was hospitalized for at the time, my concern was that when she found out it would only reinforce negative notions of gay people and AIDS.

But my grandmother did something extraordinary. My mother asked if we could pray and my grandmother took Ric’s frail hand in hers and bowed her head. It was one of the few times in my life that I have seen the compassion of Christ so magnificently personified. For all my misgivings with my family and their beliefs, that one moment of absolute love without condition is something I will never forget as long as I live.

She spoke to him as though he was one of her very own grandchildren, gave him Christmas gifts (one of which was a pamphlet by Ric Warren, but she didn’t realize why that might not be the best pick. I doubt she even knew of the controversy surrounding Warren at the time), laughed at his silly jokes and listened as he repeated the same story over and over again.

Shortly after my family left, Ric decided he was going to leave the hospital. He ripped the IV out of his arm and started to get up. I restrained him and the nurses rushed in and put the IV back. Once he calmed back down I asked him about the HIV results, something up to that point I had not mentioned. He had no idea I knew his status.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were positive?” I sobbed.

“What? I’m not positive. What makes you think I have HIV?”

“Dr. Stop, the infectious disease doctor, had your bronchoscopy results faxed over from Dr. Libby’s office and the paperwork said you were positive”

“Dr. Libby’s an ass! He just made it up. I’M NOT POSITIVE”

“You’re telling me that one of the top pulmonologist in the nation, with posh offices on Madison Avenue, made up your HIV status just because he’s an asshole?”

“That’s exactly what I am saying. And besides, if I was positive I would have contracted it from you!”

“Well that remains to be seen. I am scheduling an appointment with Michael’s doctor to get tested” I said, trying to regain some composure.

“Well, I’m not positive. I just need muscle relaxers and I will be fine”

Once a certain idea entered Ric’s mind it was hard to shake him of it. The muscle relaxer bit was one such idea. He continually talked about muscle relaxers even though a) none of his muscles hurt and b) he could never explain how muscle relaxers would help his condition. He was convinced that acquiring the pills would be the cure for all that ailed him.

Exhausted and emotionally spent I went home to try and get some much needed rest. I took comfort in the fact that Ric was in the hospital despite some misgivings I had with the doctor to whom Ric had been assigned. Though the infectious disease (ID) doctor proved to be invaluable, Ric’s general doctor during his stay was completely worthless.

On Christmas day I returned to the hospital only to find Ric in an incorrigible mood.

“CALL DR. MIRZA AND TELL HIM I AM LEAVING” Ric screamed to the nurse.

“Whatever you say, Mr. White” the nurse conceded, visibly shaken by Ric’s behavior.

“He can’t be released! If he is released he may never make it back! He might die before he gets help again” I pleaded.

Shortly after the nurse returned to Ric’s room with another doctor and a piece of paper for Ric to sign.

“Dr. Mirza said that if you wanted to go home, it would be AMA. Therefore he wants you to sign this piece of paper and also agree that if you come back to this hospital for treatment, you do not see him” the other doctor explained.

AMA, for those not blessed to know medical jargon and acronyms, means “against medical advice” and usually when a patient checks out of a hospital AMA, insurance will not cover the stay.

Ric signed the paper and began to walk towards the elevator. I followed closely behind.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I asked.

“Leaving. I am not spending Christmas in the hospital. I will come back another day”

“But another day might be too late. You’ve got to stay. You’ve got to get an HIV test and they’ve got to figure out what’s wrong with you”

Even though Ric denied that he was HIV positive he refused to consent to a test during his stay at the hospital. Since his status was not absolutely certain, the ID doctor could not start him on HIV medicines to improve his condition.

After a tumultuous night spent at home, full of yelling and discord, I spent the following morning scheduling my HIV test and figuring out my escape.

At that point, I didn’t know for certain what my next move would be. But I did know that I was leaving Ric. If he was to willfully choose to ignore medical advice and possibly die, I was not going to be around to watch it.

I could not watch him choose to end his life. But ultimately I could not allow Ric to take me down with him. His suicide mission would have only one fatality.

I was going to live. And if not, I would die trying.

Part VIII here

Monday, January 12, 2009

Angels I Don't See PART VI

Parts I - V can be found here

My friend Michael and I went to the waiting room on floor seven of the hospital. I looked out the window at a magnificent view of the Statue of Liberty. For years she had welcomed people from foreign lands – the tired, the poor, those yearning to be free.

My tears began to flow because I now was the tired and poor. I was the one in search of freedom and a new beginning. I was in need of the hope that Lady Liberty had given to the nameless faces and huddled masses.

“Are you mad at him?” Michael asked.

“Mad at him for what?”

“Are you mad at him for not telling you he was positive”

It was the strangest thing because I was not mad at him. I wanted, more than anything, to be mad at him to ease the pain. But at that particular moment I simply felt sorry for Ric.

What deep, abiding fear must someone have in order to live in such denial? Was his fear of HIV so strong that he would not only risk his own health by not getting treatment, but he would risk my health by not telling me? If his fear of HIV led to his denial, from where did such a fear come?

Ric’s life has been a series of tragedies. He lost his mother when he was 12, lost his brother to complications from MS, lost another brother who died an infant. He also lived through the plague years when many of his friends died rapid deaths to AIDS. Perhaps the combination of all these things caused him to slip beyond the reach of reality. Maybe his own mortality was the one thing in life he simply could not face.

“I know this is hard to hear right now but you should really get yourself tested” Michael said as he held me.

“I am. I just need to find a place and I will”

“Use my doctor. Here’s his number”

As Michael took my phone and programmed his doctor’s number in it, I looked out again at the statue. The Statue of Liberty has always played a special role in my life since I moved to New York nearly eight years ago. The night before 9/11/01 I took a cruise around Manhattan chartered by the international trade association I was working for at the time. As we passed the statue I opened my fortune cookie and my fortune read “Cherish your freedom. You never know when you might lose it”.

A few months later, Ric and I took a stroll through Battery Park which was a couple of blocks from where we lived at the time. We sat on a bench with our dog and savored the view of the Hudson and the statue in the distance. It was a cloudy day but the sun shone like a spotlight on Lady Liberty’s crown. It is, to this day, the most exquisitely beautiful image ever etched in my mind.

And just last year, my friend took us out on her boat and we circled the statue. I had never seen her so close and the detail amazed me. She was such an epic symbol of all that was right with our country and at that moment I whispered a prayer that what she stood for would be protected for generations to come.

But as I looked out at the statue the day I learned of Ric’s status, I wondered if Ms. Liberty could inspire me yet again.

Sadly, I knew the answer. This time her guiding light could not lead me out of the dark abyss. Symbolic hope was not a solution anymore and I doubted if it ever was. At that moment she was nothing more than a jingoistic backdrop used to instill a false sense of patriotism and arrogant pride.

In fact, at that moment in such overwhelming pain, I wanted to take her torch and shove it up her patina'ed copper ass. And give it a twist for good measure!

Part VII of Angels I Don't See here

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Angels I Don't See PART V

Parts I, II, III and IV can be found here

Two days before Christmas Ric finally agreed to go to the emergency room. As the nurse was taking his vitals he told her he needed muscle relaxers and anti-depressants. He also told her he was mourning the death of his father who died the previous week. At that point, his father had passed over seven years prior.

“He’s actually here because he is delusional, unmotivated, cannot remember much of anything and he is increasingly becoming a danger to himself and others. He has an undiagnosed neurological disorder and we have been to countless doctors and no one can tell him what is wrong” I said.

I could recite his symptoms in my sleep. The entire week leading up to his visit to the emergency room was spent on the phone with the many doctors that had treated him pleading with them to try again and find some answers. The time for speculation was long gone and it was imperative that they find something out, and quick. Otherwise I was convinced we were going to lose him.

After taking some blood, an x-ray and a CAT scan the emergency room doctor admitted Ric to the hospital overnight. Ric was having none of it. He wanted to go home and was making life as difficult as possible for all the medical professionals. Finally, they gave him some Ativan. Within minutes, he was sleeping like a baby.

On Christmas Eve, an infectious disease doctor examined Ric. After a few questions he asked if he could talk to me privately. I agreed but asked if one of my good friends who was visiting Ric at the time could join us.

Before we went to the hall the doctor asked one more question in front of Ric.

“Is there any other strange behavior Mr. White has displayed” the doctor asked.

“Well I suspect he drove my car even though he is unlicensed. I received a court summons about leaving the scene of an accident”

In a moment of rare clarity, Ric spoke up. “I drove the car to go to the bank. I hit a Mercedes but there was no damage so I left”

I never mentioned to Ric that it was a Mercedes that was hit so I knew he was telling the truth.

After the confession the doctor, my friend and I went to the hall.

“What we are dealing with here is probably one of two things. It’s either a cancer or it’s HIV. When was the last time Mr. White was tested for HIV?”

“Oh no, it’s not HIV, doctor. He has been tested as recently as August and he was negative. It must be cancer”

“Why was he tested in August?” the doctor replied.

“For a bronchoscopy he had due to a mass on his lung”

“Is there anyway you can get me the bronchoscopy paperwork. I’d like to see what it says”

“I guess, but the mass was benign so I am not sure what the paperwork would tell you. And besides, it’s Christmas Eve. I doubt the doctor who performed the procedure is even there”

“Well try and call and see if you can get the results faxed to me. Also see if they can send the results from his blood test.”

I called the doctor who ordered and performed the bronchoscopy and, unbelievably, someone was there and agreed to fax over the results.

Ten minutes later the doctor came back to talk to me privately.

“The results show Mr. White is positive. Is there a reason he would have withheld this information from you?”

At that moment my knees buckled. In less than an hour I learned that Ric had, in fact, driven the car and been in an accident, but also that he was HIV positive, something he did not tell me for nearly six months. The enormity of it all was almost too much.

But the enormity of what was about to happen would put me at the gates of hell. The battle had just begun and my life as I knew it had just ended. For good.

Part VI of Angels I Don't See can be found here

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Angels I Don't See PART IV

Parts I, II, III and IV here

Every new day seemed to unearth another clue but no answers. Ric’s behavior became manic and so bizarre that he was not only a danger to himself; he was a danger to others. Most of my time was spent either begging him to go into the emergency room or calling family and friends for advice on what to do with him.

I was also left with trying to figure out how to pay our bills and rent while also having enough money with which to eat. I felt as though I was drowning in a sea of chaos, struggling to keep my head above water. Fear became my constant companion and sleep became a distant memory.

On December 18th Ric did something highly unusual, even for him. He decided that he was going to wait in the standby line of the television show The View because he wanted to get “a bunch of free stuff”. The man who had not moved from his chair in front of the television for over three weeks was all of a sudden up by six and at the ABC studios by 7:30 sharp.

And the phone calls began.

“Baby guess what? I am going to get in standby and get a bunch of free stuff. You should get here quick…”

“Baby, I am going to be in the audience and get all this free stuff. If you hurry you can join me and we can get even more free stuff and give it as Christmas gifts…”

“Baby, I am in the studio. I found out that there is another taping at 2 for the Friday show so I am going to get back in line after this and get even more free stuff. Then we can sell it for thousands of dollars and we won’t have to worry about rent or bills….”

Shortly before 2:00, my phone rang again.

“I didn’t get in for the 2:00 taping” he mumbled. “Oh well, I have an idea. See, the security guard was a real jerk. He said ‘get your skinny white ass out of here or I will call the police’ so I am going to call The View and get that guy fired. And then I am going to get them to give me all the stuff that I would have gotten had I been at the two o’clock taping”

It’s not that I felt sorry for the security guard, but I knew what Ric must have put him through in order for the guard to snap. I have no doubt that Ric asked the same question over and over again, never remembering the answer. He probably became belligerent, angry and even hostile. The guard had no idea that the man asking him questions was really a child in a fifty-two year old body.

I don’t know this because I was there. I know this because I lived it, day in and day out, for months. Ric’s constant questions were not really questions as much as they were an exercise in maintaining his sanity. If he could focus on a trivial question for which there was no answer, he never had to face the reality of his illness. In many ways it was (and is) a survival mechanism. Over the past few months, reality has been the demon he refuses to face.

Slowly his world became pure fantasy that only he knew. He truly believed everything he was saying, including being able to sell whatever “prizes” he received from The View. Though his intentions were admirable, he had absolutely no plan for making those intentions a reality.

When asked how exactly he would sell the giveaways should he receive them, he replied matter-of-factly that he would simply post signs on telephone polls and in the lobby of our building advertising the items. Pressed to explain what we would do if the items didn’t sell, he responded that we would sell our car…or our bed…or anything that happened to pop into his delusional mind at the time.

Meanwhile on planet earth, I had problems that were too much for one man to handle. Whereas in crisis of the past Ric had been by my side to weather the storms of life, this time not only was he not by my side, he was the thunder and lightening and gale force winds propelling the storm. His behavior, more than anything else, was wreaking unbelievable havoc on our life. Each of his actions required an equal and opposite reaction on my part in order to minimize the damage.

As I told my mother on the phone when the caca was hitting the fan, “Everyday I find a new body. It’s just a matter of time before I discover where another body is buried. It’s no longer a question of if, but when”.

Sure enough, on Christmas Eve, another body surfaced. And this time, the stench nearly killed me.

Part V of Angels I Don't See here

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Angels I Don't See PART III

Part I here and part II here

The ten solid days that I spent drinking were a welcome respite from the worry that was consuming my every thought. While drinking, no matter what is going on around me, I am able to simply shut everything out.

Around day eight I knew that I needed to find help yet again. I was nervous that the amount of alcohol I was consuming – half a gallon to a gallon of vodka a day – was going to result in alcohol poisoning. But I was also worried that detoxing myself might send my body into shock and kill me. Though I had always detoxed myself in the past, I was aware of the dangers inherent in doing so. My days were numbered as far as withdrawing from alcohol and I was not going to take that risk again.

Finding a detox that has an available bed is harder than one might think. I called six detox centers before I found one in Princeton, New Jersey that said they could take me, and it would be a few days before a bed would be ready. Therefore, while waiting for them to call, I continued to drink and continued to notice Ric degenerate.

Finally, on a Monday, the detox in Princeton called and told me to come right away.

After six days in Princeton, I took the train home. I was excited to see Ric and our dog Trotter. Ric told me that he cleaned the loft and it was spotless and I was ready to spend a few days relaxing at home while I began the process of sobriety once again.

The smell I encountered upon entering the loft was disgusting. There were dishes piled high in the sink, clothes and sticky messes all over the floor, and the garbage was overflowing everywhere. Trotter appeared to be sick and Ric appeared to be dying. And I was mad as hell.

“This is what you call spotless?!?!”

“I cleaned. Look at the couch. I cleaned all the stuff on the floor and put it on the couch”

“You mean to tell me that you believe that the ten minutes it took to pick the crap off the floor and simply throw it on the couch is your idea of cleaning?”


As I sat down on the one part of the couch that was free of debris, I went through my mail from the previous six days. I noticed a number of envelopes were from lawyers. Since I rarely receive anything from lawyers I knew something was very wrong.

Dear Mr. McDonald

Leaving the scene of an accident is a very serious charge and, if found guilty, you could find yourself having your license suspended and even facing jail time. We at the firm of Scare, Yoo, and Shatless have represented countless individuals in your situation. It would be a mistake to attempt to represent yourself in court…

Dear Mr. McDonald,

You are probably worried about your upcoming court date. I understand. Leaving the scene of an accident is a serious charge and you deserve the best possible representation. I encourage you not to go to court alone. Don’t be fooled into believing that you can do this on your own…

Confused and a bit panicked, I came to my final piece of mail. Inside a handwritten envelope from the police department was a court summons requiring me to appear in court for “Leaving the scene of an accident”

My heart began to race. I mapquested the location where the summons said the accident took place, which turned out to be just outside our bank. I then looked up all the transactions I made the day the summons said the accident took place. And, like I thought, I had not been at the bank the day the supposed accident took place. But Ric had.

Ric had been at our bank that day at the time of the supposed accident to take his name off of one of our joint accounts and open another account that was exclusively his. He said his reason for doing so was because he was afraid that during my relapse I would spend all the money we had. The problem with that was that there was not any money in any of our accounts for me to spend. We were broke. Therefore, anything I purchased during my relapse was put on my credit cards.

There was another problem as well. Ric has not had a driver’s license since his expired nearly two years ago. Though we originally bought the car for him to get to work in New Jersey, he was quickly promoted back into the city and the car, which is in my name, became mine exclusively to use. When his license expired, we took his name off the insurance to save some money and if he needed to get somewhere that could not be reached by public transportation, I drove him.

“Ric, I got a court summons and about a dozen letters from attorneys saying I left the scene of an accident. I know I didn’t do this. I never drive while I am drinking and the time the accident took place was the exact time you were at the bank changing the accounts”

“Ok, so?”

“So the accident took place right outside of the bank”


“So I was not at the bank that day and you were. I did not go anywhere that day”

“I took the train to the bank. I remember, because it was so cold that day and I had to wait a long time for the train to come”

“Are you sure?”


At my wits end I called a friend of mine who is a cop. I’ll call him Paul, though that’s not his name. He told me that I needed to get a copy of the police report and read what it said. He also told me that, whatever I did, I was not to miss my court date.

The next morning, I walked into my precinct and requested the report. I was relieved to learn that there appeared to be no damage to the other car and the report seemed to be nothing more than a perfunctory request from the other driver for possible insurance purposes.

When I returned home, I told Ric that I got the police report though I did not tell him what the report said. His response was telling.

“Well you know you were driving so just go plead guilty and it won’t be that bad”

“It won’t be that bad? I face possible jail time and/or license suspension and you’re telling me it won’t be that bad? I depend on that car! And I know I didn’t drive the car that day! I know it!”

The reason I knew it is because in all my years of drinking the one thing I never did was drive. Never. I did plenty of other deplorable things but I never drove. Driving was never a part of my drinking DNA.

But maybe this time was different. Maybe this time I did drive. Maybe the disease had progressed to the point that I simply did not remember driving under the influence. Maybe it was just a coincidence that unlicensed Ric was at the bank at the exact time the accident took place outside the bank.

Maybe I was going crazy.

Maybe I was already there.

Part IV of Angels I Don't See here

Psst, the clue is in the title

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Angels I Don't See PART II

PART I here

Any recovering alcoholic who has suffered the agony of a relapse can testify to the fact that the disease picks up right where it left off…and then some. Basically, what happens when an alcoholic relapses is that they resume right where they ended with their last drink, no matter how much sobriety they have under their belt. If, let’s say, an alcoholic was drinking a half gallon of vodka a day before they entered recovery, they will quickly find themselves drinking a half gallon and more if they relapse.

I sipped my first scotch on the rocks in my hotel room. But soon, overwhelmed by guilt and shame, I began to chug. I needed to blot out my pain. And within minutes, the liter of scotch was gone.

Desperate, I took a cab from my hotel to a bar. It was around five in the afternoon and the bar was empty. I actually preferred it empty. It meant I had the bartender to exclusively do my bidding. It also meant that I could get sufficiently buzzed before a crowd showed up. The problem was, the crowd and the buzz could not get there fast enough. And even though the bartender was quick to replenish my drink, he was not quick enough.

I grew increasingly irritated and left within a half hour. If I was going to drink, I was going to drink Jon-Marc style, and the only way to do that was to make the drinks myself. So I went across the street to the liquor store and bought a half gallon of vodka, caught a cab and went back to my room.

The last memory I have that night was standing at the window in my hotel room, looking over the New York skyline, thinking to myself that my drinking was going to snap Ric back into reality. Surely he would see that his bizarre behavior was driving me back to the bottle. And since he has my best interests at heart, he would immediately begin again the process of trying to get well. The alcoholic is notorious for drinking at other people.

The next morning, on my way back to the loft, I picked up another half gallon of vodka. I was looking forward to a day of uninterrupted drinking. Ric was supposed to be working that day and I had quite a few hours to drink as much as I wanted.

My plan was shot to hell the minute I walked in my loft and saw Ric sitting there in his robe watching TV.

“Why are you not at work?!?!?” I screeched.

“I called in. I don’t feel well”

“What the hell do you mean you don’t ‘feel well’?”

“I don’t feel like going to work”

“You don’t feel like going to work!?!?!? You don’t feel like going to work?!?!? We need to get you to a doctor and quick! This is getting out of control!”

“Would you just shut up and drink! I have no desire to listen to some drunk tell me I need to get help”

My plan of snapping Ric back to reality was not going so well. In fact, it was having the opposite effect. Instead of prompting him, my drinking emboldened him to continue his own slide into oblivion.

And, like a good, subservient spouse I submitted to his demand and poured a stiff drink of vodka with a splash of ginger ale.

I cannot blame my decision to pick up on any one but myself. But I do know that my frustration with his lack of concern for his condition was at the tipping point. I could not, for the life of me, understand why my husband was willingly ignoring his health despite all the evidence that there was a problem.

For ten straight days and nights I drank. I simply could not deal with the reality that was our life. Specifically, I could not deal with the fact that no one could figure out what was wrong with my husband. The most grueling thing about watching him go through this ordeal was not knowing what it was we were dealing with. No one knew…

or so I thought.

Part III of
Angels I Don't See here

Psst, the clue is in the title
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