Friday, May 29, 2009

A break from Angels

So today I noticed this and thought I would show you all. It made my day. You can read the entire article by clicking on the picture above but my favorite quote is this:

"So, demoralized by failure, frustrated by my unnecessary expenditures, and hungry for answers, I turned to Google Search, typed in the cookies-that-shall-not-be-named, and came up with an amusing and, thankfully, reassuring post by the New York-based food blogger Jon-Marc McDonald of bake it til you make it.

McDonald is equal parts humorist and baker—he’s smart, snarky, sassy and downright hilarious. But what I appreciate most about him is that he’s a seriously good baker who takes himself and his trade lightly—i.e. someone I might do well to learn from."

Ps. I have a facebook profile. If any are interested, friend me. The link is here. Hope it works: Jon-Marc McDonald's facebook profile. If not just friend me the regular way on the facebook site

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Angel I Don't See Part XIX

Parts I-XVIII here

As goes the insurance so goes the patient. I was not surprised nor was I upset. Ric's doctor did all he could do for him in the hospital and seemed hopeful about Ric returning home. I was also comfortable with Ric returning home due to him being approved for an AIDS drug program that would provide his medication at no cost to us.

Everything changed the moment we arrived at the loft. Prior to Ric's hospital stay his problems were primarily related to delusions of the mind and a childlike mental capacity. Upon his return, his entire body seemed to give up.

He lost all control of his faculties, could not speak coherently, was unable to feed himself, could not walk and slept at all hours. I could not leave him alone for even a minute. I was tethered to him, meaning I could not leave the loft unless someone was watching him for me. I fed him, cleaned him and carried him to the bathroom. In sickness and in health was no longer a sweet sentiment expressed when we exchanged our vows. It was pure sickness all the time without the promise that health would ever return.

Sure enough, the dreaded court date arrived and I was forced to leave Ric is someone's care beside my own. My brother, a sophomore at NYU, came over and watched Ric for a few hours. Though, as I wrote previously, I resent my father's favoritism of my brother, I have never resented my brother. After all, it was (or is) not his fault. I have never felt anything but love for my brother and am the proudest big brother in the world for all he is accomplishing.

"He has Depends on, he has eaten and the only thing you need to worry about is if he tries to get up, which he will. If you don't stop him he will fall. So make sure when he starts to move you stop him. If he were to cut himself or something use these gloves and clean the wound, put some ointment on it and a band-aid. Make sure you wear the gloves" I said as I handed my brother rubbing alcohol and a box of gloves and Band-Aids. I felt as a parent does the first time they leave their child in someone else's care.

I was nervous about my court appearance. There were two things I was determined not to do.; I would not enter a guilty plea and I would not mention Ric. The former was non-negotiable; the latter was contingent on the judge not asking if anyone else had access to the car. Of course, given my unfounded fear of law enforcement, it was likely I would blab like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed being water boarded if the judge so much as sneezed at me.

I sat in the packed court room, hoping beyond hope that I was outwardly masking my fear. I was dressed in a suit. Everyone else, except the prosecutor, was in jeans.

Great Jon-Marc. You look like an ass in your suit. Why didn't you just bake the judge some cookies and offer to wash their car? After all, it's obvious why you're wearing a suit. You want the judge to think that someone dressed as nice as you could not possibly be guilty of leaving the scene of an accident the voice in my head said.

GUILTY! the other voice replied.

"John McDougal. Is Jon McDougal here?" the prosecutor asked. I looked around the room to see if John McDougal came forward.

When no one responded I screeched "I'm Jon McDonald. Actually I'm Jon-Marc McDonald. Did you mean Jon-Marc McDonald because I am Jon-Marc McDonald? I'm here for a hit and run charge for which I am pleading not guilty because, uh, that's what I am, not guilty. Is that who you meant? Jon-Marc McDonald?" There was no other way to describe my outburst except that it was pure diarrhea of the mouth. So much for calm, cool and collected.

"No, I meant John McDougal" the prosecutor replied.

"Oh, well doesn't McDonald come before McDougal alphabetically?"

Shut. The. Hell. UP! Jon-Marc!

"It does if I was calling names alphabetically" the prosecutor said, his eyes fixed on me like a scope fixed on its target.

What was I doing? I listened as the prosecutor called people up to his table and knew that he was not calling people alphabetically. If my nerves got any worse, Ric was not going to be the only one with incontinence.

After a few more names the prosecutor came to my name.

"Jon. Mc. Don. Ald" He made a point to pause between every syllable which in turn caused the entire courtroom erupt in laughter. He continued. "No need to come up. We all know your plea.

"Ok, thanks" I said, wanting more than anything to run out of the courthouse into oncoming traffic. At once the anger and hurt and despair begin to bubble up. It felt as though everything I was going through could all be blamed on Ric. The court, dealing with his disease, finances – everything. I did not know how much more I could take.

"All rise. The honorable blah blah blah, blah blah" the bailiff or whatever you call the person who introduces the judge said.

"You may be seated" the stunningly beautiful and quite young judge, said.

"I want you all to know that if you are not guilty, do not plead guilty just to get your case over with. Pleading guilty when you are in fact innocent is not the solution" she continued.

Wow, I thought. This judge is cool. I am not guilty and I am pleading not guilty. She's gonna see all my evidence and she's gonna dismiss on the spot

After a few cases went before her and I realized that she was pretty damn awesome, she called my name.

"Mr. McDonald. It is my understanding that you wish to enter a not-guilty plea. Is this correct?"

"Yes, your honor. I wish to plead not guilty. I move to have this case dismissed" What the hell???? I was acting though I was Perry effen Mason!

"Unfortunately Mr. McDonald, you cannot move to dismiss the case at this time. I assume you are going to represent yourself. Is that correct?"

"Yes ma'am, um, I mean yes your honor"

"Ok, your trial date is set for two weeks from today"

"My trial? But I just pleaded not guilty. Isn't this the trial? I can prove I'm innocent. I have all the evidence right here" I said as I held up a folder full of documents.

"No, Mr. McDonald, we need to contact the other party involved in the alleged accident as well as the officer who took the report and notify them so they can come and testify if they so choose" the judge replied.

"You mean they weren't contacted already? That's silly. What a waste of taxpayer money. This could all be streamlined in my opinion, for the sake of the taxpayers." Perry Masson morphed into Ralph Nader with a touch of Grover Norquist thrown in for good measure.

"Is that all Mr. McDonald" the judge calmly asked.

"Yes, see you on the 27th." The 27th was the day my Dad was to drive up from Washington, DC and help take Ric to his appointment at the Health Clinic, ensuring that the 27th would be the day I faced two judges. Ironically, both would end up judging me on things I had not done.

Part XX here

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Angels I Don't See PART XVIII

You can read Parts I-XVII by clicking here

"Oh, I see! You're now calling me after three years of not talking to me because you need help. You know, all my friends have told me to cut you off completely, to never talk to you again. They're probably right. Why should I listen to what you have to say after everything you have done?"

My Dad was right. A few months after my father and his partner loaned us money for a car so Ric could get to work in Bridgewater, New Jersey, I quit talking to him. I was ashamed that I could not pay Dad back like Ric and I agreed we would and decided that, rather than tell my father about our struggles, it would be far easier to cut off communication. Quite frankly, shutting people out of my life for no apparent reason was a pattern. And my Dad's reaction to hearing from me after a three year absence had a familiar ring to it.

Though Ric could not possibly understand what I was saying at the time, I had been telling him the exact thing my Dad told me. I explained to Ric how most of my friends were encouraging me to leave him, to never talk to him again, to let his blood relatives and the state sort out the mess he had made of his life. I made clear that his actions were cruel and to some degree evil and that the idea of walking away and never looking back had crossed my mind more than once. I knew that Ric was unable to process what I was telling him but I needed to say it. I needed him to hear it even if he could not comprehend what it was he was hearing.

"Dad, I am really sorry. The situation is so desperate and so bad right now and I am turning to every possible resource I can. I know how it looks calling you after so many years. And you are probably right. I am watching the love of my life waste away from the plague in the supposed non-plague years. I probably would not have attempted to get in touch if the situation was not so dire. I just need some help". As I was talking to my Dad I was looking out the window of Ric's hospital room at the view of the Empire State Building, an ironic view, to be sure, since the last time Ric was in the hospital he had a view off the Statue of Liberty. Once again, the iconic view did not provide the inspiration it once had.

"What about his sister? Have you called her? Is she helping any? I can tell you right now that Jack (my Dad's partner, not his real name) will not be willing to send any money. He is livid at you about the car" my father replied angrily.

"Don't get me started on her. His sister Eunice (not her real name) has been no help whatsoever. Before we knew what was wrong with Ric I was on the phone with her all the time, trying to see if she could convince him to go to the hospital. Her solution was to get one of my friends to come over and forcefully carry him to the car and forcefully force him to the hospital! As if my friends and I could essentially carry a 51 year old man kicking and screaming to the car and then subdue him until we got to the hospital! But that was her solution! And when I did get him to agree to go to the hospital, he jumped out of the car while it was moving as we were heading there." My Dad hit on an exposed nerve when he brought up Ric's sister. Little did I know that in the coming months, Eunice's kidnapping suggestion would be the extent of all the help she would offer.

"What does she have to say now? Does she know he has HIV? When is she going to be up there to see him and help with him?" This was classic Dad. When there was a problem, he wanted to know who was going to step up to the plate and help and who was going to pass the problem off to other people.

"I don't think she is coming up to help. She had knee surgery a few months ago and…actually, can we quit talking about her? She is going to be of no help so I really want to be solution focused. She is not part of that solution. In fact, in many ways she is part of the problem. I don't want to get into it now"

"Knee surgery? Knee surgery a few months ago is preventing her from getting there to visit her only brother who is dying? Give me a break!" my father said as his anger shifted from me to her.

"Yeah, but anyway, our insurance runs out on Sunday and I know they are going to release him before it runs out. I met with a guy who is now Ric's case manager and he made an appointment for Ric to see the doctor at the Health Clinic on the 28th. His case manager is also helping me apply for all the assistance we can get. I also met with the guy that is the head of one of the HIV resource centers here last week with Ric before he went to the hospital. He was so comforting and encouraging. He told us not to despair, that there is a lot of help out there and it's just a matter of finding it. The one thing he did say, though, was that due to the increased survival rate…no, sorry…the longer people are living with HIV has caused the funding for programs such as his to be slashed. But still, he was very helpful" In the short time since I found out Ric's status I was on the phone nonstop with charities and HIV organizations, scheduling meetings and trying to navigate the elaborate labyrinth of securing assistance.

"Ok, the 28th. I will drive up on the 27th and help you take him to the doctor. I will also bring things that you two need, like food, Depends, cleaning supplies, and whatever else you can think of. What else is happening? Is there anything else that we need to address quickly?"

"Well, yeah there is. Ric drove the car a few weeks ago without my knowledge. He does not have a license and apparently he hit a car and left the scene. Anyway, I got a court summons and now I am the one, since the car is in my name, that is going to face the charges" I said as I held my breath and waited for what I knew was not going to be a pleasant response.

"WHAT!?!?!?!" my father replied, his anger rising to white hot flame territory. "You mean to tell me that he drove the car we got him so he could get to work and he has never had a license?"

"No Dad, when we got the car he had a license. But since that time his license expired and since he no longer needed the car to get to work because his job was transferred back into New York, he did not get it renewed. I am the only one that has been driving the car…in theory"

"So he drove the car and now you are going to court? Good luck in jail!" My father has always had a flair for the dramatic, turning a bunny slope into Mount Kilimanjaro ready to erupt.

"Yes he drove the car and yes I am going to court. But I got the police report and there was no damage to the other car. I am not going to jail. I just have to go to court. Please don't make this bigger than it is. In fact, let's not make any of this bigger than it is" I said futilely trying to calm my father's rhetoric.

"Get your head out of the sand, Jon-Marc! I am not making this bigger than it is! Ric has HIV, possibly AIDS that he hid from you and everyone else for many months, possibly longer. He drives your car, gets in a wreck and, once again, does not tell you. Now you're going to court. You are carrying the weight of all his lies and cleaning up all his messes. Haven't you thought about leaving him? I don't need to make this bigger than it is. THIS IS FUCKING BIG!"

"First of all, it's AIDS. Secondly I can't leave him. I've made that decision. You might not agree with it and, to tell you the truth, most people in my life don't. But if I don't stay he's a dead man. And I couldn't live with myself if I left him to die. He does not have the mental capacity to take care of himself. I am really sick of people who essentially don't have a dog in this fight telling me what I need to do. His niece told me I needed to secure our belongings in the apartment because we were going to be evicted. Then she told me to find a job because if not, we were going to be homeless. When does she think I have any time to find a job and pack our stuff and take care of Ric all at the same time? Everyone has a fucking solution to this problem. And you know what? Every solution every person offers does not include that person!"

It took every ounce of humility I had left to call my father and ask for his help. Though I was clearly wrong for not paying back the money we owed him and his partner for the car, I still carried a huge resentment against my father – a resentment that, no matter how hard I tried, I could not shake. And the years that we did not talk only caused the resentment to metastasize and fester and, in many ways, become infected.

My father and his partner have been very generous to me through the years. But, despite that generosity, my father's generosity towards my younger brother has been unparalleled. He pays for most of his education at NYU, has taken him on lavish trips around the world, given my brother thousands of dollars in gifts, bought my brother a brand new car when he turned 16 (without condition that my brother pay him back) and, apparently, paints me in the worst possible light in discussions with brother. My father, of course, would justify all of this by saying that I continually screw up and he has given me plenty of chances.

The problem is that, while I worked from the time I was 14 and throughout college, my brother has never been required to work. And while my parents were separated and during their ugly divorce as they fought for custody rights and visitation rights concerning my brother, I was in college not knowing what the hell was going on, not knowing who was telling me the truth and also dealing with the painful, lonely, reality that I was gay. It was for these reasons and many more that made my groveling at my father's feet a bitter pill to swallow. I was a bitter man swallowing a bitter pill. However, having been broken to the point of complete defeat I was not in the position to decide which pills I was willing to swallow and which pills I would spit out. Every pill would be taken with a big glass of unsweetened iced-humility.

I had no other choice. My medicine chest was bare.

Part XIX here

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Angels I Don’t See PART XVII

You can read Parts I-XVI by clicking here


When I arrived at UMC Ric was being monitored by a nurse that would sit in his room day and night. If Ric so much as attempted to get up the nurse would calmly but firmly dissuade him. If Ric persisted, the nurse would stand up and escort Ric back to bed.

It was comforting to know that he was in UMC. At the time, the beginning of January, I did not know anything about the disease that was consuming his life and, by extension, mine as well. Though I had friends with HIV in the past, I never knew anyone that not only ignored their diagnosis but chose to believe that the doctor bearing the diagnosis was an outright, maniacal liar.

"His viral load is 775,000. That is extremely high. But there is no need to be frightened. I have seen the number drop significantly within a few months. However, he must stay on the medication and try not to let him forget to take them as prescribed" Dr. M told me just outside his room.

"What do we do?" I responded not quite clear what viral loads were or what a high viral load meant.

"We make sure he is eating and taking his medicine. Those two things are key. First, get his weight up and get his viral load down and then we get his CD4 count up"

"CD4 count? What does that mean?"

"Basically, anything below 200 and the patient is classified as having AIDS"

"Oh. So does he have AIDS?" I responded without even asking what the actual CD4 count was.

"Yes, by definition, he would be classified as having developed AIDS. But there is a lot that can be done. There is no need to lose hope"

Dr. M continued to talk but I was not listening. Instead my mind was reeling as to how this disease progressed so quickly. If he did in fact find out his status in August, how had it seized his body so quickly? He had HIV tests just months before and they were all negative. Or were they?

Everything that I thought I knew, everything that I believed to be true was thrown into question. Did he cheat? Had he known about his disease for sometime before the August test? Months? Years? There was no way of knowing. As every day brought about more information and more disclosures, Ric's "truth" was as malleable as silly-putty. Up was down, left was right, day was night, my lover was a stranger.

"Now, when does his insurance run out?" Dr M asked.

Prior to arriving at UMC I called Dr. M's office and happened to tell his receptionist that Ric's benefits were set to terminate within days.

"Sunday or Monday I believe. I am trying to figure out how to get him on SSDI and Medicaid. Do you accept Medicaid?" I responded, not sure how I was going to fast-track the SSI, SSDI and, most importantly, Medicaid so there would not be a gap in his coverage.

"No, but don't worry. There are plenty of capable doctors that will. Have you looked into the Health Clinic?" Dr. M asked genuinely.

I knew Dr. M would not accept Medicaid. Though I was upset by that fact, I took comfort that Dr. M would find us a capable physician that could effectively treat Ric's disease.

"I have an appointment with them today. In fact I have so many appointments I am not sure how I am going to keep them all"

Little did I know in early January that my life would be nothing but appointments from that point on. Appointments and paperwork. Every charity and every government agency required separate and equally exhausting reams of paperwork that meant face to face meetings, notarized documents, bank statements and a bevy of intimate and personal questions – questions that one would not even ask their closest friend.

After speaking with Dr. M I went to Ric's bed and stroked his hair. He was sleeping and, as Annie sings, his "face at first just ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale", and I began to pray.

"I can't do this alone, God. I don't think I can do this, period. If he goes, just take me with him. I have never known a love like this. Please give him a few more months, even a few more years. Bring back my love…my life…and I will do anything"

I have never been the type of person that negotiates with God. In fact I don't believe that God is in the business of negotiations. But I was willing to try anything. If someone told me to go to the Amazon Rain Forrest and pick fresh CamuCamu to be rubbed on Ric's belly while standing on my head at a 45 degree angle, I wouldn't have blinked and immediately booked my trip to the jungle.

Just as my prayer was closing, Ric opened his eyes.

"Where am I?" he asked, his speech slurred.

"You're at UMC. We had you transferred here so Dr. M could be your attending physician. How are you feeling?"

"I told you we have a home on the island. We don't need to stay at this hotel. I don't like this hotel. It smells like a hospital. Is this my iPod?". Ric was pulling at the tube connected to the IV that pierced his left hand.

"No, babe. That's your IV. Be careful. Don't pull it out. If you pull it out they will put it back in and that's no fun"

"Don't lie to me, Jon-Marc. They don't put IVs in at a hotel. This is an iPod and it doesn't work. You need to quit lying. God hates liars. Do you want God to hate you?"

With that, Ric yanked his iPod out of his arm and blood began to soak his sheets.

Two weeks, two IVs pulled prematurely, countless accusations that I was a liar and still believing fantasy.

Little did I know that I would long for the days when Ric pulled iPods out of his arm and screamed "Liar, liar, pants on fire". Things were about to get really messy, really quick.

Part XIX here

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