Thursday, July 30, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
Part XXI: Blood Angels
The day my father was to arrive a snowstorm was predicted up the Eastern seaboard. We were both apprehensive about this but my father, who has an SUV, insisted that he could beat the storm if he left early enough. Putting my nervousness aside I tried to get some sleep.
But as I twisted and turned all night I could only think about two things. The first was my scheduled court trial the following day and the other was my dad’s arrival.
I was nervous that at the trial the man who filed the police report would be there and ultimately I would have to explain to the judge the truth about Ric driving without a license and fleeing the scene. Points would be added to my license (I was not worried about jail since no one was apparently injured) and that I would be forced to pay hefty fine with money I did not have.
I was also worried that it would be my father keeping an eye on Ric while I was at court. Did my dad fully grasp Ric’s mental condition? Would he realize that unleashing a torrent of verbal assaults on Ric would be futile as Ric would not understand a word he was saying? Would my father be physically able to carry Ric to bathroom or pick him up if he fell?
All these concerns and more were on my mind as I tried to get some much needed rest.
Around 3:00 in the morning, after finally falling asleep, I awoke to the sound of a dull thud. Normally such a noise would not rouse me from my sleep but, with Ric in such a fragile state, I became much like a new mother who awakes when her baby so much as rolls over.
Turning on the light at my nightstand, I looked around to see where Ric was. He was not in bed, he was not anywhere in sight and our dog, Trotter, usually nestled in her bed at the foot of our bed, was standing at the door, something she never did.
RIC!!!!!” I screamed, manically jumping out of bed and into the hallway of our building in nothing but my boxer briefs.
There he was, about twenty feet down the hall, in a pool of blood, lying on the floor like a limp doll. How I managed to hear him fall so far from our apartment is beyond me. As I ran to him, with his blood soaked clothes and blood on the floor, I grabbed his wrist for signs of a pulse.
“Oh, hey babe” he said, turning his eyes up to me.
“What happened? Why are you out here? Where did you cut yourself?”
“I came out because I wanted to go outside and see the snow.”
It was 3:00AM; he was wearing underwear and a t-shirt with no shoes or socks. Had he made it to his destination, he would surely have frozen to death.
“Where’s the blood coming from? Where did you cut yourself?”
“Huh? What blood? I didn’t cut myself. That’s snow babe. Isn’t it pretty?” he said as he began to move his arms along the floor smearing all the blood around him. “I’m making snow angels”
“Babe, before I move you I need to know where you cut yourself so I don’t do any more damage than has already been done.”
“Make snow angels with me and then we could build a …..”
Before he could finish his sentence I was already back in the apartment getting alcohol, gloves, band-aids, bleach and paper towels.
When I made it back out he was sitting up. Reality had hit him.
“Babe! I’m bleeding! I’m bleeding! What is going on?” he screamed.
“Calm down, babe. It’s ok. You just fell. Don’t get worked up and don’t scream. You’ll wake the neighbors.” I said as I found the source of what seemed like pints and pints of blood; a small cut on his right wrist. I immediately took his t-shirt off and used it as a tourniquet on his upper forearm.
Then I grabbed the alcohol and began trying to wipe the blood from the wound. After a few minutes of trying to get the small cut to clot, it slowed enough for me to put some ointment on and bandage it.
“Babe, I’m scared. Are we in jail? Did I get beat up?” Ric said, shaking from fear and the cold.
With the pool of blood still around us and the paper towels, gloves and bleach just sitting there, I pulled him close to my chest and held him, whispering “There’s nothing to be afraid of. I am here. We are home. You are safe”
“But I am bleeding”
As I felt the warm blood from his arm drip down my back as he was holding on to me I whispered again “There’s nothing to be afraid of. I am here. We are home. You are safe”
“But you’re crying. Why are you crying, babe?” he said as I lifted him off the ground and carried him back to the apartment with blood now all over my face, chest, hands and back.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. I am here. We are home. You are safe”
After changing his clothes, wiping up the rest of the blood on his body and putting him back into bed I went back out in the hall to sanitize the area. When I came back in, I went to the bathroom to clean myself up. As I looked in the mirror, my face was crimson red with his blood. The only places on my face that were clear were where my tears had rolled down my cheeks washing the blood away.
There was nothing to be afraid of. I was there. We were home. He was safe.
PART XXII SOON
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
(Note: Though the date of this post is July 22nd, 2009 this story begins at the middle of December, 2008. Ignore the post date. Also, comments made on different "parts" of the story are at their original pages)
If someone told me, when I was released from detox just over two weeks ago, that my life would be where it is right at this moment, I would have elected to stay in detox. I have written at length about my stay in detox here, here and here. And I plan on writing more soon. But tonight I want to let those of you who follow this blog know what is going on. I want you to know the truth. I want to be set free.
My partner, Ric, of over seven years has been sick for some time. Last April we began to notice that something seemed off. We could not quite articulate what exactly was askew and for a while we chalked it up to work related stress. However as time went on, we knew we were dealing with a medical problem, though we did not know what it was.
I wrote about my anguish here. Over the summer, after countless visits to specialists, Ric seemed to be getting better. Though we did not have any answers as to his condition, I eventually quit accompanying him to doctor appointments. With each day that passed his condition seemed to miraculously improve and by the end of the summer, and a bronchoscopy that showed that a mass on his lung was benign, I was convinced that he was going to lick the phantom foe.
But two months ago, the bete noire was back with breath taking ferocity. His old symptoms returned and new ones appeared, including bizarre behavior. I did not know how to handle it. He was lying all the time, not going to work, avoiding financial responsibility, angry, depressed. Before my eyes, my husband transformed into a stranger, a child and a recluse, all in one.
It was evident that the elusive illness was bigger than I imagined. Repeatedly I encouraged him to go back to the doctors so they could start testing him again. Repeatedly he refused. Baffled, I poured my entire being into trying to make him better. I was determined, despite his resistance, to walk with Ric through whatever it was.
In doing so, I neglected the work necessary to maintain my sobriety. I foolishly believed my battle with the bottle was a thing of the past. The obsession with alcohol had been lifted…or so I thought.
The day after Thanksgiving, at my wits end, I checked into a hotel room with a bottle of scotch, promptly poured my drink, and checked out.
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 when 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
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?”
“SHUT UP! I CAN’T STAND YOU! GO BACK TO YOUR FUCKING DETOX AND GET THE HELL OUT!”
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, any money that I spent drinking 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”
“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”
“Yes I’m sure! STOP TALKING TO ME YOU FUCKING DRUNK! YOU JUST DON’T REMEMBER WHAT YOU DID THAT DAY! I TOOK THE FUCKING TRAIN! BE QUIET AND LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE!
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.
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.
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 last week. His father died over seven years ago.
“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.
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!
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.
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:
The next morning, before Ric woke up, I left my letter and walked out the door.
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.
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!
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.
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.
“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”
My mind didn’t know how to process any more shocking information. Though I entertained the possibility that I might be negative, actually hearing it created an entirely new dilemma I had not yet considered.
If I was negative, and I had strayed in the relationship many years ago, and Ric and I had not been sexually active in over eight months, and Ric was positive, and I was tested three times within the previous 18 months, and it takes a maximum of six months for the virus to show up on blood tests then it meant either…
he cheated and when he found out he was positive he withheld the information from me for several months or…
he had been positive for far longer, telling me he was negative and withheld the information from me for possibly many years.
In fact, using my handy dandy deductive reasoning skills I learned in college years ago, with all the scenarios as they were, there was no way I could have given Ric the virus at all, even if Dr. M said I was positive at that moment.
Dr. M then handed us seven prescriptions for Ric. Two for what Dr. M knew was HIV without having the results to prove it and five antibiotics to fight the thrush Dr. M found in Ric’s throat and mouth.
In the car on the way to the pharmacy I let loose.
“Did you hear Dr. M? He said I was negative. I just wanted to make sure you heard him tell me I was negative”
“Just making sure you heard. I never want to hear again that I gave it to you. There is no way I gave it to you. In fact, there would have been no way I could have given it to you even if Dr. M said I was positive today”
“I guess Charlie gave it to me”
“Charlie, your ex from eight years ago?”
“Yeah, Charlie. I guess he gave it to me”
“You think Charlie gave it to you and since then, and all subsequent HIV tests, you have shown up negative until last August when, voila, you turn up positive?”
As we pulled up to the pharmacy, his detachment from everything going on around him became even more apparent.
“After we drop of the ‘scrips to be filled, let’s get lunch at Subway or something, ok? If I don't eat something I think I am going to go insane. I mean it. I think I am going to explode”
“No, drop them off and then take me home, then come back and get my prescriptions”
“Um, are you trying to tell me that you want me to drop you off at home then come back to the pharmacy to get YOUR medications for HIV that YOU hid from me for months, possibly YEARS? That’s rich! THAT'S FUCKIN’ RICH!”
“Yeah, just take me home. Thanks” he said, so void of any ownership or responsibility and so callously indifferent to what I might be going through that I began to honestly wonder if he was a textbook sociopath.
“Could you explain to me where the hell my husband went? ‘Cause I am about to lose my fuckin’ mind and it would be really nice to find him!”
After I dropped off the prescriptions to be filled I took Ric home. No matter what happened, no matter how much I wanted to hate him, I simply could not look at him and see anything except a very sick man that I loved more than anything.
Back at the pharmacy...
“Your total is five-hundred-and-sixty-seven dollars”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you had our insurance information on file. Here, let me give it to you again” I said to the cashier.
“Yes sir. The total is with your insurance. Without insurance it would be twenty-one-hundred dollars”
We didn’t have five hundred dollars. We didn’t have fifty dollars.
“What is so expensive?” I asked, as if knowing would somehow help.
“Um, let’s see. The Truvada and the Kaletra”
In other words, the HIV meds. In other words, the meds that he needed if he were to survive.
In other words, he was a dead man
What a difference a year makes. A year prior we could have afforded four times the 567.00 each month with money to spare. But standing at the pharmacy that day, with absolutely no money to pay for Ric’s life-saving medication, I was just a bum in a nice coat.
We had no money for rent, no money for bills, no money for food and, of course, no money for medicine. Our life was no life at all. And the light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train.
“Can you tell me how much it would be without the HIV medications? Maybe I can just get the antibiotics and come back after I figure out how to pay for the Kaletra and Truvada” I humbly pleaded with the cashier.
“Thirty-seven dollars” she replied.
Thirty seven dollars. Ten dollars less than all the money we had.
“Ok, let’s do that. I’ll take the five antibiotics now and come back for the other two later”
Despair knows no depths. The second you think you have hit rock bottom, the rock bottom falls out. And with it, the world as you know it gets swallowed up in the black hole of hopelessness.
When I walked out of the pharmacy I snapped. Pity the person in my path that must deal with me when I lose my shit
“Mom, I can’t do this! I can’t do this! I can’t! I am about to break in two!”
I called my mother because I did not know what else to do. There was no way I could pay for the HIV medications and there was no way she could pay for the HIV medications but I did not know what else to do. So I did what I always do when I am in an impossible situation. I called my mom.
“Why don’t you call your friend with HIV? Maybe he knows something you can do” my mother suggested.
“What?!??!?! THAT’S YOUR SOLUTION? CALL MY FRIEND WITH HIV! ARE YOU CRAZY? WHAT GOOD ARE YOU IF YOU CAN’T HELP ME DEAL WITH THIS? RIC NEEDS HIS MEDICINES RIGHT NOW AND YOU WANT ME TO CALL SOMEONE WITH THE VIRUS FOR IDEAS? YOU HAVE LOST YOUR FUCKING MIND” I said as I furiously pressed the button on my Bluetooth headset and disconnected.
Angry beyond belief at my mother’s ridiculous idea, I picked up the phone and called my friend with HIV.
“Jon-Marc, go back to the pharmacy and ask for four days worth of the meds. They’ll do that and it buys you four days to figure out where and how you are going to get him the meds for the long term” my friend said. “There are plenty of organizations in this area that will provide you with assistance. After you leave the pharmacy stop by my place and I can give you some names and numbers and we will go from there”
“But I literally have only ten bucks”
“Ok, stop by my place beforehand and I will spot you a few”
Literally four days. If the pharmacy would sell me four days worth of the meds, it meant I had four days to figure something out and not a day more. Once someone starts an HIV regimen it is imperative that they continue, uninterrupted.
When someone stops taking their meds, or skips a day, the HIV starts again making literally millions of copies of itself. Every copy literally has a chance to mutate into a new form that may not be stopped by the drugs if started again.
Little did I know that four days later the drugs would literally be the least of my worries.
In four days Ric was going to stop traffic.
And I don’t mean that figuratively.
In the fall of 2007 I put pen to paper and listed all my greatest fears. Known as a fear inventory, this exercise in sobriety was meant to reveal, in plain sight, what in my overactive imagination I feared most and how exactly those fears were impeding my recovery.
The first four fears on the list were 1) Losing Ric 2) Becoming homeless and destitute 3) Being accused of a crime I didn’t commit and 4) Ric or me contracting an incurable disease.
As I discussed my fears with my mentor at the time, I could hardly imagine what utter hell it would be like to live through any of them. As I conjured up scenarios in my mind, each fantasy ended with either suicide or drinking myself to death. I did not have the emotional fortitude to withstand any situation that included any of those four things.
But staying alone at my friends house allowed me time to reflect. On the night of January 3rd, after yet another plea on the phone with Ric to do as Dr. M instructed and go back to the hospital, it hit me that each of those four fears were no longer imaginary. Instead, they were as real as the air I breathed.
I was in the throes of such unspeakable agony and yet I had not acted as I presumed I would. There was nary a thought of suicide and the thought of a drink repulsed me in ways it never had before. Instead something remarkable was happening.
Life on life’s terms was no longer a slogan cooked up in a smoke filled basement of some church by a bunch of drunks in need of a drink. Rather, it was a possible new way forward. Whereas in my past I managed to shirk life’s reality in a gadarene rush to the margins, I no longer had such a luxury. In fact, there were only two options left.
I could face my fears, bundled as they were, and risk defeat.
Or I could declare defeat without a fight, ensuring a future that was wholly controlled by my circumstances, thereby ceding my fate to everyone and everything except me. This option would also hasten Ric’s death.
If I chose the former, I would be navigating uncharted waters. Up to that point my decisions were always made by determining what would bring optimum comfort and minimum pain (an MO, by the way, that ironically almost always brought about the opposite). Steering my life instead of my life steering me was a foreign concept and the possibility that I might fail to meet those challenges was more incentive to just do nothing.
If I chose the latter, I could simply allow the situation to dictate the outcome like a rudderless boat adrift at sea, praying that one day by some miracle I would make it back to land. Though this option would be painful, it would also be easiest. And when it was all said and done, I could wallow in my defeat and bemoan the uncontrollable winds of life. Besides, there was already a drumbeat of doomsayers in my life that were whispering from the safety of the shore to put Ric in a state run home and secure my belongings at the apartment, chirping from their broken lighthouses words like eviction and death.
“He’s just jumped out of the car! It was moving and he just jumped out! He...”
“Where are you, sir?”
“At the corner of, HOLY SHIT! HE’S RUNNING INTO TRAFFIC! I’VE GOT TO GO GET HIM! SEND SOMEONE QUICK!”
“What is your location, sir?”
Behold, the power of the wind.
I managed to restrain Ric at the corner of Holy Shit and He’s Running Into Traffic until the ambulance arrived.
“Why did you jump out of the car, sir?” the EMT asked.
“Because Jon-Marc would not stop and get me cigarettes! That’s why!”
It was true. I would not stop to get Ric cigarettes. The reason I would not stop to get Ric cigarettes was because he agreed to go to the hospital and I was racing there before he changed his mind, something he did twenty-seven-hundred times a minute.
Like everything else in our life, a seemingly simple drive to the hospital was turned into a chaotic mess starring the dynamic duo of dysfunctional and delusional. There was no way to go from point A to point B unless we first made pit stops at points C through Z.
“Can you take him to UMC please? That’s where we were heading when he jumped out of the car. That way his doctor can be his attending physician. Otherwise if you take him to [a hospital I refuse to name because it is so abysmal] we will be forced to have him transferred, which will take hours and delay him getting treatment for his condition, a condition that is getting worse by the minute”
At that point one of the EMT’s was already talking to Ric in the back of the ambulance.
“He has HIV, just started taking meds that he runs out of today and I convinced him to go to UMC because he is delusional and growing increasingly dangerous to himself and perhaps to others”. It was all part of the same song I’d been singing for weeks every time I spoke to a medical professional about Ric.
“Sir, we can’t take him to UMC. We have to take him to [the shittiest hospital this side of the Hudson]. But as you said, just get his doctor to order the transfer to UMC”.
I followed the ambulance to [if I am ever put in this particular hospital, someone please just come and pull the plug and shoot me full of a thousand bullets to make sure I’m dead]. When I arrived the ER doctor was already talking to Ric.
“Mr. White, can you tell me who the president is?”
“Bush but soon to be Obama” Ric replied.
“Can you tell me what month it is?”
“Oh for fuck’s sake! Yes, he can tell you what month it is! Yes he can tell you who the president is! He can tell even recite his home address! For the love of God, would someone please ask him about his dog Mojo, his home in the Virgin Islands, his new car and his yacht off the coast of Fiji?” I screamed.
“And you are?” the doctor asked, turning his attention to me.
“I am his Civil Unioned Partner” As I said it, I noted the acronym CUP in my head. I’m his CUP. Cute though CUP does not roll of the tongue the way husband does.
“He needs to be transferred to UMC right away” I continued.
“Well we are going to run some test here. Who is his doctor? His doctor would be the one that would order the transfer”
“I know that his doctor would be the one ordering his transfer. So please, whatever you do, get Dr. M on the phone and tell him to transfer him to UMC. That’s where we were headed when he jumped out of the car and we were forced to come to [if you are ever in this hospital you should do yourself a favor and go ahead and off yourself]. I don’t want him admitted here”
“He tried to jump out of the car?” the doctor responded, genuinely unaware of why Ric was brought in.
Are you f’in kidding me??? You don’t know why the guy you are treating is here? Do they even screen the doctors at [sometimes I have nightmares about being tied down with barbed-wire to a gurney in this place as they are wheeling me into surgery] or do they just have them watch a couple of episodes of Grey’s and give ‘em a stethoscope and some scrubs and then throw them on the floor of the ER for some hands-on training? I thought, for fear that if I said it out loud they might declare me dead right on the spot and start lifting my organs from my still-warm-to-the-touch body.
“Mr White, why did you try to jump out of the car?”
“He didn’t try to jump out of the car. He did jump out of the car!” I replied.
“Sir, I am talking to Mr. White. Now, Mr. White, why did you try to jump out of the car? Were you trying to get away from someone?” said the doctor, staring right at me.
“What? What does that even mean? He jumped out of the car because he wanted cigarettes. The reason he jumped out the car is irrelevant. The man JUMPED. OUT. OF. THE. CAR! He is suffering from HIV dementia or AIDS dementia complex. Either way, he needs help and quick and I want him transferred to UMC where his doctor can see him”
“Mr. White, is that true? Did you try to jump out of the car because you wanted cigarettes” the doctor said as his attention turned to what looked like a Blackberry.
“Why do you keep saying try? He didn’t try! He jumped out of the car. There was no trying involved. He opened the door and jumped out and then ran into traffic”
“I jumped out because he wouldn’t get me cigarettes. I wanted cigarettes and Jon-Marc wouldn’t stop and get me some”
“Well, you know Mr. White, cigarettes are bad for you”
“Well, you know doc, I hardly think lung cancer or heart disease or anything smoking related is at the top of our worries right now. With all due respect, could you please call Dr. M? I can give you his number” I said.
“I’d like to run some tests to see if Mr. White has toxo. Are you aware of what toxo is, sir?”
No, I am not. But I do know what push-me-too-far-you-mother-fucking-piece-of-doctor-caca-and-I-will-go-psycho-on-your-ass-and-if-you-don’t-start-listening-to-me-I-am-going to-take-that-Blackberry-and-make-it-a-permanent-part-of-your-face is.
“No, what’s toxo?” I replied, keeping my thoughts to myself.
As Doogie Whoseit schooled me in all things toxo I quickly caught on to what was happening. Though toxo is serious there was no reason that the test could not be performed once Ric was transferred to UMC. No, the reason we were being held up at [I’m serious as a heart attack. If you have a heart attack do not go to this place!], at least in my mind, was because the ER was slow and they wanted to get as much money as they could before they transferred Ric. Call me paranoid but I think ERs are like traffic cops -- They have a quota to meet.
Six hours later and he still had not been transferred.
“Why are you putting an IV in?” I asked as the nurse tried to find a vein on Ric’s arm.
“The doctor ordered it before Mr. White is taken upstairs” the nurse replied, still jabbing away at Ric’s arm.
“Taken upstairs as in being admitted over night?” I said as I faced the other direction so as not to watch her using Ric’s arm like a dart board..
“I don’t know. I’m just doing as I was told”
“First of all, he is being transferred to UMC and secondly, if you are going to put an IV in, you better restrain him. He will pull it out if you don’t”
“Mr. White, you’re not gonna pull this IV out of your arm, are you?” the nurse said as she rolled her eyes in my direction.
“He jumped out of a moving car! He wouldn’t think twice about pulling it out. And, did you just roll your eyes at me?
“Noooo. I wouldn’t pull it out. I never pull IVs out. He’s lying. Jon-Marc is lying” Ric responded like a five year old child getting ready to pull one over on his parents.
“Ok, that’s it. I’m done! I’m freakin’ done! Get your own damn help with all the lovely people at this sorry excuse for a hospital. I am going home. Good luck. Besides I’ve got to walk the dog”
As I was walking Trotter the phone rang.
“Yes, Mr. McDonald. I wanted to let you know that Mr. White is in the process of being transferred to UMC” the nurse on the other end explained. “To make things easier on him next time, you should take him straight to UMC. There was really no need to bring him here first”
“You don’t say? Straight to UMC next time? Now there’s an idea. I’ll keep that in mind, you know, next time. Thanks for the ad…Oh shit!”
“No, nothing. I just stepped in my dog’s poop. I guess I was so distracted by the fabulous suggestion you made that I wasn’t paying attention and stepped in my dog’s business. Is there anything else?”
“Not really. Just remember to take him directly to UMC next time. That is, after all, where his doctor is ”
I was, officially, in Dante’s 9th circle of hell.
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.
"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 am watching the love of my life waste away from the plague in the supposed non-plague years. I know how it looks calling you after so many years. And you are probably right. 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
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.
The following takes place at the end of January, 2009
Since, at this point in the story of Angels, my father emerges, I should take some time and explain my family. My brother and I have often discussed turning our family life into a play. My brother is a theatre major at NYU and given the material with which we have to work is plentiful and replete with dysfunctional tales of family drama, I am certain we would have a hit on our hands. And the play would not be exclusively focused on my mother and father. It would include a cast of characters that include my extended family, most of whom make Mama’s Family look like the Brady Bunch (and I mean that in a good way…I think?).
My relationship with my father has been, to say the least, a strained relationship for many years. People often assume that since my father is also gay we have this fabulous, Rainbow-Brite, boa tight bond. Actually quite the opposite is true. In fact when I told my father I was gay, three months after he told me he was gay, his first response was “But I wanted grandchildren. Now I’ll have to wait years for Grant to grow up and have kids”
It was, to say the least, not exactly the confetti and ticker-tape, welcome-to-homo-land reaction I was expecting. Similarly, my mother, years after finding out I was gay, during a conversation (actually it was a yelling match, of which we’ve had many. My family loves to yell, myself included) said, after I asked her about my right to marry the man I loved, “What about my right to grandchildren!?!??!”, a non sequitur to be sure, but when my family argues, logic rarely makes an appearance. We tend to go for the jugular (or in this case, the non-existent grandkids). We are ruthless and logic is the farthest thing from our mind.
My parents really want grandkids. And God help my little brother if he doesn’t produce. My mom and dad just might literally melt or go steal babies from maternity wards. God help my brother and all the maternity wards in my parents’ respective cities if he tells my parents that he does not want children, I hope he does it over the phone, thousands of miles away from where either of them could get to him.
A few years ago, while my brother was still in high-school, my father, his partner and my brother paid Ric and me a visit. It was not the first time they had visited us so I was perplexed as to why my father suggested after lunch on the Upper East Side that we go to F-A-O Shwarz. What in God’s good name would he possibly want to do there, I thought?
After strolling around the store with my father et al. in tow Ric and I decided to look around the store ourselves, alone. Though I have never been a big fan of F-A-O or anything in New York that attracts hordes of tourists like mosquitoes to a blood-bank, I have always been fascinated with their Barbie section (whatever! Stereotype my ass if you’d like!), and F-A-O has this fantastic collection of Barbie dolls.
After getting my fill of all things Barbie we went looking for my father, his partner and my brother. As we were descending the escalator I noticed that they were all staring at a huge display full of plush stuffed animals.
“What are you all doing?” I asked
“Oh, nothing”, my father replied, “just looking at all the stuffed animals I want to buy for my grandchild”
“You do realize that you don’t have a grandchild, right dad?” I responded, a bit flummoxed at his answer.
“I know I don’t have a grandchild!” he yelled in disdain, “But Grant will have children one day and I was just thinking about when I will have the chance to buy the baby all the stuffed animals and toys and things”
Daydreaming about what amounted to a fictional character in his life? If my coming-out response was not enough, this episode of delusion cleared up any notion in my mind that my father had moved past the grandchild kick. He was, without question, obsessed. And my brother was the vessel by which my father’s dreams would come true.
I tell that story to give you an idea of my father. As I have written in previous parts of this story, I have done quite a bit to earn my father’s rebuke. But one thing to keep in mind, due to all that have done, is that he has pinned all his hopes and dreams of grandchildren, among other things, on my brother. I don’t envy my brother’s position at all (well, except for the new car, the paying of his college tuition, the first class trips to European countries, and *fill in a plethora of resentments here*)
Anyway, as so many can relate, my father always expected more out of me. I never went to the right college, “worshipped” the ground my late maternal grandfather walked on (whom my father hates to this day and cannot have a conversation, any conversation, without bringing my grandfather up), never followed through on anything for more than a few weeks. And finally, my father does not believe in alcoholism and feels as though, when I bring it up, I am using it as an excuse for my behavior. Needless to say, our relationship has been tumultuous. Much of my father’s criticisms of me are valid and, of course, much of them are not. Two queers, father and son = High Drama.
This is not to say that my dad is a bad man. Far from it. I have never doubted his love for me and he always provided the necessities of life growing up, and then some. I was not abused, or neglected or even shamed as a child. But as I became an adult, just as my parent’s divorce was underway, my dad expected far more from me than I was able at the time to give. Their divorce became a battle royal for custody rights for my brother and, being away at college, I never really knew what was going on. What I did know was that it was a brutal, devastating divorce that was as nasty and heartbreaking as anything I have known.
But my mom and dad do share something in common. Heaven help anyone they perceive to have slighted either of their two children. My mother will rise up like an erupting volcano if she perceives her children being treated negatively. She is not a protective mother – she is THE protective mother who will fight like mad to protect us, even to this day. Similarly, my father will do anything to make sure that anyone who hurts my brother or me is met with an iron fist. His protectionism is more like a tornado set to destroy anything in its path. It is comforting to know this. In fact, my parents have been excellent parents and my love for them knows no bounds.
So anyway, as I was preparing for my father’s arrival, I was preparing for the worst (as is my standard operating procedure when waiting for an event to occur, any event). There were at least four things that I knew my father was not happy about:
1) That I called him only when I was in dire need of help after not speaking to him for nearly three years
2) That Ric kept his status from me for many months
3) That I was going to court to cover Ric’s ass after all that Ric had done to me and my father was livid about that as well considering that my father and his partner are the ones that bought the car involved in the alleged accident.
4) That Ric’s family had done nothing to help.
All four were fair game and he had every right to be upset. The problem is, especially when it comes to my father, whether or not I am right, I can never stand up to him and tell him what I think. I tend to keep my mouth shut until I am at the tipping point and relapse and then I call him and lose. It’s not just drunk dialing, it’s drunk dialing derangement syndrome. My mom and my dad are usually the targets but occasionally I will unleash my venom on others as well.
I was also preparing so many other things. The paperwork to get Ric on all the different programs he needed to be on in order to survive was endless. As I have written previously, many agencies ask for financial records that are impossible to produce and many others ask such intimate questions that you nearly want to just throw the applications away. I mean it was almost to the point of “Please, in inches, tell us your penis size, flaccid and erect. Girth and length must be included. If you choose not to answer, or answer incorrectly, it could delay the application process for up to ten years”. Some of it was just that bat-shit crazy!
Needless to say, the day my father arrived, I was a big hot mess of over-the-borderline get-me-in-a-cell-with-a-padded-room, stat!
Part XXI here