Sorry for the screw-up last night. It was my fault entirely. In any event, you should be able to access the Epilogue this morning any of the usual ways or by clicking this link.
Last week’s chapter brought us face to face with the reality of AIDS at the end of 1982. Like today, there was no cure. Unlike today, there wasn’t even a treatment regimen. Indeed, even the cause of the disease, what we now call HIV, was unknown. Nor was there a test to determine whether you were infected.
The only certainty about AIDS at the end of 1982 was death.
In retrospect, I probably should have ended the story last week. I won’t discourage you if, upon reading these words, you decide to skip this week’s chapter, which is narrated by Tommy and takes the form of an epilogue. Try as hard as I could, and I tried very hard, I had difficulty making the chapter work.
It was certainly well intended. I didn’t want to leave you as readers on such a bleak note. I wanted the ending to convey at least some sense of hope. But I probably tried to accomplish too much in this epilogue and may have ended up not accomplishing anything much at all.
But you’re probably the better judge of that so read on if you choose and let me know what you think. Be honest!
I decided to post two images tonight, one at the top and another at the bottom of this post. The sizing and locations were deliberate.
At the top is an image of Ryan White. Ryan wasn’t gay although he was taunted for being so by some of his peers and their parents. And yet even though Ryan wasn’t gay, he probably did more than anyone else to change how Americans reacted to AIDS. Unlike Tommy’s story about Jimmy, which is fictional, Ryan’s story was real.
Ryan was the innocent victim of AIDS that the media was looking for; the young boy who acquired the disease as a result of a blood transfusion he needed and could thus be sold as a genuine hero to the American people. He was sweet and pure and innocent unlike all those guilty victims of the disease, the ones who probably deserved what they got in the minds of many.
That wasn’t the way Ryan looked at it, of course, but it would take a while before Americans finally realized innocence and guilt are inappropriate ways of looking at such a horrific disease; that Christians who believed AIDS was God’s punishment for sin weren’t really Christians at all, just hateful bigots.
For all of that, Ryan White was a genuine hero who made an extraordinary difference in his brief life. In our story Jeff believed that the only way of opening the hearts and minds of the American people was by humanizing the disease; and that’s precisely what Ryan did when his story finally captured the imagination of the nation back in the mid-eighties and beyond.
It would have been better if it happened earlier because Ryan was truly a transformational figure, one who will be long remembered. But like they say, it is what it is.
Thank you, Ryan.
There were other heroes, of course, two of whom are shown below. You’ll learn more about the two Bobbies, however briefly, in tonight’s chapter (or by following this link, which I encourage you to do). They deserve your thanks as well, especially since, like so many who died of AIDS, they’re largely forgotten these days.
As many of you know, I’ve berated myself quite a bit about this story. Not because the topic was unimportant or the message I wanted to deliver unclear in my head. I just feel the delivery was very uneven. So let me share a few parting words.
If you go back to that public service announcement which I used as an introduction to the story, you’ll see a good example of the message being sent to American boys in the 1960s and 1970s. Boys needed to beware of homosexuals because, uniformly, they were pedophiles and mentally ill. Indeed, some homosexuals were so depraved they would kill you to satisfy their lust.
It may be easy to dismiss this today, but it was an all too common message at the time and it had real effects for many boys who were subjected to similar messages in their schools, churches, and homes – a message endlessly reinforced by families and friends. The one thing you definitely didn’t want to be if you were a boy was a homo!
Is it any wonder a boy who was homosexual himself would be filled with fear and self-loathing when exposed to such messages; that he might try very hard to suppress who he really was or to find some way of reconciling what he wanted with his own interpretation of himself?
The question this story was designed to raise is what might have happened if Jimmy had grown up in a more loving atmosphere, one where love in all its many variations was respected and honored? I’ll let you judge for yourselves, but I believe many boys like Jimmy would still be alive today.
In any event, I plan to put up a final post next Wednesday before taking my leave, but don’t feel compelled to read it. When you strip it down to its basics, all it says is that I don’t have any plans to write any more stories as I feel there are more important things I need to do with my time.
Last week took us from October into December and close to the Christmas holidays. Some positive things happened along the way.
After a long discussion in which Mark shared his fears with Jeff about the possibility of infecting Leo with AIDS, they finally agreed this was something he needed to discuss with Leo so that the two of them could decide together what they wanted to do.
By now it was apparent Mark and Leo genuinely loved one another and one thing they decided to do was to affirm their love in a commitment ceremony, something new and unusual for Jeff. But he seemed to warm to the idea after his discussion with Mark because soon enough he and Jimmy followed suit in a more private and low-keyed fashion.
By the end of October Tommy had finished his interviews with Jimmy and Jeff, but continued to spend time with the two of them as the end of the year approached. At one point Jimmy mentioned he thought Tommy was gay and liked Jeff. But Jeff resisted the notion even after Jimmy told him he needed to let go of their relationship at some point.
Letting go of someone you love is never easy. It only made Jeff more determined to secure funding for AIDS in the continuing resolution Congress needed to pass in the wake of the 1982 mid-term elections. Those elections had ended in a split verdict that left the Democrats in control of the House and the Republicans in charge of the Senate.
Having prepared his boss for his meeting with the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Jamie Wheeler, before the two chambers formally worked out their differences, Jeff waited anxiously for the outcome of that meeting. In the end, his hope of securing funding for AIDS was dashed because, without money in either bill for AIDS activities, there was no issue to conference
But Congressman Wheeler seemed sympathetic to the case Jeff’s boss had made for such funding, even going so far as to his give his word he would put something in the first supplemental appropriations bill the following year. For Jeff it was a bittersweet promise because by now he realized time was quickly running out for Jimmy.
That brings us to this evening’s chapter, which I’ve now posted and which takes place as Christmas Day approaches. It was a difficult chapter to write so it may be a difficult read as well. And yet the truth is that reality was far more difficult than tonight’s chapter portrays for many AIDS patients.
Too many died alone, unattended, and in conditions that can only be described as beyond belief. Tonight’s chapter doesn’t capture that reality and I apologize for that.
But tonight’s chapter is difficult enough; and what makes it even more difficult is that it’s based on a true life experience so I hope you’ll pay it the respect due to the real life Jimmy who died of AIDS many years ago.
The image? One can only hope it’s as easy as following the lights.
This post is here because I was having problems getting the Firefox web browser to render the Gallery here correctly after updating it.
What made it especially frustrating is that the Gallery at my main site, The Café Palermo, was rendering correctly after the update and that both galleries also rendered correctly in several other browsers I use to test the sites, including Internet Explorer, Iron (a Chrome variant), and Palemoon.
After spending far too many hours of my life trying to diagnose the problem, I finally found a setting in WordPress that seems to resolve it. You should be able to click on one of the images in the Galleries and then be taken to a page where you can add a comment or view the image full-size.
I continue to have other problems designing these sites with Firefox, but those do not affect you as directly as readers. They have more to do with my ability to upload images from within Firefox to the sites and then to insert them into web pages.
For now the bottom line is simply that I have updated both the Café and the Annex. However, if you are using Firefox and something doesn’t seem to work correctly on the sites, I would appreciate hearing from you.
One of my failings as a human being is I tend to be a perfectionist. Humor me for another couple of weeks before I move on to bigger and better things as the Donald would have us do 🙂
So here we are again! We’ve made it through another year and hopefully it was a good one for you and your loved ones. Each new year brings uncertainly and challenges with it and that will surely be the case for me in 2017. But that’s for another post.
For now let’s just say that wherever you are, whatever you do, be sure to have fun tonight welcoming the new year in. But be safe and careful as well.
Be sure to kiss lots of boys before the evening is over. Break their hearts with your smile, ring in the new year with style, and then hurry back for the final two chapters of our story.
Happy New Year!
Last week’s chapter recapped much of Parts I through III of the story and added some new material that better explained what happened to Jimmy after he left Jeff and moved to New York with Bobbie and Charles.
Young, uneducated but good looking, he ended up dependent on others for survival. Being young and good-looking helped, but Jimmy quickly discovered the price of dependency can be quite high indeed.
Everyone reacts differently to that discovery. Some, like Bobbie, are willing to pay the price although one has to wonder how things worked out for him long term. Like many things, youth and good looks depreciate over time, sometimes more, sometimes less. But for men like Charles with money one suspects they’re definitely replaceable commodities.
Others, like Jimmy, may rebel. But rebellion does not put food in your stomach, clothes on your back, or a roof over your head. Sadly, Jimmy learned all of this the hard way and at a time when an insidious new disease was stalking the land.
Unlike many others, Jimmy ended up back where he should have stayed all along. He learned his lesson, but the cost was high indeed.
We now come to the three concluding chapters of the story. Tonight’s, which I’ve now posted, will take us from October up to the Christmas holidays in 1982. Sadly, however, there won’t be any Christmas miracles.
The story will play out much like life itself, a mixture of good and bad, bitter and sweet. We’ll experience a bit of both in tonight’s chapter.