Pride Month — A room for a friend

My girlfriend, her young son and I lived in a farmhouse surrounded by alfalfa fields out in the country a few miles west of Fowler, a small farming community about 10 miles south of Fresno.

When Stephen shared with us the issues he had living with his mother, we suggested a solution. We had an empty bedroom I had planned to use as a music room, so we had a place for him where he and his cat could enjoy a little privacy and dignity. Without hesitation, we asked him to forget his issues with mom and come stay with us.

Stephen joined us for a serious family meeting around the dining room table where we discussed the situation in detail and how to properly live with a person with AIDS, especially the avoidance of swapping bodily fluids. We wanted to be cautious, but we weren’t afraid — not of Stephen and not of his disease. We were knowledgeable and prepared.

Everything was wonderful for two or three weeks. Stephen struggled with his health — clearly he was dying a horrible death — and some nights he would decline our dinner invitation and choose to stay holed up and eat dinner in his room, usually because he was embarrassed by skin issues on his face that he couldn’t cover with makeup. But every time he joined us for coffee or dinner or just to sit in the living room and watch something stupid on TV, he lit up the whole house as was his custom. He was a delightful human being. The simple truth of it is we loved him dearly, despite his affliction. He loved us, too.

Somehow, the farmer, our landlord, found out a person with AIDS was living in his house. He was very angry with me because I had ruined his house and it would forever be infected with AIDS. I tried to explain to him it didn’t work that way, but he wouldn’t have any of it. He finally sped off in a huff down the dirt road near the house in his big, flatbed truck.

We talked about my encounter with the landlord at dinner that evening, and Stephen announced he was moving back in with his mother the next morning. He said he didn’t want to cause us any problems. We tried to get him to stay, but he said he didn’t want to be where he wasn’t wanted. He left, but his cat stayed on with us.

The next time I saw the landlord, I told him we had decided to move, and we’d be gone the first of the month.

Stephen died at his mother’s house a short time later.