Pride Month — Stephen

My girlfriend and I were visiting my brother and his family in Oakland for Thanksgiving in the early 1980s. We stayed at the quaint French Hotel in Oakland, which I would recommend to anyone visiting the area.

Of course, being as close as Oakland meant we had to take a drive across the Bay Bridge to see our friend Stephen in San Francisco.

Stephen lived in a “flat” in the city that he shared with a roommate and his old cat. Stephen was one of the most delightful people I’ve ever known. A UCLA graduate, I found him witty, funny and caring, always putting his concern for others far above his own.

As always, he was the ultimate host, serving us gourmet coffee and delicious snacks as we chatted the afternoon away. But the atmosphere in his apartment felt a little dark that day, at first I thought perhaps because of the gray, overcast skies outside, the cool sea air and the early fall stirring to life near the bay.

But as we talked, he began to share some disturbing health news with us. He had several skin rashes he couldn’t clear up with over-the-counter medications. He also said he was losing a lot of weight for no reason, but my ears really picked up when he mentioned he had thrush  — a sometimes painful fungus infection that was one of the telltale signs of AIDS I had heard about in news reports.

I’m sure as a gay man he was far more familiar with the symptoms of AIDS than we were because of the way the disease stormed though the gay community. We suggested he go see a doctor and get tested. He resisted that idea. He said he didn’t need to see a doctor — he’d quit having sex months before because if he were sick he didn’t want to spread the disease. His roommate knew of his affliction, and they took every precaution. I think Stephen knew but he didn’t want to know, if you know what I mean.

Obviously, we were concerned, but those were his decisions. Finally, a few weeks later just before the first of the year, Stephen told us he’d been to the doctor, and as I think we all suspected, he had contracted AIDS.

He told us he’d decided to move to Reno, Nevada, to spend his final days because of the nightlife, the buffets and all the excitement. He sounded happy. He told us not to worry because he’s be fine thanks to some friends and organizations that would help him there.

Sadly, that didn’t last too long. With his ever-increasing and mounting health issues, Stephen found Reno far too cold in the winter, and after a very few days, he reluctantly moved back to Fresno to live with his mother.