Membership

ABOVE: At the 1985 Xmas party described below: Me, Michael, and Barney.

Originally posted May 2004. Reposted for World AIDS Day.

Michael didn’t look good.

We were at his annual Christmas luau party. Tons and tons of people in the house and the backyard. Standing in his kitchen, wearing a grass skirt and a ridiculous Santa hat covered in sequins, he was acting like always…all flamboyant and silly and adorable.

But he didn’t look…right.

It was 1985.

My boyfriend Ken and I stayed until the end of the party to help clean up. I busied myself in the kitchen, washing glasses and cleaning ashtrays. Through the kitchen window I watched Ken and Michael in the backyard where they were stacking up the chairs and dousing the dozens of tiki torches, the trademark of Michael’s party. When we were finished, Ken and I stood for a few minutes on Michael’s front porch to review the party: who came, who didn’t, who shouldn’t have come.

Finally I yawned and stretched and nudged Ken. “C’mon babe, let’s roll. Michael, lots of fun as always. Try and get some sleep, you look like you need it.”

Ken shot me a scowl.

I tried to recover. “I mean, you must be exhausted from getting the party ready.”

Michael laughed and lit a cigarette. “Oh, you know me. I’ll bounce back. Nothing that can’t be cured by cigarettes, coffee and cocaine!”

We giggled and waved and headed down the driveway. When we reached our car, I looked back at the house. Michael was struggling with the garbage cans, then broke into a hacking cough.

For the first few minutes of our ride home, Ken and I didn’t say anything. Then, at a traffic light, I looked over at him. “Didn’t you think Michael…”

“He’s FINE!” Ken cut me off.

“You didn’t think he looked kinda thin? And that coughing…”

‘Well, you know he smokes too much. And you’d look worn out too if you threw a Christmas party for 100 people.’

“Yeah, I guess.”

Ken knew what I was talking about, even if we didn’t actually talk about it. For two years, maybe three, we’d been following the developing story about AIDS. At first, the press was calling it “gay cancer.” Then GRID. Gay Related Immune Disorder. Then AIDS.

We lived in Orlando. Almost all the cases were in New York or San Francisco and that made us feel safe in a strange way. Neither of us had been in either place, except as children. And we didn’t have any friends from either city. Then Miami began to report cases.

Michael was from Miami.

A week after his Christmas party, on New Year’s Eve out at the club, Michael uncharacteristically left early. Before midnight. He said his hip was bothering him. Our friend Jack teased him as he was leaving. “Oh, is Grandpa having some problems with his rheumatiz?”

Michael just smiled and blew us kisses from across the room and limped out.

A few weeks later Ken called me from his office. He was going to take Michael to the hospital. His hip was terribly infected and he couldn’t walk. I didn’t ask Ken what was wrong, by then we knew. And Michael knew that we did.

Waiting for Ken to come home, I watched a TV report on AIDS. Specifically, it dealt with how funeral parlors were sometimes refusing to handle the bodies of AIDS patients. Fear of infection. Fear of loss of reputation. The narrator made a comment about the families and friends of those killed by AIDS. He called them “this new and modern group” of grievers. When Ken got home, I told him about the story with indignation.

Over the next few months, Michael was in the hospital quite a bit. Ken got into the habit of visiting him on his way home from work, something I could rarely do since I worked nights. When I did see Michael, he looked progressively worse. Skinnier, more pale, his skin patchy and scaley.

But he always had that bitchy sense of humor and that chicken cackle. I’d hear that laugh from down the hallway as I approached his room, which always seemed to be full of friends.

Florida started its state lottery that summer. On the first night of the big drawing, I tried to stay awake for the results but I fell asleep with the tickets in my hands. I was awakened by Ken sitting on the bed.

“Hey.” I rolled over and looked at the clock. Three in the morning?

Ken still had his tie on. My throat clenched. I don’t know why, but I pushed the lottery tickets over towards him.

“So, um…are we millionaires?”

Ken didn’t answer me.

“Where have you been? At the hospital? How’s Michael?”

Ken leaned over and started untying his shoes. He pulled them off and finally turned to face me. He looked so very tired. He laid down next to me and hugged me, then spoke softly into my ear.

“We’ve just joined that ‘new and modern’ group.”

BELOW: Barney died four years later. Here’s his NAMES Project quilt panel.barneyquilt

  • Paul

    This story seems to get sadder every year for some reason.

    Thanks for sharing it as you always do on December 1.

    • vorpal

      Thanks, Joe, for never letting us forget what we went through, and how because of it all – because of all our fallen LGBT siblings on the way – we have made the world a safer, more equitable place for the next generations of LGBT youth. The sacrifices of our loved ones – an incomrepehsible trauma – have made this world a better place. But we can never forget, and we should never stop being grateful.

  • Ninja0980

    Thank you for sharing this story.

  • medaka

    Why does this always make me cry?

    • Todd20036

      Because Trump is making it happen again.

      Many HIV+ people cannot afford their medicines without medical insurance.

      You know, Obamacare.

      • Dante

        My husband and I now have to pay $1500 a month for our insurance. It’s the only one that has copay for meds, the silver and bronze ones are now coinsurance. That means we pay 30% the cost of our meds instead of the usual $50.
        Anyone who gets HIV meds from a pharmacy knows the retail for a 30 day supply runs $3-5,000.
        We make too much to qualify for assistance but not enough to afford this.
        Basically we no longer have any disposable income.

        GOP are idiots. All this money we are forced to spend on insurance and healthcare is money not going into the general economy. You could raise my income taxes 12% for universal health care and it would still be cheaper than what I pay now for insurance and out of pocket.

        • TampaDink

          This is horrible…and yet I know that it is a reality for a growing number of us.

        • GanymedeRenard

          So sorry to hear that!

        • Adam Schmidt

          Depending on your state, there may be state level assistance. For about 3 years my husband got his meds and doctor visits through the state of Georgia. But I’m guessing you’ve already looked into this.

          • Dante

            My husband was on one but funding was cut by the state so he no longer qualified.
            Hate to say it but for the longest time only I had insurance since this program covered my husbands needs. He had been with them since before we were married so kept him there as they knew him and his needs.
            Now he is in the healthcare mix with the rest of us learning that we are just charts in a file when it comes to care.

          • Adam Schmidt

            Understood. We went through some of the same when I finally got a job that covered us both (before Obergefell). He was on state coverage for several years.

            Sorry for asking obvious questions, I figure I need to figure out a way to actually help rather than just offer “thoughts and prayers”. 🙂

        • William

          Have you looked at ordering meds from overseas? There are companies in India making generics of HIV meds.

          • Dante

            I have… but not comfortable with it yet.
            Unfortunately we have to have the insurance for other issues as well. Husband is epileptic so takes meds for that. I see a cardiologist.
            So the doc visits, labs and other expenses, we still have to have the insurance that covers them.

          • William

            You may be able to get in a drug study and get meds and lab work for free, if you are in or near a big city.

    • TampaDink

      Because you are a good human who has a heart.

    • bzrd

      always

    • GanymedeRenard

      Because you’re a decent human being.

  • Michael R
  • MB

    Remembering my beloved partner Jose Leon Pacheco,1956-1993.
    ❤️❤️❤️ We will NEVER forget.❤️❤️❤️

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d9cdefc1963291fd97122365dd5c5c0075d367e51bfc29d1c73d2d467d9b9917.jpg

    • Don DeHay, Head grounds keeper at South Seas Plantation.

      • margaretpoa

        Scott, who was more of a brother to me than either of my biological ones ever were.

        • j.martindale

          Edward…too young.

    • William

      Steven from Marietta, Matt and Bobby from high school.

  • This makes me tear up every year. Thank you for sharing it.

  • Michael White

    Thanks, Joe. I was a nurse in San Francisco when the epidemic started. We did not take any precautions because it was thought to be an autoimmune disease and could not be communicated. I lost 3/4 of my friends. I remember them all during this time of year, thankful they are a part of me, loved me and helped form me into the man I am today.

    We will never totally recover from the loss, but we honor and love those who have left us. Each time we tell the story they live among us.

    • medaka

      Michael, thank you for doing so much good. You have made this world a better place.

      • Michael White

        Thanks for your kind words. I represented all of us in the care I gave.

    • Do Something Nice

      Did you know Bobbi Campbell?

      • Michael White

        No, He was not in my social circle

  • MB
  • Rex

    And, for a moment, I’m right back at that anxious, terrifying time. Even though it’s painful, we must never forget.

  • Mark McGovern

    Thanks for this. There are far too many of these stories.

    Those younger people with HIV should never forget those early positive gay men pioneers, many of whom did not make it, who were guinea pigs for devastating drugs like AZT. While those drugs kicked the living shit out of people, they bought time for some that ultimately paved the way for the modern antivirals that now allow most with HIV to live long and healthy lives.

    Millions of positive heterosexuals in places such as Sub-Saharan Africa owe their lives to the early drug pioneering North American gay guys, whom ironically they now spurn.

    • Ninja0980

      Not only that but they paved the way to stand up to a bigoted government and for the rights of marriage, something that was never considered before AIDS patients died and their partners were kicked to the curb by bigoted family members of the person who just died.

      • Mark McGovern

        You are so right. We could go on forever about those pioneers and what they accomplished for the world and for their straight brothers and sisters.

    • William

      Is there anyone alive now who took AZT back then? Everyone I knew who took it went downhill fast and died horribly.

      • Adam Schmidt

        I have a friend that’s been positive that long. He went on AZT because it was the only thing available but did it during the latter phases of AZT when they’d dialed down the dosages. Even so, his health is a wreck and has been ever since. But he’s still here.

        • William

          Amazing. I wish him the best.

      • Mark McGovern

        Yes! I know a number of people that survived it. Two went onto to die of unrelated causes – 1 the drink and 1 the smokes.

      • pch1013

        I took it for a couple of years (approx. 1990-92). It didn’t seem to do me any harm, or – for that matter – any good either. After that I went on a treatment hiatus until 1996, when the good stuff came along.

      • Richard, another Canuck

        I’m alive, still ticking! I started with AZT and a few months later they added DDC. I’ve had lots of health problems over the years, but I’m still ticking…just started collecting Old Age Pension…still ticking! I miss my friends.

  • margaretpoa

    Sorry for your loss. Sorry for all of our losses and I’m sorry that we had that LGBTQ hating president who thought we deserved it.

  • Mrs. Councillor Nugent

    Last night I dreamt you were in some sort of bar or restaurant Mr Jervis. You were not as you are now, but as you were then. There were other men around, I don’t recall any women. Everyone was happy and smiling. It must have taken place before. . . https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8b6dd4fc787a64321bcfb219c6c92a61a06a7995f27a585ad505ca019027ea38.jpg

  • Jamie Brewer

    World Aids Day rips open wounds that will never fully heal. I have never been able to listen to the closing song from the movie “Longtime Companion” with dry eyes. The tears were abundant this morning. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQ_6jEN5UPk

    • Mrs. Councillor Nugent

      Deep breath. . .

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    Okay. Just got up, and I’m crying already.

    • Lakeview Bob

      Me too. I have to remember not to read this next year. I cry every time I read this.

  • gaycuckhubby

    Thank you Joe.
    Im a bit younger than the average age here. This seems so foreign to me. Thank you for keeping me connected to what so many went through.

    • GanymedeRenard

      Exactly my case. We have it so much better now thanks to the titanic fights won by our forebears, and for that I can never be thankful enough!

  • AW

    I’m so happy that you are able to tell his story. He’s not forgotten. ❤️

  • gaycuckhubby
    • Lakeview Bob

      Thank you for sharing that. We must (as gay men) never forget their humanity and love.

  • Squicky

    My husband has told me so many stories like this one. So much sadness.

  • Kevin Andrews

    The St Ronnie genocide of the Gay Men in the USA from pure ignorance and fear.

  • pch1013

    On the second-ever World AIDS Day, in 1989, I found out I was positive.

    And here I still am, much to the annoyance of those who would prefer me to be dead.

    • TampaDink

      Screw those people. We’re glad that you are still here.

    • bsinps

      So am I. HIV 35 yrs. now. And all my lovers 3 have passed. Hear come the tears. Thank you for the story.

  • TampaDink

    This is always a difficult read…but I read it every year to remind myself how fortunate that we are that research finally brought about some effective treatments. I am so inspired by my buddies who are long term survivors and yet always so saddened by the long list of friends who didn’t make live long enough for the right meds. to come along.

  • thatotherjean

    Marc and Jimmy–I have not forgotten.

  • Paul_in_Dallas

    Agenda items each World AIDS Day:
    (1) re-read JMG’s “Membership”;
    (2) re-watch this video https://youtu.be/j7VpEsPMRpg

  • GanymedeRenard

    Every single time I read this post I weep, Joe. And yet I will continue to read it for as long as your blog is alive. Chapeau, sir!

  • Jean-Marc in Canada

    Tony, Mike, Pablo, Davis, Paul, Gary, “Slim” Jim, Francois, Pierre, Didier, Antoinne, Del, Gerry and Jerry, Lenny, Delroy….I miss you all so terribly; you will never be forgotten.

  • Adam Schmidt

    It amazes me that there are gay men today who are too young to remember when we were dying. I remember deciding not to move to SF because everyone I talked to out there was attending a funeral once a month or more. It boggles my mind that there are adults today that to them, HIV has always been treatable and survivable.

  • William

    I remember Sherry Root, a girl from my 9th grade year. I never saw her after that year until she was on the news talking about HIV/AIDS. She was one of the first in Austin to speak out about living with HIV. Sherry was interviewed on tv and in print, in a time when nobody publicly disclosed their HIV status. All of that was before the internet was a thing so there is almost nothing about her online. She should be remembered.

    • William

      Here is an archived article about Sherry’s death.

      JAN. 25, 1994
      Woman who ‘bared soul’ about AIDS dies at 27
      The Associated Press AUSTIN —An Austin woman who “bared her soul” to thousands of high school students about the prevention of AIDS has died from the disease at age 27. Sherry Root was diagnosed with AIDS two years ago and vowed not to feel sorry for herself, but to help others, relatives say. She went from auditorium to auditorium speaking to an estimated 40,000 people — mostly Central Texas high school students — about a message of hope. “Sherry’s words were, ‘You have choices, think about your choices,'” said her mother, Donna Root. Ms. Root, who died Saturday, was infected with the AIDS virus when she was 19 by her first boyfriend, who did not tell her that he had experimented with intravenous drugs, she recounted in a 1992 newspaper article. “Things like that didn’t happen to people like me,” Ms. Root said then. “I was a good girl. I didn’t date people with sexually transmitted diseases.” After some time of “wallowing in self pity” Ms. Root started attending speeches at AIDS Services of Austin and decided to use her plight to help others. Ms. Root was empowered by the positive response she received when she gave her first speech to Pflugerville High School students, her mother said. Their support fueled her determination to reach as many kids as she could in the time she had left. Thousands of youngsters wrote her letters of, appreciation over two years, telling her that she had made them think about AIDS as something other than a problem for drug users and homosexuals, her mother said. “She bared her soul to save them, and that gives my husband and I a great sense of satisfaction, that we saw our daughter give back something to society,” Mrs. Root said.

  • MT YVR

    I work for an AIDS research organization. Increasingly I have gotten quite vehement in my public response to World AIDS Day. It’s my Remembrance Day.

    I list the people that died. The stories. Every year I tell them, and I don’t fucking care if the staff have heard it all before. I don’t care if they can say them along with me.

    Because we like to, and world outside these walls like to think that in N. America it’s all different and shiney and it’s good enough that we can “just get over it”.

    This killed us. And still is. And others.

    But most importantly for me on this day are the men and women of our community who were removed from family albums and family stories. Who died a real death, names never recorded and stories never told. THAT is the horror, for me, in this. That it’s so easy to just… forget.

    So I every World AIDS Day I recall. Remember. Because who else will, if not us?

    And every year, JMG, I come here and read this to feel a little less alone with that.

  • sword

    A lot of LGBTQ people are no longer engaging in safe sex. They feel that they can simply go get a prescription. The problem is…what do you do when your insurance no longer covers the drugs you need at a price you can afford?

    • Bunter

      This is what I just don’t get. You become completely dependent on a system that might abandon you at any time (can happen everywhere, but in the US it’s just insane to rely on it).

  • pch1013
  • JCF

    Memory Eternal: those we’ve lost, ever with us.

    Jim H: my friend/co-worker, person who intro’d me to ST:TNG—Boldly Go!

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e4307d2b861e07b9585dbe0ab4d3a274d1795451a6467af29913ca2b9429f7ae.gif

  • JCF

    Unlike Drumpf, at least one American in high places is paying attention to World AIDS Day…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPG818eQ7_I

  • Greg
  • BillyDee4

    On December 9, 1986 my wife of 13 years died in a car accident. Two weeks before we found out that the first of our friends had died of AIDS. At Peter’s visitation we found out that ten other people we had been close to had also died. They had all left our small town in Lake County, IL and moved to Chicago or New York. At Peter’s memorial service, like many others I attended in our area, AIDS was never mentioned. It made me want to scream each time. After Christmas every year my wife went to the local Hallmark store for their big sale. In 1987 my sons and I went alone. The clerk at the store was gay. I barely knew his name. The few times I spoke with him he was bitchy and unkind. We were not at all friends. He asked where Diane was. I told him what had happened. He sighed and said, “I was just in the hospital with pneumonia.” I knew what he was telling me. I asked for his phone number. For the next ten months I helped him as much as I could, taking him to his doctor in Chicago, going shopping for him, and just hanging out. A few times he would disappear for a week or two. I couldn’t find him. When he finally called he said he had been in the hospital. He never said why. I discovered that each time he got too sick he would check into a different hospital, thinking that way no one would figure out what was really wrong with him. He disappeared in July. It took me three weeks to find him. I tracked his sister down and she told me he was in the local VA hospital. He never left the VA hospital. With a few of his friends from Chicago and my two sons I visited him every day. We had to teach the VA staff the proper protocols–the basic precautions needed to prevent the spread of the virus. We watched him deteriorate and then rally, only to deteriorate again. On November 20 I went to visit him. He was more lucid than he had been. He called me over and said, “Bill, I have AIDS.” It was the first time he used the term. I took his hand and thanked him for sharing that. He died the next day.