As I Die Slowly (AIDS)
It's Saturday, March 9th, 1985. My 62nd day in the hospital is coming to a close. I stare up at the white roof of my plain infirmary room as the TV anchored in one of the corners provides gentle white noise. This is how I've spent the last week; I haven't slept in almost five days and my body has gotten to the point of frailty where it hurts to even think about walking. Being in bed isn't such a joy either. Since I've become sick I've lost so much weight that the mattress under me feels like a cradle of needles jabbing into my back, ribs, and legs. My eyes start to close as I swim through the white abyss above. Suddenly, I feel a loving, warm squeeze on my hand that brings me back to reality. I've forgotten that my mother is sitting by my side.
I look towards her as she gives me a painful smile.
"You okay honey?" she asks with a soothing voice that placates me for just a moment.
I nod agonizingly.
She moves her hand up with immense difficulty and wipes her eyes. She knows I'm not okay and I know she feels just as defeated as I do.
When this whole nightmare of my sickness started it was really scary for me to see my mother so broken down. I can't recollect a time when she cried for anything, including my father's death (he died in a car crash ten years ago). My mother spoke of strength without saying a word.
Disrespect wasn't an option around my mother and neither was failure. When I looked at her without any hope and complained "Mom, you know I really can't do it" she would lean forward, squint her eyes, and say something along these lines in sharp Spanish: "Jaime! If I could grow up in one room with four brothers and be in labor with you for twelve hours and still be here today you can succeed no matter what". I'd then give whatever challenge I faced my all while hearing her words ringing in my ears.
There was only one time in my life that remembering her acumen in my head didn't work. My mental record player jammed and it was because I was facing her. It was about a year and a half ago when I had just turned eighteen. She was the daunting task I would have to conquer and I would have to do it holding another boy's hand.
His name was Patrick James Edinburgh, but I thought Mister Perfect suited him more. He was a local college student with shaggy brown hair and the most promiscuous blue eyes which made me shiver. I felt special when he whispered "I love you" in my ear. I loved that he loved me. Or so I thought I did. In any case, we started going out.
"Jaime, you are who you are. You're my son and I can't judge you," my mother said when we were having dinner one day soon after I told her about Patrick and me, "But be careful, with that AIDS going around".
I remember rolling my eyes.
"That thing just started a couple years ago. They barely even know where it comes from," I said, "I haven't done anything with Patrick. It's not like I'm gonna get it! Besides, you can't get it just because you're gay."
It's funny in a morbid sense that I'm laying here now dying from 'that thing'.
My neck protests my movement as I turn to look at the clock on the wall. 11:42 p.m. My mother strokes my head and wipes her tears. She's saying something to me but I don't really hear her. Thinking about the past has begun to fill my mind with Patrick again.
I can't blame him too much for breaking up with me. He has a wandering soul with a jocular mentality, always looking for a quick source of fun. Unfortunately for me it was too late before I realized that I was just another fling for him.
Our relationship was fast paced. After about four months with Patrick and many kisses I found myself in the back of his car on a dead-end road. Soon after that night with Patrick I found my life spiraling downward when my health began to deteriorate. It was finally decided that my kidney was failing and I was diagnosed with a type of pneumonia common in AIDS patients. They told me I had it and there was no cure.
I initially sought support from Patrick. I told him that I was sick.
"I'm sorry," he said simply. I'll never forget how even and unemotional his voice was. He wasn't shocked at all, "Sorry Jaime. It's my fault. I have it too, but the doctors said it wasn't such a big case so I just didn't tell you. They said it's been letting up. I mean, I would have told you but I thought you'd freak out on me or something."
Surprisingly, I didn't feel my jaw drop to the floor. Instead it was locked with hurt and shock procedeed to throw away the key. 'Freak out'? I thought. Not a big deal? Did he expect me to buy those excuses for the reason he gave me such a death sentence? We broke up soon after I told him I had AIDS. That was in late December, right before Christmas.
I want to forgive him. I want to purge him from my mind and my heart (which hasn't really been repaired since he unremorsefully broke it). Ultimately, I don't want to die with regrets; the fact that I'm going to die soon will be penance enough for him.
A long silence insinuates then suddently I can hear my mother again, "Honey, can you sit up a little? Dr. Isman wants to look you over."
I try my best to prop my self up with my mother's help, but I wince in pain because I can hardly move. Dr. Isman liftes his wrikled face slightly as he gives me a melancolic smile and checks my heartbeat rutinely. He knows as well as I that he's doing this for the last time. He glaced at my mother, silently saying that he wanted a word with her outside. When they step into the hall I catch a bit of their conversation.
"Mrs. Garcia," Dr. Isman says as timidly as possible, "Have you begun to plan a funeral for your son? It won't be- ".
He stops as he sees my eyes trained on him and notices that I'm listening. He walks over and shuts the door cutting me off from the rest of his words.
My brain is now trained on Death. For the past few weeks I've been thinking about how I'll go. A few of my friends have visited me since I've been in the hospital. "Are you scared of dying?" That's always a question they ask me.
I used to be scared when I first found out that I only had a couple of months to live, but I have my mother and my friends. And I have Death. I ask it how dying's going to feel, if there's any pain, and when it's coming to take me. It doesn't answer but I feel comfortable around it. I guess when you're expecting your death you see it in a more positive light. When my father died I was angry at Death, yet I'm embrassing it now. I know that if I'd been more serious about my actions I wouldn't be conversing with such a thing, but I have no regrets. I've explained to my friends already that they better not be as careless and stupid as I was; people my age should hang out with Life.
I watch my mother walk back into the room, sit down, and take my hand again, rubbing it softly. I can see that she's had a huge bout of tears from the extreme redness in her eyes. I sink a little further in my death bed. I've wasted so much of my energy thinking. My breath gets a little thin as I feel a chill run through my body. My mother feels this too.
She's crying again and she seems really far away now. I've reached a level of cold that prevents me from feeling my bed sheets and my mother's hand. I'm starting to feel light. I glace at the clock but I can only see some of it now. 12:something a.m. I actually lived to the next day but I know that this one is my last. I feel that I'm a story that people can learn from. I hope they know that my fate is avoidable.
I close my eyes as I die slowly.
The cumulative number of deaths of
persons with AIDS in the U.S. through 2004 is 4,529,113, including
5,515 children under the age of 13.
Of all AIDS cases in 2003 in the United States:
48 were tracked back to male-to-male contact, (60 African American men, 15 Caucasian men)
27 were tracked back to male-to-female contact and intravenous drug use
7 were tracked back to male-to-male contact and intravenous drug use
16 tracked back to male-to-female contact, and
2 were tracked back to other causes, including hemophilia and other blood recipients, perinatal, and risks not reported or not identified.
-CDC (Centers for Disease Control