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When your best friend doesn't tell you he is positive/Dying of AIDS
Oct 10, 2012

I'm 35 and living in Washington, DC...I've volunteered for AIDS benefits and promoted AIDS awareness in DC for about a decade now. I have so many gay friends and used to work as a promoter for a gay dance club and have routinely been "the girl" that guys who find out they are positive seek out to talk to- for whatever reason- I'm nice, have a big heart, non-judging. I met my first real "Will" in college in 1997- before it was trendy to have a gay man as your best friend, I had one (though I didn't know until much later). We were hooked at the hip for years before I moved to Washington where as luck would have it, he was interning that summer and introduced me to all his new fabulous friends and I basically lived as a gay man that first summer...partying every night, spending time in small groups discussing trendy things, etc...When *he* went back to college, I was left as a straight girl in the middle of a fun, sparkly, happy lifestyle that I continued. Once he moved to DC, we were regular always together from brunch until the clubs shut down on the weekends and though I was worried he wasn't being careful, I kept thinking he is the smartest person I know- of course he is. Even when I had a boyfriend, my bestie was part of my every day life until my boyfriend and I broke up and I suddenly needed someone to take over his part of the rent. I invited my bestie to move in but at that point, drugs were taking over his life and he couldn't manage to stay awake long enough for the cable man to come or help pay all of his bills so we had a huge fight and I kicked him out. I was devastated without my bestie or my boyfriend. This was 2002. It took 2 years for my bestie and I to reconcile. Countless phone calls and visits between my home and DC would commence though over the next 5 years with us barely missing a beat. He would finish grad school and go on to law school while I was happy in DC. Then in 2009, he took a job as a law clerk at a mutual friend's law firm while finishing up law school and one day I got a call asking if I had heard from my bestie who apparently was sick. I knew nothing of him being sick and my calls were unanswered so I figured he was just busy because obviously if there was anything seriously wrong with him, he would tell me. He told me in a few weeks that he almost died and was diagnosed with leukemia but that he was going to be okay as long as he took his medication. I was so far away in DC, I just took his word for it and moved on. When I planned my summer trip home, I penciled in a few days of bff time with him. We spent 3 days catching up and I noticed he had several bottles of pills on his kitchen table, but I didn't look at them or think anything of it. We didn't talk about him being sick or any health related issues- we mostly talked about his next big plan to move to DC where we would be reunited and live fabulous lives. In late 2010, a call from him telling me he was arrested for DUI and that he was going to be disbarred from practicing law in XX came from our old roomie. When he finally talked to me, he said he was fine, blah blah blah and he wanted a clean start- he wanted to use his legal degree to help the medical cannibis movement in Denver where his sister was living. I thought- okay that makes sense- might as well get out of the south and move somewhere more accepting. We still talked regularly, and then finally last year he planned a trip to DC on the coattails of a medical marijuana conference to spend a weekend with me- it would be like old times. Except it wasn't- the person I picked up from his hotel was barely able to stand up, slurring words, being loud in public, chain smoking and falling out of chair at dinner. I thought he must have had a couple of cocktails or something. I kept asking if he was okay- I even commented that I thought I knew how he was on every drug so whatever he was on at that point was pretty scary. He was not the person I knew and loved. I agreed to let him stay at my apartment for the last two days of his trip to save money, but he couldn't smoke in my apartment and he could barely stand up on the stairs outside my apartment and he was so loud on his phone that neighbors were coming to the window and looking out. I was embarassed but also determined to find out what was going on. I spent hours chit-chatting with him trying to see if he could regain composure, balance, an inside voice- anything...and when he asked me if I would go to a leather club with him that night I was furious- a) girls don't go with their best friends to leather bars b) he wasn't into leather bars c) he could barely stand up. I suggested sleep and we would rethink our fabulous weekend plans to accommodate whatever was making him unable to function. He said "no, just drop me off, I'll figure something out". So, I did. The next morning when he didn't text me all night, I told him to find another place to stay for the weekend because I was scared he wasn't stable. It would be 12 months before he posted a picture on his facebook page that horrified me. A picture of him with a walking cane and a sleeveless shirt that looked like someone on the cover of a 1980's AIDS documentary- NOT my best friend. I read on his page where someone complimented his article in a medical cannibus publication and I instantly googled his name and the article came up... "When I was diagnosed in 2009, I was so sick that wasting syndrome was already an issue and marijuana is the only reason I'm alive today...living with full blown AIDS". My heart almost stopped...I fell to the floor screaming in heartache and anger. WHY did he not tell me? I abandoned my friend on a Friday night at a leather bar because I thought he was on drugs or crazy and if i had known he was dealing with AIDS or suffering from some AIDS related psychosis or dementia or something, I would have acted differently. His phone number changed...I tracked down the new number...I started begging our mutual friends to tell me what they knew and when...everyone was shocked I didn't know. Our old roomie explained that she took him to the ER in 2009 and he told her he hadn't been tested in many years so that he probably had it a long time. He won't talk to me now- I wrote a letter, 2 emails, and texted him a long birthday message. The only response I received 3 days ago (the same day he was taken to the ER with PCP and 105 fever)- "well, I'm dying now so don't feel bad for me anymore dear heart". I try to isolate the questions I'll never have answers to like "why didn't you tell me...why didn' you tell ME...I loved you the most..." from "omg, my friend is in pain, suffering and dying". I'm tortured by this...no one seems to have good advice- I can't go to Denver to see him just to make me feel better...but I feel like I have to see him even if he doesn't want me to because I know deep down I can be there for him. Also, his mom and sister are there with him and they think I'm a horrible person because of what I did when he visited- because they don't realize that I had NO idea he was HIV+ or living with AIDS. What if I go all the way there and he won't see me? What if I go there and he gets upset and dies? What if I don't go and live with the guilt forever? I don't know enough about the stages of dying to know if anger or that final snarky text message is really my XXXXX or if he really hates me. I thought death was supposed to bring clarity to things. Yes, I wonder why he didn't tell me...of all people- I am practically a gay man in DC...Is it because he was ashamed for me to find out he may have infected several of our friends he was "friends with benefits" with? Is he embarassed that in this day and age, people live long lives with HIV and he avoided getting tested so he's dying at the age of 31? I likely won't have answers to any of these, but for the first time, I can't find anyone who has any advice for me...even my best friend here was like "just try and remember the good days'. I want to focus my energy on something- and I won't even let the sun go down if I'm in a tiff with someone now- I'm too afraid that I have lived thinking "everything will work out" until the time it doesn't. Is it okay to go to a support group even though I abandoned him? I don't know...

Response from Rev. Brown

As I read this I could feel your pain, sadness, and concern. First I would say is that no matter what has happened between you two over the years, that is your friend, and if you feel it is best to see them you should. In life we will always have fall outs over things, but we should not let fall outs and misunderstandings prevent us from being there in times of need, which your friend is in need. I hope that you don't let guilt beat you up over actions that you took in a state of ignorance as it pertained to your friends status. Sometimes it is hardest to share our greatest hurts with those close to us, because of fear that we let them down, and that could be why they never shared their infection with you, because they might have felt that you would have been ashamed, upset, or let down. In spite of all these things, I pray that you would go and see them be by their side as that is what they need. If their family doesn't like it, it is ok as it isn't about them it is about you being there for you friend, letting them know how much you love them, and are there for them.



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