I didn't know at that time what HIV was, or the devastating effect it was going to have on thousands of gay men and millions of people world-wide. I did know that I was re-entering society as a marked man because I was facing life with a permanent felony criminal record. I had found myself in trouble with the law for a number of reasons, all of which I can now trace back to my rebellious youth.
At that time I did not understand that I was gay or why I was gay or why society did not like me because I was gay. I only knew that a self-destructive lifestyle seemed to be the path for me. Drugs and partying and lying and stealing and any kind of fantasy life I could make for myself had to be better than a life of being gay where everyone in my life from my minister to my parents to my teachers to my friends told me that what I felt, that who I felt I was, and who I loved was wrong.
Then I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico where I began to start my life over and where I began to learn that it's all about love. On a hot summer night I met my partner, Eddie, neither of us looking for love, just two guys trying to make sense of our lives. He had just come out of a bitter divorce, bruised but full of love for his own son.
The first night we met he began to show me what love was. After having just met me, his simple act of caring showed me love. He had "ordered" me as I was leaving him that night, "Don't drive with that open beer. I don't want anything to happen to you." I never knew that love could cut so deep.
As a child I had always been taken to church and taught about God, and that Jesus loves the little children -- and indeed as a child I felt that unconditional love. But, as I grew into a teenager and began to feel love toward others of my same sex, I was burned. God told me to love everybody, but my church told me if I loved another man I was going to hell. My friends all loved girls but if I loved another man I was a "fag." My Mother even burned my pictures of men, to symbolically show me how I was going to burn, someday, for being me. Even my probation officer at that young tender, impressionable age of 16, told me that I should see a psychiatrist because something was wrong with who I loved.
As I began to start seeing more of Eddie, he began to start "seeing" more of me. We did the macho thing and watched Monday Night Football together nearly the entire fall of 1988. I got to meet his son and his sister and I began to see the love he had for them as they opened up their lives to be my friends. He began to see me, really see me, deep inside me, and he began to love me. He loved me despite my prison term. He loved me despite my not finishing college. He loved me despite not having a penny to my name. He loved me despite not knowing what I wanted to do with myself. He looked beyond all that. He looked over my façade. He looked into my heart and he loved me. He saw that I was smart and hard working and faithful and caring and he always told me I have soulful eyes.
You see, it's all about love.
As I spent more time with him I became more honest with him, more open, more sharing, more loving. Little did I know he was teaching me about love. I met his Mother and his Brother and even though they didn't immediately accept me into their lives, he continued to show me his love. Then there came the time when he loved me so much that rather than hurt me, he said we best depart and go our separate ways. He saw that I had surrounded myself with other guys, and instead of competing for my attention with them, he would rather let me go and let me choose the person I really wanted to be with.
We sat in a parking lot at IHOP in his Ford pick-up truck on a rainy night, and I told him I wanted to be with him. He said he came with baggage, a Son and Mother he takes care of, a Sister and Brother he lives with. I said I came with baggage, continuing trouble with the law, a homophobic family, and also that I had been exposed to the HIV virus. I wasn't aware that I actually had HIV. I just thought that I was exposed to it. I didn't have enough information to fully explain my situation to Eddie. But he still showed me love and I told him I loved him too. We decided that we could get through this together. We talked about our situation, where we would live, what we would do, what people would say. We complemented each other in many ways. When I couldn't find the words, he filled in. Where he left off, I began. In the end, we agreed, that together we could make music.
It wasn't until two years later when we moved to California that I realized that I actually had the HIV virus. When I got sick Eddie decided to test also, it was then we realized we were both positive. We found a clinic where we both felt comfortable to begin treatment. We committed ourselves even stronger to take care of each other.
You see, it's all about love.
We took off on an adventure together. First we went to Charleston, South Carolina after hurricane Hugo struck in 1989. We did roofing jobs there for about six months. Then we moved out here to Southern California in November 1990. I got a job as an apartment manager in Long Beach and there we met Miss Ora. She was a 90-year-old widow on the Board of Directors at the building that I managed. She befriended us and began to show us love. When my criminal past came back to haunt me, she was there financially for us.
Eddie began a handyman service and began to meet people who showed us they cared. John and Tom were two of our first clients who gave us work. When they told us they were HIV positive we felt comfortable enough to disclose our status to them. They were very supportive and they wrote letters to a judge back in New Mexico vouching for us, touting the better HIV treatments we could get here in L.A., verifying that we had gainful employment with them. They have both since passed away. But they believed in us.
Then there was Greg and Peter and John and David and Landa and so many clients who trusted in us. Some who are HIV-positive, some who are not, some who are gay, some who are not, some who are still alive and some who are not. But all of them cared and showed us their love.
You see, it's all about love.
My Father is a Baptist minister, and he and my Mother have had a hard time understanding and accepting my relationship with another man. But when I told my Mother about my HIV status she said that she already knew. Call it a mother's intuition, but knowing my HIV status, and seeing that Eddie loves me for who I am, and knowing that I am happy, successful, content and living happily with God's love has allowed them to open their hearts to me and Eddie and his family. We gather as any other family does for the holidays. We've spent Labor Day in Palm Springs, Thanksgiving in Los Angeles, and even traveled together to spend Christmas in Hawaii. Now my Mother even thanks God for Eddie, who she says has helped me to learn to love. In fact, knowing my HIV status they opened their arms to me even more. They realized that even though their son is gay he needed their love more than ever.
And as love blossoms, and grows and flows, it opens up all the closed minds of society. What started out as a meeting between two guys has grown into a successful partnership, a business run by two men who love each other. An honest relationship that others can look to and see what true love can accomplish, a life of two families woven together and enriched because of love. And we share that caring spirit and love with all those around us, to our sisters and their families, to our neighbors, to our employees, to our clients and to our friends.
You see, it doesn't matter whether you're a Christian or a Muslim, male or female, gay or straight, HIV-positive or not, black or white or brown. Now I know why I have lived 16 years with HIV, because I have a message to share.
I have now found a purpose in life and we all have that purpose in life, and that is to show compassion for all of our fellow human beings, to care for one another, to help each other along the way, to look past our own prejudices and pre-conceived notions, to learn to understand each other, to accept our differences in lifestyle and culture and religion, and to realize that we are all one people under God.
Because you see, it's all about love.