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Mom [and Me]

Living with HIV

August 1996

I'm sitting in the waiting room. The elderly woman in the snow-white beehive to my right is my mother. We are almost inseparable these days. What's more frightening, jokes my lover, is that we lately seem physically indistinguishable.

I fear he may be right. With each new line on my 30-something face I see my mother slowly peering through. When did this happen? Now she sits quietly fingering an old copy of People as I pretend to be reading a fresh Frontiers, thinking more about what brought us here.

My mother was just always older. Of course, as a child, I didn't know I was a "menopause baby" or that it meant our bond was special. To me she just moved too slowly, smoked too much and never rode a bike. "Is that your Mom?" kids would ask. "No," I'd often reply, "That's my Mom," pointing to my older sister. She was just as big, especially her hair. I never thought anything of my betrayal until nighttime when I'd pray she'd never hear me. Then she'd come into my room as she did every night with a glass of milk and a good-night "love you." And I'd feel better again.

By my teens, things weren't so easily mended. The gap between us seemed only to widen. I grew to hate milk. I felt awkward and confused. I took a lot of drugs. I ran. I hid. I had realized I was gay. And I complained, "She doesn't understand me. I'm outta here."

At 20 I found my "home." I was in love and I'd do anything for him. And did. I moved in with him and his lover, "ex," he insisted. We all had separate rooms. One night a week he'd come into mine. Another night he'd be down the hall. I cried a lot back then, till I started venturing out too -- getting some, getting anything, but never getting even. I tried everything: "Mom, this is Gary." Her reply was direct, "He looks sneaky -- and sick." And I blew her off, "She doesn't understand."

Off to L.A. and a new boyfriend. Between the all-night binges and overnight guests, I reassured him, "Don't worry, you won't have to meet my Mom, she'd never understand."

Single again. "Where's your boyfriend?"

"You'd never understand, Mom."

Married again. "You'd never understand."

Sick again. "You'd never understand."

Still married. Many years. Still sick. Only occasionally. Still sober. Only daily. I remember the urgency one day. I need to talk to my Mon, tell her all, even if she is . . . too old. Even if she doesn't . . . understand.

And now we talk and listen. She talks and I listen. I talk and she listens. And when she doesn't understand, I shout. She's only hard of hearing.

So we sit here today, years later, looking a little too much alike for my comfort. On this day she needs a new doctor. She knows I know doctors. I also know about Social Security benefits, medicines and side effects. I know about wills, powers of attorney and life insurance. I know about hospices, memorial services and losing friends. And so does she. There's nothing else to say.

We continue to wait as the room fills up with mostly young men. "Do all these boys have AIDS?" she asks in a smoky voice that carries far too well. The "boys" all smile into their respective magazines. "Most of 'em," I whisper. "What a shame," she continues. "I just don't understand."

Me neither, Mom.

This article has been reprinted at The Body with the permission of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).

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This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Positive Living.
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