In his comment on Blue Ridge Blog, part two, Paul asked me a number of questions that got me thinking. I’m going to do my best to answer how I got here, where I am now, and where I’m going.
Late in 1995, my family learned that my older brother David (his real name) was HIV+. We learned at the same time that he was fighting lymphoma. We were reeling from this news when, in a matter of only a few weeks, David was hospitalized with dementia and released to a hospice care center.
Apparently he’d been diagnosed positive in 1984 and never said a word. For that matter, he’d never come out to us, his family, although it was hardly a secret. (It was the elephant in the room whenever we were together.) As I began regular visits to Atlanta every three weeks to see him at Haven House, I got to meet a number of his friends. I had long, honest talks with them as we processed our progressive grief. I learned that David was afraid of being abandoned by his family and so lived as though he’d already been rejected, making rare and brief tension-filled visits over the years. His friends confessed that David was especially afraid of me because I am a Christian. I had come to my faith late—age 30—and it joined me to the world for the first time. But that which had given me a sense of connection separated me from my brother.
I was determined that David know he was not alone. Many times in my visits, he did not recognize me. Other times he did, but conversation between us—strangers, really—did not flow easily. He wanted to pretend that he was going to go home soon, and that fiction prevented us from talking about the important things. But there came a moment when the door opened to really talk, and I stepped through. I told David that we’d known he was gay since high school. We knew and didn’t care who he loved; we loved him.
I wish you could have seen the change that happened literally before my eyes: David’s body went fluid as he relaxed and his smile reached his eyes. He became a man I had never seen before: loving, open, and content. We had three months—five more visits— together before he died in May 1996, a week before he would have turned 49.
I returned home from his funeral in a depression that took almost a year to lift. As was my way at the time, I responded to the pain by hiding inside myself. But my anger at the injustice that had cost me a relationship with my brother festered for a long time. It would be many years before I realized I could help to perhaps stop that schism from happening in other families.
Next: Where I Am Now