Editor’s Note: The following submission is from Chuck McMunn. Have an LGBTQ+ related experience or story to share? Having your article published on this site will automatically enrol you into a raffle to win a $50 Amazon Gift Card. Submit an article today via queerdeermedia.com.
[amazon_link asins=’B072BQYS2X’ template=’ProductAdRight’ store=’ourqueerstories-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’030db0d6-8cd9-11e7-b959-010f999c96d0′]Way back in 1980 I was living in Pittsburgh, PA. One of the guys I went to high school with was living in Washington, DC and had been begging me for several years to move down there.
In Pittsburgh I was living in a group house with all gay friends from high school. I had graduated high school back in 1972, so there was already a lot of water-under-the-bridge so to speak.
Anyway, our room-mate Jimmy (now dead from AIDs) and bought a car from his dead lover’s family and while driving home from work lit up his once-per-month cigarette. He opened the car’s ashtray to flick his ash and noticed a plastic bag in there. It was filled with drugs. Acid to be precise. His dead lover was a drug dealer and died in-bed when he fell asleep smoking a cigarette, catching his bed on fire. His family searched his car for drugs, but since none of them smoked cigarettes, no one ever opened the ash tray!
So Jimmy, instead of trying to sale the drugs, put them all in a candy dish sitting on the mantle of our dining room fireplace. There were over a thousand hits of acid in there. At the beginning of the summer of ’80 we were each (5 of us lived there) taking a hit of acid about every other day or so. By the end of the summer we were each taking about 3-5 hits daily! Not a good thing. Ended up that I was the only person working and everything in that apartment was in my name and no one was giving me money for the rent or the bills cause they were all on a continuous trip!
Well, Dennis had been trying to get me to move to DC and I finally gave-in. He drove his VW Beetle up to Pittsburgh one night, picked me up with a few bags of clothes, and moved me down to his apartment. Once down there I had all the utilities in the apartment in Pittsburgh shut-off and gave the landlord notice that I had moved, but hadn’t told any of the room-mates, since they wouldn’t understand anyway, since they were all on this very long trip.
My friend Dennis had been my best-bud since 7th grade, so we knew each other pretty well at that point. He had been a former bartender at the DC Eagle, so he knew his way around the city and knew a lot of people. My first week-end in DC we went bar-hoping and ended the night at the Eagle. Back then the Eagle was on 9th Street, NW and right around the corner was an off-shoot of the Eagle, called the Eagle in Exile, which was a leather bar that allowed dancing (no dancing in the Eagle). By the time we got to the Eagle, or the Exile, not sure which bar, but I started flirting with the bartender. Can’t recall the guy’s name, but he was Hispanic and built like a brick shit-house. I ended up going back to his house with him and we fucked like rabbits all night long.
Next day I went back to Denny’s apartment and never saw that guy again. A few weeks prior to moving down there, Denny had met a guy named Jimmy at some leather motorcycle club “run” in southern Virginia. About 2 weeks after I moved down to DC, he up and moved in with Jimmy, in Manassas. Left me all alone in his apartment. So I started working 2 full-time jobs to help make ends-meet. Did that for nearly a year.
Sometime during that period I heard that that Spanish bartender I had slept with had moved away, not sure where, but he was very sick and no one could figure out why and he passed away about 7 months after I had slept with him. Didn’t think anything about it, since it was 1981 now and AIDs was called GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency), everyone felt it was a NYC or LA disease.
I put it out of my mind and had just started working for the Washington Post in the data entry department. After a year I became the supervisor of data entry, so I was making pretty good money. I was out shopping with my room-mate (a co-worker) and this Spanish guy kept following me around the store. I ended up meeting with him and going back to his place and staying for 3 days. Him and I soon became lovers and were together for the next 8 years.
Around 1986 I left the Washington Post and went to work at a company in Rockville, MD, as a word processor. (At the age of 5, my mother forced me to start taking piano lessons and after 8 years of that I switched to pipe organ and played in our church up until I graduated high school and moved away. I was tested at the Washington Post for my typing and found I was doing around 120 wpm without any errors. Not bad for a guy…)
At the company in Rockville our department was about half-gay. Entire department had about 30 people, and after 3 years we were all a rather close-knit group, spending a lot of our free-time together. In October of 1988 we had all decided to go down into DC to the Whitman-Walker clinic and we would all be tested for HIV. Before the test they told us instead of names we were each given a number. We were to return after 3 days to find out our results. We all returned as a group. We were told we’d be given a small piece of paper with either the words yes or no, I think. Everyone in our group had slips with the word “no” on it, except for me, mine said “yes.” I was asked to stay and everyone else was told they could leave. I was given counseling to deal with what I just discovered.
I scared me and I started pulling all the overtime I could, figured if I worked my ass off then that would take my mind off of what was happening. So I started working for Xerox as an Administrative Assistant/Graphic Illustrator. Stayed there for another 2 years. At that point my lover, Herminio, had gotten very sick with KS (Kaposi Scarcoma), a terminal form of cancer. After a few months he had lost about 45 pounds, was nothing but skin-n-bones. I took him to the hospital his doctor recommended. After the 2nd day there, he fell into a coma, from which he never regained conscienceness. He laid there for about 9 days in the coma. We knew it was about over since his organs had started to shut-down and his hands and feet began to swell. They told me it was just a matter of time now. I sat with him through very labored breathing for nearly 33 hours. At the time we had 2 Persian kittens at home and I left to go feed them and take a shower and get a change of clothes before returning. As soon as I walked into the apartment door, the phone was ringing. Answered it to find out Herminio passed away about 10 minutes after I left.
I told them not to do anything until I returned. I had Power of Attorney for him and they weren’t to do anything without my permission. I got back to the hospital and sat with his lifeless body for about a half hour. Then they moved him down to the morgue.
Since he was a devout Catholic, I had his funeral at St. John’s Cathedral in DC. Same place that President Kennedy’s service was held. The entire funeral mass was performed in Spanish, so I did everything his brother did, since I don’t speak a word of Spanish (actually I know one word, but that wasn’t appropriate for a funeral!).
Herminio died in November of 1990. Up until that point we had already lost about a dozen of our friends. Living in DC became to hard for me, so I decided to move back up to Pittsburgh, basically to be closer to my family, since we all figured we be dead soon.
Back in the 80s and early 90s, since AIDs was a death-sentence, most guys that got it went on mad spending-sprees and ran their credit cards up to the max, since they were going to die anyway! I too, did this, expecting to be dead within a year.
It never happened. Just got myself so far into debt I thought I’d never crawl out of that hole!
So, I took some of the money I inherited from Herminio and bought a house next door to one of my childhood lesbian friends. That lasted for about a year. During this time one of my brothers (I have 3 brothers) had come down to DC for Herminio’s funeral. He was my only family member to go to it. But once back in PA, my youngest brother’s wife, a super-duper-born-again christian, decided on her own to “out” me to the rest of my family and anyone else that would listen to her. Not only was she telling everyone I was gay, but also that I had AIDs.
I sold that house about 10 months later and moved back to the small town I had grown-up in. Started renting a small 3-room bungalow from one of my aunts. Ended up living there for the next 9 years. I had relatives on both sides of me, and most of them were pretty cool with me being there, but their kids were more uncooperative. My one cousin, who lived behind me, had a son who thought it was a good thing to harras me all the time. To this day I can’t stand that guy.
During those years I started going to an HIV support group at the local Catholic Church. We met every Wednesday evening. There were about a dozen people in that group. We all became rather good friends. Most of those people are now dead too, but a few are still alive.
After a few years we joined a larger support group down in Pittsburgh, called Shepherd Wellness. They sponsored a weekly dinner and individual support and group support. There’d be around 100-200 people at those dinners and we made some really good friends there. After a few years of going there, I stopped counting the friends who were passing away. Quit after reaching 37 people.
Everyone I now knew were dying, except me. I couldn’t figure out why everyone was getting sick from all these weird diseases, but the worse I had was the sniffles. I watched some very dear friends whither away to nothing and then die. I had 2 friends die in my arms. As much as death scares me, it’s very comforting to have someone die in your arms. It’s also very sad too.
Around the mid 90s I started dating one of the guys from our support group and him and I ended up being lover for about 6 years. He’s still alive now, but has since gone blind from his Toxoplasmosis. Also during this time AIDs doctors were trying just about anything they could think of. For about 5 months I took a drug called Videx. Horrible drug. Pills the size of an alka-seltzer and they tasted like open sewage. Very digusting pills. But, they played a role in my future. It was discovered that as a side affect from that drug that 10-years on people were developing diabetes. I did too. Discovered it by going into a diabetic coma for 5 days. Amazing what a coma will do to your body. Wiped out nearly a year of memories. That was in 2005. I had bought a house with my parents and didn’t even know it!
Also just prior to that, my doctor had put me on HGH (Human Growth Hormone). It was a one-a-day injection. He also had me on steroids. Surprisingly, my hands started growing again, as did my feet. Went from a size 8.5 shoe to a 10.5 size! Suddenly my 20+ pairs of shoes no longer fit!
The pharmacy we were using, which dealt primarily with hiv patients, started ripping-off the government by filing false claims. I was on on the HGH for 5 months, but that pharmacy kept billing for the drugs for another 9 months. HGH ran around $5,000 per month, so they were propably making some good money from it? I ended up testifying to a Grand Jury against that pharmacist. Was happy to do it if only to stop someone from profiting from our suffering.
After the coma, I returned to the house I owned with my parents. We had that house for about 5 years, I think. In 2007 I went and bought a black lab from the humane society. (She just turned 9 a couple weeks ago!) A few months after I got her this guy moved into an apartment across the street from us. He looked pretty cool, so I walked over to greet him to the neighborhood, and to find out if he was straight or gay and to find out if he smoked marijuana. Was always looking for new connections back then.
He was straight and gay-sex annoys him, but we became really good friends. After a few months he moved in with me and my parents, since our house had 4 bedrooms and we were only using 2 of them.
Just about 2 years prior my father had had a major stroke, so he wasn’t in the best of health and it took a toll on me and mom taking care of him. Having an extra hand around the house was really a good thing.
After the coma I started doing insulin injections and soon after started having problems with my legs. I was in and out of our local hospital having 7 surgeries there on just my left leg. As it turned out, the born-again-christian-woman who lived next door, worked in the medical records department at that hospital. After one long visit (over 5 weeks), suddenly this woman and her family started to harass me and my family. We assume she read my records and saw the diagnosis of AIDs and told her family about it! I had no real proof so I couldn’t sue or anything. But, she would point at me and my room-mate (Mike) and they would snicker and laugh and say things just loud enough that we could hear but couldn’t make out what they were saying. This woman’s 30+ y/o son drove tractor-trailers and got up to leave for work at 3:00 am every night. He’d go outside, turn on his truck, and sit there for about 30 minutes just reving the engine as loud as he could get it to go.
And, as if all that wasn’t enough, this woman’s elderly father would sit on either their front porch, or their back porch, and, even though he was tone-deaf, he would sing and play the harmonica and blast new-age christian music from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm every single day! No amount of screaming and yelling at him would get him to stop!
Meantime, my mother had developed a rather extreme form of cancer, something called Undifferentiated Phleomorphic Sarcoma. She was told she had only a few months left to live. Since it was hard enough with her and having the idiots next door to us making all this noise, mom and dad moved out and moved into a farm house a few miles out into the country, next door (by about 150′) to my sister’s oldest daughter and her husband and 2 kids.
After trying chemo and radiation, mom decided to stop all of it and go home and die. It took 5 months. We had the Visiting Nurses coming in daily, but they were only there for about an hour each day. The other 23 hours fell on my, Mike, and my dad. I have 3 brothers and a sister, all of whom have families with kids and grand-kids. Couldn’t get any of them to help out with mom. They’d come and visit for an hour or so, once per week, and called that “helping out.”
After mom died, then it’s just me, Mike, and dad, and my dog, Molly. Before mom died she told me to take care of dad and to buy him anything he wanted. So I did. After nearly a year, and 13 surgies on my left leg, I once again went into the hospital, but this time they amputated my left leg at the knee. This was the middle of January, 2010. While I was hospitalized, my youngest brother came and took my dad out shopping and to a restaurant. That week it just happened to be in single digits outside, but my idiot brother let me dad go out with just a light jacket on and no hat. He caught pneumonia. He went into a different hospital for a few days, then had to recover in a nursing home for another 6 weeks.
I returned home on my birthday. There I was having my leg amputated, which is rather devasting, but I got no visitors from any of my siblings. A couple friends came to see me, as did Mike. Made me mad and sad that none of my siblings gave a passing glance to me since I was going through something that tramatic.
After I came back home, and dad was still in the nursing home, I had the Visiting Nurses coming in once per day. During one visit, the house started to fill with smoke. We tried to investigate but couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. Considering this was an old farmhouse, it had no indoor staircase going down into the basement. Only basement entrance was a door on the outside. I got Mike to go around there to check on that door and to look in the basement to see where the smoke was coming from.
That particular day the high temp was only 5 degrees. When he got around to that side of the house he noticed the door was the whole way open and there was about 3 feet of water down there (a water pipe had burst) and it was frozen on top!
We called the fire department and they came, along with the Police. They set-up a pump and started to pump out the basement, but as much as they pumped it, it kept filling up since that burst water pipe was down at floor level and was squirting water everywhere under there.
Total insanity. The police called the landlady, but she said she wasn’t going to fix anything since the house, unbeknownst to us, was in foreclosure and we were going to have to move out anyway. Wonder when she was planning on telling us this?
So the police said it was a fire hazard to stay in the house, since we had no heat in there since the furnace was under water! So we packed a few things and I called my neice next door to see if we could stay with her for a few days. She said no. Another neice who had a large old Victorian house also said no. My one brother said no. Then they all said no. So we ended up searching for a motel that allowed pets. Found one about 25 miles away. We stayed there for 3 nights.
We started a frantic search for a place to move into with at least 3 bedrooms. One for me, one for Mike, and one for my dad when he got out of the nursing home. We also had to be able to move in the following day after renting it. Found a house that fit our bill, but it was in the next county over. So we moved in there.
A couple months later my father returned and then it was us 3 guys and my dog. At this point dad was 80 and for some reason he could not urinate unless he was wearing a catheter. Strange. So I had to learn how to change his catheter. Since he was wearing it all the time, he started to get UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections). The Visiting Nurse told me I could recognize the UTI because he would start acting about the same as he did after his big stroke.
Well, he started walking around the house completely naked. Good thing it was summertime by then! Caught him standing nude in the front doorway one time. Asked him what he was doing and he said he was giving the neighbors a “show!”
I spoke with 2 of my siblings and told them it would be a good idea to put dad back into a nursing home. But NO, my youngest brother said his church ran a personal care home and he could get dad in there. What he failed to realize was that the State of Pennsylvania would have paid for a nursing home, in full, but paid nothing towards a personal care home! It cost $3,030 per month for him to be in there.
Now, we are in no way rich, and usually live paycheck-to-paycheck. That amount was nearly double what dad’s SSI & pension were. Suddenly we needed all sorts of money to pay for him being in there. I told them since you want him in your church’s home, then YOU can pay for him! At that point they came to the house and said they were taking everything of dad’s that they felt they could sale to make money to help pay for the home! They took things like the snow blower, the garden tractor & accessories, and lots of other things. But, the icing on the cake was when they came to take dad’s car. The only vehicle we had was dad’s car. We were living in a small village out in the middle of no-where without a car.
So I had to go and take out a personal loan and buy a Jeep Cherokee. Me and Mike decided at that point to leave Pennsylvania and drive out to Colorado, where he had friends. We had a yard sale and sold as much as we could, gave a lot of things away to friends, and left a lot of things in that house. We left a note for the landlord, packed up the Jeep during the night, and we left Pennsylvania August 10th, 2011.
So it was me, Mike, Molly, and Mike’s yellow lab puppy, Oliver. We took our time driving across the country and slept in a tent each night. Took 4 days to drive the 2,000 miles. Once out here none of his friends would let us stay at their places, so we just bounced around Western Colorado for a month, staying in camp grounds or just pitching the tent alongside a dirt road in the mountains somewhere. Enjoyed ourselves for a change.
On one of those adventures, Mike saw a “for rent” sign on a house, so we called the phone number, met the woman renting it, and signed a lease and moved in a few days later. Lived there for the next 2 years.
Meantime, being a newly amputee’d person, I was learning to walk on my new prosthetic leg. It meant also that I was spending a lot of time in my wheelchair. What we didn’t know was that that house had just been flooded a few months earlier and the landlady never told us that point. After being in there a few months we had noticed that outside there were snakes everywhere! The dogs both loved it. I hate snakes. They lived under the house. Most houses out in the deserts sit on concrete slabs, this house sat directly on the dirt/sand. Luckily the only snakes there were Bull Snakes. They’re colored about the same as a rattlesnake, but without the poison or the rattle. All we ever saw were the babies, up to about 2 feet in length. The dogs would sometimes catch them by their tails and shake the hell out of them.
We had irrigation canals on 3 sides of that house, so I’d toss snakes into the canal and watch them float away somewhere else! The canal on the long side of the house was a dead-end canal, so it filled with water, but just sat there. It was about 3 feet deep (the water part) and both dogs would jump in there and swim around, chasing frogs and fish (yes, fish) and just having a grand time, nearly a daily event!
After 2 years, and a month into the 3rd year, the floor in the dining room started to buckle upwards. Found out it was from having been flooded. I started to hit my head on the ceiling fan in that room! We decided we couldn’t live like that anymore and gave notice and moved out. Went and stayed at a motel for the next 10 months. That was the Year of Hell. It was a 2-room motel suite that allowed dogs. We had to walk the dogs about 5-6 times every day. That got to be a tad nerve-racking.
So I kept looking and finally found a 2-bedrom house in the town we were in, for about the same amount of money as the motel was.
All this time I was going to the one-and-only hiv doctor in that part of Colorado. Her office was 55 miles away from where we were living! Makes for a long round-trip adventure across open desert every 3 months!
We lived in here for a year when Oliver (Mike’s yellow lab) started getting rather sick. He had had seizures when he was less then a year old, but we had thought he out-grew them. He was now about 3.5 years old. Suddenly from one day to the next, he went blind. After that he started loosing weight. Lost over 50 pounds in the matter of about 2 weeks. Looked horrible. Then he started having breathing problems, and could only breath sitting, not lying down. So we would hold him up so he could sleep and breath. He would urinate for upwards of a minute or more. Then the projectile vomiting started. By the end of December we decided it would be best for him to have him put down. So on New Year’s Eve we had Oliver put to sleep. Very sad.
This event caused a big rift between me and Mike and we would get into arguments all the time. About 7 months later he just up and moved out. Moved into a motel about 3 blocks down the street from here. Said he needed his space.
So that’s where I’m at now, but the story doesn’t even end there! A couple months ago I started getting mail for my landlord here at the house. At first it was statements (I assume) from Bank of America concerning their mortgage. Then I started getting a lot of envelopes from some other mortgage company. I asked my landlord what to do with them and he said they were all garbage and to just burn them, use them to start fires in the wood burner.
Well, I figured since I’m going to burn this crap anyway, I might was well open one and see exactly what it is.
Well, come to find out BOA sold their mortgage to this other company without ever telling them. Also seems they were 4 months behind in their mortgage payments. This brings up up to today, December 16th. The landlord has until today to pay over $2,000 in back payments or this house goes into foreclosure too!
I’m at a point now where I’ve been hiv+ for about 35 years, and diabetic for 10, and an amputee for 5! It’s just me and a very over-weight Molly. By law, I have to be given 90 days to vacate this place after the foreclosure is started. I figure I’ll not pay any rent for those 90 days and try to save the amount of the rent each month, so I’ll be able to move at the end of that 90-day period. I’ve been having more problems with my leg and spend most days sitting in this damn wheelchair. I’ll need the extra money to hire someone to move me, since my days of lifting heavy objects are far gone behind me.
It’s been such a bizarre ride ever since this whole thing with the AIDs has started. I’ve seen death the likes of which most people see during wartime and not in their personal lives. I’ve watched some of the most important people in my life die. I’ve seen horrible examples of discrimination, against my friends, against myself.
I turn 61 next month and it’s hard to believe I’ve been hiv+ over half that time! This disease has take so much from me, and given me so much too in the form of friends I no longer have.
So now I’m waiting to hear from the landlord to tell me about the foreclosure. I asked him if that’s what was happening from all these letters from his mortgage company, but he said not. I think he’s lying to me, even though he knows nothing about the hiv part of me.
I did leave a few things out of this, like how my one-and-only sister tried to have me arrested for elder abuse after we first moved out here. After 7 months it was thrown out for a complete lack of evidence. Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, we were renting the house I owned in PA with my father, and my sister was supposed to be collecting the rent and paying the mortgage. Well, she collected the rent, but missed making 11 mortgage payments in a row! So that house went into foreclosure too! She probably thought that would ruin my credit, but, since I owned that jointly with both my parents, and it was just after dad’s stroke, mom signed his name, then her’s, then handed the papers to me to sign. The bad credit only went to the first name on the mortgage, my dad’s. He died a few months later so he took his “bad credit” with him to the grave!
After those 2 events I decided I no longer wanted to have any relations with anyone from my family. There’s 35 people in my immediate family and I’ve not heard from or spoken to any of them in the 4.5 years we’ve been out in Colorado.
In the 35+ years I’ve been poz, I’ve seen way too many people succumb to this disease. I’ve seen so much suffering and so much hatred. My own family, supposedly all born-again christians, all turned their backs on me as soon as my mother passed away. I think they were only being nice to me as long as my mother was alive. Now I’m at a point where I just don’t care any more. I haven’t had any type of sexual relations with anyone since the amputation. Just feel rather odd getting naked with this stump-of-a-leg. (I know a few guys into FF who’d love this stump! But they’re back East!) I’m really getting backed into a corner out here. With Mike gone, it’s just me and Molly. My only income is my SSDI, and it’s just 1/4 of my highest earning period from when I was working. So what I used to earn for 1 week I now have to stretch out over 4 weeks, and without Mike being here that means all my rent & utilities have doubled. Trying to find a room-mate to move in and help out is very hard. We hadn’t made any friends out here at all. Main reason we even moved out here was for the medical marijuana. I got my license for it, but he never did, even though he had one in California when he got out of the Air Force. I can’t even afford to buy any of that now, just don’t have the extra money to put into it.
Now I have no one to share things with. Still have a couple friends back East, but we’re all getting up there in age and most of them just don’t like to travel any more, so no one’s coming to visit. Everyone I’ve ever known and ever cared deeply for has died. Chances are I’ll be dying alone out here one of these days. After Molly goes, then my will to live will go with her…