Two major events. A death. And, a decision.
The death that was heart-breaking, shocking and much too real for a 12 year old girl, but, it put dying into perspective. Sorta.
And, ultimately, it preempted the decision I made to runaway from home..and, continue on that path for years.
Both events are extremely pivotal in shaping who I became. This is the story of one of them.
Today, December 1st, is World AIDS Day. There are so many of us who have been touched by this disease and it has devastated us beyond repair. But, it also makes us AWARE and want to be heard. That's why I am writing today, to share my own story of losing a loved one to the disease.
*This is the very first time I have ever shared this story.
My story begins in 1980... I had been raised by 2 sets of parents. I mean no disrespect to my real parents in this statement, but the truth is the truth. My real parents both worked full-time jobs. I was left in the care of a babysitter for all of the hours they could not watch me. In the process, I formed an unbreakable bond with my caregiver, Stephanie, and saw her as another "mother". It's very common for young children to attach themselves to whomever they spend a great deal of time with. I did.
Stephanie had an amazing, beautiful and sweet boyfriend, named Stan. I remember him being a part of my life, for as long I was alive. He too became a "parent" to me, in many ways. He was always there, and so was she.
Even though I went on to have other "caregivers" as I got older, Stephanie and Stan were always special to me and I loved them unconditionally. I missed them all the time. And, I knew, they felt the same towards me.
In 1986, Stephanie and Stan were married. I was their flower girl and beside myself with happiness to witness such a beautiful event.
1991 was the start of my own "rebellion" in many ways. I was at odds with everything in my life. My parents, school, my self-esteem, my dreams, the World. I rarely saw Stephanie and Stan, but when I did, I was elated and felt peace. They listened to me, they supported me and I couldn't help but notice, they loved me even though I was not their child. They treated me as if I was.
I came home one November afternoon from school; in the midst of learning about Magic Johnson and "HIV", something a 12 year old really had no grasp on, and received a phone call that Stan was dead.
Just dead. No explanation, no details, no nothing.
I went into shock. I attended his funeral a few days later and stared at his pale, lifeless body and thought "Is this really him? Is he really, truly gone? Yes....yes he is." But, I couldn't understand why or how. I was just NUMB.
Years later, Stephanie told me everything. (She had felt I was too young at the time to know all the facts. I can't say I don't disagree.)
Stan had contracted HIV in 1985, during a break-up from Stephanie in which he slept with a man. Stan was bi-sexual. Something I never knew but wouldn't have made me love him any less. Besides, he loved Stephanie more than anything in the world.
He carried the disease for 7 years. Never knowing he was sick. Never knowing what his fate would be. They even got pregnant during that time but the baby was lost.
Once he realized what was happening to him, the sickness caught up to him within a matter of months. They had planned to have me come visit him in the hospital and explain it all, but the day I was to get that phone call, he died instead.
The only thing worse than never getting to say goodbye to him was the fact that he was only 29 years old. That, in itself, is mind-boggling to me. How young, how much life was left in him. So very tragic.
Part of my own reasoning for running away shortly afterward was feeling that nothing was real, or stable and my world felt turned upside down. I didn't really DEAL with his death until years later. I don't think, at that age, I had the strength to grieve. So, instead, I turned those awful feelings inward and watched it manifest in my self-destructive behavior and out of control lifestyle. It was a lot easier to take things out on myself rather than really deal with the emotions.
As an adult, I still struggle with his passing. I still get angry over the jokes, innuendo, and insults towards AIDS and those who live with it. It boils my blood to no end. Once something becomes personally related to you, it will never just be "some charity"...it has a name. It has a face.
I urge everyone to either support a cause that hits you close to home, like AIDS does to me, or to find something that you believe in and can become better because of your voice and support!
|RIP, Stan 1962-1991|