Monthly Archives: November 2010

World AIDS Day: I Remember

He was just a little boy – nearly six years old – when he came to live with my family. Lyle’s age now.

First his father died, in June, and then his mother, about six months later. There was no one in the family who could take in both boys during this traumatic period of grieving the loss of one parent and visiting the other in the hospital, so when his aunt and uncle took in his 2-year old brother after his father’s death, Ray came to us.

It was 1985 and I was fourteen — a time when life revolves around friends and school, and attention to family is maybe not at an all-time low, but on its way down fast. I have memories of this time when Ray lived with us, but they’re vague. I know there was sadness and confusion about how not one but two parents could fall ill within such a short period of time, how a family – brothers – could be torn apart. Memories of reading to him in his room, going to his soccer games, riding with him facing backward in the station wagon on the way to Cape Cod, him singing “We Are the World” over and over and over. Ray did a mean Stevie Wonder impression. I remember his birthday party with us, soon after he arrived, and I remember driving to New Haven so that he could see his little brother, Jason.  Every night when my dad got home from work, Ray hollered, “Beat me up, Bob!” and they had a terrific wrestling session. I remember my father pretending to “beat him up” and telling him it was for all the things he didn’t catch him doing that day. The boy screamed with delight. In retrospect that kind of bonding was probably what got the child through this period intact.

I clearly recall reading and rereading a blurb in the neighborhood newsletter that referred to Ray as my “brother” — in quotes, but still a shock. I recall a phone call with an 8th grade friend where Ray got on the line and droned, “Helloooooo…hellooooo…helloooo…” over and over until I lost my mind. I remember my brother being happy there was a younger kid in the house who danced all over the fragile Christmas ornaments and got into trouble more often than he did. For a little while, we did have a pesky, adorable younger brother. There were visits my parents made to his teacher at school, and counseling appointments I was only barely aware of. Looking back I can only imagine how much my parents did for him; I certainly wasn’t paying attention to that at the time.

I remember Ray’s parents pretty well. His mother Yvonne worked in my father’s office back when I was very young. She had a huge smile and chocolate covered peppermint sticks in a clear plastic container on her desk. She was fun, generous and full of life. Beautiful. His father, George, was quieter, I think. A good, kind man. He and my dad worked together later on. They moved to our town, so we saw them once in a while before they fell ill. After they died, the boys’ grandmother moved into our neighborhood and raised the boys together, getting them through high school and into college. My parents remained involved for years and continue to be in touch with them sporadically from across the country. I haven’t been in touch with them in years.

It wasn’t until many years later that I learned Ray’s parents had suffered from AIDS. In 1985 our town’s small hospital didn’t seem to recognize it for a while. It was early. One died of kidney failure and the other of pneumonia, I believe. Hearing this for the first time in college, I took in the information as a more reasonable explanation than anything I had come up with, but because I hadn’t known it at the time of their deaths, I don’t tend to connect the loss of these wonderful people with AIDS in a strong way.

But this evening I read Kristen Spina’s gorgeous post remembering her father, who also died of this disease far too young. Something in the incredible way she wrote about her loss connected me to my own memories, and impressed upon me the loss those boys suffered when they were too young to grab hold of enough memories of their own parents before they were gone.

December 1st, tomorrow, is World AIDS Day. I will remember Yvonne and George’s beautiful spirits, because I can, in honor of their children.

The Battle Between the Very, Very Good and the Insane

First there was Matt’s initial illness, which I can’t even remember anymore. Then he got a little better and went out of town but the day he left I got sick, and that one lasted a couple weeks, as you may recall. But then I got better and he got sick again, and he and Baxter both turned out to have strep throat that week, and someone sick always seemed to be sleeping in the guest room. There were more work trips for Matt in there somewhere, too. And then a couple days after Baxter’s antibiotic ran out he was swallowing hard and pretending not to be sick because it was the day before Halloween and he wanted to be fine. But we had to take him in for another round of antibiotics because, yes, the strep was still in his system. Which is only good because it probably means that he’s the only one of us sure not to get the dog’s pinkeye. Yes, that’s right, the dog has pinkeye, had to stay home from doggy day care one day this week (thanks, Matt), and we can easily catch it from him. While I think pinkeye is super gross, the idea of getting it from my dog makes me want to vomit. But that’s one illness we haven’t had this fall, knock on wood. Thank god I haven’t gotten that pinkeye, after plying the dog with treats, propping his eyes open and putting a “ribbon” of ointment across both of his eyeballs 3-4 times a day for the past 4 days. I stared at the vet in horror when he demonstrated that one for me. But only 3-6 more days of that to go!  And that’s good because I finally finished preparing a slideshow for a new presentation I gave the other night and have that behind me, and we have survived yet another Halloween “season” (why o why, when it used to be ONE DAY??). And speaking of those two things, I didn’t have time to remove my black Bat Girl nail polish before the presentation and lo and behold it is still on my nails today, except not only black and Goth-looking, but also chipped at this point and yet there it seems to stay. And while we’re on the subject of me and black, you ought to see the black circles I found under my eyes this morning, which I thought was mascara left over from, um, I don’t know, that day last week when I wore mascara, and tried to wash it off but it wasn’t actually removable.

The weekend is coming and we’ll all be home together and no one (besides the dog) appears to be sick in any way, and we are so excited because we can clean the house! In preparation for a cleaning lady to start next week! But the house is so grimy that I don’t even want to turn the lights on when she comes by to see the house and get the lay of the land tomorrow night, so I just scrubbed a toilet and wiped down a section of bathroom floor that hadn’t seen the light of day in — oh, wait, my mom reads this. Hey, Mom, look over here! Halloween candy! —  but anyway, quite possibly, not having all surfaces of our house encrusted with dust will help our allergies just a little. God help me if my allergist or my mom is reading this. And did I mention adding seven – yes, seven – new clients in the past couple weeks? That’s funny, I thought I had half a brain! But, see, now that I decided to add another partial day of work we realized can hire the cleaning lady we’ve been needing so desperately (because who can clean when they’re working ALL weekend??) and I can afford more help with billing at work so that if That Insurance Company sits on three thousand of my dollars again I’ll figure it out a bit sooner than I did in October. And dang it, those kids are cute and fun to work with and I have no regrets.

And somewhere in the midst of it all – despite the fact that my husband is again out of town right now and I can’t even remember which city he’s in this time – there was a small son telling me that I looked “pretty cute” in my huge fleece LL Bean robe this morning, thrilling developments in the Firefly & Friends project I’m working hard on in my extra minutes, and the mother of a new client telling me with tears in her eyes that she sees her son completely differently and more positively now that she’s worked with me a couple times. For the record, I wasn’t wearing the robe at work, so that had nothing to do with her teary eyes.  I have a child who’s going to move into double digits in just ten days, and there is no shortage of excitement about that. Plus I get to have dinner with some friends on Monday night and I’m thinking I might go out on the front porch right now and start waiting for them to pick me up. In the rain. Without a raincoat.

Somehow, and even I don’t know how it’s possible, the very, very good in my life still outweighs the insane.