This man introduced me to my own mortality, compassion and how to give support to another Human Being Unconditionally. I first met him when he came looking for me seeking help at work – he was facing dismissal due to extensive sick absences and it had been recommended to him that he speak to me specifically as I had an ‘open mind’. Now as it turned out he was an openly gay man who was HIV positive, but he did not want anyone at work to know. I resolved the case immediately by speaking to his Managers and having him registered under Disability Discrimination laws.
But he was very distressed and I took him out of work straight away and spent the afternoon drinking with him and talking things over. He was an amazing guy and we developed a strong friendship instantly. Over the following months we regularly met up after work for a drink and took it in turns between the ‘repressed’ (his word not mine) bars and the gay bars often drinking and partying into the early hours. During that time he had an uncanny knack of finding trouble and more than once I received phone calls to pick him up from the Hospital battered and bruised or accompanying him to the Police station for interview. You could say that he certainly lived his life to the full!
His life had been a series of ups and downs and he had travelled extensively and taken many roles. He had spent time as a rent boy plying his trade around the Naval docks and the stories he shared were enthralling – including one moment where he awoke to find the ship which had provided a venue for the previous nights passions had set sail. He had also ended a relationship where he had been badly hurt by stealing thousands of pounds from one of his ex-partners which ended up with him spending a considerable time in prison.
But these Chapters of his life acted as conversation points at his most outrageous moments and certainly livened up any occasion. He thrived on his ability to shock people and would often share details of his weekend frolics – but I enjoyed his humour and he knew it didn’t work on me. He shared with me many other stories that revealed the real him and confided in me that he had contracted HIV from a person he was deeply in love with and although they had split up he still wore his ring.
He had regular visits to the hospital and I instantly received reports about his ‘white cell’ count and was always relieved to hear that his condition was under control. Then one day he rang me in total distress – things had gotten worse and he needed to go on medication. I immediately rushed to the pub he was sat in alone and he explained to me what it meant to him. Now for those of you who know nothing about HIV in his case it meant that he reached an important milestone as he would develop resistances to each drug he took until they run out of drugs to try. He saw it as his own personal countdown had started.
I managed to convince him through hours of talking and soul searching, plus a lot of drink, that he should not give up hope and that he should become a fellow Union Representative to discover new energy and purpose in his life. We ended up hugging in the street for a long time before we headed our separate ways and went home. His spirits picked up after this and he excelled in his Union Role finding new life as he helped many people resolve their own problems.
Things went OK for some time until he again rang to say he was having a bad time. He’d fallen out with his parents and they were no longer speaking – right at the beginning of December. He lived alone in a high rise flat and I asked him if it was OK to tell my parents about his condition as I wanted him to come over for Christmas Day. He agreed and I explained to them what had happened and they approved without hesitation.
Now Christmas Day in my large extended family is not a meagre affair – we each take it in turns to host the family dinner and there can be around 30 people there on the day. I went over to collect him before the clan arrived and was overwhelmed to find out that he had bought me a watch and my son some toys. This was especially touching as I knew that he had severe debts and was regularly short of money.
The rest of the family arrived and he was greeted with hugs from everyone (my family is like that), he was uncomfortable at first but soon overcame the initial nerves and joined in the fun. We all had a wonderful day and he ended up sat in the conservatory sharing a bottle of vodka with my cousin. It was getting late and I had arranged to go over to my girl-friends house that evening so asked my Dad if he would give my friend a lift home “leave him where he is” replied my Dad, “I will take him home later – he’s having a good time”. With that I thanked my Dad, gave my friend the good news with a hug and left him partying with the hardcore of my family while I went on my way.
Total respect to my family and especially my Dad – I know my friend had a fabulous time and a wonderful Christmas.
Things went well for another few months until my friend rang me to say he was off work with the flu. I went over to see him in his flat with a bundle of DVD’s under my arm and some food and drinks (non-alcoholic this time). He was suffering badly and told me that he was finding it hard to keep down food – this was really worrying as he was incredibly thin to begin with. It took a long time to convince him to go to the Doctors and he eventually confessed to me that he was scared that this was the beginning of the end.
We discussed what he intended to do when the time came and he said that when things got really bad that he wanted to go back to his Parents house. We talked long and hard and we both agreed that he needed to make amends with his parents and tell them what was happening. They knew that he was gay but had no idea about the HIV. He rang and arranged to visit them the following week but although I offered to go with him but he insisted that he wanted to make the journey alone.
That was the last time I saw him.
I spoke to him many times on the phone and he had told his Parents everything. His Mum had responded with Love and care and told him that she wanted up to pack up in Manchester and move back in with them near Nottingham. I continued the phone calls and received reports on the worsening of his illness. The calls became more and more upsetting for him and each time he would break down crying and hang up. I tried to find out where he was but he had intentionally refused to give me his Parents address. Eventually my phone calls remained unanswered and I had to respect his wishes.
To this day I do not know what happened to him but the time I shared with him is very special to me. He was a very private man and did not trust anyone so it was rewarding for me that he opened up and allowed me in. A few times he became confused and took my love for him as a friend as something much more romantic but each time I took his approaches as a major compliment and managed to save his embarrassment. He once told me that he had never met anyone who loved him for who he was and that they had always feigned love to get something from him.
I was that Change and he was a very dear friend.
Much love to him wherever he is now – I look forward to meeting him again,