by James Hooley
Although I didn’t come out until nearly 30, I have such vivid memories of when I was five that I was “different” from other little boys but didn’t have the vocabulary to describe my feelings. Some have said, “Jimmy, if your mother didn’t commit suicide when you were eleven, you would’ve had a mother figure and been straight and normal.” It was in my thirties that I began realizing I had always been normal, and that I was most certainly gay prior to my mother’s tragic death.
After Mom died, growing up in a home with a prejudicial, alcoholic and abusive father who would often reference gay gentlemen as fags, queers and “gay blades”, it took me until 30 to come out to the family and to friends. I was at my life’s point of being self-sufficient and mentally ready for acceptance or not. My sister, who in the last few years realized she is a lesbian was very church oriented and said, “I love you because you’re my brother, but I don’t agree with your lifestyle” which is fine because everyone grows in their own time, and each has his/her own path to follow.
It wasn’t until I met Tom though, and began having a serious man to man relationship that I understood so much more about myself in that it’s in another man’s psyche and energy that I find a safe harbor. Years later, that harbor would be found within myself.
Tom was my first great love and will always be. He went to heaven on April 12, 2004 after succumbing to complications from AIDS. When we met, he didn’t disclose his HIV status and I didn’t learn he was HIV+ until about 6 or 8 weeks into our relationship. “THOMAS, YOU HAD AN OBLIGATION TO TELL ME!” to which he quietly responded, “Jimmy, you have a light, an inner white light and it burns so brightly, I was afraid to tell you my status because I didn’t want to lose you.” I forgave him for that, as I’ve always forgiven others with this heart of mine and we lived, loved, and went through life together for four and a half years.
I wouldn’t change a moment of my life with Tom except that I wish he hadn’t suffered so much through it all. Allergic to all “cillan” and sulfa drugs which treat 95% or more of the opportunistic infections, his tired body just couldn’t keep bouncing back. But I loved him and I know that he knew he was loved, even after his family swooped in.
I spent Christmas and New Years of 2002 and 2003 in the hospital with him, and out of those 17 days, his family visited once. I was still working and drove 50 miles each way every afternoon and then each early morning to go to and fro. And his family is forgiven. Poor Tom, they never accepted him, but sadly, as with many, they wanted his “gay” money.
Thanksgiving 2003, Tom is again admitted to the hospital where we learned his viral load exceeded one million and his t cell count was below 50. And the doctor explained, I sat there with him – no blood family around – “Tom”, his Doctor said, “we need to switch your meds, and I want to start you on Kaletra,” which was this big ugly orange pill. Tom looked at me and said, “Jimmy, I’m tired, I can’t do this anymore, my body is almost done here.” I looked into his big beautiful Godiva chocolate truffle-like eyes and said “Baby, I don’t want you to go, but I love you, and I will support you, and I won’t leave you until you’re ready to leave.” And we hugged and wept the night through.
Tom did try Kaletra, but after 3 days of non-stop vomiting, we were in our bedroom and he said “Jimmy, I just can’t do it anymore, and I’m so sorry to have put you through this.”
“Tom”, I said as I lovingly caressed his handsome face, “there’s no place in the world I’d rather be.” By this time his family began “visiting” with us which meant LIVING with us. Over the next few months, I learned how cruel people can be, that I was only accepted by them because I walked the walk and talked the talk through the years taking care of Tom until he was close to death, and now I look back having forgiven them and bless their way from afar. All he ever wanted was to feel loved by them, and it’s truly sad that it took his terminal condition, but more, his money and things to motivate them to spend time with him.
From November ‘03 through March of 2004, I was verbally assaulted by them, threatened, had a gun put to my head by his drug addicted brother, but through it all, took care of Tom without letting on what was really happening inside that home, took care of his family, cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc to maintain the peace for Tom’s sake. It was during this time that his Aunt Dolores “assisted” Tom by becoming the executrix of his estate because as Tom said “Jimmy, I’M DOING THIS TO PROTECT YOU”, and “Dolores and Joe DON’T NEED the money.” Unfortunately he’d not put a fox to guard the hen house, but a viper.
On March 4, 2004 at 6:03 p.m. – funny how time stops in memories, isn’t it? – after finally getting a break away to go see my therapist about the whole death and dying process, food shopping and running errands pertaining to Tom including acquiring church information on last rites, I returned home and was blocked in the hallway by Tom’s aunt who said “Tom wants you to leave, he wants you to move out, right now!” After my head stopped spinning, I said “I want HIM to tell me that” to which she said “I don’t want to upset him”. Tom’s entire drug addicted family was there and I had to make a quick calculated decision, because if I had moved Dolores out of the way, I know in my heart of hearts, she would’ve called the police for assault or some such nonsense which the “family” would’ve eagerly witnessed.
I attempted contact over the next 6 weeks, but received an icy “Tom’s doesn’t want to talk with you, he’s resting, he wants nothing to do with you,” which of course I didn’t believe, but still had hope that somehow, someway, someone in the family would come to their senses and realize how wrong they treated me.
That didn’t happen and at 11:45 p.m. on April 12, 2004, after 6 weeks of losing my mind not seeing Tom wondering if he knew I’d never leave him in his darkest hour, he heard the Angels sing and call his name, and his soul was escorted by the higher spirits into God’s loving arms. I thank God for “shock” even though I knew his death was coming. I went numb and then felt relief for him.
His family got everything they wanted and even stole my personal belongings, but I have forgiven as through the process I came to understand resentment is a poison named bitterness one swallows with the expectation the people who hurt you will die. If I didn’t forgive them, then they’d still own my emotions. And they don’t care how cruel they were to me and how horribly they treated me.
If it’s one life regret I have, it’s that I wasn’t there holding his hand when he went to heaven, but I also cannot regret that which over I really had no control.
They banned me from his funeral, accused me of horrible things of which they themselves were most guilty. I look back and know I was there for Tom, loved him unconditionally, and grateful to God that God chose me to be Tom’s caretaker. If it’s one thing I wished I had though, even from nearly 7 years ago, it would be one of Tom’s pillows because I just wanted to have his scent with me; a very masculine, but sweet, almost dewy scent which was so strong on his pillows.
Rebuilding life has not been easy, but it’s because of Tom’s strength and whispers from the other side that I’ve gotten healthy again, ready to love again, and able to live again. Grieving can end and although I will always miss him, it’s because of him I have this huge capacity to love deeply and strongly, even to those who have done me harm. The future shines like the beacon of hope it is.
And I have my health – no HIV infection, although I’m sure Tom, even on the other side is still pissy about my smoking, like he always was. It’s my hope that my writing and sharing will inspire hope, strength, courage and love within others.
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