STORIES

”There was never any question in my mind about leaving the man I loved because of a test result or its ramifications. At that moment, Rick was healthy and we were happy. Love doesnʼt end based on a test result.”

Richard Lawrence Reed, 1956-1995
Story by Michael Martin

Richard Lawrence Reed (February 28, 1956 – November 11, 1995) was a beautiful soul, a kind man and my first partner. We met serendipitously. It was August 1984 and I was supposed to be meeting a co-worker but the plans fell through and I decided to go to another local bar.

As my favorite song of the moment, “My Heartʼs Divided” by Shannon started playing, I boldly walked up to a man near the dance floor and asked him if he would dance. He agreed, and we became inseparable from that moment on for over 11 years.

I had just turned 19 and was smitten with this lovely man 9 years my senior. Iʼd never had anyone look at me the way Rick did. His blue eyes pierced my very soul. He was gentle, caring, selfless, humorous and had a way of making me feel as if I were floating on a cloud. He loved life, friends, family, the beach, plants, animals and the experiences that went with them all.

Like most relationships ours evolved and deepened after the initial stages of attraction, sex and lust. We become true lovers and friends and began to build a life for ourselves. Neither of us were rich or highly educated but we were employed and did alright.

Rick always made me feel adored, loved and supported. He never let me down. We had fun learning each others’ idiosyncrasies, going out dancing, and nesting together.

Within a short period of time, Rick started saying he didnʼt feel quite right. It was never anything serious, a cold or a flu, and he would recuperate quickly. At the same time, we were just beginning to hear about the new mysterious “Gay” illness and he decided he wanted to get tested. We tested together sometime in mid 1985. Rick tested positive and I tested negative.

Our relationship was still in its infancy and there seemed no way it could be true, but it was. Rick learned what information was available and soon had a specialist doctor, the only one in the area.

There was never any question in my mind about leaving the man I loved because of a test result or its ramifications. At that moment, Rick was healthy and we were happy. Love doesnʼt end based on a test result.

For a while Rick’s health was fine and he was simply monitored. We proceeded with life as normal with the exception of keeping his status a secret. Times were different then, there was so much misunderstanding, stigma and ignorance.

Slowly Rick’s health deteriorated but not in the usual manner associated with AIDS. He never contracted pneumonia or sarcoma. It began with thrush and a gradual decline in his T-Cell counts.

There was only one medication available, AZT and Rick was put on it. Its side effects only made him feel worse. He began to have back problems, neuropathy and a general weakness. As his health got progressively worse he was forced to stop working and go on disability.

Rick also decided to tell his parents about his status and illness. He was close to them and things were becoming more evident. I told no one, not my family, co-workers, supervisors or friends.

Gradually due to the stigma surrounding the disease and our own fear we withdrew from friends we knew would never understand or accept it. Outside of a few close friends, we were isolated but we made our life as pleasant and normal as we could.

Any benefits from AZT quickly stopped and Rick’s viral load kept increasing. We lived in a populated area of South Florida and as the crisis was finally being acknowledged and funded, opportunities were presented for him to be a test subject for trial medications. I donʼt remember any of their names but there were many. Rick tried whatever was available over the years, suffering their side effects and reaping little benefit.

Rick deteriorated both physically and mentally. It was gradual, painful and unstoppable. We did as much as we could together, whether it was household things or taking short trips to Disney, historical places, the mountains or visiting family.

In early 1995 on what was to be our last trip together, Rick became rapidly disoriented and argumentative. There had been signs of dementia prior to this but this was a sudden onslaught. I cut the vacation short and headed home.

Rick was hospitalized upon our return and given what treatments were available. They helped very little. He had exhausted every available HIV medication and nothing could stop the degeneration of his body and mind. His spirit was depleted and he was tired of fighting. We returned home and hospice took over.

It was time to tell my employer about our situation as I would be requesting time off and juggling caregiving with work. They were very supportive and between that support and the help of hospice our last month or so together was a little easier.

We remained deeply in love over the years through this ordeal and that love never wavered, not once; not even as Rick lie dying in a hospital bed in our guest room. He gave up on living but never on us.
In fact, I think his love for me somehow gave him the courage to face death.

I had no encouraging words and no way to save Rick, all I could do was love him, touch him, and make him comfortable. At this stage, when someone you love is dying before your eyes, there are no words that can properly convey the experience.

Rick died, in my arms, around 5 am on November 11, 1995.

Later, I would find notes Rick wrote to me when he knew the dementia was taking hold and he might not be able to say what he wanted to say. He made a scrapbook of memories of us filled with love notes, cards, an odd memento or just a written account of special moments of our life and love. He left me a book of writings, drawings, stories and poems he had worked on over the years.

Rick was not a famous actor or designer but he was a loving example of all those whose lives were taken to soon. He made an impact and touched many lives, none more so than mine. He was my world. Although my world was forever changed and my heart ripped apart, the most important thing he left me was a feeling of love, never-ending love.

Rick was special and one of the most giving and loving men I have ever known. All these years later, I still I keep that love safe in a place in heart for when we someday meet again.