Daniel

My name is Daniel, I’m 48 years old. I was born in Biddeford, Maine in the year 1956. My mother is from Puerto Rico and my father was brought up in Saco, Maine. They both now have been deceased – they were 72 years old. They died 7 weeks from each other.

I came from a very large family – 13 children altogether. I have three stepbrothers and sisters, and the rest were my actual family. We came from a lower middle class; back then, we had not a lot of money.

My father was a police officer; my mother cleaned houses for doctors and lawyers in Old Orchard. My parents met in Puerto Rico. My father was part of the cops in Puerto Rico and met my mother and brought her back to Saco, Maine.

My mother didn’t speak any English, what so ever. They went to live with my grandmother in Saco. My mother always told me stories about my grandmother always being really mean to her, making her clean everything, while she just lounged around. Finally they moved to Old Orchard.

I do have to say I came from a very dysfunctional family. My father was an alcoholic; he would drink on weekends and he would be very violent during those weekends toward us kids and mostly to my mother. He would be physically and emotionally abusive towards her. I can remember, one time he came home and it was during a blizzard and would take the belt to us kids and we’d have to hide under the bed. And my mother was just in her nightgown and he took her, and made her go outside during the blizzard for the night. And she had gotten frost bitten. I can still remember from growing up as a kid, and I’d look at my mother’s toes and if you’ve ever saw anyone what was frost bitten, they don’t have the same skin. It’s all crusty and the toenails are hard and dark. And during when I was growing up, I would just remember that, and that’s why I just kind of had some bitter feelings toward my father. Because of that, I remember the pain that he put me – my mother through.

I was around 13 years old, Old Orchard Beach was more of a honky tonk then it is now, but it was more around being a hippie with long hair and a lot of drugs. I hung out down by the beach, so during the summers – the first drug was LSD. I didn’t drink, or smoke marijuana, or anything. Basically, it was mescaline and LSD. I remember every time I took it, it would be “orange sunshine,” back then, which would be the most potent. I knew that I would have a bad trip. I would have to find people to take me to their apartment to make me drink ½ bottles of cough syrup, so I could throw it up. I saw weird things, like huge spiders crawling on me.

I remember because it got so bad on year. I could not, couldn’t go to sleep without the lights on because I thought there were spiders on me, and stuff, so that it was really bad. So I decided to stop doing LSD, cause after that one-year with out being able to sleep with out the lights on really frightened me. Then I started doing things like crystal methadrine, drinking alcohol, and smoking marijuana. And then, so like that got old, so I started just drinking alcohol. That was my drug of choice.

During high school, I would skip school to go by a six pack of colt 45. Ah, I used to go on this path and I’d go to this fort and we would go to get drunk. I used to have one friend, and since then some people say that like he died in Florida, or something. But we used to buy some beer, skip school, and go to the fort. This was the first time I had a sexual experience with a friend that was supposed to be a heterosexual. It was just basically just play.

So, I feel like I’ve had a few notable, for myself, sexual experiences, when I was younger. There were times, actually, I had a girlfriend, like that was 10 years older than I was. I was like 16 or 17. I knew her for like 8 or 9 years. We had a steady relationship until my brother introduced me to one of his friends, who was an artist. That was one of my first sexual experiences with a man, and I just very much enjoyed it.We started seeing each other quite a bit, and from there, I just took off and started experiencing/experimenting with other men in the Portland area, at one time. Back then there was only one gay bar.

Everybody drank and everybody slept with each other. That’s just the way life was back then in the gay community, and also in the straight community. There’d be a lot of bisexual men that would go into the gay bars because they weren’t getting it from their wife, or they just were confused, just like I was, at the beginning.

I’ve come from a very Catholic background, especially from my mother. My father never really went to church much. But my mother did make us kids go to Catechism and CCD, and all that stuff.

I came out to my parents about my homosexuality. I just asked to talk with them one day, and they were both in the living room. I can remember very vividly me just telling them. Just like that. I was gay, and my mother started crying, saying that you have girlfriends and stuff like that, so you can’t be. She was just crying and crying. My father seemed not to say too much. He kind of went to the bedroom and just laid down. Like he didn’t want to hear what I was saying. Basically that was just an embarrassment, especially to my mother, because of me growing up Catholic basically, so that like society didn’t want you to be a gay man. They wanted you to get married and have kids.

I grew up Catholic and there are still things that I believe about Catholic religion. About God, and there are a lot of things that I don’t. I think probably it comes mostly because I’m a gay man and I was kind of defiant with my mother and father because of that. I mean I can take what I want from my religion and leave the rest from Catholicism.

What happened is during my alcoholism period – I started going to AA quite a bit. I found some kind of spirituality. It was clear to me what spirituality was at the time. It sounded a lot to me like religion, but now it’s completely different. I still believe in God, but I still believe there is something more.

I found out I was HIV positive in 1984 when I was going to rehab. Back then, it was just a few years they know about HIV. They asked me if I wanted to take a test through rehab. It was a 30-day rehab, and I said I had been abusing drugs and sleeping around with certain people.

One of my friends was a social worker here in Portland. He’s a good friend and we’d sleep together two or three times a week. But we were mostly like buddies I guess. But, I know him for five or six years, and one day he came up to me and so like said, “you better go to the clinic, because I have gonorrhea, and we just had sex.”

I was very naïve to all this, at the beginning, so I was tested positive for gonorrhea, but this happened again like four or five times. I don’t know why I didn’t stop sleeping with him. So as I said I was addicted to alcohol, drugs – out of control, and I guess in some way might have been a sex addict, but I wasn’t sure. Anyway, so that happened and he moved to San Diego.

He came here one time and there was a in Portland. I saw him one night and he had ignored me. He was just down for a few weeks and I had noticed he had gotten so skinny. We didn’t talk. He just left with out talking to me. So the next thing I know, my friend, a year later, who had also slept with Doug, ’cause everyone back then slept around with each other. He said, “Did you read the newspaper? Doug died.” And I said “No”. He showed me, and I said, “It doesn’t say what for.” So, I figured, after I got to rehab, I had better take the test. Really gave me a big scare.

I stayed in rehab for one week, not the complete 30 days. I got scared and ran and went back out drinking, back out drugging. And called a few weeks later. Back then it would have been grounds for some kind of law suit, but back then the doctor told me over the phone that I was HIV positive, and gave me information for the Aids project. So, for 2 weeks, I had anxiety attacks. I cried. Back then it was a life sentence. Life or death. I mean I was going to die from this disease, little by little. I would get my test results and my t-cells would just keep going down, down, and down. I would take my AZT, but that stopped working. There was nothing else. I started losing a lot of weight, knowing I was going to die, anyway.

So I just kept drinking. I just felt like I may as well enjoy myself now. Which I really wasn’t – I was in a lot of pain – a lot of depression. Finally, I got so sick from taking my medication; my parents couldn’t take care of me. Actually, I think they didn’t want me in Old Orchard because I was really showing the signs that something was really wrong and people were finding out I was HIV positive.

This was my routine: to get up in the morning, go to church, have my “AIDS medicine to miracles” t-shirt on, and stuff just to have the Catholic Church recognize this was a disease, not a moral issue. But they didn’t know better. Then I would walk the beach even in the winter, in snowstorms. That was my spiritual outlet. It’s like I would go there and talk to my spiritual, my higher power about leaving the earth; about dying.

Finally, the newspapers started coming around in Old Orchard. There was a local paper and they asked me to do an interview, because they found out I was HIV positive. I was all for it, because I was defiant as hell. But they would come to my parents house, and my mother would say, “You stay away from here…We don’t want Daniel doing any interviews.”

And finally they stopped me on the street and said, “Well, we’re going to press by midnight…Would you like to do this story, so we could get it in the papers tomorrow?” I did. I snuck out of the house and went down and did the interview.

I was in Shop n’ Save the next day, and in big bold letters is said, ‘AIDS in OOB’. So, they didn’t use my name; they used a fictitious name. The name was ‘Ralph’. So ah, later on, that evening, so like I went to one of the local bars that I had been going to drink at. And the bartender looked over at me and said, so like said, “Hey Ralph, how are you doing?”

So I kinda like chuckled, looked at him and said, “well everyone knows anyway.” So, it kind of made me sad and it kind of made me happy that people know. I was just tired of hiding it, well not verbalizing anything, and it just helped me in some way.

Well anyway, I was getting sick, very sick, so I couldn’t stay at my parents’ anymore. They were just tired of people coming up to them about “How’s Daniel?” I hated when people would ask that question. “How are you feeling?” You felt like saying “What the hell, how else do you think I’m feeling?” Here I am just losing weight, dying – So how would you feel?

So I ended up going to the Peabody House, here in Portland. It was a real important experience for me. It was just me and another guy up stairs that was very, very ill. I had the downstairs and he had the upstairs.

You have to remember, at that time, there wasn’t that many people dying of HIV. There was, but it started at the end, though. I was there for three years and it was like the house was full by the end of the time I was there. There had been quite a few deaths. I was 110 pounds – I had neuropathy. I had shingles. I had congestive heart failure. I had thrush, I don’t know how many times, from just what the medications they gave me did. I had a lot of infections. I couldn’t walk at all. My feet were were like just a regular size ten, but they blew up full of water because of my congestive heart failure. I was up to 13 ½ – that’s how big they got. No one could touch my feet. I even had massage every couple of weeks, and she would try to milk my toes out of the fluid. It would help, but it would hurt at the same time. So I was at the Peabody House for three years. I helped through 15 deaths while I was there. I would go to each of the people; even though this person is in a comma, they can still hear us. So I would go and sit and I would read.

You couldn’t smoke inside, but sometimes people with only a couple days left would look at me and go, with their hands, I want a to smoke a cigarette. Can you get me a cigarette. So, I would go in and get the aerosol can, light a cigarette, and put it up to their mouths, and they would just smile at me. That was their way of saying “thank you” for giving them a cigarette. Their last cigarette.

There was one medication called quicksacon, which made you rather be dead than have to go through the side effects that I went through with this drug I started it. It was like so bad, so like you would just get projectile vomiting out of no where. It just made you so ill; you couldn’t go any place.

I remember one time going to the Roma Café, with my friend that’s a social worker, here in Portland, who also has HIV. He was much healthier and still is. It was a Saturday night, I called it “Republican night,” because the men with their white hair and their wives with the white pearls. I sat there and I wasn’t so embarrassed, but Jack was, I believe. So we were having dinner and suddenly projective vomiting with all the Republicans sitting there and I think they must have just lost their appetite. But that was, as I think back now, it was kind of humorous. But back then it was a horrible thing. I got through it. I got through the HIV part ok. I still find a stigma around the whole thing.

But I did a lot of good work for the Peabody House; I did some really good things for all the television stations here in Portland, and PBS, and for other organizations in New Hampshire, and things like that. Some really good things came from all the badness, I believe. That’s how life is now. I think that’s part of my spiritual piece.

I had my friend Bill during all this time before I went to the Peabody House; I took care of him. He was a man that worked for Save the Children. He had lived in New York, to finish his master’s, and ended up in Fiji helping people with their water supply and fishing and stuff like that. He had gotten HIV by sleeping around New York and went to Fiji. Got very ill, couldn’t walk, and found out he had TB. The closest place for care was in Hawaii, so they flew him to Queens Hospital in Hawaii. And he stayed there in the hospital for two months to take care of the TB. They really put tubes in your lungs and stuff like that; really horrible.

He came back to Portland, and I met him in a bar, so we slept together first night. We were so needy because we hadn’t slept with anybody forever, because people know we had HIV, that I had it, so it’s kind of like a bonding, sort of a brotherly thing. Back then, when you find someone else with HIV, you were just happy you found someone who understands you, and I had just found Bill.

Even though Bill was very sick and was going to die, we – I took care of him for a year and a half. He had many many infections. I took care of him right up to his last breath. I ended up, for a short stint, at Jackson Brook Institute, after Bill died – I was exhausted.

I left the Peabody House around six years ago. It was really hard to leave after being there for three years. I got my own apartment, which they helped me get. It was just really scary leaving – it was like going into a new world – because I was so taken care of, so used to being around people with HIV. It was hard. I was still somewhat sick; very thin, not looking myself, but I knew I had to leave to get back on my own.

I went and did a lot of volunteer work here in Portland for the Aids Project. Did a lot of work going to other people that were really sick and just cleaning the house and taking care of them. Or going to the movies and things like that.

I went to back to school. That was quite a struggle for me. I did last one year at USM, majoring in communication and English. I found that most of my writing was about my life around HIV and people that died around me. I now am living very happily in Gorham with my partner for six years now. How I met him was I know a friend of his that passed away like eight years ago. I knew his partner that had HIV and that had died. He manages a restaurant in Portland, and I was just telling him, “Sorry I heard Peter died.” And we exchanged numbers and just kept on seeing each other from there. And we have a wonderful relationship.

We’re domestic partners. We have a wonderful garden and we have a wonderful house. We have an adopted dog and we have a cat. It’s pretty peaceful these days. I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t do drugs. I work out quite a bit, actually, since I was at the Peabody House. Now it’s a part of my life.

A lot of things have changed in my life, since I found out I was HIV positive, just really positive things. Like I said, some good comes of really bad things. I’m just very happy. I got my certificate for personal training at the YMCA. That was kind of hard being there. I felt like I sort of had to hide everything, like me being gay, and especially stuff around HIV status. It was just hard, so I left there after a year and a half. But I did get my certificate. I decided to get another job, which I’m very happy with, working in mental health.

I’d like to say, for the future, for other people, especially younger people, if they have any thoughts of having unsafe sex, or have alcohol and drug problems, maybe they should talk with someone about it.That’s what I think led me to become HIV positive, being a drug addict, and being out of control with my alcoholism. Not knowing any better. I would tell people to to either stay abstinence, which is kind of unrealistic, especially when you’re younger, cause you know that’s kind of hard for adolescents because you want to experiment with everything. But be careful and I think you should have safe sex, and get tested, and try to have control of your life.

 

 

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