It Just Goes To Show You That Life Is Too Short»

I will start saying that as a gay man I had a pretty normal life as far as the gay scene in Toronto goes. I have spent most of my life in the Gay Ghetto (Wellesley and Church Street Area).

I moved away from home at 21 due to rising questions about my sexuality. My years were mostly lived in the closet, as most gay men in my age group did. I was a very shy boy so I was spared the one slot of GRIND which is now known as HIV/AIDS. I have had several boy friends, but my first real boyfriend ended up being abusive and needing the love of someone.

He isolated me from any of my friends I had, so I would be dependent on him and he took advantage of me. One night he got very angry and tried to choke me to death, but luckily I was able to get away and never return. I would see him and he stalked me for a while but I was free from the confines of being with him.

The rest of my life was filled with abusive alcoholics…I saw that there was a pattern emerging, a pattern which I was determined to break. I was now single and enjoying myself but always wanting that certain soul mate – the one that everyone kept promising there would, but the proverbial Knight in Shining armour didn’t come.

In my thirties I had a lot of fun – albeit dangerous fun. Partying, drugs, sex and I got my first computer – the start of ordering in and meeting people online. I was online with every site and spent most of my time hooking up. It was new, fun, and exciting. Once, I happened to be at a party at a friend’s house and his partner read palms so for the fun of it, he read mine. He said I would meet the man that I would spend the rest of my life with either just before or just after my 40th birthday. Hahaha, yeah right…but that stuck in my head. I played all through my 30’s. It was New Years Eve 1999-2000 that I spent in in New York and had the time of my life. I flew back home the next day (since everything didn’t crash and life went on).

I was on gay.com, when this guy messaged me and we started chatting. Within five minutes we were talking on the phone. His name was Steve. We talked non-stop for
a week and then decided to meet that next weekend. We joked about that weekend as “the never ending date.” It was like one of those old romantic movies; when we touched or kissed, it was magic. The emotions were so overwhelming it was terrifying, yet exhilarating. From that moment my lips touched Steve’s, I knew he was the one. The palm reading came back to mind because it was January 28, 2000 that we met, just before my 40th birthday in March. I had to calm myself
down. What was i thinking ? We had only just met. This is crazy ! Steve was living in Hamilton, so it was very hard to let him go late that Sunday night to
drive home to Hamilton. I knew he felt the same way as I did.

And so the romance began. It was magical and as if we were one person. We did our own things but always knew we were meant for each other. We never fought or argued. If we weren’t together, we were on the phone with each other. One day, I called Steve at work and they said he no longer worked there. I then called him at home and he told me that he had been let go. It was just natural to move in with me. We finally were totally together – how amazing it was living under one roof. My roommate at the time was not so happy because he was not the center of my attention. There was a lot of friction between the two of them, but it was manageable. Eventually we finally found our loft and the roommate freaked out and bad mouthed us everywhere. He would tell people that Steve and I left him out in the cold, which was not the case. We had given him plenty of notice.

Eventually, Steve got a job as a bartender in the village and we had the best time ever. We were everywhere and knew everyone. We were the couple everyone wanted to be or hated for the same reason. We went to all the clubs and never had to line up. People would look to see if we were there to decide if they would stay. It was crazy. It was like a crazy dream that went on for about 4
years. We were the major partiers and Steve had never done a lot of things in
his life, so I wasn’t about to leave any stone unturned. We had the best time ever. I remember walking home one early morning and Steve started crying and I started getting very upset and concerned as to what was wrong. He looked at me and said he was so happy, he was on overload. Now we are both crying, walking home arm in arm – laughing and crying. We were a mess of happiness. This was the man I would be with forever. We were unstoppable. I had my soul mate and he had his. I heard Steve talking to a friend one night on the dance floor and he asked why Steve wasn’t upset that I wasn’t by his side every second .”Aren’t you jealous of what he might be doing?” Steve responded, “You don’t understand, we are supposed to be together!”

Then our favorite club closed: ” Its a Boys Life”. We were devastated. They moved it and renamed it a few times, but it finally closed for good. We were sad but it was another part of our lives to explore and together we could do anything. So we continued on with our wonderful lives. I would go and pick up Steve at 1:30 am with the dog and walk him home from the bar. One day, the
crazy, screwed up owner decided that he was going to let Steve go, which of course crushed
him. Steve loved that job. He was so in his element. He could talk all night and have a captive audience. He was a good story teller and funny. That was in late October of 2004.

We had just had a great Birthday dinner with Steve’s parents at “Le Select” when Steve seemed to have a bit of a cold or cough. Steve never got sick ever! Steve started getting sicker, so we went to the doctor and had ex rays on his chest because of the cough, and he wasn’t eating. Steve had also fainted in the elevator coming home, but Steve always insisted he was OK when asked. Steve never lied ever – even if it hurt. Steve continued getting worse, so I called the doctor about the results and he sent over a prescription for antibiotics and said he would probably get worse before getting better.

Steve started to feel better and made me promise that he wouldn’t be in the hospital for Christmas. This was the week before Christmasm, the Monday, when he
got the antibiotics. Steve was drinking boost and it seemed that he was making that turn. We were in bed. It was Tuesday December 21, and we were watching a movie in the morning all cuddled up in my arms, when he looked at me took a very deep breath in and exhaled. This horrible sound. My friend, lover and soulmate, Steve died in my arms. I freaked out and called 911 and started CPR. The fire station was just around the block. I could hear them coming instantly and they took over doing CPR, but my Steve (Pumpkin) was gone.

Steve was pronounced dead at 11:13, December 21, 2004.

I went into shock. The paramedics left and one police officer had to stay with me until the coroner showed up. Our doctor came as well and tried to console me, while the coroner did his work. After our doctor and the police officer left, I lay on the floor with Steve under some covers talking to him for 3 hours until the coroner came to take him away. Steve’s parents came shortly after and then everyone started showing up. The apartment was full of friends. There had to be
one hundred people in that one bedroom apartment. Steve’s mom was grief stricken and became ill and left. I finally had to lie down and collapse. I finally slept with a little help, but when I woke up, the apartment was still full of people sleeping everywhere. It was nice to have that support.

I had to get ready to go to Steve’s parent’s place for the funeral and arrangements, but by the time we got there, they had done everything. They had picked out the casket. I was totally left out. I was alone and by myself at the two visitations. My mom and my sister and her husband waited until the last minute to come to the funeral. They almost missed the funeral. I was and am still upset about that and will probably never forgive them for that. The funeral was the biggest Ste.Catharine had ever seen. His parents had a lot of friends and after the burial, they threw a
huge catered party for everyone because he is a big shot. They told me later that Steve had an insurance policy on him since he was a baby and if there was any money left, I would get it… there wasn’t.

I was then taken home the next day by Steve’s parents to an empty apartment and no one for support. All those friends were gone. No one called. I was so alone. Within 6 weeks, I went from the top of the world to devastation. I wasn’t working, as it had let me wait on Steve hand and foot before he passed. So I now have lost everything. No friends, or want to talk to family. No job and in mourning. Could it get any worse ? Well yes. It seems that Steve passed away from bi lateral pneumonia, but its hard to tell post mortuary but the doctor said Steve was probably HIV positive for about 10 years and that I should be tested. I was tested and came back positive as well. So i’m mourning and having to deal with being HIV positive. I went into deep depression and isolation. I finally got a job through friends which started in April 2004, so i was by myself for 4 months. It was a very dark 4 months. I don’t remember getting out of bed. The thought was so overwhelming. All I did was sleep and take Atavan.

Depression and Denial were my best friends.

Once work started, it was easy to deny HIV, but i always told myself i would not
let this disease run my life.

I could barely work some days. I was so emotional, but work was great for me. My life was taking a turn. I had to leave our appartment as it was too expensive. I had to down size alot but found a great apartment in Cabbage town and tried to start over.

Steve is always in my thoughts, almost every minute of every day. It gets less emotional, but he is always there…I am amazed who has become a friend and who has just disappeared. People are funny when it comes to Death! Most people would avoid me. I could see them moving away which isolated me even more. One day i was out with friends at a restaurant on Church Street and got a
very bad strain of Salmonella poisoning (2007). It was so bad. I almost died. I lost all feeling in my arms and legs and went down to 135 lbs. I finally got the doctor to help, but got so delirious I didn’t know where I was and no one cared to call me, not even work. They knew I was sick and that was it. I finally turned the corner to the positive and it took me almost 7 months to get better
by myself. It was at that time that my dog Dakota (14 years) had to be put to sleep and in the same year my Nigel ( Cat, 5 Years) also had to be put to sleep. I lost two babies and Steve. I was numb! In 2008, after the salmonella poisoning, my immune system was shot. I had to start meds, which I have been very lucky with – very minimal side effects.

It was a beautiful morning New Years Eve day in 2008-2009 and I was on my way to Steve’s parents for New Years, when I hit a patch of black ice and totally lost control of the car, slamming into the center concrete barrier. I bounced off that barrier, spinning across three lanes of traffic and hit the shoulder of the road and flipped into the ditch. It was in this moment I said to myself, “Lets see where this takes me?” My head smashed the drivers side window and when the car finally stopped, there was smoke or what I thought was smoke. It was actually powder from the air bags. I unfastened my seat belt, fell to the roof (I was upside down), crawled out of the car into the snow, and up the snowbank. When I reached the top of the snowbank, I could see people running to help me. I was bleeding a lot from my head. My arm was badly lacerated. A cop was very close and he helped me. I was going into shock and finally realized that I was bleeding and hadn’t told anyone I was HIV positive, so i kind of freaked the cop out. What if I was unconscious!? He should be trained on how to respond. I was rushed to the hospital where I was left in a room to clean myself up. A doctor finally came in to stick my head and my arm, and then released me. I
was still dazed and alone. I called Steve’s parents to come pick me up. They came right away, but they were having a party. When I got there and settled, I had a shower and got dressed for dinner, after which excused myself and went to bed, while the party continued on. They drove me home the next day and I have been in physiotherapy ever since for my back, which is much better
now. I was so lucky. I should have died there. The worst feeling is being in a full room of people and feeling even more alone.

One night in my darkest despair, I was online and saw an add for Actoronto, saying “Alone, Isolated.” I just lost it. I had somehow possibly found some help. I phoned them that next morning and started councelling and group therapy and started on an upward journey to wellness. I went to my first group therapy last winter for a 10 week period and it was good and exactly what i needed, but there was no connection with anyone, which I needed. My life started to turn around and I was fed up with not being myself. I had lost myself with Steve.

A big part of HIV is still the attached stigma, the rejection, the isolation. We are our own worst enemies at our worst times. My life was moving on slowly, but moving forward. I signed up for a second group which was amazing and made a great connection – the chosen family that I needed. I met a guy and all seemed to be OK, but then he just disappeared. I found out later he had decided to go to Europe, but without a word. He called me 3 months afterwards and told me that
he had become HIV poz, (but not from me! we didn’t go that far in our dating). I then met another guy my sister had set me up with. All was going great, until he decided to not call anymore and he disappeared as well, so the rejection is really starting to get to me.

In June, work decided to eliminate my position, so I’m 50, no job, single, but still laughing… for now. EI (employment insurance) takes forever to kick in. Last week, Trillium decided to cut off my benefits because they didn’t have access to my 2009 tax return (yes, it was filed)… and no one at these government agencies give a crap. They just say to call back. I finally got it all worked out and all is back in place, but i have had to apply for subsidized
housing. I went to a food bank, ODSP, and had to cash in all of my little savings to pay rent last month.

I am still smiling or i would have jumped over the Don Valley Bridge. It just goes to show you that life is short and you never know what will happen and what one person’s decision will change your life forever and not have to be accountable for. I am now on a journey about myself awareness. The time now is for ME. I’m about done with all the bad things in life, and now focusing on the good because the bad is a lot of work to be angry all the time. You all know I slip every once and a while, but I try to always stay positive. I have met or gotten to know some truly amazing people on Fabulis, and hope to continue to meet them. Especially you Joe. Hell, we live in the same city!

Afternote: Brock. After reading your story, I have more respect for you and all the courage you have. I admire all the love in your heart and I must say I am once again honored that someone as fabulis as you gave me the privilege of helping you tell just a part on your life journey. Journey on. From our journeys come learning experiences. I am sure that you learned plenty and now you are teaching so many others.

Submitted by: Joe Lethbridge

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