Harold was my friend. Not every person would I say this about that entered our doors at the HIV/AIDS home I was working. He came from a small town in South Carolina of less than five thousand people. The poverty ridden black community in the town were proud of him. He had a personality of unlimited wattage that made you love him. He was a proud Marine who had been in combat for our country and volunteered to do good things in his community. He was a former high school athletic and scholar stand-out. But he was also gay and had contracted AIDS.
The town was now talking about his sinful nature and were wary of the disease he carried within him. He felt disappointed in himself that he was now not the solution but in his view the problem. He was one of the black men with so much potential but for whatever reason had failed to carry the dreams of his community forward. At least that is how he pictured it in his mind’s eye when he went to his dark place.
He was different from the other residents because of his military posture and the can do it nature of Marines. But then there was his playful flirting nature that captured hearts. One of the things he did that was counter cultural to a lot of thinking about group homes was when returning from wherever he would come through the door with the words “Honey I’m Home”. Though he did it a thousand times his infectious smile and voice would always lift your spirits. He was the one flirting with everyone especially the ones who were bedridden.
He to the very end tried to keep fit. Which often confused people when he said he was HIV positive. Though he probably never knew it he was the hero of the house. But he was living before the discovery of the drugs that would make early death the inevitable result of AIDS. He became ill.
He would lay bedridden in his room. But this did not keep him down he kept his door open and when anyone who passed by, he would yell something about how fine they looked that day. He would yell through the wall at his neighbor bedridden housemate. He was always accusing her of having men in her room or ‘borrowing’ things from his room. She would smile and if he was not showing her enough attention bang on the wall so he would start his rancor with her. The two of them could barely move but they kept it up to the end.
He always held out hope for a cure which was bound to occur at any moment. I do not know if he really thought it was around the corner, but his talk gave hope to many that yes it was around the corner. Constantly, he talked about what he would do and where he would go when the cure came. But AIDS was relentless in those days. He became too sick for us to take care of him in the home and was hospitalized.
I visited him daily, but it was evident that his time was limited. But even when he would convey to me his disappointment and dark thoughts, he never gave in to them. He appeared to have an endless supply of optimism. He was determined not to die with hopelessness on his lips.
I was scheduled for a short vacation, but Harold was close to the end. I did not want to leave him but in those days if you waited until there was a break in the deaths you would probably never take time off. When I informed him I might be leaving town he laughed at my misgiving and said ‘if you stay you will make me think I am about to die. Why would you do that? He said I may act cocksure, but I do have my fears and do not want any unnecessary help with them.’ He continued I would not want your child to blame me for not enjoying swimming in the lake with his father that would be a horrible thing to take to the grave with you. ‘Besides I promise you I will not die unless I have you right by my side so I can be sure to have the last word in who will win the NBA championship.’
I knew it was all bullshit to make me feel comfortable with leaving but that was his nature. He would be mad and scared if I stayed. I went. The night before I returned; he died. There would never be ‘Honey I’m Home’ spoken in the house again. But these many years later he remains one of my heroes who have taken up home in my heart.