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THE END OF THE LINE

part 2 of 2
It was also in 1985 that Ric met Danny and his lover, Brad. The pair ran black-market AZT from Mexico, selling bottles for $75 that U.S. pharmacies sold for $300--if you were lucky enough to be part of the government drug-testing program. They were carefree rebels, angry about the slow pace of AIDS research, yet always ready for a practical joke.

Danny, the son of a wealthy Denver family, had a particularly dark sense of humor. That's why Ric thought that Danny was pulling his leg one evening when he called and said simply, "Brad's dead."

Ric wouldn't believe him. He had seen Brad the night before, and although he'd still had that nasty cold he couldn't shake, Brad had been so full of life--it was hard to imagine that his life was over.

Brad had had AIDS, Danny explained, and it left him vulnerable to opportunistic cancers of the stomach and esophagus. That morning Brad had been unable to keep his breakfast down. Announcing that he was tired, he'd gone back to their bedroom to lie down.

A few minutes later Danny went to check on him. Brad looked terrible but smiled weakly and said, "I love you." Moments later he was dead, having drowned in his own blood.

It soon was obvious that Danny, too, had the virus--even though he denied it. He was losing weight rapidly and getting sick too often for someone who had always taken care of himself.

Ric loved Danny, but they weren't lovers. And they both knew their friendship was going to be more important than sex in the hard days ahead.

In February 1990 Danny went into the hospital for tests; he was running short of breath and experiencing dizziness. While he was hospitalized, Ric reached a decision. Raised in the Lutheran Church, he had always believed that God was out there somewhere. Now, with death all around him, Ric needed to be reassured that this wasn't the end.

Ric had started attending Catholic services with Danny, who was devout and rarely missed a Sunday. He liked the ritual of mass: No matter where he went in the country, he could count on mass to remain a constant. The church of Saint Peter had survived nearly 2,000 years--and survival was very much on Ric's mind.

"Danny, when you get out of here, there's something really special I'd like you to do for me," Ric told his friend as they held hands in the hospital room.

Danny gave him a sideways look. "This wouldn't have to do with money?"
"No," Ric said. "I think I want to become a Catholic, and I want you to stand up for me at my confirmation."
But first, there was something Ric had to know for sure.

On March 23, 1990, Ric sat patiently waiting in the examination room for Dr. Bill, as he was known to all his patients--many of them gay and HIV-positive. Today he would hear the results of his blood test.

All week he'd prepared himself for this moment, certain he would test positive for the virus. He imagined how the conversation with the doctor would go, and reminded himself that it wouldn't be the end of the world...at least not right away. There was no cure for AIDS, but there were drugs to slow its progress. And who knew when modern medicine would work another one of its miracles?

Still, in the back of his mind, there was a faint hope that the disease had passed him by. That hope disappeared when Ric saw his doctor's face. "I think you already know the results," Dr. Bill said.

"Yeah," Ric nodded. "I'm positive." But he wasn't ready for the doctor's next pronouncement: Not only did he have the virus, but it had already progressed to full-blown AIDS. His body's defenses were dangerously depleted.

"How do you feel?" the doctor asked.
"How do you think I feel?" Ric shot back. "I feel like shit. I have AIDS." He began to cry, and was grateful that his doctor believed in hugging patients.

Three months later, as he prepared for his confirmation, Ric wondered how he was going to tell his family. His mother had found out that he was gay a few years earlier, after reaching a number of different male voices when she made her usual Sunday morning call to her son.

"Are you a homosexual?" she had asked.
He could tell she was troubled, but he couldn't resist teasing. "Yes, Mom," he said. "But only on Sunday mornings when you call." He had hoped for a laugh, but she hung up.

Three months had passed before she called again. How long would it be, he wondered, after he told her he had AIDS. But she would see Danny at his confirmation, and there was no disguising his illness.

That afternoon Ric gathered his family--mom, dad and sister--in his apartment's living room. "I have something to tell you. It wasn't something I could tell you over the telephone or write in a letter," he began, then nearly stopped when he saw the fear in their eyes.

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