THE END OF THE LINE

"I won't be making it home this time, will I?" Danny asked.
Ric could see that his friend knew that the end was near--and was frightened. "You won't be making it back to your apartment, but you will make it home," he told him.

Now it was Danny's turn to be brave. "Have I told you that I love you?" he asked, patting his friend's hand.

Ric nodded, trying to find his voice. "I know," he said. "I've known it for a long time."

Just then another friend arrived. Danny asked the two of them to fetch a pair of fresh pajamas from his apartment.

At the apartment, Ric went out on the balcony where he and Danny had often sat enjoying their morning coffee and talking. He'd been outside several minutes when the other man said they should be getting back to the hospital.

Ric shook his head, wiping at his tears with his hand. "We don't have to go back. He's already gone." He lifted his eyes to the leaden sky. "Goodbye," he whispered. "I'll see you later."

Last July Ric moved back into the old Capitol Hill apartment that held so many memories. He'd become friends with Vern there. He'd lived there when he met and fell in love with Ed. So many others had passed through that living room, passed through that bedroom--and then passed on.

But they were friendly ghosts, and Ric immediately cluttered the apartment with the flotsam of a full life. He plastered nearly every inch of wall space with art ranging from pornography to Georgia O'Keeffe posters to prints depicting the ascension of the saints to photographs: Ed on a camping trip; Danny, smiling, with his head in Ric's lap.

It became nearly impossible to walk through the living room. Half-finished art projects were scattered about among the books and boxes. The toys of Ric's childhood--a stuffed pony and those big steel cars from the Fifties--were heaped in front of the couch. His mother had sent them, having finally accepted that Ric would never give her grandchildren. She still had difficulty accepting his homosexuality, but AIDS had a way of clarifying what is important.

Ric surrounded himself with memories of those he has loved. There was no room for regrets--not for the deadly lifestyle, which had led him to the people he loved most; not for the virus, which had led him to his faith.

He remains sexually active, visiting the bathhouses once a week and occasionally cruising Cheesman Park. Always, he insists on using condoms.

It troubles Ric to see some of the younger men having unprotected sex. The bathhouse attendants are supposed to keep an eye on the back rooms through peepholes in the wall, and to stop any unsafe sex. But the holes are easily plugged with tissue, and the attendants usually only act when someone complains or the participants are blatant.

Ric does not report what he sees, nor does he attempt to lecture the younger generation. The information is available. If they can look at him and other members of his generation, see the devastation caused by this disease and still not use a condom, he doesn't feel that it is his place to be their policeman.

Besides, at this late date he's taken on another role: guarding the millions of dollars in federal funding designated for assisting people with AIDS.

In July, when Ric was getting ready to move back to Capitol Hill, he approached the Colorado AIDS Project for help with his rent payments. A CAP client since 1990, he'd never known that such assistance was available until friends in other cities said that the federally funded Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS program had helped them with rent vouchers.

When Ric asked CAP about the program, he was told it didn't exist in Denver. Confused, he contacted Lance Clem, who was about to lose his job as the executive director of the Governor's AIDS Council ("Ill Will," March 16). Clem assured him that HOPWA funds were available through CAP.

With Clem along for moral and technical support, Ric confronted CAP officials about HOPWA money. Finally he was told that yes, the funds existed, but he could only have a one-month voucher. Federal rules say nothing of the sort, so he and Clem pressed the point.

"And how come clients haven't heard about this?" Ric asked. CAP officials assured him that it had been announced in a newsletter. But the mailing only went to people who donated money, not the clients who might need the assistance.

(CAP director Julian Rush says the confusion may have resulted because the program is relatively new and the agency is still trying to sort out the differences between national and local guidelines. "Initially, we were told by the city to hold off advertising [the availability of HOPWA funds] because they needed to get a feel for how many people might use it," Rush says. "But it all got worked out.")

After Ric received his rent vouchers, he faxed notices to dozens of small AIDS agencies throughout the city and state, letting them know that HOPWA money was available.

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