Of Meth and Men

The drug fuels gay parties -- but the party was almost over before Rod finally found help.

Rod slowed down the sex, but he sped up his use of cocaine. One morning in 1986, he woke up on his couch with the doors and windows of his apartment wide open, his friends standing above him. He remembered nothing from the previous night.

The only infected people who seemed to be doing well were those who moved away and started fresh. Rod hadn't spoken to his mother in more than a decade; she was now living in California with her new husband. Rod called her, told her that he was HIV-positive, then packed up his stuff and went to live with her in Anaheim. But the fresh start didn't help: He got into freebasing cocaine and became infected with Hepatitis B. Rod thought it was the big one, full-blown AIDS. He called a cousin in Colorado and moved here to die.

There wasn't much drama to Bob Dorshimer's childhood. He grew up in Pennsylvania with a sister, a mother who worked part-time and a father who was self-employed in the textile business. When he was a teenager, he worked as a lifeguard on "the same New Jersey shore that Billy Joel sings about." He had friends and girlfriends and played sports in high school.

After the bitch: When he kicked Tina, Rod Rushing found a new career.
Anthony Camera
After the bitch: When he kicked Tina, Rod Rushing found a new career.
A helping hand: Imani Latif hired Rod on the spot to advocate for HIV patients.
Anthony Camera
A helping hand: Imani Latif hired Rod on the spot to advocate for HIV patients.

He came to Colorado to attend Fort Lewis College in Durango -- and ski. An "average beer-drinking Joe," he experimented a little with pot and ate mushrooms one Halloween in Boulder. He took his junior year off and spent six months at an internship at a residential treatment center in Pennyslvania and another six months backpacking through Europe.

The trip was also a spiritual journey. Bob was figuring out what mattered most in his life, thinking about fatherhood and his own sexuality. He decided he wanted to further his education and also put his political beliefs into action.

Bob finished school after his year off, then went to work with his father for a year. He returned to Colorado to take a job at the Denver Children's Home, counseling adolescents with mental-health and substance-abuse problems. Several years later, he moved on to Arapahoe County's Department of Human Services, where he saw how drugs had robbed some parents of their ability to take care of their children. Many of those kids had severe mental illnesses as a result. And while the goal was to keep families together, sometimes that simply wasn't possible. "Unfortunately, the substance addiction is sometimes stronger than the bond between a mother and child," Bob says. "Understanding that intense addiction is one of the reasons I continue this career. As a caseworker, looking at the love between a mother and a child and seeing addiction break that bond -- that's powerful."

In 1997, about to turn thirty, Bob took three months off for another spiritual journey. He knew he wanted to be a father, but he also knew that he was gay -- and that it was time to come out.

"It was awesome," he remembers. "My friends were like, ŒGoddamn, it's about time, we've known something's been going on.'" They celebrated with dinner and dancing at a gay bar.

Bob's next job was as an impact family therapist with the Adams County Department of Social Services. He finished the coursework for a master's in education and counseling while working there, then moved to a job with ARTS, a state-funded clinical program in the division of substance dependence at the University of Colorado School of Medicine's department of psychiatry. For three years, Bob was an ARTS program coordinator working with youth who had addiction issues. But then massive funding cuts in the state's child-welfare system hit, and that program was cut in half. Senior managers at ARTS asked Bob if he'd like to take over the HIV clinic.

Since a straight guy had been running the HIV program, management was happy to get a gay male there. And Bob's sexual orientation wasn't the only asset he brought to the job. He'd lost friends to AIDS, lost clients to AIDS. He'd done volunteer work and outreach with people infected with HIV. For Bob, the opening seemed like fate.

At the same time Bob was developing his professional life, he was building his personal life. He took on a six-year-old mentally challenged boy who had been born with fetal alcohol syndrome and came from a family struggling with substance-abuse issues. The boy had moved about fourteen times in the foster-care system over the previous three years. Bob started the process to adopt him.

"Please, no more homes," the boy said when he finally arrived at Bob's house.

"You're not going to have any more homes," Bob told him, "because I'm going to be your dad. This is your home. This is your bedroom. You're home. You can call me Dad now."

"I've always wanted a dad," the boy said.

Turns out he'd always wanted a brother, too.

After a couple of weeks in Colorado, Rod started feeling better. He realized he wasn't going to die -- at least not immediately. Denver ran at a slower pace than Chicago and California, and Rod slowed down, too.

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