Longform

Nobody Gets Out of Here Alive

Page 22 of 27

Taking their cue from Gourley, who still remembered the beauty surrounding the Southeast Asian man's death, the staff urged families and lovers of patients who were approaching that final moment to bring them home. Or at least get them out of the hospital and into hospice care.

And patients were dying sometimes at the rate of twenty or thirty a month. The staff at the clinic often relied on their patients' campy sense of humor to keep from going crazy over the losses. In the midst of terror, it was often the patients who worked hardest at keeping everybody's spirits up. Or as Gourley put it, "If you danced in as a queen, you might as well dance out as a queen."

But Patrick Gourley stood little chance of escaping the grim reality himself. Even antagonists like Witte, who asked that Gourley be his caregiver when he came to the clinic, were dying. Gourley's own HIV-related problems had been minimal -- sores in his mouth and skin problems. He'd taken Gorman's route and changed his lifestyle, taking vitamin supplements and riding miles on his bicycle. But when he wasn't dealing with AIDS patients in the clinic, he was taking care of Woodyard at home.

Woodyard hadn't let the occasional bout with an infection slow him down much. He was a stained-glass artist and continued to work in his studio. He'd been working for Children's Hospital since 1989 in fundraising and development and volunteering as a chaplain there. Still, there was no denying that his immune system was failing.

Gourley took care of him and dealt with the reality of what was coming by reverting to his childhood days and working in a backyard garden: It was so life-affirming to coach plants to grow. But there was no getting away from AIDS for long.

Gorman had also been getting progressively worse out in San Francisco. Gourley went out to visit his friend several times. Even sick, Don was the same man he had loved. He now carried a small purse filled with quarters so he would always have "change for the changeless." To him, there was always someone worse off than he was. And then there wasn't.

In 1991, Gorman died in the hospital, but he was surrounded by friends, including his lover, Cornelius, who had cared tenderly for him through it all. There was one thing about AIDS: It rarely snuck up on anybody, and there had been time for Gourley to tell Don that he loved him and would miss him.

Still, it was a low point for Gourley. Don Gorman had loved life as much as anyone he had ever met. He'd done everything he could to stave off the disease, and it hadn't worked.

After Gourley got the phone call, the only thing he could think of was a line from a Studs Terkel book: Nobody's going to get out of here alive.


Gourley quit writing for publications. He just didn't have the heart for politics -- not for the movement, not for AIDS -- anymore. He felt numb. And he was realizing that this disease might wipe out his generation of gay men along with their hopes and dreams of winning a place for themselves in the world

There would be survivors like Harry Hay and John Burnside, who had been too old to hit the worst years of infection and had been in a monogamous relationship anyway. Important work was still being done by younger men like Will Roscoe, who, stimulated by his conversations with Hay, had published Zuni Man-Woman, a book regarding "third gender" people -- homosexuals -- in Native American culture. And there would be another generation of gay men. But AIDS had sapped this one's energy for trying to answer questions like "Who are we?" and "Does gay stand for something more than sexual preference?"

He tried writing to Hay about how the disease had drained him. But Harry and John were in their 80s, with health problems of their own. He could never get Hay to engage him on the subject.

In 1993, the clinic staff started keeping track of patients who had died by dedicating a wall to them back in the small room where they looked at X-rays, filled out the mounds of paperwork required by drug companies and government agencies and escaped, if only for a few minutes, from the desperation outside the room.

They or loved ones of the deceased wrote the names of the victims and the dates of their deaths on the wall. Some names were accompanied by newspaper obituaries; others were surrounded by colorful stickers of flowers, balloons and flags placed there by friends, families and lovers. More than a few were circled with a heart. By August 1994 the wall had more than 120 names on it. Most were men, but there were a few females, too: a 44-year-old homemaker who left a husband, two sons and a daughter; a young woman in her twenties whose boyfriend hung with her until the bitter end, signed her name to the wall and disappeared.

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Steve Jackson