Longform

THE END OF THE LINE

Page 5 of 5

"I didn't want you to see me like this," Vern told Ric. "I wanted you to remember me the way I was."
"This is part of you, too," Ric said, putting his arm around his friend's shoulders and promising to stick with him to the end.

It came quickly. For the last nine days of his life Vern was able to breathe only with the aid of a ventilator as the pneumocystis bacteria filled his lungs, suffocating him. It was obvious to Ric that fighting the disease was only prolonging the older man's agony.

"I'm going to miss you, Vern," Ric told his friend as the ventilator clicked mechanically in the background. "But it's okay to let go." The two men hugged and cried. Vern died that night.

As he wept alone in his bed, Ric now had a face, a voice, a memory to attach to the growing list of AIDS victims. It made the disease much more terrifying.

When the CDC released its newest statistics in April 1984, Vern's death was included in the tally: a total of 4,177 cases of AIDS, 1,807 of them fatal. That same month U.S. Department of Health Secretary Margaret Heckler made it official: AIDS was a blood-borne virus that could be transmitted through sex.

By then the Colorado AIDS Project was already two years old. Founded in 1982 by Julian Rush, a former minister who was ousted by his congregation when he announced he was gay, CAP had become a national leader in providing services to people living with HIV. But even as CAP worked to serve and educate the gay community, many of its members ignored the message.

Despite the horrors of AIDS, Ric and his friends clung desperately to their lifestyle. They decided that reduced exposure would keep them safe. So they still went to the bathhouses--just not as often. They still had sex with strangers--just not as many. They still refused to wear condoms. And they still were dying.

They circled the wagons and withdrew into groups of "fuck buddies," believing there was safety in smaller numbers. The deaths didn't stop. It wasn't until 1985, shortly after the Ballpark closed, that Ric Games began using condoms and refusing to have sex with anyone who didn't.

But it was too late.

end of part 1

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Steve Jackson