Edward: She used to follow me around all the time. I was 15, she was 11, so I looked at her like a kid, like my little sister, and she became my best friend.
Andrea: We lived in the same neighborhood in New York. Long Island. I’ve always been in love with him, and he knows that. He remembers the first time I ever told him that I love him, he can tell you what street, he can tell you the corner we were on.
Edward: When she said it, it kinda shocked me. I didn’t know how to react to it…
Andrea: I think I was 12.
Edward: I still was lookin’ at her like a little kid. We never became intimate or anything, but as the years went on and we grew, the love grew, and I learned to depend on her. And my life had started falling down at that time, with the drugs and the drinking, but she always took care of me. She made sure I got home safely. She was just… there. I even got married, in ‘76.
Andrea: Not to me! But I was still there.
Edward: And then we went away, in ‘79.
Andrea: I was leaving New York and I was going to Texas. He became homeless, and I didn’t know. That wouldn’ta ever happened had I known his situation. That’s how we lost contact. ‘Til 2009.
Edward: I didn’t know where I was running to or running from – I was just running. I walked past a place and decided to get tested. I was really hooked on drugs, and I just kinda felt I probably had it anyway. I’ve been positive for 25 years.
Andrea: I had been looking for him since I left New York. Non-stop, I’d been looking for him. I found him on Facebook. I wrote him a message and I said, “Hey, you! Give me a call.” And I gave him my numbers. And then I had to go to work, I got up way early, checkin’ the computer, checkin’ the computer. I was like, “Crap! He’s probably one of these people that doesn’t even get on the computer except maybe once a week or something!” Then I saw the computer light up, and he was messaging me back saying, “I’m gonna call you later.” And I was messaging him back saying, “No. I can’t stand the anticipation.” And he called, and… history.
Edward: The first question after “Hello” was, “Are you married?”
Andrea: It was,”Where do you live?” And I told him….
Edward: “Are you comin’ here, or am I goin’ there?”
Andrea: And he said, “I can be there in so many hours if I drive.” I was living in Ohio at that time, and I moved here a few months later. For me, I always knew that if I ever found him again, wherever he was and whatever he was doing, wherever I was and whatever I was doing was gonna stop. I always knew that.
He disclosed to me immediately. And I said, “So? Whatever I need to know, you’ll teach me.” Although my friends are very supportive, there’s been a stigma. I’ve heard comments like, “You’re a better woman than me. There’s no way I’d be with somebody that’s got AIDS or, you know, yeah, that’s HIV positive.” That kinda stuff.
Edward: Stigma is just a word people put on you. When I was young, I was a young black guy so I was a “bad guy.“ I got older, I’m a “dope fiend.” Now, “He’s HIV.” Fuc– forget all that. It doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just labels that society has decided to put on stuff. If you don’t like me, cool. If you like me, cool. However, I got caught up in the stigma myself, being that I’ve worked in this field for so long. Unfortunately most of the trainings and conferences I go to are attended by a large population of the gay community. And so I get caught up in not wanting people to think that I’m gay. So when I walk I kinda stick my chest out or do something masculine, just so everyone can understand that I’m not.
Andrea: I get to help with that now, since I get to go along. But, um, yeah…
Edward: I’ve gotten better with it, but for a long time it was a major struggle for me, ‘cause, um, I guess you could say I was homophobic.
Andrea: Well, no, I mean, the era that we grew up in, most people didn’t run around openly gay. So, you know, so… it’s understandable. And then you’re a guy, so…
Edward: Two things: I love my culture, and I love my people. I mean, I have a deep, profound love for my people. And at these conferences and trainings? Most of the participants were black. Gay black men. To the outside world, people outside of that circle, you know, a lot of white people, I hated the way they looked at us, because… it’s just that some of them were so flamboyant, and they twichin’ and flippin’ and, you know, just, loud. And, for me, it wasn’t a good representation of the black population. I just wasn’t happy with it. And I found out, I really, I guess I was homophobic, like I said, and it just bothered the shit out of me. But I’ve learned to live with– I do better with it. Yeah. Pretty much. I got kissed by a man today.
Andrea: Yeah. He’s Uncle Ed to everybody. (laughs)
Edward: I’ve been pretty much self-sufficient most of my life. I don’t share with her enough– well, she says I don’t share enough about what’s going on with me medically, physically.
Andrea: Only because I want to be an integral part of what he’s going through. But he’s been letting me go to the doctor with him and stuff, so he’s getting better.
Edward: What I understand, and what I’m trying to help her understand is: my body is naturally aging. My immune system is getting naturally weaker. Things are just naturally progressing as my life goes on, so when you look at my age, plus the length of time I’ve been infected, it’s not surprising that my health is slowly declining. What we’re working on is for her to start accepting it like I’ve accepted it, and just go with it. It’s just slowly, you know, things are going wrong, little things inside the knees and the chest and the back and everythi–, just kinda squeakin’…
Andrea: It’s not a big deal to him, but it is to me. I get really scared when he gets a cold or whatever. And he’s so stoic, it’s ridiculous. But I still, after having lost contact with him for so long, I still can’t wrap my head around the thought that maybe he’ll leave here before me. I don’t want that. That’s really scary. I’m about to cry.
Edward: I have a quiet faith that whatever the outcome is going to be, okay, I keep reminding myself God’s in control of this and, um, His will be done, whatever it might be, whether I like it or not. We come from the school of thought, that whatever it is, it is what it is. Handle it.
Andrea: For me it’s more, I wasn’t able to be there through the things in his life that lead him here. And I’m just grateful to be here, to be able to see him through to the end. We live a normal life. We love each other, and we have problems like everybody else, and we get through ‘em like everybody else. I have a Type A personality. I have a panic disorder sometimes, things like that–
Edward: She’s crazy.
Andrea: (laughs) – and I’m afraid of a lot of things. The one thing that I know that makes me happy is love. And I would never trade that, and I would never be afraid of the vessel that gave me that love. So, it’s a no-brainer.
Edward: Always follow your heart. If you really love the person, don’t let the fear of HIV stop you from love.
Andrea: And grow old together. I like calling him “Grandpa.”
Edward: Calling her “Mabel” or somethin’. (both laugh)
Andrea: For me, just havin’ him around so that it becomes just as easy as breathing. Just, you know, I want to get so used to him that it’s like my favorite dress or something…