International Writers Magazine: 1980's
am at home when the call finally comes. I have been marking papers
for two hours though my mind has not been on the task and I will
probably have to re-do them. I am suddenly reluctant to pick up
the phone because I know that I am not going to like what I hear.
There have been
too many calls from hospital corridors recently, too many friends suddenly
sick, too many coffins.
Perhaps it will be me next time. I have no way of knowing; it seems
to be able to strike out of the blue. I am beginning to think of it
as some sort of monster, the kind that haunts childrens dreams,
lurking in dark alleyways, leaping out to devour the unlucky.
Of course, I feel fine; have never been fitter in fact. They do say
happiness is good for you and I have never been happier than in the
last year, since I met Gerry. Love has given me a vitality that I didnt
have before: I am bursting with energy; I race up the five flights to
the science lab like a teenager; I laugh at the boys jokes, even
the awful ones they know Ive heard before; I smile into the stupid
faces of the simpering mothers rattling on about Johnnys prospects
for a scholarship because I know that when I leave it all behind and
go home my real life begins.
My one regret is that I cannot share my happiness. Not if I want to
keep my job. There are still people who, even in these apparently enlightened
80s, would be horrified to think they had been alone in a room with
me, or worse, left me in charge of their children, if they knew the
truth about the dashing bachelor about town.
I wonder what they will call this decade in years to come. Theres
been the first Royal wedding in years: Diana will become an icon, Im
sure; maybe theyll be the Adoring Eighties. Although I can think
of other titles: the Alarming Eighties, the Appalling Eighties, the
I-wish-it-would-all-go-away Eighties: the AIDS Eighties.
There used to be a slimming product called Aids, theyve taken
it off the shelves now. Not surprising really, I can imagine the shop
assistants face if you marched up to the counter in Boots and
asked for some Aids: there would be a stampede of terrified heterosexuals
trampling over each other to get to the door.
They called it GRID at first: Gay Related Immune Deficiency, though
now theyre realising it can get anyone, straight or gay, so it
has been renamed. Four little letters that sound so innocuous, but spell
out catastrophe. A I D S: All Inclusive Death Sentence.
I sat in a bar in Earls Court the other night, with Gerry. The
place was full, the Village People were booming out over the stereo,
people were dancing and the room was heaving with hot, sweating, straining
bodies. Suddenly I felt as though I was looking out on a vision of the
doomed, the desperate trying to pack in as much living as possible.
I felt sick. We went home and just lay in bed together, not speaking,
not even touching, just being close.
Theyve opened a new charity, the Terence Higgins Trust. I phoned
their help line but didnt give my name. In fact, I didnt
actually say anything at all: just sat there with my mouth open, realising
I didnt know how to begin to ask the question I most need the
answer to, namely: Am I okay? Is Gerry okay? Are we killing each other?
There is no way of knowing, no test to tell me if Ive got the
virus already in my blood. We just have to wait and see.
So I live my life as normally as possible: I go to work, I shop for
food and clothes, I ring my mother and even, occasionally, my aunt.
I avoid my siblings, though weve been all been doing that for
years, so nothing different there. I guess we all look at our lives
and can hardly believe the way theyve turned out. It is almost
unbearable to think back to our childhoods and the promise they seemed
to hold: to those golden days when no problem was too difficult for
four precocious kids and a dog to deal with. I laugh now at our naivety,
our pomposity, our utter certainty in the world and our place in it.
Oh God, how it has changed.
And so tonight, I sit at home, going through the motions, marking test
papers, my eye constantly on the clock, waiting for the phone to ring
and dreading that it will. He went to the doctor this morning; hes
had a cold for three weeks now and a cough that wont get better.
When he didnt come home after work, I knew something was wrong.
I wanted to ring, but until someone invents a walk-around phone, theres
no way of contacting someone if they decide to disappear for the day.
I missed supper, just sat at my desk as the sky darkened and pretended
to work. When, finally, it rang and I reached over to pick up the phone,
I knew it was him.
"Dick." His voice is shaking, he is crying.
"Gerry. Where are you?"
"I dont know. Ive been walking for hours. You dont
want me near you."
I am crying too, now. " Yes I do. Well face it together.
Just come home."
Holland Jan 2008
Claire is studying for her Masters in Creative Writing at the University
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