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Life Support: a group for people coping with life.
Other people joined the assembly held in a small room illuminated by a dinky orange light that flickered. There was the runner of the group who was trying to pay off his med-school bills named Paul, a young weight lifter named Steve, a pretty young girl bundled in thin dirty winter clothes that seemed to come from the dumpster behind a thrift store that was new to the meetings who introduced herself as Ali , a nervous woman with eleven packets of cigarettes in her purse named Pam, an eccentric male drag queen named Angel who was clutching the arm of a young man with only a vest to keep himself warm from the New York winter who had introduced himself as Tom Collins. They seemed quite a mixed-match group. They probably wouldn't even have associated with each other if it hadn't been one thing: HIV and AIDs. The only exception was some annoying kid with a camera who stepped in late. Mark.
Everyone partipating in the meeting of an HIV/AIDs support group known as Life Support were giving words of encouragement and discussing their problems. Friends who had shut the door on them, lovers who thought they were cheating, and the day they got the letter confirming that they were HIV+. Things like that. They all seemed very comforable with it was very wrong to him. When he learned that he had HIV/AIDs he went into a shock and denied it. That dosen't happen to people like him. He didn't do drugs or was promiscuous with either sex. There was no way he could have had it. It was impossible. His girlfriend during his stint at NYU didn't have it in a state of latency because she gave head a few times to a shortlived HIV+ boyfriend and was unlucky. That wasn't true. It wasn't possible. He couldn't belive that they were just accepting a catastrophe. They were also discussing letting go of past regrets, but he had a lot of them. He couldn't simply forget them.
"I kick myself everyday because of how mad I got at him. I never wanted to lose him," Pam said, referring to when she told her status to her ex-husband. "Life was just going my way. Now I can't work at the hospital because I don't want to infect people, the love of my life who could have got us by with his new promotion is gone, and I have two kids to raise. I just keep wishing I hadn't blown what he did out of proportion."
Angel put a hand on her knee. "He hit you and demanded that you give him your drugs and the name of the man you were sleeping with before you even explained how you got it. That's not okay at all and him hitting you and invading your privacy wasn't a new thing. It's for the best."
"I still regret it," Pam said.
"Part of the philosophy of Life Support is that you don't have to hold on to things you regret," Paul said.
"Excuse me Paul - I'm having a problem with this," Gordon began saying to the group leader. He then thought 'Maybe everyone else is not so damn emotional as I am. Or maybe they don't really have any regrets that they can't simply let go off and I'm just a screw up.' He began speaking again, taking a chance. "This credo," he said. "My T-cells are low, I regret that news, okay?" He said, his bitterness surfacing.
"Alright," Paul replied. "But Gordon- how do you feel today?" He asked.
"What do you mean?" Gordon asked back, confused.
"How do you feel today?" Paul repeated himself.
"Okay," Gordon replied casually, not really understanding the question.
"Is that all?" Paul asked, seemingly thinking that there was more to what Gordon's feelings were.
"Best I've felt all year," Gordon admitted under his breath.
"Then why choose fear?" Paul asked.
"I'm a New Yoker," Gordon said, having thought of what he viewed as a witty response. "Fear's my life." This made a light chuckle run throughout the group. "Look, I find some of what you teach suspect because I'm use to relying on intellect but I try to open up to what I don't know because reason says I should have died three years ago."
"What do I teach that's suspect?" Paul asked. "Letting go of past regrets?"
"More than that. That there is hope and that we can all make it through, even if life gave us crap like AIDs. That we can really forget regret and make amends with the people we've wronged. That all that matters is that we love ourselves; I can't do that. I'm a pretty pessimistic person, always thinking of the lowest possibility reasonable. You and all the people here are about hope, and I think it may be a may of viewing life that I need to adopt if I want to live. But it's not that easy," Gordon said. "I've had thoughts about throwing out my AZT or hanging myself because I don't want to hang on to scraps of a pathetic life, and that's how I feel I'm going."
"It's always better to be positive honey," Angel said.
"I just need to find ways how, and I can't. I'll try to though," Gordon said. "I want something to live for."
The man sitting next to him had breath that could kill a person and the one on the other side was a purse that a lady put to save for her boyfriend who she was willing was at the next stop who probably wasn't showing up. Gordon tugged at his jacket and wished, as he had many times before, that he didn't have to take the subway to get to Avenue B. But the distance and winter atmosphere forbade it.
At the next stop a pretty young girl bundled up in clothes she might have found in the dumpster of thrift store came in, looking for a seat.
"Hey Ali," Gordon said. "It's me, Gordon. From earlier."
"Oh yeah, hey."
Apparently his whiney seat neighbor's boyfriend came on at the same spot and she went up to have a heated disscussion with him. Gordon moved the purse to the woman's original seat and gestured for Ali to sit.
The two engaged in lively conversation that went across a great deal of subjects. He really enjoyed her company. She was an adorable girl with an amazing smile and great personality. He couldn't ponder how she got AIDs. All the people that he read about in pamphlets about STDs were pathetic, like himself, but she wasn't. She was young and beautiful, even if unusually pale and thin. She was the most extraordinary girl he'd ever met and when they got off at the same stop and split so they could go home, the answer to the question 'what do I have to live for?' was answered.
Ali didn't show for the next five bimonthly meetings.
Gordon couldn't concentrate on what the others were saying during the meetings because he wanted to know where she was. Why didn't she show? What was it that kept her? Did she not want to go? He left early at the sixth meeting, deciding it was pointless to stay there if he couldn't think of anything but the girl who left an impression on him.
Having an hour to spare, Gordon took a walk on the crowded streets. Some subconscious ambition made him go into the direction of the area where Ali had went on that encounter months ago. It was fortunate that he did because he saw a girl with a black eye and torn clothes running down the street, dizzy and disoriented.
"Ali!" Gordon cried when he recognized the rather depressing figure. He went and hugged her before she collapsed and ran to his apartment as fast as he could, carrying her. He ran up the fire escape- the elevator in his apartment seldom came when you wanted it to. He laid her on a table and went to see if the heater was working this week.
"Your boyfriend did this to you!" Gordon exclaimed, shocked and upset.
"Yeah," Ali said weakly. She didn't look at him in the eye and it seemed as if she was ashamed.
"He beats you?" Gordon said. The idea than anyone would want to beat such a beautiful and fragile creature as she, or anyone really, was uncomprehendable. It reminded him how despicable the human race was and how sickly it felt to belong to it.
Ali weakly nodded. Gordon tried to get her to explain why she was beat up but gave up. After some soup and tea, Ali fell asleep and eventually Gordon did too. When he woke up Ali was out of the apartment, no note or anything.
Gordon went to the next meeting, with the slightest home that he would see Ali there. He wanted to know if she was okay. Walking around her neighbourhood told him nothing. No one had heard of her. She could be anywhere in New York for all he knew.
When the group had assembled, Paul stood up.
"I would like a moment of silence in honour of someone who while attends this group infrequently but was a welcome spirit, Ali Gertz. Ali was found sick and disoriented around a womans shelter about a two days ago. She appears to be ill for reasons not disclosed to me. Let us have a moment of silence for Ali."
What Paul didn't know then was that Ali was disoriented was because she had been beaten by her boyfriend again. She had only stayed with him because he supplied her with the drugs she craved. She never took any medication for her condition because in her boyfriend's eyes AIDs didn't exist and eventually died of pneumonia. It would not have not happened if she didn't use the needle that eventually wore down her immune system years ago.
Gordon learned these things through a friend of his that volunteered at the shelter. He couldn't help but think that if she got her medicine she might have survived another year or more, and she could have if the power of her boyfriend of her and lack of education about AIDs. This prompted him to write pamphlets and speak at events, promoting AIDs awareness. However in Gordon's last two years before AIDs got the best of him, he couldn't help but wonder what might have been between him and Ali.