Sunday, June 3, 2001
AIDS AT 20
Finding hope after the devastation
AIDS victim begins new life despite his
disease and the pain and loss it has brought to his life
Christopher Heredia from the S.F. Chronicle
Bob Lawrence remembers the dreadful phone call he got in the early 1980s from a friend telling him that a former roommate had died of what was then being called "gay pneumonia."
Lawrence, who had a wild sex life in the 1970s but was in a relationship at the time, mourned the loss of his friend. Then he wondered about himself.
"I'd been in a relationship over a year," Lawrence, 44, recalled in a recent interview in his apartment in Oakland. "Young gay couples who were in relationships six months to a year considered themselves safe.
"It was us versus them," Lawrence said. "We weren't going to get it."
The "them" were the club hoppers, the drug users, the flamboyant gay men and those who frequented the bathhouses.
He couldn't have been more wrong. The disease, by the mid-1980s, would wipe out dozens of his friends, from all walks of life.
Friends stopped showing up at Metropolitan Community Church in the Castro where Lawrence was a volunteer. Of those who did attend Sunday Mass, many had IV bottles or took communion in wheelchairs.
Lawrence for years resisted getting tested, even though he acknowledged he had probably put himself at risk.
In 1987, he finally got tested. Given his past behavior, he wasn't surprised the results came back positive.
Two years later, his partner of eight years, Ric Hand, was diagnosed with AIDS the same day of the Loma Prieta earthquake - Oct. 17, 1989. The couple began looking at life in the short term.
They agreed they would keep their HIV status a secret from their families until they were diagnosed with AIDS. Why worry them?
"When Ric was diagnosed with AIDS, it forced me to tell my family about me, " Lawrence said. "I was emotionally exhausted. It was hard to drop in their lap and still try to instill hope in them."
Losing his partner in October 1991 devastated Lawrence. The couple had bought a house in Vallejo, landscaped the yard and adorned the walls with mementos of their years together.
Despite the pain he has experienced - and the ups and downs of battling AIDS in his own life - Lawrence remains optimistic about his future.
He married the new love of his life, James Inman, last September. The couple just moved into a new home in Modesto, where they are slowly unpacking and figuring out what needs repainting. Lawrence stays busy helping out his church and is looking forward to continuing his hobbies - ceramics, photography and computers.
"Five years ago I could have hiked Glacier Point," he said with a laugh. "Now I can sit in a meadow and take pictures. I'm looking forward to getting going. My goal was to get to 2000. The emotional value of proposing to James at midnight on New Year's Eve 2000 was I made it here, dammit. I'm going to live."