B y L i n d a B a y l e s s
NEGLECTING TO WEAR gloves, I gave Chip his two injections.
When I finished, he glared at me and gave me hell for going bare-handed.
"Don't take chances like that," Chip said. "Get sick and your life is over."
Chip had AIDS.
I didn't bother telling him gloves don't protect anyone against a needle puncture.
Chip lived with his religious mother in a mobile home park where his sickness had to remain a secret. She treated him well enough, but I don't think she and Chip ever had much conversation about what's on the mind of a man facing death.
I think they mostly talked about the weather.
As I prepared to leave after one of my visits, Chip put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Now you take care, dear." He often called me "dear."
I looked into his sad blue eyes and saw a man so wasted he resembled nothing so much as a skeleton vacuum-packed in skin.
What a mensch, that Chip, so near death and expressing concern for my well-being.
One of the times my car flaked out on me, I borrowed my friend's Volkswagen.
When Chip saw it, he let go his fantasies about having a little car like that--he could get out whenever he wanted. Chip and his mom didn't have a car.
After the day I drove over in the VW, Chip always asked when I'd bring it by again. He so wanted the freedom he might have with a car.
I would have liked seeing Chip move into his own apartment so he'd at least have the freedom to make his own friends.
So far as I knew, besides the people involved with Chip because of his disease, the only human contact he had came by way of his mother and her elderly friends.
In a place of his own, Chip might have found himself in a better position to have a pal over for coffee.
They could have told each other funny stories.
They could have told each other what scared them most.
They could have known someone understands the sorrow a young man feels when he must part with all his dreams for the future.
Chip was in line to receive housing from People With AIDS Coalition of Tucson (PACT), but they made him a low priority.
After all, Chip had a place to stay.
Some AIDS patients have no housing. People like Mike.
Diana, the home-care nurse who came up with the idea that our hospice should group all the AIDS patients under the care of one team of care-givers, knew Mike well. She and I went looking for him one day after Diana had tried to visit him and found he was "no longer at this address."
Diana knew his haunts, and, after asking a few people if they had seen a man with a big purple spot on his nose, we found him.
Mike had made a little nest for himself in a vacant office downtown.
PACT had too many homeless people like Mike who needed housing. Finding them a place to stay took precedence over relocating Chip.
One of the last days I saw Chip, he asked me to hug him.
Sorry I didn't think of it first, I held him in my arms and thought of a time when I held a young Inca dove in my hands.
It was fragile with nothing to spare.
As I held him, he said, "People forget how important this is."
I went to Chip's memorial mass a few weeks later. And it was there I realized how much our visits must have meant to him. Most of the people who attended had gray hair and could not know the cause of his death.
We from the AIDS community organizations were the closest thing this man had to friends.
If only I could have seen Chip one more time, I could have taken him for a ride in the VW.
I could have held him in my arms for a long, long time.
Linda Bayless is a home-care nurse employed by Carondelet Hospice and a graduate student working toward a journalism degree at the University of Arizona. Friday is World AIDS Day.
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