Linda: I look at him how he was, and I look at him now, I feel so bad. Because I remember the vibrant Thomas, you know, not the Thomas that can’t hardly get up. He’s all skin and bones, and it hurts me just to see how skinny he is.
Thomas: I’m thinking I’m one way, but I see somebody else in the mirror.
Linda: He’s ahead of the game ’cause he still got life. Think about all the people that’s not here, that had the disease. There was a group of us that used to hang out together, used to get high together, about 50 of them. They’re all gone, they’re all dead. ALL of them. We are the only two left.
Thomas: Each and every individual was HIV-positive. By the grace of God, she never got infected. We shared needles back and forth, and she used infected needles.
Linda: ‘Cause we been together 36 years. So we did everything together. We found out in 1990 that he was positive. And he was doing great. We didn’t think that he would waste away like we had seen other people. How they got thin, real thin, and they looked like skeletons with just skin over them. We never thought, not even in our wildest dreams, that it would happen to him.
Thomas: The same people that I seen that got all skinny and everything, right after that they died.
Linda: I thought that only happened to people that was, like, homeless, or wasn’t taking care of themselves, wasn’t eating or sleeping proper… It didn’t really hit either one of us how bad the disease was, because he was still full of pep, getting around and everything….
So then year before last he started getting sick. He had pneumonia. And we thought that was it. But then he started staying sick. They said that he needed heart surgery, this was last year. And when he went for the surgery, his kidneys failed. So they had to put him on dialysis. He’s never been able to bounce back.
Thomas: The doctor told me back in 1990, he said, “At the end, it’ll attack your organs.” My kidneys are gone, my liver is shot. And my heart ain’t worth two cents. I’m walking around with artificial valves, and you know…. I’m pieced all together. All of this stems from the HIV. And I been to the hospital so many times, I know everybody on a first name basis. But I go on, and I say I take one day at a time, but each day go past, it gets worse instead of better.
Everybody thinks that it’ll happen to the other guy. You gotta start thinking—you are the other guy. To somebody else you’re the other guy. And I thought that and then you see where it got me.
Linda: We’re living it. And it’s hard, you know, because Thomas and I was separated at the time, when we found out he was HIV. And I said, well that is my husband, and I owe it to him to help him when he’s down, because when I was down he helped me.
Thomas: How you think my wife feel, and my kids feel, seeing me sitting here just wasting away? Not even eight months ago, I was 190 pounds. Now, I’m 140 pounds.
Linda: I gotta be the strong one now. He used to be so frustrated, he used to cry. He says, “I’m used to doing things by myself, I’m used to being a man, you know.” He says, “I can’t even protect you any more.” And that bothers him, and of course that bothers me. But we in this together, so, whatever happens…
Thomas: We don’t holler—we don’t argue or holler. One day she was angry, she’s arguing with me. So I said: “Why you got such a attitude? Why you acting like that?” She don’t wanna say nothing. So I kept pursuing. And then she said, “I’m really angry because you’re gonna leave me, and there’s nothing I can do.”
And I’m trying to take me as being a regular person, I’m in a fantasy land for a second, then I come back to reality, it’s that I’m doomed, you know.
Linda: And my aunt had told me, she said, “Linda, you know it’s not easy to sit back and watch somebody die.” I said, “Oh, I can handle it, you know.” But, it’s affecting me too. I got this depression that I can’t get out of.
Thomas: Sometime I sit down here and I look at her and I be thinking, “What is she gonna do when I’m gone? How will she survive?” It’s that she’ll go through the tunnel, but I’ll never make it. She’s just trying to make it comfortable for me. And I appreciate that, but…
Linda: That’s my job as your wife.
Thomas: Yeah, I appreciate you. Because this is a ugly death. It’s like somebody, every day you wake up, somebody chopping a little piece off your body. Somebody chopping another little piece. At the end, you ain’t got no more pieces left. And I’m coming to the end. And I know what’s gonna happen: I have like a day dream, I have seen myself laying there in the funeral parlor.
But I can’t really complain, because I had, like, 16 years. I thank God to keep me around all that time. And I got a good life, a good wife, grandkids, kids, you know, but I mean, nobody wants to die.