The End of My World as I Knew It
(And I didn’t feel fine)
It was 1987 and R.E.M.’s “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It” kept playing over and over in my head while I rushed another one of my friends to San Francisco General. Trying to comfort and do what I could, I frequently found myself either at the home of a sick or dying friend or visiting them at General. Not comprehending why I remained unscathed by HIV, I stayed stoic because my friends needed me to be strong. I held it in until I was alone. I would then cry for hours feeling the despair and devastation within.
My business was A Taste of Leather, established in 1967, a small leather shop which had a large customer base of people whom I had greeted for years. I remember their smiles and the laughter after a naughty joke or comment and just having interesting conversations with some really nice guys. Then one by one I wouldn’t see them and would be absolutely heartbroken to see their picture in the Bay Area Reporter’s Obituaries pages. I saw too many familiar faces in those weekly pages that I had known as my patrons.
There were days that I didn’t even want to leave my bed in the morning. I would dread to learn of the loss of another one of my friends and then go deliver some food to another friend who had fallen ill. Buy food, get medications, rush someone to General and sit and wait in the waiting room, rescue a friend who was sick and in an unsafe environment and bring them home to care for, and even pay someone’s rent, or pay for a friend to fly home to die with family. This was my life for years, a dreadful period. I felt it was my duty to do all I could and offer as much aid and comfort.
When my partner John fell ill in 1986, I began the mourning process, because I already knew the inevitable. After a wonderful fifteen-year relationship with John, he slipped away into the heavens on the night of October 31, 1993. I lost the best friend I ever had.
My business did not stand immune to the devastation, and we lost Grant, and then Eric and later Earl, Yusef and Vince to the disease. Eric was a sweet young guy in his late twenties, who worked for me and whom I allowed to live in the cottage in the rear of my business. He came in one day very sullen and sat down in the back patio with me. He said that he had just been told that he now had the virus. “I can’t believe that I could be dead in a few months,” he said to me. My heart sank. “You’ll be ok,” I said to cheer him up. Eric passed three months later.
It was an interval so dark that if you weren’t at ground zero, you wouldn’t be able to comprehend the horror of it. This was a war, with casualties on a daily basis. It wasn’t like someone died of AIDS-related complications a month or two apart. I saw my friends being killed off, several each day because nobody seemed in the least bit interested in stemming the tide or in finding a cure at the time. Let the faggots die was the sentiment of the government and the Christian Republicans.
To hold the hand of a friend who was passing away, so they knew that they were not alone, was both heartwrenching and an honor. Dying because of this terrible plague was bad enough, but to die all alone, that was horrific. To comfort someone in his last moments was a duty that I dreaded, but also cherished as a privilege.
In late 1989 my friend Mack confided that when it was his time, he wanted to be at home in his own bed. His wish was not granted. Because he had begged so loudly to leave, the hospital staff had bound his feet, and hands and placed tape over his mouth to stop his screaming. And that’s how I found him when I walked into his hospital room that dreadful day. I removed the tape from his mouth and he gasped, asking me to please take him home. I could only hold his hand, and tell him that he was going to be ok, that I would not leave. He passed several hours later. I’ve hated Kaiser Hospital ever since.
Since moving to San Francisco in 1981, Daralt owned A Taste of Leather from 1988 until it’s closure in 2010 and, after his heart attack and subsequent quadruple bypass surgery in 2017, he has taken up writing and music production.