In an Instant
Part V of an Ongoing Chronicle of the First Fifteen Years of the AIDS Pandemic
by Bruce Ward
That evening in Honolulu progressed as my All-American military hero and I went together to the only after-hours club, near the bars, and only two blocks from where my parents slept in their condo on Ala Wai Boulevard, blissfully unaware of their son’s depravity.
We closed the bar, and the next thing I knew I was giving my warrior a 45-minute blowjob in his Jeep, hurtling 100 miles an hour down a dark, deserted highway at four o’clock in the morning. His dick perfectly matched the rest of the perfect him, and neither of us cared about the possibility of an accident, which was highly possible, going 100 miles an hour, under the influence of considerable alcohol and cocaine.
My mind flashed momentarily to John Irving’s The World According to Garp: The image of an eviscerated blood-soaked member dangling from my mouth as the emergency crew jimmied us from the wreckage.
But the jeep miraculously came to a halt and we disengaged. Pitch black. Where the hell were we? We entered his hut.
The whole night had led up to this. The whole month of July had led up to this one night. A month of flirting, aching, teasing, stealing secret deep kisses when we were supposed to be watching a slideshow, of all things, at a local’s house.
A month hot for each other in hot Honolulu.
I asked him to use a condom. I assumed he would have a condom. Why I assumed this, I don’t know. I did not have a condom. But, no. No condom.
It was 1984. Even though a virus had not yet been identified, I had been practicing “safe sex” in New York for at least a year, right from the beginning, when it was called GRID and “gay plague.” I had been a Buddy, for God’s sake, I saw what it looked like. Friends of friends had started dying and it was getting closer to home.
But I was in Hawaii now. Far from the dangerous metropolitan leather-wearing, popper-inhaling, bathhouse-cruising pleasure-seeking gay lifestyle in New York and San Francisco. Far from danger. And who was I to resist? This was my swaggering, bisexual, dream-soldier from Oklahoma or wherever, the fantasy of every hot-blooded gay man, and the embodiment of physical virility and health. It had taken a month to get to this point. And this would be my very last chance.
I was conscious of it all, conscious of my desire, conscious of the risk, aware of his body on top of me, as if I were floating above myself, observing the moment when my life would change.
He promised he would retreat before the cannon was discharged. Promises don’t mean much on the battlefield, especially when you’re high on coke and a bit drunk and it’s 4 a.m. and you’ve got the man of your dreams, your fantasy man, your big brother, your protector, your hero, in bed with you, inside you, and you’re as fervent and primitive as two wild boars, and you want to say, “Stop,” “No,” but you don’t because it is too much ecstasy, too much unadulterated joy, it is too much of what has been lacking, of what has been stolen from you for so many years, of what everyone and everything has told you your entire life: that you’re not good enough, that this is bad, that sex is bad, that feeling good is bad, that you are not worthy of happiness.
And tonight is the night. This is the night you have been waiting for.
And he pretends to withdraw. But I know. I know. I know from the quickness of the breath and from the little short grunts that he tries to hide. I know that he has not withdrawn. The artillery has been discharged, the troops have invaded, and the enemy is within. Sir.
We lay there, heaving and gasping, fully spent, and I tell myself it’s just this one time, the man is straight, the man is bi, the man is a top, the man is going back to Missouri or where the fuck ever and getting married. There is nothing to be worried about. It is just this one time that I have slipped. Just this once. And I will go back to Manhattan and I will rubberize for the rest of my life, I swear to God.
And I am in rapture. And we lie in each other’s arms. And I fall into a very deep sleep.
When I awoke late the next morning, I was alone in the hut, with some dim recollection of the previous evening/morning’s activities. I slung on my faded 501 jeans and ambled outdoors to discover my soldier talking to a fellow comrade, fixing a truck. If my partner-in-crime was the least bit apprehensive or nervous about his friend seeing a strange, dazed man exiting his tent/shack, half-dressed, he made no appearance of it.
The sun was shining, just the right amount of breeze was in the air, not a cloud on the horizon, the birds were singing. It was perfect. Just another day in Paradise.
Six days after the only “unsafe” encounter in which I had engaged since the epidemic began, I came down with every single symptom attributed to post-infection: night sweats, dehydration, high fevers, extreme fatigue, dizziness, nausea. and diarrhea. It occurred suddenly and violently. I could not eat. I could hardly lift my head off the pillow. One pea-sized ball appeared in a lymph gland on the left side of my neck, and it remained there for two years.
Want to start from the beginning? Link to the first column: https://aumag.org/2020/05/25/last-dance/.
Bruce Ward is A&U’s Drama Editor, and he has been writing about the AIDS epidemic since its inception. His plays, Lazarus Syndrome and Decade: Life in the ’80s, have been produced throughout the U.S. Bruce was the original Director of the CDC National AIDS Hotline, and he was honored by POZ magazine as one of 2015’s POZ 100. You may follow him at: bdwardbos.wordpress.com.