Boy, that’s a question we all ask ourselves throughout our lives. I truly thought that once you reach a certain age you eventually find out who you are but as I am aging I am beginning to think we are ever changing and therefor maybe we never really know..
Maybe who we are changes with each stage in life and then again, maybe we are always the same only with different thoughts and ideas. I had believed that over the last fourteen years I changed and for the better. I will admit and without any self pride, I have changed in many ways and I have changed for the better except for one of the most important parts of me that again, I believed I left behind and that is, living in fear. For many years I lived in fear and I don’t mean small fears I am talking paralyzing, life stopping fear.
I worked very hard to get through that and learned how to live again or so I thought. This past April my husband, the love of my life, my rock, my everything suffered a heart attack. Since then he’s been having issues that all lead back to his cardiac health and once again, I find myself, living in fear. Each day I walk around waiting for the other shoe to drop. Terrifying thoughts of my husband suddenly dying fill my thoughts throughout the day so much so, that they make me wince at times. Each day when I get up I make sure to get myself together as in put makeup on before I do anything else because what happens if I need to go to the hospital because something happens to him? I make sure to always have my bag filled with what I might need, always making sure to have a sweater at the ready if I have to rush out.
This I can tell is not easy and no way to live but the honest truth is, that while I may seem to others to be ‘doing fine’ inside I am absolutely twisted with fear and I really don’t know how to work on getting better this time. So it begs the question for me, do we really ever become who we want to be or do we just go through small changes here and there only to at some point find ourselves where we began?
A group advocating AIDS research marches down Fifth Avenue during the 14th annual Lesbian and Gay Pride parade in New York, June 27, 1983. This years parade is dedicated to victims of the incurable disease AIDS which primarily afflicts homosexual men. (AP Photo/Mario Suriani)
It was the 80’s and I was a teenager. All of eighteen when I learned of AIDS. I know it had been around before that but as a teenager who ran fast with a fast crowd we didn’t exactly pay attention to the news. In 1988 I was working full time for an upscale auto collision shop in New Jersey. More and more AIDS was being brought to the forefront as was the hysteria surrounding it and in all honesty , it was frightening. At the time I didn’t know anyone who had AIDS but that was about to change.
One day a customer came in who happened to be the daughter of one of our biggest accounts. She had an auto wreck and needed her car fixed she also, had AIDS. Thats when the AIDS fear entered my life. No one in the shop would get in her car to get her insurance information out of it because she had bled in the car and everyone was afraid. I admit, at first I was a bit afraid myself but that night I went home and decided to do some research and learn more and so I did..
Next morning I tried in vain to educate everyone in the office and the shop that they had nothing to fear that once “it dries it dies” but my words fell on deaf ears. Finally I got so angry I called every male in the place (I worked with 15 men) a pansy ass and went into the car and got the information myself. Well, you would have thought I was going into an unknown world. They all stared at me like I was insane.. To their surprise. I survived, the car was fixed and me and Doretta (yes that was her name) became friends.
Fast Forward a few years and I got sick with Lyme Disease. By 1994 I was too sick to work but I was also full of anxiety and frustrated to no end sitting home all the time sick and in pain just staring at the TV. Someone suggested that I should try volunteering to see what I could actually get my body to do. I did just that and I picked a soup kitchen dedicated to AIDS patients at a church about twenty minutes from my home. I went two times a week for about a month when my body decided it had enough.
I will tell you though, those two months were the most rewarding two months of my life. I got to meet these people that others were so afraid of. Turns out with education and compassion there is nothing to be afraid of. I got to see life through their eyes. I remember a woman who would come twice a week on my days and she was very sick. She didn’t have long to live. I would arrive and there she’d be sitting in her chair with her IV pole usually alone reading a book. We would exchange a smile or two when I served her a meal and finally one day I sat down and we began to talk. I never asked her how she contracted AIDS because it didn’t matter.. She was no different from me except that she was dying faster than I. I don’t know if I brought anything to the days she had left but she had given me a gift that has lasted these twenty some odd years and will until its my time to leave this earth. She allowed me to know her, to be kind to her and to be a friend to her. I will never forget her or her beautiful smile.
I will be forever grateful for my time in that soup kitchen and if I am ever able to volunteer again I would do it all over the same way.