Chapter Twelve

Crucifixion and Resurrection


Things happened in blurs around me.

I came to see that I would live my life in very small bits, little pieces of time. One day at a time. Not the TV show, a way of life.

Paul said, “whatever works.”

My horizon being so low, it was almost a surprise when June 1984 came and there I was on the stage, graduating. Both of my fathers were there, and I didn’t stop the Colonel when he went to hug me.

We had a little party afterward, all of our friends, family, Paul and Brandt’s friends, lots of people, I was surprised how many were crowded into the condo that day, and I was the guest of honor officially, and I had a speech to make.

“Some of you know about my past, and some of you don’t. I won’t burden you with it today.

“What is important, is that I would not be here if it were not for Paul. I would be dead somewhere, and he knows it too. Dead in my soul and probably just dead.”

I was shaking and trying in vain to keep my voice steady.

“So for you, father Paul, I want to recite a poem. I didn’t write it, you may recognize it. But the fact that I can say this is because of you, most of all:


“Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.


“In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.


“Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.


“It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.”*

[* Invictus, William Ernest Henley ]


Funny thing. The Colonel was the one who cried.


I had some pretty big worries for the future.

Immediately I needed to study for my boards, so I could get my R.N. license, I’d loved my clinicals, and couldn’t wait to get to work, but had to take and pass the boards first.

Things were looking pretty bad in the gay world just then. People in Chicago were starting to show up with this AIDS and the mortality rate was looking dismal. Some were saying it was going to be 100%.

At Nursing school the curriculum pretended all nurses were straight, but there was a pretty active Gay Student Union, and half the male nursing students belonged to it. We got proactive about things, started networking. Just about the time I graduated we found a group in New York that published guidelines on how to have healthy sex.

I started making Mats wear condoms, and on the rare occasions I fucked him I used them too.

Mostly I was being good, I was getting better at it, and I was still seeing Mary Beth twice a week, it was . . . interesting what I came up.

I decided that I was going to have to learn to live with one sick puppy for a very long time. This just wasn’t going to go away, I could see that I would have to work on my a-dick-shun all my life. That was depressing.

The more I read about AIDS, the more worried I got.

One day at a time.

My license came through, I quit my temp job as a Nursing Assistant, and went to work at Mercy Hospital for a while. I loved it I volunteered to work the Gerontology wards, I loved the old people there, they were so calming for me.

They were all wonderful patients. Some of them were so wise and happy, despite the horrible stuff that was happening to their bodies. Some were nasty, bitter, angry, whiners, but I liked them too. They’d earned the right. Most of them were pretty helpless and I figured it was a privilege to be able to help them.

It really helped, in the strangest way, to fill up that hole.

I did about six months there and then went to the University of Chicago Hospital, because they were doing work with people with the AIDS syndrome. It was not as rewarding at first, but it became important to me because there were actually doctors and nurses who refused to enter the rooms of people who might have it.

And many of these men realized in time that they were going to die, most of them died, pretty quickly. But it was not just sad and frustrating and painful, sometimes it was so uplifting. There is a serenity that comes over some people before they die, and they see the important things, and every contact you have with them becomes profound, a religious experience.

Paul said it may be that this was what God put me here for. He said my pain made me a better nurse to them.


Mats was buried in his music, but things were going pretty well for him, he had one more year and figured he’d take a graduate program too.

We were getting worried about his immigration status once his student visa expired. There were a lot of problems for gay couples to begin with though being a recognized performing artist would probably have made his chances of getting permanent residence a lot better.

We actually had not decided what we would do when he graduated, I could see us going back to A-Dam, I missed it sometimes, I still wrote to the Dykes now and then, Mats would write the letters in Dutch for me. They read English well enough, it was just a courtesy.

And this AIDS thing was stirring up a lot of shit politically, there was talk of banning gay people from immigrating, or even visiting.

One day at a time, Will.

In March they announced that they were ready to provide testing for the disease. It was a decision point for me. I figured if anybody had it, I did.. The evidence showed a long dormant period was common, if not universal, as much as ten years  I debated being tested.

Mats was vehement, I’d never seen him so excited.

“No, Will, you do not need this test, what will it do for us?  There is nothing to treat this if you do have it, or if I have it either. So what is the point? What will we do except worry?”

“Mats, still it would be good to know.”

“Then some nazis will maybe come and take you away because now they will know if you do, and if you do not, then maybe they will come anyway.” I had rarely seen him so angry. Well, he wasn’t American, didn’t understand the difference between the posturing and the reality. I figured Nazi meant something in Holland. I thought of the brothers he had lost before he was born.

So I put it off.

I was being pretty good, and when I slipped, and it was gratifyingly rare, not even once a month, I still had the presence of mind to have a condom with me.

I was not going to pass this around to anyone, I was a health professional. Then I realized what that really meant, I needed to know because I couldn’t risk passing it to patients accidentally, I need to know for my own peace.

There was a Gay Men’s Health Coalition chapter in Chicago by this time, and I was working there as a volunteer, my nursing degree was a big plus but there were a lot of professionals there. Testing was voluntary despite the ravings in Washington, and completely confidential, untraceable.

I didn’t tell Mats.

I got the results two weeks after Rock Hudson announced he had it.


With the boy out of school, they were talking about moving out of the condo, but both Brandt and I talked them out of it. Financially they still needed help, the location was important too, it was close to Will’s work and to Matteus’ school. But I could see my little bird would fly the nest one day not too far off.

I changed jobs again, took a management position with a medical device company, started travelling a lot myself, so with both Brandt and I being gone rather often, it was actually a good thing to have the place looked after.

I knew Will was worried about whether he had this HIV; I was just as concerned, and Matteus came to talk to me about it several times, just seeking some moral support, not wanting to burden Will with his fears.

Then Will came one day, went into the room with Matteus, closed the door and they stayed in there for hours, it was obvious they were making up for lost time, Matteus missed two classes.




Well, I never expected it but there it was.


You’d have thought I would be overjoyed, and I was certainly happy, we celebrated with a long afternoon of fucking. I still used condoms, though, I wasn’t sure I was going to trust this test. Just in case, you know.

I was encountering every day, at work, at the center, when we went out and tried to go clubbing – something that rarely worked since no bouncer would let Mats in the door of a bar – people who had it.

And I thought God was playing a little joke on me, of all the people on this Earth to not have it, I was the least worthy. I didn’t know just then how big a joker He was.

I started to talk with Mary Beth about it. Seemed like everything that happened, good or bad, I couldn’t really handle on my own.

“Will, you have a lot of work to do, a lot of years of damage to repair.”

“I promise you Will, that it won’t always be that way. It takes a long time for people to come to believe in their own worthiness, especially people who’ve taken the kind of beating you did in life.”

One day at a time.


And then it was another year behind me, and I began to work exclusively with AIDS patients, we called them PWA’s now, and volunteering to do outreach for prevention.

I used to go down to places where the hustlers would hang out, Halstead and Clark streets, to hand out information, condoms. I was better than most of the outreach workers, because I understood our clientele there. My coworkers did not know of my past, but the street boys got to like me, opened up for me. They knew I wasn’t judging them, and once in a while I got one of them to do something good for themselves.

But I wasn’t foolish, I was no Paul to be able to work his magic and save their lives as he had saved mine. I just hoped here and there I could do a little good.

In January, Mats got his Bachelor of Fine Arts and did a concert performance as part of his final requirements, it was stunning, he played a Rachmaninoff piece, supposed to be one of the most difficult piano pieces there was. I could not judge, but the ovation was incredible and I’d nearly messed my pants just listening. It was recorded and I nearly wore out that tape. He looked beautiful in that tuxedo. Tiny, but gorgeous.

He started on his Master’s degree, concentrating on preparation for another performance. And he was doing visiting performances with smaller symphonies.

That summer of 1986 we took a vacation, went to California, the scene of the crime.

I took Mats to Disneyland, remembering that day with Jesse, wondering what had ever become of him. Wanted to introduce Mats to him. Even wondered about Kent and Gary, with much less affection but some compassion. I had grown up a lot.

The trip was good for us both, but Mats was very tired, he’d pushed himself hard to finish school in three and one half years, and the concert work was incredibly draining. He got a cold while we were there and it lingered for weeks.

When we got back to Chicago he didn’t get a lot better and I was at work when he called me.

“Will, I am not to worry you about this, but the doctor is saying I must go to the hospital.”

He had pneumonia.

And a sick feeling ran up from my testicles into my heart.


People ask me sometimes why I did it, why I took Will into my life, kept him there, paid such a price. I have no answer, I have every answer.

I did it because my parents loved me and taught me how to love and he needed love, deserved it. And the more badly he behaved, the more I knew he needed it. I did it because he was there and needed me.

I did it because I was created to be of value to others.

I did it because I became his father and he knew it, well before either of us could see it or say it.

I did it because it was God’s will, and my destiny. I was always meant to be a father, his father.

Perhaps I did it because I needed a son to mourn my passing; to carry on my memory; to share my love with others after I left.

I did it because.

I did it.


 It went so quickly.

God forgive me, I think it was a blessing. Matteus lasted less than six weeks. I guess he was just smaller and more fragile than most.


In the end Will was no sacrifice for me, the price of giving up places and people for a while was small. But the price of love is always pain, and there was to be more pain, for me, for Will. All love ends, at least with death.

And that was my only regret. I was deeply troubled for Will’s pain was not to end with Matteus.

I had spots on my legs.

We knew of course, but both Brandt and I went for testing to be sure.



GOD, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.


In two years I lost them all.



The Colonel told me it was “sad,” but I could read his real language. Sad?  It was devastating.

He didn’t display it for anyone, not even me, but my husband had become very attached to these men. He too had accepted Matteus as a third son, and this loss struck as deeply as anything other than losing Will could. I knew at times he was put off by Mats’ feminine demeanor, his soft nature, but he also understood the sweetness, gentleness, and fathomed for once his son’s attractions. No, I don’t suggest he shared them, but this was, perversely, something he could understand. In any event he never doubted Matteus’ goodness, nor what a positive effect he had on Will, and that was all that mattered to him.

We had both come to prize Brandt’s eccentric sense of humor and his ability to speak engagingly and substantively on any issue. I knew, and we both grieved for Paul’s incredible dual pain.

And then, Paul.

Thomas understood Paul, related to him in a way I could barely grasp. He had shared his fatherhood with him, something men just don’t do. Shared the love of his son with him. They had a rare, perhaps an unheard of bond.

If the Colonel was in pain, my lot was no better.

Paul had saved my son’s life. Matteus was my son-in-law. I loved them both.

And under it all, of course, we shared a vast reservoir of fear. Fear about whether Will would survive this, could survive it. He did not have the disease, but we feared it would kill him anyway.




It had not ever occurred to me, but Mats was not a virgin when I met him. I know I was as faithful to him as I could be, and given the incubation time for this disease, I don’t have any reason to think he’d ever cheated on me. Not that I’d have any right to complain. Not that that would matter to me now.

But God was a cruel trickster to do this.

He went softly, smiling at me, telling me, “Please, Will, for me do not be too sad. For me keep to your one day at a time, I will be happy for you if you do.”

I was with each of them, to the end. With Mats, his parents flew over but arrived too late. They took it with the resolve people of that age often show, but they had to be utterly destroyed to have seen all of their beautiful sons die before them.

Paul got me through that, helped me heal up enough before he told me the rest of the bad news. After Mats I thought it couldn’t get worse, and Brandt was hard enough, I had come to feel very strongly for him, but…

Everyone’s father dies. “And no parent wants to outlive their child.”

Paul lingered for days, delirious. I slept at the hospital, lived in a chair by his bed just as he had for me so long ago. And when he went he didn’t have that last lucid moment; didn’t recognize me at all.

It was a gloomy fall day in 1988. I was almost twenty-eight years old. I was so drained. I was so exhausted. I could hardly move.

I was a fly stuck in amber.

The funeral was three days later.


Father took me to his home afterward, after we laid him to rest next to Brandt and Mats.

He tucked me into his own bed, and he kissed me on the forehead. And he whispered in my ear, as he lay down next to me and wrapped me in his arms,  “I love you son.”


I didn’t see much of the old man growing up and was looking everywhere for my dad. I found him here, lying in my father’s bed, in his arms. I had always had what I was looking for, after all those men, all those years, I had always had it, I just had not known it.


I had my Father’s Love.




I Am Not Paul

Paul is the ideal me, of course; the me I might honestly strive to be.  I have done some of the things Paul did.  But I am much weaker, he is much wiser.

While Paul sleeps with his troubled boy, chastely, I threw Will out of my bed, offended that he seemed to want sex from everyone I knew, but from me he wanted only affection, tenderness, care, safety. 

He saw the father in me when I did not.

I did not see the compliment; I was not ready to take up that burden.

Many have commented on the need for more Pauls.  Many know such people are God’s angels, saving those they may, compelled by forces not understood by anyone, including them, to make one more effort, one more sacrifice, heal one more soul.

In that I am Paul.  I have many sins to atone for, and a tiny, precious handful of lives I’ve made better.  God will, I hope, not weigh the scale too finely, judge me too harshly.  I pray that God understands how truly flawed his creatures are, and judges us not by our failures but by our efforts to be better.

I did finally take up the burden. There was a ‘Will’ who was a real person, I knew him briefly. This is probably not his real story. But Will exists today, in many places, ages, forms.  His pain is real.

For those who profess ‘boy love,’ I accept there can be a higher reality, but this tale should be cautionary, this is what can be.  Try Paul’s way.


December 31, 1988 

·         106,994 cases of AIDS have been diagnosed in the United States; 62,101 are dead.


December 31, 1999

·         733,374 cases of AIDS have been diagnosed in the United States; 430,441are dead.



·         412,471 Americans are estimated to be living with full-blown AIDS; and
650-900,000 altogether are infected with HIV. 

·         AIDS is the fifth leading cause of death among Americans aged 25 – 44,
and the ninth leading cause of death among Americans aged 15 – 24   

·         Worldwide, there are over 35 million infected with HIV and at least nineteen million who have died.

2010 Worldwide

·         People living with HIV/AIDS                              34 million

·         Proportion of adults living with HIV/AIDS are women  50%

·         Children living with HIV/AIDS in 2010              3.4 million 

·         People newly infected with HIV in 2010                         2.7 million

·         Children newly infected with HIV in 2010         390,000 

·         AIDS deaths in 2010                                            1.8 million


1.2 million people are living with HIV in the United States of America, with a fifth unaware of their status. Since the epidemic began, an estimated 1,129,127 people in the USA have been diagnosed with AIDS.1

During 2010:
- 47,129 people were diagnosed with HIV infection in the 46 states which report diagnoses.
- 33,015 people throughout the USA were diagnosed with AIDS.