Not better than a pimp…
During the summer of 1987, some drastic things happened to me.
I received a scholarship, so I could go to the US to interview people with AIDS, and that made me contact several organisations in New York and San Francisco, like People With AIDS Coalition in New York and SHANTI in San Francisco.
My mother died suddenly on June 30th, and although expected since childhood because of her substance abuse, it was shocking when it actually happened, and I was quite out of it for a while. But work has always helped me, so I concentrated on the upcoming journey. My mother was a journalist, so I pretended that we now worked together, and I constantly talked to her.
I worked in a graveyard in 1986, so when problems occurred with my mother´s ashes, I didn´t hesitate to pick her up at a crematorium (in a forest – that was creepy!) and spread the ashes myself. The wind twisted and turned while I was doing it, so I came away from that experience with ashes actually all over me.
I came to the US with a Letter of Recommendation from RFSL, the gay movement in Sweden, and names of people I had been told to contact.
I had already made contact with Missionaries of Charity that had a hospice in Greenwich Village for people with AIDS, Gift of Love, and Bailey House that helped people with AIDS on low income – they still do. I had also contacted Hale House in Harlem, because I really wanted to meet Mother Hale, who took in babies with AIDS.
Visiting New York turned out to be rather overwhelming. I was not prepared for what was to happen. What I will write about took place during two or three days.
Meeting Mother Hale, or Clara McBride Hale, was very nice. She was rather old then, born 1905, and she did not say much, but I was happy to have met this good person, who took in more than 1000 children until her health declined. Unwanted children, crack babies, children with HIV/AIDS. When praised, even by President Reagan, she said that she just loved children.
I was shown the day care center, and she told me that they did not test the children for HIV, they just assumed that they had the virus, because their parents were either sick or dead.
She introduced me to her daughter, Dr. Lorraine Hale who was a co founder of Hale House, and also worked there. She really surprised me, when I told her about my work, and what I wanted to do, by asking, as in disbelief: Do you touch them?!
To this day I wonder, if it was so dangerous, how she could let her mother do the work she did?
There is a lot to tell about Dr Hale and what happened after the death of Mother Hale in 1992, but this is not the place. One can Google about it.
I had been in contact with Mother Superior at Gift of Love in Greenwich Village, and I was invited to visit, but when I came there I was stopped just inside the door, by a very angry nun. Who was I? What did I want?
Mother Superior was out of town, and I could not prove we had been in contact, so I just had to leave.
Sal Licata, a well known AIDS activist in New York told me about Gift of Love. He said it was actually an alternative prison for people with AIDS. They lived and died there.
I should write something about the people I write about. So many of them have died, and I would forever be writing the late Sal Licata, the late … so I have decided not do that, their passing will come up eventually.
A more positive visit was at the office of People With AIDS Coalition. They had a little house in a garden, and I spent some hours there, helping out by folding papers and putting them into envelopes, and then I watched a makeup artist teach a man with AIDS how to cover the Kaposis Sarcoma lesions on this face.
I was invited to visit a hospital in the Bronx, The Albert Einstein Medical Center, where they treated children with AIDS. The nurse that had invited me was very serious when I came. I had to leave all my belongings in her locker, and she searched me, to make sure I did not bring a camera with me.
I was to meet a child with AIDS, and she brought me in to a rather dark room, where a little black boy sat alone in a crib. I do not know if that was where he slept, or if he was placed there for me to see him.
The suspicion that I had a camera stashed away somewhere on me, was palpable, but I didn´t.
It is only for my inner eye, that I still see this little boy, alone in the crib.
I don´t remember if I touched him, I really hope I did, I just remember him standing up in the crib, wanting to have contact. It was the saddest moment.
The nurse told me that the children in the ward had never lived anywhere else. One good thing had happened, and that was that they had been given a van, so they could take the children out on trips.
My final meeting in New York, was at Bailey House in Greenwich Village. I was told that they took in people with AIDS on low income.
I had booked a meeting with a man called Dave.
I introduced my self and my idea and asked if he could help me meet someone with AIDS, to interview. But, his reaction to what I said was dramatic.
No, he told me. Nothing I said was true. He angrily told me that I was a user, and that he would not be better than a pimp, if he helped me, and I better be on my way. Trying to reason with him, was impossible.
I somehow managed to get out of that office, in tears, and after all this, I knew I would not be able to do any work in New York.
But why did all this happen?
The press had been trying aggressively to get glimpses of people with AIDS, even children with AIDS.
Sal Licata told me that People Magazine had lured a woman with AIDS, at Bailey House, and had taken photos of her in the bath etcetera. And there had probably been other things happening.
But this was the final straw for me, and I left for San Francisco, thinking it might be different there.
Before I left for the US, I had seen two documentaries about AIDS in San Francisco. I had specifically noticed three people that I hoped to meet:
the former Mormon, John Lorenzini, the Head nurse at the AIDS Ward Alison Moëd, and the porn star Richard Locke who created parties at the AIDS Ward together with a woman called Rita Rockett. And I did.