Annika linked to a photo collection of male actors crying today and I had an immediate reaction to the photos. I know this is completely different from what I usually write, but I think it’s worth sharing here. I realize this could be a sensitive topic to many, so feel free to pass on by today.
His strained voice called to us from the only bedroom in the basement apartment. “Kids, come in here. I have something to tell you.”
The air thickened around me. I shuffled my seven-year-old sister and five-year-old brother from the living room into the bedroom where our dad stood bent, hands braced against a dresser for support. The three of us lined up inside the doorway, blue eyes wide and staring at the broken man before us.
“Sit down,” he whispered.
My sister and brother complied, but I stood there frozen. At nine years old, I knew just enough about the world to know when something was wrong. When my father began to choke on his tears, I thought of my step-sister’s tentative words to me during a recent visit…
“Your dad has AIDS. That’s why he keeps going back into the hospital.”
“He does not have AIDS! I would know if he did!”
“Yes he does, Crystal. I overheard my dad talking to your mom about it.”
“I don’t believe you. You’re lying!”
Fear flamed in my chest and I ran away from that room. I didn’t want to hear what my dad had to say, didn’t want him to know that I knew already, and most of all I didn’t want my step-sister’s words to be true.
I grabbed my dad’s car keys on the way out the door and locked myself into his rusty grey VW Beetle, sobbing. I kept hoping that he would come after me, that he would tell me that I had no reason to run away and no reason to be afraid. He did not come. I sat alone and cried until I was dry, until my head felt water-logged and achy. I wiped away the tears and waited what seemed like hours until the swollen skin around my eyes returned to normal. I steeled myself and walked back into the apartment.
My dad’s courage had left him when I ran out the door and he said nothing of what he had been about to tell us. We ate lunch instead and the day continued as normal. Life went on for a little while.
My siblings and I pretended (or forgot) that the breakdown had never happened. It was a shock to us when our dad died some time later, and we believed it when we were told that Meningitis and Encephalitis had killed our father.
AIDS did not cross our minds until years after it changed our lives.