Vince, in his own words: “I am sixty-eight now, and on my thirty-fourth birthday I stood in line on 47th Street (in NYC) for two-for-one tickets for a Broadway play. A girl friend met me there. She brought a birthday cake, and people in line sang “Happy Birthday” as she lit the candle. After the show we went to “Uncle Charlie’s,” a gay bar in the Village. She asked if I was gay. Well, six months later in Philadelphia I had my first sexual experience with a man. His name was Jimmy, a great guy and still a friend. When he embraced to kiss me, I remember thinking, “This is what it’s like.”
All of the years before that first sexual experience I was afraid to admit that I was attracted to men. The fear drove me crazy. But admitting that fact to myself was a first step to being a better man. No need to describe the years which followed in any great detail. My life is much like thousands of others who lived through the eighties and beyond. Close friendships were established, boyfriends came and went, and many, many died. But the man who mattered most in my life, my partner and best friend for twenty-three years, made me a “mensch.” In Yiddish, the word simple means to be a real human being. Our life seemed perfect for the first eight years. Of course, that was on the surface. We had the house in Philly, friends, jobs, supportive parents, and each other. But like any other couple, we had hard times, bad moments, frustrations, disappointments; and over our heads hung the fear of AIDS. In 1990 we decided to be tested. I tested negative, and Jon, my partner, was positive. His results came back on the eve of my forty-fifth birthday. He had planned a special birthday for me: a weekend in New York, two Broadway plays, a nice dinner, a romantic evening together. That never happened, but the next sixteen years did. How Jon became positive never mattered. How to live did. The years were tough, but he was the Energizer Bunny. He kept going and going. Jon was my life partner no matter what happened, and many things did. He died in 2006, and like the moment he received the phone call to tell him he was HIV positive, I was there to hold him and love him when he died.
Today, almost eights years later, it’s hard to believe that we could be legally married if he were alive. Unfortunately not in Philadelphia, but that too will happen. Life is good; people are wonderful; and the advice I have for a younger gay man: confront your fears, go after your dream, and be a “mensch.”