Long before I had confirmation something was wrong, I dreamt of Ed.
We were at a company picnic and he was wearing that long-sleeved polo shirt, the one with the green and blue stripes. I watched Ed pull up his shirt sleeve and show other people his arm. I watched him come toward me, telling me I had to see what was on his arm.
I was scared. I didn’t want to see what was on his arm, because I knew it signified something was wrong, seriously wrong. He started chasing me as I ran away.
And that was how the dream ended.
It wasn’t long after that. A co-worker and I were on a conference call with Ed—he was in the hospital. He told us he had pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP). He eventually recovered from that bout and returned to work.
I was working for a man whose tall stature didn’t intimidate people because he was such a gentle soul. I was working for a gentle man who got along with everyone. Who cared about people. Who kept a watering can in the bottom drawer of his tall filing cabinet so he could water the plants in his office easily. Who could be seen sometimes taking a quick look at himself by way of his Pierre Soulages’ “Composition F in Blue” painting—on the side where the vertical black stripe allowed you to see your reflection—I sometimes caught him checking his hair before he left his office. The man who had a timer set to remind him to take his pills—the pills that were supposed to (cure him?) help him fight the complications he was suffering from because of AIDS. Ed—who knew that employees in the office were starting to wonder “What’s going on with Ed?”—called an all-staff meeting to openly talk about what was going on with him. (I missed that meeting because I was on pre-planned vacation, but I called Ed and left a message on the day of that meeting to tell him I was thinking of him. I heard from others later that Ed handled that meeting bravely and answered the questions well; I wouldn’t have expected anything less.)
Ed was a tall, slender man to begin with, but it wasn’t until I drove him home from work one day because he just wasn’t up to staying at work, that I realized how thin he was getting.
He asked me to stay while he took a shower.
That may sound a bit strange, and weird, and so totally (probably) the wrong thing to ask your admin to do. But I stayed, because he was sick, and I knew he needed me to hang around a bit . . . just in case.
When he asked me to stay, I remember blurting out, “I don’t have to go in the bathroom with you, do I?” He just laughed and shook his head.
When he came out of the shower, he was so out of breath that he had to sit down just to comb his hair.
That’s when it finally hit me. That my boss has AIDs and he is going to die. He was so, so much thinner than what showed at work while he was wearing a suit.
I stayed with him until he rested. Because he was not only my boss, he was my friend. And friends take care of friends.
That wasn’t the last time I had to drive Ed home from work. One day he came to work with a horrific rash. And it was clear that he was nervous, and it was clear that I had to help him do something. I called his doctor’s office and when they told me he wasn’t in the office, I demanded they get him off the golf course and tell him that his patient, my boss, needed to see him.
I drove him home again. Made sure he got into bed okay. Called his boyfriend and told him what was up and asked if he could leave work to come stay with Ed.
I must have gone to Ed’s apartment a dozen times or so. One time I met his oldest son. Another time, I sat in his wheelchair and wheeled it around. Another time, he told me he’s not going to go to his treatments again anymore, that it was just too much effort. I was sad hearing him tell me that, but I totally understood. He had no energy anymore. Still another time, my other boss and I took flowers to Ed, and I introduced that boss to all of Ed’s nine children. I sat in the chair next to Ed and held his hand until it was time for us to go back to work.
I visited Ed in the hospital the time they did a little surgery on his head; something about a tumor or something like that. I didn’t stay long—couldn’t stay long. It was too painful to see him in the hospital with his head wrapped and looking so frail. That was the second time I saw him in the hospital. The first time, he told me he purposely had some AIDs brochures left out in the open in his room, because he knew some of his colleagues were coming to visit him, and it was just easier to let them see the brochures first. (I totally understood that too. This was the late 1980’s. Remember the stigma about AIDS?)
And then in the spring of 1990, I missed the after-midnight call from Ed’s daughter, who left a message to tell me that Ed was going downhill, and going quickly. When I got to work that morning, his daughter called to say that Ed had died.
And that was the last time I visited Ed at his apartment. When I got there, they (whoever they were) had come to take his body away, but his children were not yet ready for Ed to leave. It was a very sad time.
Afterwards, all of Ed’s friends and family created an AIDs quilt for him. I think the quilt is with the Names Project, but then maybe one of Ed’s kids has it instead. We had a picture taken of it, and had the picture framed. We hung the picture of Ed’s quilt in the lobby of our office.
When the firm redesigned the lobby, Ed’s quilt picture wasn’t included in the redesign.
When asked if I wanted that picture, I snatched it up in a heartbeat.
That picture has been hanging above my fireplace for many years now.
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As I was writing this post, I wondered if I was going to try to instill some grand wisdom of working for someone who had AIDS. But as I wrote (and I often just write without pre-thinking about what I’m going to write), I just let the memories float out and fall on the keyboard. It is what it is—nothing profound, no grand words of wisdom. Just my scattered memories of the last 6 to 8 months of Ed’s life, in a work-related way.