A Northman's Reveries


October 6, 2013

By the time I came to Lower Columbia CAP in 1999 as the new Community Services Director, I had been engaged in the AIDS epidemic for over 12 years. By then, I had lost more than 30 friends, colleagues and clients to AIDS. I needed a change.

Friends expressed their concern for me, joking that I was moving 40 miles and 50 years north of Portland, into the American “heartland” of small towns and small minds.

But I had already accepted that I would be alone.

It didn’t come up until my second week, when I was meeting each of my 80+ staff individually. She came into my office, an older woman looking rather stern, I thought. We had only just started, when she said abruptly, “I heard you worked with the AIDS people.”

The AIDS people. It was the way she said it, like the Sand people, or the Pod people.

“Yes. Yes, I have,” I said. “For a number of years.”

I braced myself to get an earful of what she thought of “those people.”

Her gaze dropped and her voice fell to a whisper. “My son has AIDS.”

I got up and closed the door, came back and sat down. “Would you like to talk about it?”

And as she told me about the family secret and the family shame and the family silence, and of her own terrible isolation, I realized that I had come into the Heartland.