What would have been? I still wonder after 18 years. Would we still be friends? How often would we see each other, especially now that we live on the West Coast. Would they have stayed married? Would they have had children? What contributions would they have made to the world?
Eighteen years later and I miss her and her husband. I am speaking of my college roommate and her husband. Heather and John.
I arrived to my dorm room with my stuff in tow… already to find out that she had gotten there first and claimed her side of the room. My Mom ad I went about our business and eventually she showed up with her boyfriend, John. She was from Overland Park, Kansas. John was from the Bronx. They had met when John’s Dad was transferred to Kansas for a few years. John’s family had moved back to NY and Heather had gone to school for a year in Texas. She missed John so she transferred to Parsons… to get an education and to be closer to him. We became fast friends… I have written before that we were both Gemini’s, came with some of the exact same clothes in our suitcases. This was before the schools so nicely let you know who your room mate was going to be before school started! We were both in the same program, had most of the same classes and had a great time. When she and John would go out I would have some time to myself and John had a car so when I needed to pick something up that was too hard to carry on the Subway or expensive to put in a cab… John would be our driver. When my then boyfriend and now husband would visit we would go on double dates. Going to school in New York was great… so much design and art all around us. It was the early 80’s and the one bad thing about that time was people were starting to die… for no apparent reason at that time. So many creative people, mostly gay, at that time were dying and people did not know why.
After college, we both started working as Interior Designers. I moved back upstate and got married. Heather stayed in New York City. She and John moved in with each other. On July 12, 1986 they got married. L and I went to the wedding… on a yacht that cruised around Manhattan.
They would come up and visit us in Buffalo and we would visit them in the City. In the Fall of 1989, L and I went to New York for Designer’s Saturday. It was a trade show and the furniture and fabric showrooms would open their doors and show new products. We were trying to arrange a time to meet up with both Heather and John, yet we were getting the run around. John was not feeling well and he did not want to come out to dinner. We offered to go see him at their apartment. No… that was not going to work. Finally Heather said she was going to meet us alone. I remember that night… like it was last night. We were sitting in a restaurant in the Grand Hyatt… we were probing about why John did not want to see us and what was really going on. Heather then said she had something to tell us. “John and I”… I thought for sure it was going to be…. Are getting divorced…. After I heard what she said I wish that divorce was what she had told us…but instead we heard… “have AIDS.” AIDS… how can you have AIDS? Our heads were spinning. She went on to tell us that John had contracted it a few years earlier and probably passed it to her around their wedding time. He was not really even sure where he contracted it.. Or from whom. John was full blown AIDS when diagnosed but Heather was HIV. It was one of those moments that you play back in your head… that you can not believe… that you wish you could rewind the tape and change the ending.
I got a call the following week… John had died on October 28, 1989. I went to his funeral… A young handsome guy… dead at 27.
Heather went on to be an advocate for HIV/AIDS.
In the face of adversity and despite the stigma associated with this disease, Heather accepted her plight and became a voice for women living with AIDS. Instead of hiding her disease, Heather chose to educate anyone who would listen to her message that “AIDS is everyone’s disease.” She was instrumental in forming an AIDS support group for women as there was no other resource of this type available. Heather was a voice that needed to be heard and she carried her message far. She was featured in a Japanese Women’s magazine, the New York Times, Interviewed on CNN and also on NBC’s “A Closer Look”. To quote Heather, “I want to let everyone know how easily AIDS can invade the life of an average person like me… how it can hit regardless of sex, race, class, nationality or environment. I want to tell them that if they get AIDS, they shouldn’t give up.. They must gain control of their lives… to live with AIDS not die with AIDS.”
(The above was from her memorial eulogy)
Heather lived for 3 more years… working right up until the end. I got the call 18 years ago… I was at work and a friend of hers called me to say that she had not been feeling well… she was having a hard time breathing. She went to the hospital and died shortly after that. At 31.
I went to New York for her memorial service and said my good-byes. Two friends gone within 3 years. Eighteen years later you have to wonder how much longer would they have lived now. HIV is not the death sentence that it once was. Thank goodness for science and for those that unfortunately had to die for the rest to live.
I miss Heather. I think about her often. She was one of those friends that will always hold a special place in my heart.