Around 1989, my partner Raymond, with whom I ended up living for eleven years, began to show some symptoms of HIV-related illness. Considering we were a Japanese and American couple, everyone thinks that I was the one who brought him to Buddhist practice, but actually it was the opposite. He had gotten hold of a couple of books—Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and Katagiri Roshi’s Returning to Silence. He was already sick, and not able to work anymore, but he wanted to go visit Green Gulch Farm. I took him to San Francisco. I didn’t want to go to the Zen Center, so I sent him off by himself and I stayed in the city for seven days doing what every young gay man should do in San Francisco. But I got a little antsy and I decided to visit him, just for a day, and I ended up staying. When I arrived at the center it was toward the end of their work-practice period. Raymond came out completely soiled. He looked brilliant, with this glow in his eyes. He said, “Guess what? I was digging a ditch!” So I thought, Well!
After that, our practice really began.
With this disease, there is no pattern. Some people get very sick at the point when the virus enters their body. For others it takes more time. With Raymond it was kind of obscure. He had a fungus infection that didn’t go away. Little hints like that. He finally decided to have a blood test and he found out that he was positive. It was very difficult. It was actually more difficult for me to think about Raymond being ill than it was when I found out that I was infected too. Also, there was the timing. It was 1989 and there was nothing going on in the way of treatment, nothing. It took me about a month to be able to put on a face and go to work and pretend that nothing was wrong.
His symptom was Kaposi’s sarcoma, which paralyzed him. By the time he died his KS was from toe to waist, his legs looked like thin pieces of charcoal, and his skin became quite hard. Also, the fungus infection had crept up into his brain, and he had difficulty with movement and with speech. By the end of ’93 the doctors were telling us that there were no more options. They said we could expect a rapid deterioration.
He was bedridden for basically a year. I ended up quitting my job because I stayed home too often, and my employer wasn’t very happy about that. At that point I had enough money anyway, so I thought it would be okay.
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