By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
"When I went back to work . . . I was all scared, all anxious. Some people didn't want me around, but [from] the majority of people, I had more support than negativity. They knew what type of person I was before. When I got sick, they'd come over for breakfast and next thing I'd know, underneath the tablecloth there'd be $1,000, $400, $100; you know what I'm saying? The guys at work, when I first got sick they handed me $3,000 cash, they were just unbelievable, these people. More class, more caring than I've ever seen.
"When you ask somebody how they get AIDS, well, in the beginning, I used to say, 'I'm straight.' Fine. But now I find it's an insult to the gay community, because I was a homophobe in my own right, I come from a guinea-Irish-Italian neighborhood basically, and telling them people is a bit harder than telling my new friends out here, but still, people don't care. It's a common, everyday event.
"So now I tell everybody. I don't give a shit. Like Richie at the bar. I'll tell you a story, we hit it off the first day. Ever see that movie Papillon? Steve McQueen takes a scarf from the leper and the leper goes, 'How did you know I wasn't contagious?'
"It was the same thing with New York Richie. We had a few drinks at the bar, we met each other, and we're talking for two hours and I say, 'Richie, I got AIDS.' He takes my cigarette and he smokes my cigarette. I mean, I go into our neighborhood bar, I get kisses and hugs. Nobody ever, except for a few people, was scared.
"I was depressed for a real long time, but I always had family events, and I always did what I have to do, and I had the money. Shit--I get AIDS, and my father hits the lottery twice in California. Ain't that a kick in the groin!"
Physically unable to work anymore, Felix resigned from Southwest on July 26. He has insurance and help from family to cover medical bills that run into the thousands each month. He also has the drugs that seem to have given him a reprieve from death; he's lucky. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, between 650,000 and 900,000 Americans are currently infected with HIV; of that number, 60,000 are using the new drugs.
"A lot of us thought we were going to kick the bucket, but now we have positive things to look forward to," he says. "There's people living normal lives. My life is normal, except I have AIDS. But I have to differentiate--am I not feeling well today because of AIDS, or is it the medicine, or because I'm depressed, or I got bills on my mind?"
It makes you wonder--at least it made me wonder--if God was somewhere in the mix.
"You know something? I'm not going to be a friggin' hypocrite. I didn't pray to God much before, so now that I'm sick, I'm going to insult my higher being and say, 'Oh, please, God, I got AIDS, make everything better'? If it was me, I'd say, 'Well, where were you ten years ago?' God knows basically I'm a good man, I hope, and if He wants to let me in the gates of heaven, fine. I'm not going to be a monk, and I'm not going to retreats--God bless people that want to do that, but I'm not into that. I just can't find that kind of spirituality. And I'm not going to find it at this point.
"Right now it's learning how to deal with the situation at hand--marriage. I try and hold my head up, clean my house, watch TV, go to a movie, go to a baseball game, have my coffee. I'm a retired man, that's how I consider myself right now."
We stop the tape recorder for a while, and Felix shows me his daughter's room. As Buckingham Palace is the home of the Queen of England, this is the bedroom of a little girl. Bright yellow walls. Things dangling from the ceiling. Group portraits of mom, dad and baby. And enough stuffed animals to clog the rip in the Titanic.
"I resigned July 26 because I really can't work no more. I'm too tired. All I want to do is really take care of my daughter," Felix explains. Felix's daughter also spends time at day care provided by the Women's Task Force, an organization of which the man cannot sing enough praise.
"It's kind of hard, because you have to tell your daughter that daddy has a virus. We've spoken about death to her, we've told her that daddy might be with the angels and we look up at the stars. You got to teach the kid, we all have a natural fear of death; I don't want her to be afraid of death.
"I would like to see my daughter have her first communion, get married, but they give me ten years now. I can live for ten years. So what do I do with these ten years? But maybe in two years they'll find something else out. Eventually, AIDS is going to be like diabetes. But nevertheless, I'm in a dilemma. I have a daughter to take care of, I have my home, me and my wife are separated."