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    World AIDS Day: Books, Health and History


    By Michele Karlsberg

    In the insightful and inspirational memoir, The Sea Is Quiet Tonight, Michael Ward returns to the early years of the AIDS epidemic, when so little was known and so few who were diagnosed survived. He chronicles in candid detail his partner Mark’s decline and eventual death. By looking back on these devastating events, the author not only honors a generation lost to the illness, but also opens a vital window onto the past, before medication helped save lives and when HIV/AIDS was usually a death sentence.

    Below is an excerpt from the book:

    Dr. Groopman called on Monday afternoon. I answered the phone and could tell from his voice that the news was not good. He said without preamble, “Mike, I’m sorry, I really didn’t expect Pneumocystis. You’ll have to bring him right over.” I handed the phone to Mark and watched his face lose expression as he listened.

    “OK, thank you for calling. I’ll get my things together.” He handed me back the phone and we looked at each other. Neither of us spoke, then Mark closed his eyes for a moment. I wanted desperately to say or do something helpful, but my anxiety was paralyzing.


    Finally I said, “I’ll make us a cup of tea first, then we’ll pack your bag.” He nodded and I went out to the kitchen, put the kettle on the stove, and got out our favorite mugs, his with a sailboat and mine with the Boston skyline. Suddenly I sat down hard on a chair. Inhale, exhale, one to four. The house was absolutely still. When the kettle whistled I jumped, then prepared the tea and joined Mark on the sofa. His voice was steady despite the labored breathing.

    “At least we know for sure what we’re dealing with,” he said. I wanted to cry in the worst way but knew it was the last thing he would want to deal with.

    Mark’s check-in at the hospital was expedited and he was put into a room immediately. Within fifteen minutes he was in a hospital gown and had a cannula hooked to his nostrils. I could tell he was struggling to breathe, and I asked him if he needed more air. “No,” he said, “I need less anxiety.” Dr. Groopman showed up soon after that. He had become a positive force for us in such a short time. Mark brightened when he saw him.

    The doctor said, “We’re going to start you on a course of antibiotics, Bactrim first, to deal with the virus. It’s worked with some other patients and I’m confident we can arrest it.” Mark nodded but did not speak. “If Bactrim doesn’t work, we’ll go to Pentamadine.” He briefly laid his hand on Mark’s shoulder. “We just need you to rest and let the medicine do its job.”

    I asked, “Do you have any idea how long he’ll be hospitalized? I should call his parents.”

    “It’s hard to predict. Let’s see how he responds to the Bactrim.”

    When the doctor left I lay down on the bed next to Mark and tucked myself against his side, careful not to jostle the line to the oxygen tank and putting no pressure on his chest. We were quiet for what seemed like a long time. Finally I remembered his toast on our first anniversary. “Shoulder to shoulder,” I said.

    Barely audible, he murmured, “Yes,” then dozed until a nurse came into the room.

    Michael Ward is a retired psychotherapist. He was instrumental in the development of “The Shared Heart” (William Morrow, 1997), which presents the portraits and coming-out stories of forty gay and lesbian teenagers. “The Shared Heart” won the American Library Association’s Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Book Award in the nonfiction category in 1998. It was also on ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults list in 1999. Happily married, Michael lives on Cape Cod with his husband, Moe, and cat, Jack.

    Michele Karlsberg Marketing and Management specializes in publicity for the LGBT community. This year, Karlsberg celebrates twenty-seven years of successful book campaigns.