by Bradon Nave
In 1986, twenty-three-year-old country girl Nora Brown decides it’s time for a change…
Complacent and bored with her life in rural Oklahoma, Nora leaves her bigoted father and all she’s ever known to pursue a new life in San Francisco. At the height of the AIDS epidemic, Nora, a registered nurse, believes she can be an asset to the community. Bunking in a tiny apartment with a longtime friend, Nora secures a job within a large hospital and begins volunteer work for an organization that cares for those afflicted with the disease.
She is soon faced with the horrors of AIDS—a reality she wasn’t quite prepared for…
Just as the courageous group of caregivers and volunteers have their emotional strength depleted to the point of no return, the group rallies together and pushes forward, remembering their mission—if they aren’t there for these people, who will be?
Nora wasn’t expecting to find him here, to “fall in love among the ashes…”
Along her journey, she meets a diverse community of lionhearted survivors. And then there’s Donald, another volunteer who fights alongside those with dwindling hope. Nora and Donald grow closer as the war on HIV rages around them.
They watch their friends waste to nothing, yet no answers are being offered. The only comfort is the solace they find in each other. After months of hardships, another crippling loss shakes the foundation of Nora’s faith.
Their struggle is not only about HIV/AIDS—but about how the nation responds, and the humanistic choice to be unsung heroes.
I was lucky I had him. I didn’t move to San Francisco in search of love. I would frown upon someone for falling in love among ashes. Perhaps I wasn’t actively seeking love; rather, longevity. It seemed nothing was solidified; nothing was guaranteed to return a smile the following day. Even if it were not my pain, per se, to simply witness the pain of loss from afar was enough to plummet my ailing psyche back into the pit it was attempting to crawl out of. Donald was my rope. A thin rope at first, but our threads were growing in number. I had to be sure I didn’t hang myself. After spending the rest of the day together, Donald and I ended our day’s adventure in the confinements of his bedroom. He laid me down on his bed, gently kissing my neck, and I knew without a doubt that the interaction would go no further than heated kissing and clothed entanglement. I made that abundantly clear prior to his closing of the bedroom door. There would be no raunchy stories for Gwen to salivate over the following morning. I didn’t feel dirty, and for once the oppression of guilt momentarily subsided. I was allowed to find mild pleasure without feeling disgraceful or distasteful. His touch brought a rush similar to the feeling I’d experienced on country Oklahoma roads with local high school all-stars a few years prior, but there was something much more. The physical effects he had on my body were coupled with the idea that he might be something solid. That he might be there day after day.
That he might not fade away.
“You’re beautiful,” he whispered.
“You’re hairy,” I replied hastily, evoking a chuckle. “You’re beautiful too.”
“Beautiful?” He momentarily halted the tongue massage on my neck.
“Handsome. Hairy and handsome.”
“And a distraction?”
The question caught me off guard. Initially I assumed he’d be little more than that, a distraction. A distraction from everything going on around me. Gradually, I had accepted the idea that exploring realms beyond friendship and preoccupation with this
gentleman was something I could be okay with.
“No.Yes and no. What am I?”
“A girl,” he said playfully, scanning my face for hints.
“You’re not just a distraction. Something to take my mind off of Buddies and the hospital, yes; but I like you.”
“I like you. But you’re my escape. Sometimes I feel like there’s no escape. I can either close my eyes and see their faces, see Toby’s face, or I can see yours. I miss him. Maybe I miss him too much.”
His eyes were dry yet flooded with pain. There was no way the average farm boy from rural Texas could digest losing one of his closest friends in such a short
period of time. Had he been back home and his buddy been killed in an accident, Donald would have had monumental support and guidance throughout the grief process. Here, everyone had a Toby, a Logan, all of our friends were losing friends. Attempting to share feelings with our social group would only add turmoil to their grief-stricken lives.
“I can be that. I’d like to be that,” I muttered as I kissed him.
The passion left our fingertips quicker than it mounted in them. He ran the tip of his index finger under my eye, tracing it to my earlobe. It was as if we bottled the explosive emotions for another night and took comfort in companionship. I wasn’t trying to be a hero, but I certainly wasn’t trying to write a love story either. At this point, I was comfortable moving through this experience with this person and allowing myself a temporary reprieve from my constant over analyzing—whatever happens, happens—just let it be, and it will be.