I guess it started in 1987: I was 3, and my dad had just come out.
My dad, Bob, met the love of his life, Roger, during his first-ever visit to a gay bar in Houston, Texas. Dad tells the story that it was love at first sight, and they were inseparable for the next 7 years.
Roger was HIV+ and had been for several years when he met my dad. He was very upfront about his status, but my dad admits that he didn’t really know what it meant when he told him.
Roger had always wanted a family and, with finding my dad, our family was finally complete.
Whether dressed as “Ms. Buna, 1968” (with my dad by his side dressed as Princess Jasmine from Aladdin) or burning up the turntables at Pacific Street, Roger was always absolutely flawless.
He taught me how to throw a football, and he taught my sister how to apply blush properly without looking like a “lady of the night.” He was a true Renaissance man and absolutely insisted on having fun.
I don’t know that I ever remember my dad discussing Roger’s status with us, but I do remember that he took a lot of pills and sometimes he had a little trouble getting around.
That all changed in the fall of ’93. Roger had been taking one of many experimental treatments they were trying at the time and began to go blind in his left eye. They decided to take him off the medicine and up his AZT. By January of 1994, Roger had progressed from HIV to AIDS and, as kids do, my sister and I began to ask a lot of questions. Both Roger and my father were both incredibly open about what was going on, and I will always be grateful for that.
In March of 1994, surrounded by a family that loved him, Roger died with grace and with dignity. The funeral was a beautiful reflection of his life and included leather daddies from Pacific Street and his 70-year old mother from East Texas.
See, that was the thing about Roger: He had this way of building bridges. Of bringing communities together. Of making us all forget these silly preconceived notions we have about each other and just showing up and loving one another.
My experience with Roger is what brought me to AIDS Services of Austin and, although he is gone, I carry a little piece of him with me every day.