A Boisterous Clap Of Thunder

I was up until the wee hours of the morning again thinking about an incident that become a catalyst in my life some time back. It was one of those moments where you know your life will be changed and a new vision of yourself becomes clear.

I was working as a stage manager in a small theater in Spokane, Washington. I had signed on for the season that lasted about a year. Bob and Joan Welch owned and operated this little mom and pop kind of theater called Interplayers that always produced astonishing works. I had seen many productions because my friend Michael Weaver worked at it for years and I was always intrigued to see what he was involved in. He introduced me to Joan and somehow we instantly bonded and became infatuated and know we were destined to collaborate on something. The supposed story behind Bob and Joan running this remarkable theater in such a remote place was even more intriguing. They had been a part of the legendary inner circle of Actor’s Theater in New York, but were blacklisted in the McCarthy Era and fled west to begin life anew, yet still follow their passion, theater. Though I was currently a member of Actors Equity Stage Union, the only way I could work with them at the time, which I was very determined to do, was to change my name to work under a non-union contact. But I know I wanted to work with these extraordinary people. And it was so worth the experience, because they brought theater to a level I only ever imaged it to be, delving into the inner depths of character in such an organic means for the actors to live the characters within the story. Every rehearsal I was awestruck and captivated by their approach and process of discovery the life of the play weather it was farce, comedy or drama.

I loved Spokane, a city built on a river, much like Missoula, that had once been host to a World’s Fair, when I was a kid, but had since been developed the site into a very beautiful park. The theater was near the park and I often wandered down there to have my lunch on the banks of the river, it was fall in paradise. I rented a very small apartment, which had once been part of a larger house divided into several units in an old historical district. Well about a month or two into being there I began to notice a strange odor within the space. Progressively, day-by-day, it became stronger and fouler. We all began to search our apartments to figure out the source of this terrible odor, but could not figure out the source. Finally it got so bad we called the landlord in to investigate. They began to work through each apartment systematically and eventually found that a young man who lived on the bottom floor alone had killed himself and had been there for a week. I had meet him several times and knew he was loner. I suspected he was gay, but of course was caught in my own busy schedule, and since he lived on the backside below me didn’t really get to know him. I eventually found out that he actually was gay and had been rejected by his family and had become infected with HIV and was lead to this desperate act, feeling completely isolated and alone not knowing where to turn. My heart sank deeply when I heard the news because I being a close neighbor, and also gay, had not reached out to him. I was so overwhelmed with regret and remorse that it had taken us a week to realize his isolation. I remember being so disoriented, angry, and hurt that I could barely function at the job I loved so dearly. Of course we could not move back into our apartments for several days as they tried to erase the odor that permeated the space. The next several days as I grappled with coming to terms with the event it become crystal clear in my mind that I would have to dedicate my life to helping other gay men who lived in such fear and isolation. And I began my own campaign to make people aware of HIV and break down the barriers surrounding its then seeming terror it had on others. The reality that the loss of humanity, dignity, and pride was suddenly too great to be ignored any longer. I as a gay man could no longer look the opposite direction or hide. A reality hit my world like a boisterous clap of thunder and I know my world would be irrevocable changed forever.