1991-1992 Work in the Heart of AIDS; Beginning of The Babes Network; He Stays
Julene Tripp Weaver
Heart of AIDS; Beginning of The Babes Network
The last day of January 1991, I started my new job at the Northwest AIDS Foundation (NWAF) in Seattle. My first position was secretarial, working in administration. Sharing my status with positive gay men felt easier; the first gay man I met at NWAF was Duane Hencheck. He did an assortment of administration tasks; there was no designated human relations person. Duane was perfect to welcome me; he was openly positive, so I told him my status and asked if it was safe to be open at work. He told me, "No, don't share your status." I didn't ask why. He was a young man who died within a year. I trusted him.
Assuming I would live, the agency provided a future career with opportunities to move into a clinical position. There were many options between case management and their housing program. For less than a year I worked in admin, coinciding with when I needed to do an internship in my second year of graduate school; then I switched to a part time position working with case management, entering data into a computer. A step in the right direction that worked well with my schedule.
At Babes we were writing a grant application to start our organization, the Babes Network. We were a rowdy fun group who knew who we were and what we wanted. Working at NWAF, I found insider information. The Executive Director was against another organization forming. She was working under a scarcity model and had funding concerns. I found her letter to the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health on the copier, basically it built a case against funding a women's organization for HIV peer support; in summary, it said NWAF provided programs for women and another organization was not needed. Bringing this information back to the Babes, we formed a letter writing campaign from a wide base of women across the state and barraged the Department Of Health with letters. I wrote mine under the pseudonym Virginia Woolf.
My partner John was still with me. We had moved into a new nine-month contract and I thought we were together. Then he told me he planned to attend a Breaking Up workshop with a local therapist on Capitol Hill. Of course, I wanted to take it too, so we called the therapist to discuss what he thought about us doing his workshop together. We set up boundaries, agreed not to work with each other during the weekend, and that we would not discuss our experience for forty-eight hours afterward.
The assignment was to bring a picture of the person we were breaking up with. John and I were the only two in the group who brought a picture of the two of us together. Forty-eight hours after the workshop when we sat down to talk, we each had a similar experience. We felt love and connection to each other. Many in the workshop approached each of us separately and suggested we work it out to stay together. It seemed obvious to them we had much in common and were a good match. John was still mulling it over.
9/6/91 Duane Hencheck's memorial potluck party tonight.
About a week after Duane's memorial our co-worker had an open house for people to take something from his apartment to remember him by. He was Duane's executor and everything had to go. The one thing Duane had that we both loved was an art deco brass lamp with the Empire State Building on the base. Being a New Yorker we had connected over this lamp when I visited him. Shocked it was still there I asked about it and was told to take it. I had it rewired, added a new lampshade and it sits in my living room a reminder of my friend who gave me one of the best warnings early.
Journal: 12/29/91 Kass calls, we got $11,000 funding for the Babes Network, a board will be formed and I will be on it.
Journal: 6/6/92 LIOS graduation day, family feast at Salish Lodge by Snoqualmie Falls. Made my goal to graduate by age 40.
Not taking Western medications did not mean I was not taking care of myself. Because of my interest in herbs and alternative medicine, I searched for alternative approaches to keep my body strong, and used many options.
John and I registered for an herbal weekend at the Olympic Park Institute with herbalist and ethnobotanist Ryan Drum. He has a PhD in Botany (Phycology) and a BSc in Chemical Technology. He has a brilliant mind, is a remarkable storyteller, and lives an esoteric life on Waldron Island selling seaweed he harvests. When I told him I was HIV positive and asked what he recommended, he said an herbalist in Canada treated AIDS with subdermal St. John's Wort oil; he said to rub the infused oil along the inside of my arms or thighs. St. John's Wort, Latin name: Hypericum perforatum, is a readily accessible herb, considered a weed, so I started harvesting and making my own tinctures and oil. I used it regularly starting that month, August 1992. My CD4 count was falling, but I felt fine and was not worried as long as I felt well.
John made the decision to stay with me. Our relationship changed from nine-month open or closed contracts to a long-term monogamous commitment. Grateful and relieved that he is a man of his word and stayed.
With clear decision, With love
With willingness to face the unknown
The continuance of what was in progress
This was not a natural ending
Declared, not a good reason to exit
HIV a factor — a deadly disease
But he was not a quitter
There was fault that was forgiven prior
There was a history that was irreversible
Life was still full force
Love was uninterrupted
A decision was called for
He decided to stay