Sarah was the only one who stood by her little brother, gently persuading her parents over the next year that homosexuality was not a disease or a curse, and easing him back into the family. She became his guardian, his mentor, his best friend.
When Sarah graduated and left home to attend Amherst College for a degree in Journalism, she made Greg promise to stay in Greenwich and finish his last two years of high school. Sarah would drive home every other weekend to visit Greg and support him. It meant that Sarah had virtually no social life for her entire freshman and much of her sophomore years.
“That was okay with me,” Sarah admits. “I kind of slacked off in high school a little, didn’t apply myself as I should have, and it was good to focus on my studies and on Greg and forget about sororities and boyfriends for a while. Besides, Greg would have done the same thing for me if the tables had been turned. There was no way I could just leave him hanging.”
It was during Greg’s senior year when the devastating news surfaced. It was a routine physical for life insurance his parents wanted to take out on him before he left for college, a simple blood test that normally means nothing.
“I remember when Greg called me to tell me he was HIV-positive. I was on a date, but ten minutes later I was driving south, hoping to get home before our parents found out.” Sarah’s voice gives only a hint of the desperation she felt at the time.
None of the rest of the family tested positive for HIV. Just Greg. He had three homosexual lovers, but they too all turned out to be HIV-negative.
“This was early 1988, and we weren’t exactly sure what to do. Like an awful lot of people, we believed what we were being told by the ‘experts’ – that HIV caused AIDS, and that AIDS was always fatal – so we had no other choice but to accept the fact that Greg would be dead in two or three years unless the HIV could be stopped.”
They took Greg to their family doctor. Then they took him to an AIDS specialist in New York City, and finally to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. The story was the same everywhere.
“They all told Greg to start taking AZT, the drug that had been approved just the year before to treat AIDS.” Sarah winces as she remembers. “They said it would kill the HIV and prevent him from getting AIDS, or at a minimum prolong his life. Since there was no contrary information being widely publicized, we had no reason to doubt this advice. It turns out that Greg was part of the first group of HIV-positives who had no symptoms of AIDS but were prescribed AZT anyway, despite assurances from the drug company to the FDA approval committee that they wouldn’t do that. But we didn’t know that!”