By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
When that relationship failed, Dorothy stopped expecting much from men, especially when it came to anything long-term. From here on out, the stable relationships in her life would be with her children. The men could come and go, but her children would always be there, and she meant always to be there for them, too.
Nonetheless, Dorothy had no intention of renouncing male companionship, either. In the summer of 1988, Dorothy went to southeast Arkansas to spend a few months with her grandmother. She got a job waitressing in a café, where one of the customers took a liking to her. "He came in there and started courtin' me out," Dorothy recalled. "He used to ask them all the time who was I." The two spent the summer together, and more than a decade later Dorothy still remembered that experience as nearly perfect. "He was my first true love," she said. "Puppy love." Both knew that at summer's end Dorothy would be heading home, and on their last day together they made a pledge. "We said we would not marry nobody but each other," she said. "That was a true pact."
Back in L.A., Dorothy heard a few months later that her true love was getting married. She packed up her things, piled herself and her baby girls onto a Greyhound bus and made the two-day trip back to Arkansas. "I went down there and reclaimed my love for him," she said matter-of-factly. "We moved in as a family together, and he took care of us." The two were married, and soon James* was born. But Dorothy was unhappy with the pace of life in a small Southern town. She persuaded her husband to move the family back to L.A., where they stuck it out for another year and had another child. It soon became clear that the marriage was suffering. "He moved out here to be with me, but he couldn't adjust," she said. Before long he headed back to Arkansas, alone.
Dorothy found herself in a difficult situation: At 23 years old, she was a single mom with four children under age 4. Given her low expectations of men, she was not surprised. She believed her husband had given the relationship a fair shake, and she harbored no ill will. "We still married," she said. "To this day." But to the Dorothy Travis living out her days at a hospice, her pre-AIDS notions of love and loyalty seemed little more than distant, quaint memories. Especially in light of what came soon after.
SHIVERING UNDER THE COVERS, BLINDS DRAWN on a sunny afternoon, Dorothy mustered her strength to tell the story of how she got AIDS. She was nursing a bad cold and had slept most of the day. Hugging one of her teddy bears, she sniffled and remembered the experience that profoundly altered the course of her life.
In 1991 she met Anthony, a friend of one of her brothers. Anthony was the man who infected her with HIV, but lying in her bed at Carl Bean, she talked about him the same way she had discussed the men who had come before, in an even tone with little indication of the depth of her emotions.
Once Dorothy and Anthony hooked up, they were practically inseparable. He worked odd jobs and spent time with the children, and for a while Dorothy let herself think that a stable, two-parent home might actually be possible. But a few months after they got together, Anthony was arrested for drug possession and sent to prison. When he got out, in 1993, they picked up where they had left off. Anthony said very little about his life inside, and Dorothy didn't ask.
Then Anthony got sick. "We didn't know what it was," Dorothy said. "Was it tuberculosis or what? At that time we wasn't educated about AIDS. He took a test, and I decided to go and take me one at the same time, and we both found out June the 3rd that we was positive for HIV. I'll never forget that day. I cried. Yeah, I cried a lot. I got angry about it." And then Dorothy did what she had learned to do as a child, detaching herself from the reality of what was happening. "I just let it go," she said. "I guess in my mind I knew it was true. But I really didn't believe it." ä
Dorothy's disbelief that she could be infected stemmed -- at least in part -- from the misperception that AIDS in the U.S. is spread almost exclusively through gay sex and shared needles. Indeed, male gay sex remains far and away the number-one means of transmission in the U.S., and injection drug use accounts for a substantial share as well. But women now account for one in five AIDS cases in this country -- the number of men diagnosed with AIDS peaked in 1992 and has been declining ever since, while the number of women diagnosed with AIDS continues to grow. And the main means of transmission to women is heterosexual sex. In L.A. County, the AIDS rate is more than four times higher among black women than among white and Latino women. All of this was news to Dorothy. In her limited world of family and friends, she had never heard of a black woman getting AIDS.