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
DESPITE ANTHONY'S DEATH, DOROTHY CONTINued to act like she was immune. A few months after his burial, Dorothy had a fling with a man who was HIV-negative. She told him of her status, but he seemed unconcerned. Even years later, Dorothy never truly acknowledged the recklessness of this affair, that she was risking passing along the virus that had killed her lover and that was threatening to kill her. When asked about it, point-blank, she shrugged. "We used condoms," she said. "That was enough for him."
Then the unthinkable happened: Dorothy got pregnant. "It was a real surprise," she said. "It was scary, because I said, 'How am I gonna take care of a baby if he's sick?' I was real worried." Despite her concern, she was also elated. "I said, 'This is God giving me back Anthony,'" she said. "I looked at it like that ever since."
Dorothy's pregnancy temporarily altered her attitude about the virus. Whatever her ambivalence about treatment for herself, she was taking no chances when it came to the fetus. For the first time, she sought regular care. She got into an HIV prenatal program at USC and followed the doctor's orders to the letter. Twice a week, USC sent a cab to her home and took her to the clinic for testing. "I took all my medication," she said. "I did everything they said." Her pregnancy also broke the silence between Dorothy and her mother. "My mom opened her mind to us when she found out I was pregnant," Dorothy said. "She started taking classes at school, learning about HIV."
In May of 1996, Nathaniel* was born, free of the virus. He has tested negative annually ever since. The day she delivered, Dorothy had her tubes tied. "Since Nathaniel made it," she said, "I think it means I was meant to have him." ä
But then Dorothy was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS. This made no sense to her, because she felt better than she had in a long time. Despite the diagnosis she stopped taking her medicine and did not go to the doctor. She felt so good, in fact, that she thought she might somehow have been cured. "I was doing real well," she said. "Seemed like maybe the AIDS was gone."
FOR NEARLY TWO YEARS, DOROTHY got no treatment and did not get sick. Then, in mid-1998, she caught a cold. Before long she could hardly stand. She wound up spending a month in the hospital. "I found out my T cells was gone," she said. "They told me I had pneumonia."
In the hospital, Dorothy was on a strict regimen of HIV medication, but when she was released, she stopped taking her pills after a few days. "There was a lot of side effects," she said. "They made my stomach hurt, caused me headaches." Dorothy paused and looked down. "They made me more angrier that I had the disease."
She also had other things on her mind. While she was in the hospital she had fallen behind on the rent, and the day she got out, she was evicted. She and her five children sought shelter with her few remaining friends, in cheap motels and then, eventually, in abandoned buildings. Dorothy was not on good terms with her family at the time, and she was too proud to ask for help. "I had a big issue with my mom," she said. "So we just left each other alone."
Dorothy and her kids were homeless for nearly two years. When the family finally did get into a subsidized apartment in the city of Hawthorne, just east of Compton, she was so sick she could not get out of bed for weeks. The burden of maintaining the household fell to Antoinette, who had just turned 13. Soon Dorothy was back in intensive care. "My immune system was shot out," she said. "Then pneumonia again."
When Dorothy returned home, her life unraveled. "I was tired of taking medication. I felt unhopeful. I was swollen up all over my body. The kids were unhappy." Antoinette started calling Dorothy's mother, asking her to come and get them, much to Dorothy's dismay. "I'd tell my mom, 'Let Toni stay. Let me talk to her,'" Dorothy recalled. "She was like, 'Dorothy, Toni don't need to be around you like this while you sick. None of the kids do.'"
Dorothy was so frustrated, she all but decided to give up. "I went to the doctor for the last time and I told him, 'I'm not taking any more HIV medications,'" she said. "And his words to me was, 'Well, we gon' lose hope in you. You just go home and die.'" He then told her that if she wanted to get better, a hospice was her only hope.
ON NOVEMBER 21, 2000, DOROTHY checked into Carl Bean House. It was Bessie who picked Carl Bean, a 25-bed center named for an AIDS activist, specifically because of its outreach to African-Americans. Since the advent of highly successful AIDS drug therapies four years earlier, the center's traditional clientele -- white, gay men on their deathbeds -- had dwindled. Carl Bean had broadened the types of care it provided and was filling the beds with people who reflected the community -- namely blacks and Latinos. That change was largely enacted under the vision of Olen Henry, an openly gay African-American man with a teddy bearlike affability who was at that time director of the hospice. "Our goal is to get people in here and help them confront their illness in a supportive environment," he said. "We want them to feel we are here for them, that we are nonjudgmental, that we love them."