World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day. This means I'm thinking about one of my old co-workers, a man named George.

Back in 2005, I had recently graduated from college and I started an internship at a small art/history museum in Salt Lake City. When I say this was a small museum, I mean it was very small. The museum had opened only a couple years prior and it had a very bare-bones staff: the director, the assistant director, and me. That's it!

About two months into my internship, the director left to take another job and so the assistant director decided to hire someone to help with our daily housekeeping. Enter George. He would come to the museum about 15-20 hours a week to greet visitors and to clean out the cluttered basement.

George was an interesting character. Tall with a trimmed mustache. Handsome in a disheveled sort of way. He loved talking to people and he loved antiquing. George also had an interesting quirk: he was a bit of a kleptomaniac. It was completely innocent, but he would take things from the museum if he didn't think they were needed, like a picture frame or a space heater. My boss had to make numerous phone calls to George's partner to ask if our lost items had found their way to their house.

Over the course of a couple months, I got to know George. Oftentimes he would meander to the second floor and chat with me during his lunch break. Bit by bit, he told me about his life. A Utahn born and bred, George was raised in a Mormon family and he was quite devoted to his faith. He went on a Mormon mission, he married a Mormon woman, and he volunteered at the local Mormon temple. All in all, he was the ideal Mormon male.

But George had a secret: he was gay.

For years, George tried to cure himself from this "ailment." He even agreed to shock therapy treatments. None of it worked, of course. Eventually, George decided to divorce his wife and he decided to leave his faith.  When I met him, he had been openly gay for decades and had been with his partner for many years. He still had immense affection for the Church of his youth, but he said he felt much happier without living two conflicting identities.

As my internship continued, I noticed George didn't come to the museum as often as he once did. Some days he wouldn't come in at all. When I brought this up with my boss, she only shook her head.

"Is he sick?" I asked.
"George has AIDS," she told me. "He's not doing very well."


I spent the rest of the day staring blankly at my computer screen, fretting and thinking and worrying about George.

Fortunately, George bounced back. He returned to work later, but he did seem quieter. Weaker. A couple months after that, I finished my internship and moved back to DC to start my first real job at the Air and Space Museum. I lost touch with George.

I haven't thought about George in a long time, but on this day---World AIDS Day---he is at the forefront of my mind. I hope he's okay. I hope he's healthy. I hope he's happy. I hope he's strong. I know he probably has long forgotten about me, but I will always remember him.

George, if you're still out there, Caroline says hello.