A Couple Reflects On A Loss From AIDS That Brought Them Together

Nov 30, 2018
Originally published on November 30, 2018 9:36 am

Larry Dearmon met Stephen Mills in 1992, around the height of the HIV and AIDS epidemic.

In a recent interview with StoryCorps, the married couple reflects on a loss that brought them together — the death of Larry's former partner, Michael Braig, of AIDS.

"When I first met him, I was in the Army, and oh, he was handsome. He was extremely intelligent, ambitious. He loved everybody," Larry says.

Stephen asks him to describe what happened when Michael was diagnosed with HIV, which later progressed to AIDS.

"He took a test. I came in from work and he was crying, and I knew instantly he was HIV positive," Larry says. "And I told Michael, 'I'm still here, and I'm not going any place.' "

Larry's relationship with Michael was still very new at that point. They had been dating for just six months before Michael was diagnosed.

"You could have cut and run very easily, but you stayed for nine years," Stephen says.

Larry was Michael's caregiver up until the very end of his life in 1991.

"When he died, I cleaned him up, changed his clothes and then I called his mom," Larry says. "Hardest thing I ever did."

After Michael died, Larry was distraught. The couple had been living in Germany, and after Michael's death, Larry moved to Arkansas to be around close friends. "It was [Michael's] idea that I move to Little Rock afterwards, because we knew the end was coming," Larry tells Stephen. "And I moved and then a few months later, met you."

Larry says he loves that Stephen does not feel threatened by his past relationship. For Stephen, his husband's dedication to that relationship makes him feel secure in theirs. That Larry stayed with Michael, caring for him, shows that "if we had rough times or if I were sick you'd stay with me," Stephen says.

Stephen tells Larry that he is one of the most loving people he has ever met.

"You show me that you love me every single day," Stephen says. "You tell me that you love me every single day."

"Because," Larry says, "you never know how many days you have left."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Kelly Moffitt and Von Diaz .

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's Friday morning, which is when we hear from StoryCorps. Tomorrow is World AIDS Day so today we have a conversation between Larry Dearmon and Stephen Mills, who met in Little Rock, Ark., in 1992 around the height of the AIDS epidemic. They came to StoryCorps to remember the loss that eventually brought them together.

LARRY DEARMON: Well, I've lost three partners to HIV and AIDS over the years.

STEPHEN MILLS: Tell me about Michael.

DEARMON: When I first met him, I was in the Army. And, oh, he was handsome. He was extremely intelligent, ambitious. He loved everybody.

MILLS: How did Michael find out he had AIDS?

DEARMON: He took a test. I came in from work and he was crying. And I knew instantly he was HIV positive. And I told Michael, I'm still here and I'm not going anyplace.

MILLS: And you were just starting your relationship. You could have cut and run very easily, but you stayed for nine years.

DEARMON: The last two years of his life, I was his caregiver. Then when he died, I cleaned him up, changed his clothes. And then I called his mom. Hardest thing I ever did. After Michael died, for while I was a basket case.

MILLS: How did you get through that?

DEARMON: It was his idea that I move to Little Rock afterwards because we knew the end was coming. And I moved, and then a few months later, I met you. And one reason I love you so much is you know what I went through with Michael and you don't feel threatened.

MILLS: For me, the fact that you stayed with him and that you cared about him, that made me feel really, really secure with our relationship. If we had rough times, or if I were sick, you'd stay with me. You are one of the most loving and caring people I have ever met in my life, and you show me that you love me every single day. You tell me that you love me every single day.

DEARMON: Because you never know how many days you have left. I'll promise you that at the very end, the last face I'll want to see is when I look up at you...

MILLS: Same here.

DEARMON: ...And then close my eyes forever.

INSKEEP: Larry Dearmon with his husband, Stephen Mills, at StoryCorps in Little Rock. They were together for 26 years before they married in 2013, a day that Larry calls the best day of his life. Their interview will be archived along with hundreds of thousands of others at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.