Borrowed Time

by Paul Monette

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 612

When Paul Monette wrote this memoir, he was himself on borrowed time—he knew that he would die from AIDS—and he was committed to exploring how his partner, Roger Horwitz, had spent the last phase of his time before AIDS took him. Roger’s time was shockingly brief, less than two years between diagnosis and death.

Roger Horwitz, my beloved friend, died of complications of AIDS on October 22, 1986, nineteen months and ten days after his diagnosis.

For countless others as well, time took on a new meaning as AIDS and HIV-related diseases became an epidemic in the early-mid 1980s. Monette states that his perspective changed as he sees the world as defined by “its endings and its closures,” by what comes after the hyphen in a date.

One reason that Monette decided it was important to tell their stories was to insert some information into the vast sea of ignorance about AIDS. In addition, he understands the randomness that led him to survive and document their journey. He explains that decisions to practice safe sex—what he calls staying inside a “magic circle”—that they and many others made by 1982 may have come too late, and that years could pass between exposure and the kinds of symptoms that would prompt someone to seek a medical diagnosis.

Yet with caution as our watchword starting in February of ’82, Roger was diagnosed with AIDS three years later. So the turning over of new leaves was not to be on everybody’s side. A lot of us were already ticking and didn’t even know. The magic circle my generation is trying to stay within the borders of is only as real as the random past. Perhaps the young can life in the magic circle, but only if those of us who are ticking will tell our story.

Another issue that Monette raises is the difficulty of diagnosis because symptoms often overlap with many other diseases so affected persons would not necessarily suspect AIDS. He discusses first learning up-close about symptoms when one of their close friends, Cesar, was diagnosed after having a biopsy of a tiny lesion. Even the small wound from the biopsy never healed, and his leg began to swell. The apparently unrelated symptom of fatigue became more pronounced as the disease advanced.

It is very hard to separate symptoms and degrees of illness . . . . The dozens of cases I’ve followed since have blurred the boundaries. Besides, the particular indignities of AIDS are so grotesque, like that endlessly swelling leg, that the general aura of fatigue and accelerated aging are much more difficult to pin down.

Monette discusses as well the complete range of areas of life where the disease reached. Roger was an attorney by profession; once he had been diagnosed and begun treatment, Roger tried to keep working as long as possible. This sometimes involved preparing wills for other patients, who might not indicate they were dying from AIDS, but who were otherwise younger and healthier-looking that most people making wills. One such man, near death, had been hospitalized with meningitis.

Roger was naïve enough or sufficiently in denial not to realize he’d be walking in on an AIDS situation . . . . Roger found the man very weak, bedridden and disoriented. A sister had come from the Midwest to stay with him…. Roger had to be a sympathetic ear for her and her brother both…. When Roger came home and explained it all, ashen and pained, he was most upset to think that when the sister left, there wouldn’t be anyone there. Was AIDS ever mentioned? Not by name, by prey, why else were forty-year-old publicists demented and dying?

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