Borrowed Time Themes
The primary theme of Paul Monette’s activist memoir is courage. After his partner, Roger Horwitz, was diagnosed with AIDS in the mid-1980s, Paul went step by step with Roger in finding treatment, hoping for a cure, and accepting the finality of his death. When Monette published this book, relatively few personal accounts of this struggle yet existed. While Monette had been out before then, he wrote humorous popular fiction and had little experience with introspective nonfiction. He praises Roger’s courage, but his own also comes through in his candor and honesty.
Another important theme is discrimination and injustice, especially homophobia. Monette reviews many errors and omissions that contributed to making AIDS an epidemic, and he is unflinching in assessing blame for the agencies he primarily holds responsible. Furthermore, he repeatedly lambasts the widespread homophobia that both reduced treatment options and helped create a false narrative that blamed dying men for their own illness. While the blatant discrimination against gay people occupies much of his concern, Monette is also upfront about the biases against minorities that applied the similar faulty reasoning of blaming the victims.
The process of obtaining medical treatment also provides a running theme. Monette goes over this complex process: seeking and obtaining a diagnosis for Roger, the multiple decisions they faced in just figuring out what kind of treatment was available and then what was feasible, and actually trying to get the necessary treatment. Monette addresses the challenges that people in the United States face because of the high costs of medical care. He also explores the research delays in addressing AIDS/HIV and the periods when there was total lack of availability of key medications, not only for the poor but for everyone. Related to cost, he addresses ethical questions about paying the exorbitant prices in hopes of prolonging life only for a few weeks or months.