Caregiverby Rick R. Reed
Adam Schmidt is not at all what Dan expected. The guy
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It’s 1991, and Dan Calzolaio has just moved to Florida with his lover, Mark, having fled Chicago and Mark’s addictions to begin a new life on the Gulf Coast. Volunteering for the Tampa AIDS Alliance is just one part of that new beginning, and that’s how Dan meets his new buddy, Adam.
Adam Schmidt is not at all what Dan expected. The guy is an original—witty, wry, and sarcastic with a fondness for a smart black dress, Barbra Streisand, and a good mai tai. Adam doesn’t let his imminent death get him down, even through a downward spiral that sees him thrown in jail.
Each step of Adam’s journey teaches Dan new lessons about strength and resilience, but it’s Adam’s lover, Sullivan, to whom Dan feels an almost irresistible pull. Dan knows the attraction isn’t right, even after he dumps his cheating, drug-abusing boyfriend. But then Adam passes away, and it leaves Sullivan and Dan both alone to see if they can turn their love for Adam into something whole and real for each other.
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I finished CAREGIVER last night, the latest release by one of my favorite authors, Rick R. Reed. CAREGIVER is Mr. Reed's semi-autobiographical account of his own, personal experience as an "AIDS buddy" (volunteer companion), and how this experience changed his life forever. The story depicts not only the protagonist's experiences as he is getting to know and ultimately care about a very courageous and unique individual who happens to have AIDS, but it also chronicles this man's experiences with the other individuals that he encounters along the road on this journey. I don't want to give away plot details because I don't want to spoil anything for other readers, but this story touches on a number of emotionally-charged themes-loss, betrayal, regret, fear, guilt, change, healing, and forgiveness-but ultimately, CAREGIVER is nothing short of a love story. It is a love story on multiple levels, bittersweet yes, but ultimately triumphant. I approached this book reluctantly, not because I didn't think it would be well-written (well-written is a hallmark of all of Rick Reed's work), but because I knew reading it would be a bit of a personal risk. Why? Because when the AIDS epidemic first hit the media in the mid-1980s, I was in my early 20s. Like everyone else at the time, I was scared. Because I didn't know what else to do, I started volunteering as a buddy for a local AIDS organization in the Midwest. I continued buddying through the mid-1990s. Over nearly a decade, my buddy-client relationships were varied, ranging from warm and loving to bitter, hostile, and one even a little threatening. Like Mr. Reed's protagonist, along this road I met a number of remarkable people who changed my life forever-for the better, I like to think, looking back on it all now. Over the course of that time I also attended a lot of funerals and memorial services, and made a lot of panels for the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. I can say with all honesty that I remember every single one of those men when I allow myself to think about them, but like many Midwesterners, I have a real knack for compartmentalizing-just one memory at time, never letting the enormity of it all sink in. That has always been just too big of a bite to swallow. What CAREGIVER did for me was to hold a mirror up to my own life, it paralleled my own experiences so very closely that reading it brought me to my own personal catharsis-a catharsis that was long overdue. As I said, I've made an art of not examining the past too closely, but there are too many remarkable people we have lost who deserve to be remembered. I recommend CAREGIVER enthusiastically to anyone who lived through those awful years when a positive HIV-diagnosis was a certain death sentence, to anyone who lost someone they cared about, to anyone who knows someone battling against HIV/AIDS currently, to anyone who wants to understand better the sometimes cavalier attitude of those of us who, miraculously, still live on, and to those who appreciate a compelling love story.
Have you ever read a book that put your life on hold, one that wrapped you so totally in the story and the characters that you felt a part of it, one that you knew your life would be forever changed after reading? Caregiver was that book for me. It's a love story in the general sense but I think a better way of saying it is that it’s a story of love. It’s a deep, dark, semi autobiographical look into the life of a gay man during the height of the AIDS epidemic. I was just an oblivious kid when this was going on and Rick Reed was able to convey the fear and horror during that time in a way I never before comprehended. He told a painful and heartbreaking story but the emphasis on the love and support the characters had for each other was what really drew me in. The book is so well written and the characters so well developed that I forgot I was reading a book, the characters and their lives became real for me. Caregiver is the story of Adam and Dan. Adam is HIV positive. He knows he doesn’t have much time left. Adam lives with his partner Sullivan. They have had a difficult relationship over the years with periods of separation but through it all they never questioned their love. They always knew they were meant to be together. Adam is scared and depressed. Sullivan adores Adam and wants to be there for him but has no idea how to help or what to do. Sullivan is living in his own hell. He’s dealing with the terror of contracting Adam’s disease and the knowledge that he can’t bring himself to give Adam the unconditional care and love he needs. This has created a lot of tension in their relationship. Adam is lonely and desperately in need of a friend so he contacts the Tampa AIDS Alliance to ask for a buddy. Dan is Adam’s buddy. Dan has recently moved to Florida with his lover Mark. Mark is an addict. His lying and cheating have ravaged Dan’s self-confidence. Dan is just as lonely and in need of a friend as Adam. Dan and Adam meet and quickly form a bond. They are both starving for love and companionship and they fulfill that need for each other. Their friendship grows stronger as Adams death approaches. After Adam passes, Dan discovers the depth of love Adam truly had. One of Adam’s last acts was to bring Dan together with the love of his life. At that point, the book shifts to focus on their romance. My heart absolutely broke for Adam. He was funny, quirky and had such a vibrant personality that I couldn’t help but love him. Adam became a real person who lived and died to me. He became a friend I loved and mourned. I am amazed at how deeply this book affected me. I’ve been known to tear up over a book or two but this is the first book I’ve ever had to put down because I was sobbing. It’s heartbreaking but also inspiring at the same time. I have to say a huge “Thank You” to Rick Reed for sharing this story and allowing me a glimpse into a time and place I never would have experienced otherwise. I loved it and will never forget it.