"Death Was Behind the Door," Recalls Alfredo

A poster for the Gay Film Festival now underway in Holguin. (Leonardo del Valle)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Leonardo del Valle, Holguin, 13 December 2017 — Alfredo was 35 in 2000, when he was diagnosed HIV seropositive. Two weeks ago this 52-year-old homosexual man and his mother attended the presentation of The Normal Heart, the film that opened the cycle of gay cinema that will run in the Holguin Provincial Film Center until 20 December. It was 1 December and the cultural space was one of the few public places that paid tribute to those who work to eradicate the AIDS virus or improve the quality of life of those who have contracted the disease.

Judging by the opinions of the workers in the room, the audience reception was excellent, with an attendance that far surpassed that of previous editions. The Normal Heart details the uncertain onset of a disease, which at that time was linked exclusively to homosexuals, and it does so through truly moving images and a frank awareness of the ignorance about AIDS in the decade of the 80s.

Alfredo and his mother, like so many others in the audience, shuddered during the hardest scenes of the film, supported by an excellently constructed script.

“I drove the nurse crazy, I went every day to the municipal Hygiene and Epidemiology Office, I suspected it, I was waiting for the final test result, the one that says if you really do or do not have HIV,” he says, about the days before he received his diagnosis.

On 6 June they gave him the result. “That morning I arrived and the nurse was busy, but she came out immediately to help me, I will never forget look on her face, I did not let her talk, I said, ’Your face tells me everything.’ ” That echoed in his ears like a hammer blow.

“I asked when I had to go to the sanatorium and she told me that same day.” Alfredo asked the nurse for two days to prepare, but the nurse barely gave him one.

“I can see clearly, right now, Alfre with his sister,” recalls Nelda, his mother. “She said, ’I need to talk to you, mommy,’ and she took me to the bedroom, I thought she was going to tell me something about my granddaughter, but that wasn’t it.”

“I do not know how the news came out in the block,” says Alfredo, who didn’t realize how much his neighbors loved him, until he saw them saying goodbye, crying, when he went to the Aguas Claras sanatorium. “It was very painful, it was like I would never come back,” he recalls.

The hardest moment of those interminable 24 hours, after learning that he had contracted the virus, was when his mother turned her back to him as she prepared to leave the sanatorium.

“I remember that I felt as if they were taking my life, when I was leaving, I did not have the courage to look back. From that moment on, I started going to the sanatorium every day, until I joined him there. I was learning about the disease and I was acquiring more spiritual strength,” says Nelda.

Alfredo remembers that time with terror. “One felt that death was behind the door, I was in the sanatorium for three months,” he recalls. “Actually that stage prepared me to know how to coexist with the disease, although I never agreed with that system in which we were practically prisoners without committing any crime.”

Alfredo relates that in the sanatorium he lived with good people, but also with others who came from prison. Even so, he gradually accepted his situation and spent his time sewing, a skill he learned from a very young age. He sewed for the patients, for the workers and even for the neighbors who lived nearby.

During the viewing of the film, Alfredo recalled the moment he tried to commit suicide, something very common among patients who have been diagnosed with the virus and who fall into a severe depression.

“When I left the sanatorium I went to look for my life, the one I had before the results,” says Alfredo, referring to his work in a primary school. The marginalization to which he was subjected led him to leave the school shortly afterwards and he devoted himself to sewing at home.

Alfredo noted the ignorance of the doctors themselves about the disease when they found he had kidney cancer. “To get them to operate on me, I had to break down walls of ignorance and that was not very many years ago.”

His eyes are lost in infinity and he is agitated when he remembers those difficult moments. He does not hide that The Normal Heart affected him. “Thanks be to God I am alive, and also to the scientific advances, but I saw many patients die. That uneasiness that the characters in the film showed, that sudden pain, I felt it, Mom felt it,” Alfredo adds.

“Today youth see AIDS as something very normal, like a cold, and it is not,” he warns.


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