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Couple’s ‘Wedding’ Day Acknowledgement of Approaching Death

April 30, 1993

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ For her wedding, Debbi Hood wore an ankle-length chiffon dress, white above and flowered black below. She’ll wear the dress again, at her husband’s funeral.

″I can’t afford both a wedding dress and a funeral dress,″ Hood said.

For most couples, a wedding day is a feast and a beginning. For Hood and Bob Johnson, it was acknowledgement of the approaching end.

Johnson has AIDS. He was diagnosed two years ago. He and Hood, both 39, have lived with the certainty of his death.

The two met at the Metrolina AIDS Project, where Hood was volunteer coordinator and Johnson worked as a paralegal and administrative assistant. They gave many talks on AIDS to church and school groups, trying to spread accurate information about the disease and the needs of patients.

All that ended three weeks ago, when he was diagnosed with progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), a relentless viral infection that attacks the nervous system and causes brain lesions. About 4 percent of people with AIDS contract the disease. No treatment exists.

A legal marriage would make Johnson ineligible for Medicare and Medicaid, which he can’t afford to lose. So their wedding had to be symbolic and legally nonbinding.

Both wanted a wedding as a sign of commitment. Johnson also wanted it for psychological support: It tells him that Hood will always be there as things get worse.

Hood hopes Thursday’s ceremony will put their relationship in terms the world can understand. When she takes him to the emergency room in the middle of the night, as she’s done three times, nurses won’t say, ″Oh - you’re his roommate.″

Death is a frequent visitor in their lives. In the past four years, they’ve lost 65 friends to AIDS.

″It’s scary for B.J.,″ said Hood, using Johnson’s nickname. ″He lies awake thinking about it before his morphine knocks him out. He cries for other people but not for himself. He’s not into self-pity.″

Their love is without a sex. Johnson is gay but sexually inactive; Hood is celibate.

″We respect each other’s sexual orientation,″ she said. ″I think we have a more committed, loving, intimate relationship than some married couples who have sex.″

Johnson’s parents have tried to keep their son’s homosexuality a secret from neighbors in the small town where they live. ″It couldn’t do anyone any particular good,″ said his mother, who didn’t want her name revealed.

Hood’s relatives were appalled by her relationship with Johnson.

″They’ve made me choose between my family and B.J.,″ she said, ″and I chose him. It’s their loss.″

PML has already begun to separate the newlyweds. Johnson has developed speech problems. Sometimes, he doesn’t remember what he’s doing.

From the wreckage, they have clutched love.

″Love is - period,″ Hood said. ″We don’t qualify it. We don’t distinguish between heterosexual and homosexual. When love is there, the physical form it takes is just a detail.″

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