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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William E. White Jr., October 29, 2000. Interview R-0147. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Living with AIDS

Faith, friendship, and work have kept him from suicide, White says. He also relies on vacations to help him forget the fact that he is living with AIDS, the treatment for which is causing facial wasting and hurting his body image. White confesses that he no longer tells people he has the disease.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William E. White Jr., October 29, 2000. Interview R-0147. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ASHLEY CROWE:
What is most important to you?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Oh god, umm. Most important to me would be my faith, and my relationships. Because they kind of interlock like [pause] Legos. If I didn't have my faith I couldn't keep going on along down the line. I would have killed myself some where within the last eight years. Just because I would have gone, "Oh, I can't deal with this anymore." And that's the reason that, you know, I go to the health department and they go, "We think you have TB." And instead of just freaking out it's like, "Okay, fine, what do we do?" "Well Mr. White you need to this, this and this, you need to take these pills, and you'll need to come in everyday because we have to watch you take them." I said, "That's no problem, I can come in before work." They're like, "God, I wish everybody else was like that." As my Aunt Doris in Asheville said, "You do want you have to do." Without some faith I couldn't do it. And without people like him [points to Kent] and Elwood and my sister, I couldn't do it. Those are my two; those are the two most important thing to me at the moment. Probably will stay that way And I'm also very lucky in as much as I have all these clients - well I don't have a lot of clients - I have some clients. And going to work is like spending thirty minutes with one friend after another. And a lot of the, don't know the real me, but it's still a friend type thing. And I think that helps as well.
ASHLEY CROWE:
You mean it helps give you some distance from it, or?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Yeah. I can spend alot of time with them and it's like going on vacation. One of my favorite things about going on vacation is I don't have to be - I don't have AIDS there. I'm just having fun. When we go to Kent's sister's ranch in Texas, I don't have AIDS the whole time I'm there, not in here [touches head]. I still pop the pill, but I have so much other stuff to think about. And plan for and go do. I get back home, and I've got it agaion. And the general reaction is, "You're still here and you aren't any different; that's fine." [hiccups] Excuse me.
ASHLEY CROWE:
How often do you really think you get away and go on vacation?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
For a goodly length of time. [hiccups] Pardon me.
ASHLEY CROWE:
That's alright.
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Twice a year. I go away physically on a long weekend to the mountains and that's not - sometimes it does, sometime it doesn't. But I only take one; I only take a week off of work once a year. And that's when we go to his sisters. And I love it; I have a ball there. So no the rest of the time - It's a little harder now, even than it used to be because, unless I do this in front of the mirror [covers his cheeks with his hand] I know. Because I've got nothing here [in his cheeks] and it's here [in his stomach]. And that's not the way it used to be. I think that's one of the hardest things at the moment, is trying to readjust my body image. Umm, but, I'll do it, I mean I don't have much choice, I just don't look in mirrors. And when I can I do my best to make jokes. Used to be when I was a kid I'd make jokes about my nose before anyone else could, now I make jokes about my appearance just because it lightens up the mood.
ASHLEY CROWE:
Outside of those three really strong friendships that you have do you have a network of friends outside that, or?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
[sighs]
ASHLEY CROWE:
Or any that help a lot?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Yeah, but they're actually - they have dual purposes. Umm, they're my doctors and my counselors. Ahh, let's see. Come on Bill, Dorothy, [pause] Lily, those are my two doctors, Jennifer is the psychiatric social worker, I've got a group of people at the shop where I work that I think - well they've been helpful so far. I have a small group, yeah. But not as big of a network of friends as I'd really like to have. Although, I suspect if it came right down to it I'd find some of my clients popping up out of the woodwork. I've just learned from most of them not to tell them the truth about my health. Because on the few occasions the ones that I've - they all freaked. The first time after that I got sick in any way, I never saw them again. So I don't tell people anymore. Which is fun when they go, [in a shocked voice] "What happened to your face? Do you feel alright?" It's like, "Mm-hmm" And just go from there. Umm, if they get real pushy it's like, "Well it's a funky result, or side-effect of this cortisone that I'm on." They go, "But cortisone usually make you puff up." I go, "Yeah, but this one just made puff up here [his stomach]." And that works. If I try to explain to them that I'm on medication that dissolves all your body fat. All of it, and redeposits it into one or two places. They're going to go, "What kind off medicine are you on?" And if I go, "Cortisone," they go, "No way in hell. Un-un." So it's, if anybody asks it's, "Well it's middle-aged spread I drank to man beers." I don't drink beer.
ASHLEY CROWE:
Has it been hard for you, not being open with you clients at work, or do you think it's easier?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Now that I've gone through it I think it's easier. It allows us to keep thing fairly light, as though I don't need anything heavy. It also means that when I cut my finger while cutting hair, which is a real common occurrence. They don't suddenly go, "you're bleeding!" And freak. I just go, "Excuse me, I'll be right back, I'm not going to do a self-sacrifice here." Put a Band-Aid on it and fine. And therefore they're not going to freak. So yeah, it's much easier.
ASHLEY CROWE:
And your employer?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Oh yea, he knows that would not have been fair. He owns the shop. And the thing that I have told him is, if I ever become a threat to the shop. I'll leave. And if this turns out to be TB I may have to. But I'm not going to burn that bridge 'till I get to it.
ASHLEY CROWE:
Right. And you find that out Monday?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Yes. But like I said that's the reason we are meeting out here, instead of in there-
ASHLEY CROWE:
Right.
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
This is an open-space where any germs just float away.