The Gulf and The Cove

by Rick Beck

Chapter 32

The 1980s


The new cove attracted consistent business after October of 1980. During the summer, it was discovered by a few dozen new people each month. Many returned with friends and family at least once before summer's end.

J.K.'s Jr. Kitchen did a good business between ten in the morning and four in the afternoon and J.K.'s Kitchen had a new customer or two most evening.

By October Ivan was taking out two fishing charters a week.

After an advertising campaign in September, I took out divers once a week when two or more divers signed up. Harry wasn't one yet. We discussed buying second hand SCUBA tanks and renting them to divers who took a diving lesson from me.

Our tour boat became the most popular activity for campers and day visitors to the cove. At five dollars per person it was reasonable. It required a second boat but Ivan planned on a second boat set up to take up to a dozen people to tour the Gulf from one to three each day.

The boat tour was popular. Some people read about the cove. They came to take the boat tour of the Gulf and then they went across the highway to eat at J.K.'s Kitchen.

J.K. put a sign on the tour boat, 'Take the tour, get 20% off of dinner.'

Many people came to the cove for the boat tour and stayed to have dinner at J.K.'s.

As the tour boat became more popular, Taggart took the tour boat out when Ivan was on a fishing charter. Taggart took care of the Cove Dive, Surf, & Bait Shop, closing the two hours the tour took.

Some folks came to see the cove, walked the beach to the Gulf, came back and signed up for the boat tour, and left after dinner. These people usually came back and brought friends to camp with them on the beach.

During the winter months there were always people camping on the beach. At first less than half the campsites were filled but the beach began to fill up on weekends as people found the cove. Ivan and I took morning walks on the beach. We met most campers before they left. They liked the cove and said they'd be back.

It was nice to see familiar faces when they did come back.

Harry spent a lot of time in Washington after he was elected to the senate. There were meetings to have and committee assignments to be considered. There were new friends for him to make and no one thought Harry was an empty suit.

In November, of 1980, the week after Thanksgiving, Harry sent me to flight school in Ft. Lauderdale. Just before Christmas, Harry flew home to take Ivan and Dylan to Ft. Lauderdale, and he took them to see me solo and get my license to fly planes with one or two engines. I was thrilled and so were my men.

Harry was thrilled because he no longer needed to come to get me when he wanted me in D.C. For his first two years as a senator, my presence wasn't requested, but in 1983 I flew to D.C. twice.

Ivan began to talk about buying a plane. I told him we might wait a decade or two.

Harry said, "You'll need a plane soon, Clay. I'm looking at a twin engine Beachcraft that will carry eight passengers. When I buy that, the old Apache will be available for you to fly. It's why I wanted you to learn on the Apache and it is as close as my house when you want to use it. There will be more speaking engagements and they're going to be farther away. Sea Lab is good for the Florida coast engagements but you'll need to fly to places around the Gulf of Mexico once I get acquainted with senators from the Gulf states."

It was an idea I'd consider but I'd need to make more money to be able to afford flying a plane. I knew Harry would need me to make appearance in places that were suffering the most from pollution. We'd already spoken about my appearance at colleges in states that bordered the Gulf.

Taking the Sea Lab to places like Louisiana and Texas was far too far unless there was a disaster and I'd need my laboratories to examine it properly. A flight even to Texas in Harry's twin engine plane was two to three hours once you got yourself pointed west.

Harry was going national and I'd be going with him. Whatever I flew would take off and land behind Harry's house and he started lengthening the runway to accommodate the eight passenger Beachcraft he bought. Arrangements were being worked out as the time for the new plane's delivery came closer.

"The twin engine, like the Sea Lab, will belong to the conservancy. You'll mostly be on business when you need to fly. Like the Sea Lab, you'll have it at your disposal for personal use," Harry decided, finding a way to make flying affordable for me.

By the time Harry took his seat in January of 1980, I was worry free and ready to speak anywhere the conservancy wanted me to go.

After returning to the cove, I brought back the knowledge of a new gizmo that was a motorcycle for the water. It was selling like hotcakes on the east coast of Florida. I'd seen them in Ft. Lauderdale. Popov said no on the noise and the pollution they'd create in the confined space the cove had to offer. I agreed with him once he checked into selling or renting such a thing to vacationers.

Along with Harry and Lucy winning their election, Ronald Reagan won his and he'd become our president.

I remembered the 'bloodbath' comment Reagan made at a governors conference a few weeks before another governor officiated over sending armed troops onto the Kent State campus and there was a bloodbath. Reagan said his words about a bloodbath had nothing to do with the Kent State bloodbath. I wasn't as sure as he was.

I didn't know what was in Reagan's heart but he was the inspiration behind forcing students to pay more and more for their education. Land-grant colleges created by Abraham Lincoln to offer free education to the people of the country had been ended by Reagan's idea that it was up to students to pay for their own education if they wanted one.

It took a little more than a hundred years for Lincoln's vision of nonprofit education to become part of the free market with big profits and multimillion dollar sports complexes student fees paid for. This kind of move gave rich people like Reagan big tax cuts.

Lincoln understood that intelligent kids weren't always born into families with resources. In modern times being poor meant no funds for college. In Lincoln's time, he wanted the best and brightest to get a college education and contribute to the country's future.

When you love money over all else, other people's hardships don't concern you. They're free to make all the money they want.

Electing an actor president did have a bright side. If all else failed, he could act like the president.

Maybe if he'd been a better actor, I might have felt better.

By mid 1981 the new cove was never without campers, beach goers, or people going in and out of the Cove Dive, Surf, & Bait Shop. J.K.'s Jr. Kitchen kept two employees on duty in the busy part of the day by then.

While taking divers out once a week, I was able to keep up with my work. I took water samples any time I went into the water. I gave divers a lesson on protecting the environment. It worked for me.

Diving with Clayton Olson didn't hurt business at all. I was happy people knew who I was. Some divers drove many miles to dive with me and to hear me talk about the environment. Most people who came to the cove were in favor of keeping the water and air clean.

In 1982 Harry bought new camera equipment for the Sea Lab. Bill Payne told him what he was using in the Pacific and Harry bought the same cameras for my work underwater.

"I'll buy the old cameras from you, Harry," I said. "Dylan has gone back to using the Nikkon Ivan bought him. He talks about wanting to photograph underwater. I want to take him with me to let him get the experience of actually taking pictures on a reef."

"Whatever you decide, Clay. Make sure he'll make use of them before you pay the conservancy for them. You do know it wouldn't hurt my feelings if another Olson came to work for me. As we grow in size and influence, we could use a photographer."

Dylan was sold on photography. It had his full attention in the beginning of the 1980s. I wasn't convinced this was his best career choice, but he did love photography and he loved the sea.

Dylan was so excited the day I took him on his first dive with my older underwater cameras that he almost forgot his SCUBA gear.

I was once again able to supply the film and develop his pictures. We'd gone full circle. He started off with a the Nikkon and he was good with it. Then Ivan got him the 8mm and he was fascinated with things in motion. Once I turned my underwater cameras over to him, he couldn't wait to get underwater on a dive.

Once the pictures were developed, and they sat side by side, Dylan had no trouble picking out the ones he took. His enthusiasm for the world in which I worked was admirable.

At first I was teaching Dylan techniques he hadn't considered in his still pictures before. There was a lot to learn about how to get the best effects. By sticking close to me, which wasn't always what he wanted to do. Dylan watched how I did it. His impatience over getting a good shot gave way to a willingness to wait for the shot to come to him. You didn't need to move around if you picked a spot in line with where the action was.

Seeing Dylan as still as a mouse, while he waited for the right moment to arrive was a window on my son maturing before my eyes. Underwater photography helped Dylan gain control of his wide open fertile mind. His pictures reflected his growth.

Getting my son underwater with a camera in his hand was one of my better moves. He had opportunities galore with his daddy being a marine biologist. I looked for new ways to take Dylan farther down the road he was on.

I still wasn't sold on the idea he'd become a professional photographer, but the idea didn't worry me as much as it once had.

Ivan started Dylan on the path he'd taken into photography. It was a future Ivan saw more clearly than I did. Picturing Dylan as a mathematician, a writer, or a scientist is what I'd hoped he'd do, but it wasn't up to me. I wanted Dylan to be happy as well as successful.

At Christmas 1982 Ivan raised the stakes again. Dylan went straight to the biggest box under the tree. It was from his father and, as always, it would excite Dylan in a way no other gift did.

I worked to keep up with what was on Dylan's mind. Ivan put things in Dylan's mind I hadn't considered.

Dylan took the 8mm camera out from time to time. He realized how limited photography was on such an unstable platform. He went back to the Nikkon and he had control of his pictures. That was the gateway to the underwater 35mm cameras I gave him. He did mind at all that these were the cameras I used for years.

When Dylan reached into that box at Christmas, he grabbed hold of a camera that would marry the parts of photography he loved most.

It was too early to know how far down this road he would go but go he would.

He brought out a 16mm motion picture camera with a brace attached to stabilize the camera.

In what had become Dylan's rich baritone voice, he said, "Daddy-O, I love it. It's just what I've always wanted."

He threw himself into Ivan's arms.

Ivan said, "Learn to use it properly and next Christmas there will be a 16mm underwater camera under the Christmas tree."

Dylan's eyes bugged out when he heard the plan.

Later I learned where Ivan's inspiration came from. He talked to Harry, who talked to Bill Payne. Bill told Ivan which camera to buy. Bill was buying new underwater cameras in 1983. He'd sell one of the used underwater cameras to Ivan for a good price.

To sweeten the pot, Bill told me, 'You need to come on my research vessel with me this summer. I'll get you up to speed on the new systems on board the Horizon. Harry will be looking for what's available to put on Sea Lab. Best of all Clayton, it's summer. You can bring Dylan with you. He can dive with my underwater motion picture photographer. He can learn from a professional. If your son is going to be a photographer, he may as well be a good one."

I didn't need to ask Harry about any of it. He was right in the middle of this deal. It's the only way Bill knew as much as he did. I didn't need to ask twice if Dylan wanted to go diving in the Pacific. I didn't mention him diving with an underwater motion picture photographer. He wouldn't have been able to sleep if he knew that.

Everyone seemed to know where my son's future was heading, but change was never the easiest thing for Dylan's daddy. I'd come around in time, but not yet. For right now it was an adventure of a lifetime for both father and son.

I could hardly sleep as the day for our departure came closer.

Once Dylan had the 16mm camera, there was no way I was going on Bill's research vessel without him. He knew about the trip for months before we left. He didn't know he'd be diving with Bill's photographer. Once he found out, he was ready to rock and roll.

I stood on the deck of the Horizon watching Dylan going into the Pacific with Logan. Once they returned, it's all Dylan talked about. He'd seen fish and sea creatures he hadn't even seen in books. We sat in the Horizon's library looking for pictures of the creatures he'd seen. By day's end he had drawn a sketch and had Logan helping us to look for the creature

During his first trip on the Horizon in 1983, Dylan turned fourteen. He said being on the Horizon was the best birthday gift ever. When he wasn't diving with Logan, they sat with their heads together talking photography. They spent time in the Horizon's film studio to go over the footage that had been taken on the trip. Dylan was fascinated by splicing and editing film footage he took on the Horizon's spare 16mm underwater cameras.

Bill said there was a million dollars worth of film equipment in the studio and his last two documentaries were edited and assembled in the Horizon's studio. I'd never thought I could tackle moving pictures. My medium was 35mm slides and it worked well for me. Seeing the raw footage and watching it turned into a documentary was exciting to see. I could see its value in telling a story.

Before leaving the Horizon to fly home after six weeks on a cruise, Bill asked Dylan if he wanted to come next summer for their voyage to the Great Barrier reef. Dylan would be paid as the second photographer and be given credit on the next film.

It's all Dylan could talk about on the flight home. I worried about Dylan being away from home. I remembered I was fifteen when I became a fisherman on Ivan's father's boat.

As promised, Ivan gave Dylan a 16mm underwater camera for Christmas in 1983. Dylan knew the camera. It was the one he used on the trip that summer. It cost more than my Buick.

Bill Payne made sure he gave Ivan a good price on the camera. It would be the camera Dylan would use the following summer when he took a voyage halfway around the world.

I could have objected but Ivan wouldn't stand in Dylan's way. Once more I remembered Mrs. Foster's words, "I wouldn't do anything to discourage him." I wouldn't either and it would become an adventure of a lifetime.

Our son left home a boy and he returned a young man. He'd never lacked self-confidence but he'd gained weight and he was as tall as Ivan when he came home. Dylan's boyish excitement gave way to an understanding of where he'd been, what he'd seen, and what he did. He brought back a movie documenting that told his story.

Dylan filmed it, editing it, and developing a script he narrated, mixing his voice with the pictures he took. Hearing Dylan's voice explaining what we were seeing added an authenticity to the production.

To go with his trip in 1984 came an offer from Bill to work the following summer on the Horizon. We'd have been unable to keep him from going but Harry stopped him, once he watched Dylan's film.

UCLA's film school was running a summer program the following summer. It was available to California residents only, except for a student an influential senator wanted in the program.

I don't know anything else would have kept Dylan off the Horizon in 1985, but when a senator, who is your father's boss, asks you to do something for him, the answer is always, 'Yes, sir.'

Any idea my son wouldn't become an underwater photographer and film maker were gone. Logan had taught Dylan the tricks of the trade. He was insightful and focused on bringing the most sensational film footage possible to the screen. He was asked to bring his 1984 film to UCLA with him.

No one needed to ask my son why he was there.

I feared exposing Dylan to the larger world, it couldn't be avoided now. If he got out there, away from home, away from his family, he'd need to make his own decisions, and I'd trust him to do what was right, and if we didn't make coming home hard for him, he just might come back home to live a peaceful life. Dylan was growing up with my encouragement or without it.

Eventually Dylan would travel anywhere to get the most exciting film footage, but there was no greater joy for my son than when he went diving with his fathers off Sea Lab. Filming me at work and giving motion to what I did. Creating films that made Harry and his father's proud.

The 1980s moved right along. There were bold plans and a few difficulties. There were no serious worries as time passed. Pleasant

days with fair skies was how it went in paradise.

Harry stayed busy working his way into the most powerful environmental circles in the senate. His reputation as a congressman meant the environmental forces in the senate welcomed Harry into their ranks and they looked forward to hearing his ideas.

Harry was invited to speak while most freshman senators were expected to remain silent. Harry's stature was enhanced by what was done at the Sanibel Island Conservancy. He had a carefully developed awareness of what needed to be done and what had to change in an effort to guarantee clean water and fresh air.

In early 1983 I was invited to speak before the environmental committee in the senate. Harry was a member but not the chairman yet. The senators wanted to hear from Harry's man in the Gulf.

I flew the twin engine and I got lost trying to find Hyde Field. I'd flown with Harry and landed there a dozen times. Eventually I got onto the ground, where I was met by Harry's driver.

My reception was unexpectedly cordial. The senators I met knew my work. Some followed my work by reading papers I wrote on the Gulf of Mexico. They were released periodically by the conservancy.

If the House of Representatives was contentious and rude, the senate was focused and respectful. I worked on what I intended to say to them for several weeks before my trip to D.C. The senators sat quietly while I said what I wanted to say.

Harry was two years into his term as senator and he'd become a respected member of the environmental committee, once he was given an opportunity to reveal what he had to say.

I was included in a working lunch and I was invited to dine with Harry and five senators at a downtown D.C. eatery. It was collegial and I was asked about what I told them earlier that day.

This was the beginning of a friendly relationship I enjoyed with senators who were environmentally sensitive. They asked smart questions and I gave direct answers.

It's how I envisioned smart people should operate. I began to think that perhaps my low opinion of politicians was a little harsh.

There was a second trip to D.C. that came after our voyage on the Horizon. I hadn't known about this trip in advance. I came to work one morning and their was a message on my desk to call Harry, which I did.

"I'd like you in D.C. Thursday, Clayton. It's important. You need to make every effort to get away," Harry said.

"Sure Harry. I'll go check the plane out this afternoon and I'll be at Hyde Field before 3 p.m. Thursday afternoon."

"My driver will be waiting for you," he said.

During my second trip to Washington D.C. in 1983, not long after my return from our voyage on the Horizon, I got my eyes opened on the environment on Capitol Hill.

It had nothing to do with my work and everything to do with politicians. My low opinion of them wasn't nearly harsh enough. Harry didn't tell me why he wanted me in D.C. I assumed it was about work.

I flew the twin engine into Hyde Field and I ended up at Harry's office in the senate office building. I was escorted to Harry's inter sanctum where I freshened up and relaxed until Harry arrived.

We were going to dinner at Hogates on Main Avenue in D.C. Harry still didn't mention work or the purpose for me being there. We were to meet a gentleman Harry wanted to introduce me to.

We met a man at the front door. He was introduced as a doctor.

"Doctor of what?" I asked as we were guided to a table.

"Medicine. I work for the CDC," he said.

"Center for Disease Control?" I inquired.

"Yes," he said and I was totally in the dark.

We ordered after Harry and the doctor ordered a drink. I asked for Coke and I waited to be clued in to the purpose for my trip.

"I agreed to this meeting because Senator McCallister asked me to speak with you as a personal favor. You never heard what I'm about to tell you from me. That's my only request," he said.

I looked at Harry.

"If it wasn't important you wouldn't be here. You'll understand once you hear what he has to say. I didn't know how to tell you," Harry said.

I picked over my imperial crab, having lost my appetite. I was made physically ill listening to the doctor speak. I had become welded to my seat and I couldn't get up. I was stunned.

I was a man with a message about poison and unscrupulous polluters. The doctor had a message about poison too. The doctor was talking about something we faced right now and it was impacting men like Ivan and me.

"It's called GRID(Gay Related Immune Deficiency). I'm here to ask congress for funding to do research on the disease."

I had nothing to say once he began talking.

It took quite a conversation to leave me speechless. I was accustomed to saying things people didn't like to hear. I had nothing on the doctor. More amazing, Harry said nothing. He looked disturbed by what the doctor had to say. He hardly touched his drink.

Ten minutes with the doctor left me dumbstruck. There were no words for what I was thinking. It wasn't the new disease that disturbed me most. It was the response to the disease that was sick.

"It's why I wanted you to come, Clayton. The doctor has been on the Hill this week. He'll leave for Atlanta tomorrow. No one cares that people are dying, because it's people they think are better off dead. How could I tell you a thing like that? It is a dangerous time for men like you and Ivan. No one at the cove knows anything about GRID. You need to know about it," Harry said. "No one is talking about it but that's what makes it so dangerous. For me, it's the response to the disease that's evil. I think the people on Capitol Hill have lost their minds."

"You know what I think of politicians, Harry. You've just confirmed every negative impression I've ever had. This is as sick as it gets, and I don't mean GRID. I'm talking about the politicians."

"The right people are protected. If you are white, male, Christian, straight, and especially if you're in the power structure, you stay protected; other people, not so much," Harry said.

The doctor cleared his throat. He wasn't done yet.

I didn't know if I could stomach more.

"It's far worse than it sounds. We're losing hemophiliacs at an alarming rate," the doctor said. "These are mostly children, mostly boys with hemophilia. It's not a pleasant death to see."

"Because of... GRID?" I asked. "How is a disease that kills primarily gay men killing children?"

"It's killing gay men in America, because the disease got a foothold in that group. In Africa it is killing straight men and women."

"It's killing kids with hemophilia? I don't get it," I said.

"Hemophilia patients receive a clotting factor. It keeps them alive. It comes from blood. It's why we suspect it's in the blood. The children began dying shortly after the first clusters of gay men were dying in New York City and Los Angeles. Many gay men give blood. We theorize it's in the blood. We think it's in other body fluids. We can't prove it without funds for research. Do you know how many people get blood transfusion every day? They are at risk."

"If you know this, why isn't the CDC doing anything?" I asked.

"No funds. Preachers call it the gay plague and say it is sent by God to punish the gays. We've talked to congress. They know it's killing hemophiliacs. I was told, 'This congress won't give a dime to anything with the word gay attached to it.' If it's in the blood and it's killing hemophiliacs, it can kill anyone. A disease isn't particular about who it kills. Until it kills a politician, they won't budge."

"Don't look now, Harry, but you're a politician," I said.

"I'm an environmentalist who came to the senate to make laws to protect the water and air. Don't confuse me with politicians who think it's fine to remain silent while citizens die."

"I won't, but hearing you say it is reassuring..., and little children for Christ's sake? Our leaders sit silent and they know this?"

People turned to see who was becoming emotional in their midst.

I had Harry's driver return me to Hyde Field after dinner.

I taxied onto the grass strip and I was airborne before ten. I turned off my radio, pushing the throttle all the way forward, switching on the autopilot. Leaning back, I rubbed my temples.

I didn't know what kind of world I lived in.

I went numb after hearing what the doctor had to say.

I watched the lights of cities and town flashing below me.

I knew the names I was called.

I was loathed for being who I was. I'd never given it a second thought. I wouldn't find acceptance in this country as long as I loved Ivan. The price of acceptance was too high.

I was a good man. I was raising my son and doing good work. None of that mattered if I was exposed as a homosexual. The disease would make a bad situation worse. Men who wanted to stop me would stop at nothing to silence my voice. They spent millions discrediting and spreading lies about people who fought their attempts to force them to clean up there acts. It wouldn't take long for a good investigator to get the dirt on me and I was directly associated with Harry. If they took me down they could take Harry down with me. This was the kind of world I lived in.

If that's what comes of me loving Ivan, so be it. Harry knew the risk.

Fifty miles from the cove, the autopilot beeped. I fastened my safety belts and guided the plane closer to the coast.

Getting ready to land, I switched on the ground beacons and followed them to a soft landing behind Harry's house.

I got into the Buick and I drove home.

I turned on the light in my bedroom and I went to the door to look at my son. He was still sleeping with that damn teddy bear. Dylan was in almost every way a young man, except he was still Ivan's little boy. He was a man sized little boy.

"What's wrong?" Ivan said. "I didn't expect you until tomorrow."

"Nothing," I said. "I just wanted to see my son."

"You didn't come home to see me?" Ivan asked.

"Not tonight, Ivan. I needed to be home tonight and I'm exhausted."

I was never as tired as I was at four o'clock that morning. I felt like life was draining out of me and I didn't know what to do about it.

I kissed Ivan goodbye. He didn't wake up.

I took Dylan to school before driving to the conservancy and unlocking the laboratory, I went in to sit behind my desk.

I was still numb. This was the place where I finished growing up. It was where I needed to be this morning. There was work waiting to be done, papers to be written, and speeches to give.

Harry built the new conservancy around me. It wouldn't survive without me. This was my kingdom and I was the right hand man of one of the most powerful men in the world and I'd continue doing what I'd been doing since I returned from my first dive.

When push comes to shove, I'd lay my cards down and fight.

"You've been home for two days and you haven't said five words," Ivan said as we sat on his deck, looking out at the Gulf.

"I don't know how to say what I've got to say," I said.

"Am I in trouble, babe?" he asked.

"We're all in trouble, Ivan," I said. "Have you heard of GRID."

"Couldn't be a much uglier word for sentencing folks to death," Ivan said, squirming in his seat.

"Harry introduced me to a doctor from the CDC. Do you know what's being done about GRID?" I asked.

"What hateful people do when the people they hate are sick and dying," Ivan said. "It's the American way, babe."

"This is the United States of America. It is 1983. Hating people has become an art form since the Holocaust. The Arabs hate the Jews. Whites hate blacks. Everyone hates gays and I don't even know what the hell that means."

"Queers and fags are a bit out of vogue. It's something like calling someone a Nigger. You can't do that any more. It isn't polite. You can hate them as much as you like, but call them something nicer," Ivan said.

"Treat them like dirt but be sure you call them African American," I said.

"We are raising a generation of kids who have never heard the word fuck on television, but they watch blood and guts and murder and mayhem day and night. They have no clue what real is," Ivan said

"What do you think we should do?" I asked.

"I've been meaning to mention that we need to go back to the time when we were afraid to touch each other in front of the locals. I enjoy our walks on the beach as much as anything we do together, Clay, but while most of the people around the cove know we are connected in a way they don't ask about, this thing, this GRID will bring the crazies out of the woodwork. I can live without walking hand in hand in public. I don't know we'll live if we keep walking hand in hand in public."

"I had the same thought. Our love has a cost, Ivan. We need to be cautious," I said. "This thing is bad. It's going to stir up the haters."

"It was just beginning to feel like we were OK here," I said. "As long as you don't insult your customers, we're fine."

Ivan laughed.

"GRID has me thinking it would be nice to have some gangster to insult to bring normalcy back to the cove," Ivan said.

"I'm scared, Ivan. This is crazy. Our politicians are ignoring a disease that's killing thousands of people," I said. "There's talk of rounding up gay people and isolating them somewhere to keep them away from the general population."

"We are the general population, Clay. They couldn't round us up because they have no way of identifying us. A disease can't be gay or straight or Catholic. A disease is an illness. A disease that can be passed from man to man can be passed from man to woman. If it's passed from a man to a woman, it can be passed from a woman to a man. This thing is way bigger than a gay plague and the people saying that's what it is are going to suffer the consequences of their ignorance, but in the meantime good people will die."

Ivan squeezed my hand. He made more sense than I could make out of what was happening.

Then I did something I couldn't do in front of Harry and the doctor at the seafood restaurant in D.C. Once I was in the air, I grew numb to the news the doctor gave me.

Being there with Ivan, I was able to cry.

Ivan pulled me to my feet, wrapping his arms around me. I cried on his shoulder. My insides ached from the knowledge of a disease that was killing people like us.

Ivan carried me to our bed.

Sinking into the soft down mattress, he held me close and I fell into a sound sleep.

I was safe.

We were together.

It was AIDS.

No one talked about it but preachers who called it, 'God's plague on gays.' Our sin was daring to love.

In Africa during the 1980s five million men and women died of AIDS. They left behind a million AIDS orphans. I suppose the preachers didn't know how badly God's aim missed when he infected all those African couples, but in America, it remained 'the gay plague,' and it would be a long time before money was appropriated to research the disease.

Vicious things were said about gay people and the lives we lived.

I knew we weren't the first people to be hated so viciously but we had to be the first people with a disease they refused to treat or cure. Man's cruelty was never more apparent than during the first years of the AIDS crisis.

The early 1980s were difficult for people like Ivan and me. Keeping our love quiet was essential to our survival. We didn't think anyone in or around the cove would do us any harm, but we'd invited people in from around Florida and around the country. It was best not to test our luck with folks we didn't know.

The news grew worse as the 80s passed.

I flew the twin engine to universities and conferences all over the country. If I could travel to and from a destination in a day, I took Ivan. I didn't want to leave him. We didn't like being separated even for a day by then. We both knew how fragile life was.

There were five, ten, twenty thousand dead of AIDS. In many places the family doctor was asked to write the cause of death as heart attack or pneumonia. It was illegal to lie on a death certificate, but to save a patient's family from being singled out for shaming, their doctor would lie.

In the early days of AIDS, doctors didn't always recognize the disease that killed someone as AIDS. For these reasons and because so many men lived secret lives, knowing the actual death toll from AIDS isn't possible.

Politicians steadfastly refused to fund a study of the disease. Preachers continue to label the disease gay and swore by their Almighty God that he'd sent the disease specifically to kill the worst among us.

Ivan and I lived rewarding and healthy lives.

It took Ronald Reagan until the final two years of his presidency to mention AIDS. Tens of thousand were dead in America by then.

One gay leader commented, 'If it was killing little old ladies in middle America, they'd have cured AIDS years ago.'

By the time Reagan said the word AIDS, straight people were dying of the disease. Most of the hemophiliacs were already dead.

Reagan acted like the discovery of this new disease shocked him.

I'm not a fool and the children with hemophilia were probably doomed long before anyone knew the disease was in the blood supply and therefore in the clotting factor that kept them alive. Knowing they were allowed to die without lifting a finger, that's a different story.

Had someone cared enough to want to treat or perhaps cure AIDS, some of the 10,000 dead hemophiliacs might have lived long enough to be treated with AZT, which became available in the 1990s, if you could pay the price.

When you talk plague, what's too high a price to stop one?

And if it starts out killing people you want dead, what then?

The biggest questions had no answers in the 1980s. A lot of families needed to face up to the fact that that their sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters were dying of the 'gay plague' sent by God.

No preacher ever said, "I was wrong.'

And certainly none ever said, 'I'm sorry.'

Personally, my career was on the fast track. I was known far and wide as a marine biologist who had a senator's ear. Actually, there was far more to my relationship with Harry than that.

No one knew how far back we went or where I'd come from and they didn't care. That was fine with me.

No one cared if I had a lover and we were raising our son. We'd been on stage with Harry, together. No one asked who they were.

Lord knows how I'd explain that one without ending up on the wrong end of Mama's God, but I didn't need to explain it.

The 1980s were a mixed bag.

Ivan, Dylan, my family, and especially Lucy, prospered.

We were each having a love affair with life.

I'd never had a dream that was as good as being alive in the 80s. Each day was better than the last and when I looked at my lover or my son, I understood I was one of the luckiest guys in the world.

We'd survived Carlos Santiago and we would survive AIDS, but that didn't mean there weren't dark days ahead. Many people began to wake up in time and ask, 'What are we doing?'

It takes a special breed to watch people die and not raise a finger to help. Ivan and I watched from a distance. It wasn't pretty.

The risk didn't come from loving each other. The risk came from politicians and preachers who ignored AIDS while spreading hatred.

The End

Or the beginning of the next episode in the Gulf series?

What do you think?

The Gulf & the Cove

A Rick Beck Story

Edited By: Jerry W.

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