A Father talks about his son "Johnny Boy" who Died from AIDS 10 years ago

Now Johnny Boy came to us at the very young age of 3 months old. He was the son of my Sister and she was not the best mother to be raising children for various reasons. Ma and I (Josie Politano, wife of John) were unable to have children, so having a son made our life complete.

A troubled young life

When Johnny Boy was about 13 years old be began to run away from home. We lived in the Gloucester area at the time. I looked for Johnny all over the Boston area. Finally, after two weeks I received a call from New York, it was Johnny Boy asking if he could come home. I went to Boston at 2:30 am at the Greyhound that night and nothing was said in the car until we reached Peabody, MA. Johnny Boy grabbed for the ceiling in the car and started to cry asking “Do you know how it is like to find out you are adopted?” A few weeks earlier his biological mother told him he was adopted. I told Johnny Boy that it was true that he was adopted, but we loved him and raised him like our own son. Well, the running away did not stop, so we moved away from the Gloucester area and onto the Cape. Johnny still continued to run away.

It’s OK that your Gay

One of the times when Johnny ran away, I found a gay magazine under his bed I didn't say anything to Johnny about this for 1 year. I called a Catholic Church (not our parish) and talked to a priest about the possibility of my son being gay. The Priest did not want to help in any way. Then one day, I told Johnny Boy, let’s play a game of chess, set up the board in your bedroom. I had a plan on how I was going to raise this issue of sexuality to my son, but I just came out and said, “Johnny if you’re running away because you’re gay, then you’re running away for the wrong reason”. Johnny Boy stood up and turned his back toward me. I walked over to him and said, “It’s OK if you’re gay, you’re still my kid.” I told Johnny Boy that I would not mention this to his mother and I didn't. About a year went by and Johnny Boy asked me if I ever told Ma that he was gay, I told him no I had not. Ma had just come home from the store carrying bags from the car. Johnny Boy went up to her and said “Ma, I have to tell you something.” Johnny Boy said, “Ma I’m gay.” Ma looked at him and said, “Yea, so what? That doesn’t make any difference to me, you’re still my son.” It was at that point when Johnny Boy stopped running away. Johnny Boy for the first time realized that his family still loved him and that being gay was ok with Ma and Pa.

Johnny Boy Joins the Army

Things went well for quite some time. Then Johnny Boy went into the Army. After 8 months in the Army, I got a call from the Boston Army office. The Officer said Mr. Politano are you sitting down? I said, “Yes, is everything OK with Johnny?” The officer then told me that my son was found in a gay bar. He then went on to say that Johnny was gay. So I told this Army Officer, “Yea, so what’s the matter?” He said to me, “We can’t have gays in the military.” “Now I told this Army Officer that I too had served in the Korean War and that there were gays in the military then. They did not bother anyone and no one bothered them.” The Officer then said to me, “That gays were not allowed in the service.” I told the Officer to put Johnny on the phone. I asked Johnny to just answer yes or no. “Johnny do you want to stay in the Army?” Johnny said “No, I want to come home.” The Officer then came on the phone and then stated to me that Johnny Boy would be dishonorably discharged. I told that Officer that if my Johnny Boy received anything less than an Honorable Discharge, I would be in contact with Congressman Gerry Studds, Congressman Barney Frank and Senator Kennedy. Johnny Boy received a Honorable Discharge.

Living in San Francisco

Now Johnny Boy and his boyfriend Everett were living in San Francisco, CA. One day when we were talking to him on the phone, I said to Johnny Boy, “Hey why don’t you and your boy friend move back here, it doesn’t make sense for you and your boyfriend to be living out there in California, when you could both be living here with us.” So, Johnny Boy and his boy friend moved back to the Cape and lived with us. They were both working very hard. They wanted to get their own apartment, but on the Cape they require three months rent before you can move in.

Johnny Boy starts to get sick

At this time, Johnny boy was getting sick. I had heard about this thing called AIDS. I first heard about it when they said Rock Hudson died from it. AIDS was a disease that could not be stopped. I told Johnny Boy to have that AIDS test and he did. Now, Johnny Boy had the test and had to wait two weeks for the results to come back. Don’t you know that they lost the results and he had to go through the test again and wait for another two weeks. Johnny Boy was in Falmouth hospital being treated for pneumonia. When I went to the hospital they told me I had to wear all this crazy stuff, mask, gowns and gloves. Now I had pneumonia, I never had to wear any of that stuff. I told them at the hospital. “My kid and I was not going to wear all that.” I went up to my kid and started to hug him.

Johnny Boy has AIDS

Johnny Boy told Ma when he was in the hospital that the test results came back, and that he had AIDS. Now I knew something was not right, so when I got home I asked Ma what was going on. Ma told me, Johnny Boy has AIDS. I was so mad that I went into Johnny Boy’s room and hit the crucifix with my hand and broke it in half. I asked Jesus Christ, “Why my kid?” He is the only kid I got. Now, I didn’t know much about this terrible disease AIDS, but I do know that even Rock Hudson with all his money could not beat this disease.

Less than a year to live

We took Johnny Boy to the hospital in Boston to see a specialist. One day when Johnny Boy was in the doctor’s office the door was opened a little bit. I heard the doctor talking to Johnny Boy. When Johnny Boy came out of the doctors office he didn’t look good. I told Johnny to sit down, I wanted to speak to the doctor for a minute. I found out that Johnny asked the doctor how long he had. The doctor told me that he wished that Johnny had not asked him that question. The Doctor told me that he told him less than a year to live.

We are going to take care of Johnny at home

I remember that trip home from the hospital in Boston. Johnny Boy was down from 185 lbs. to 110 lbs. Everytime I hit a bump in the road, Johnny Boy would be in pain in the back seat. We got home to Falmouth, I told Ma, “That’s it, we‘re taking care of Johnny right here at home.” We called hospice and they were great. They told Ma that we would reach a point and tell Johnny Boy that it was OK to go. I and Ma told them that we would never say that to our kid. The Big and Last Birthday Party We planned a huge birthday party for Johnny Boy. His birthday was on August 10. We invited over 110 relatives and 25 of Johnny Boy’s friends. We only invited 25 of Johnny Boy’s friends so that all of our close Italian family could be there at the event. I had saved $2,500 for this party for Johnny Boy. Now Johnny Boy knew that this was probably going to be his last birthday party he would celebrate. He had started to do some paintings, three in all. He told the relatives that he wanted them to see his paintings. I guess Johnny Boy did not want to say come see me for the last time, so inviting them to his birthday party to have a good time and see his art work, was easier for him to express. Well, on the morning of the birthday party, I started to get calls from the relatives as to why they could not attend. They all had reasons why they could not attend. It got to the point that I had to cancel the restaurant, since the relatives were canceling in such numbers. I will never forget that day. Johnny Boy was dressed in all white. White pants, white shirt, white Panama hat, he looked real good! I had to tell Johnny that we were going to have the party in the back yard, a cookout. As the day got later, Johnny Boy called me over. He had tears in his eyes. He asked me, “where was the family?” I told him I didn't know. The only people that came to Johnny Boy’s party were his friends, some gay some straight, but they were all his friends.

It’s time to go

A few days after that party, Johnny Boy never would leave the house again. One Day Johnny Boy asked me to help him sit up. I got him into a chair by the bed. He asked me to make him a cup of coffee and to play three songs on his stereo. He loved his music tapes. After hearing them, he said thanks dad, put me back to bed. Johnny Boy was becoming sicker and sicker. We could only feed him by straw. Ma would place the straw in the beverage and then move it over to his lips. On the night of September 24, 1986 after Ma had just changed his diaper, Johnny Boy was embarrassed about Ma changing his diaper. Ma told Johnny, never mind, I changed your diaper when you were a baby, I can change your diaper now.

It’s OK to go

Now Johnny Boy told us, “let nature take its course.” I spent some time in Johnny Boys room. I held his hand and looked at him. I told Johnny Boy something that I never thought I would say. I told Johnny Boy that is was OK to go. I told him I did not want to see him suffer anymore. He grabbed my hand and gave me a wink and then gave me a smile. Ma came into the room and I went out to the kitchen. She was talking to Johnny Boy as well. I did not know then, but now I know what she told Johnny Boy. She said it was time to go that she didn't want him to suffer anymore and that Ma and Dad would find a way. Ma & Dad took his pulse and it was racing, so we gave him a valium to bring his pulse down. Dad then gave Johnny a big hug and told told him he was going to the kitchen to make some tea, and Johnny gave him a hug back. Ma was leaving Johnny’s bedroom and going to make a cup of tea, when Dad said go back and check Johnny's pulse. When Ma went back in to the room, Ma pick him up in her arms and told Johnny boy I love you. Johnny Boy’s heads was arched back. We held our Johnny Boy and I felt for a pulse in three different places, I could not find one. I told Ma that I think Johnny Boy has left us. The time was 3:40 a.m. September 25, 1986.

Where were the family Flowers?

At the wake, the family wanted to know where the family flowers were. The only flowers around the casket were those of Johnny Boy’s friends. The same friends that stood by Johnny Boy when he was ill. The family was not around Johnny Boy when he was ill, why should the family flowers be around him now that he was dead.