'I Know I'm Never Going to Get Well'

Joseph Rothschild is 61 years old. He has watched many friends die and now finds himself at the Carl Bean AIDS Care Center. Soon, he says, it will be his turn to go.

"I know I'm never going to get well," he says, "but it isn't too bad. I've had a wonderful life, so when death comes, it's OK."

He tested positive for HIV in 1983. "I was very stoic about the whole thing," he says.

"I told myself that I was just one of the ones that this damn thing caught and what I have to do is just battle it out. . . . It's the right thing to be tested, and if you are HIV-positive, it isn't the end of the world. You have to do everything you can to fight the disease and perhaps there will be a cure in time. You have to live life like it's a living life," says Joseph, who has been at Carl Bean since Aug. 17.

Joseph has more bad days than good now. He is unable to get out of bed for days at a time. During the long hours he spends in his room, he drifts in and out to the classical music almost always flowing from a portable stereo on his night stand. He always has loved the opera and art.

But his greatest love has always been people.

Nephew Matthew Rothschild, 36, a deputy city attorney in San Francisco, describes him as a friend and mentor.

"As a gay man, I was extra blessed to grow up with him as a role model, which many gay men do not have," Matthew says. "It's not easy to grow up in our society as a person of color, as a woman, or gay man or lesbian. The role models that the media bombards us with all say something is wrong with you."

Sometimes, Joseph says, he wishes he had children of his own.

"That's my biggest regret. I'd love to have a few rug rats running around in my name, but I think I would have made the world's worst father, so it's just as well. I'd be too lenient."

There was a time as a young man when he felt that he was betraying God by being gay. "I got over that. I knew the only way to be true to God was to be true to yourself."

A picture of Joseph's silver-haired mother sits on his night stand. He thinks of her often and says he will see her in heaven. He is at peace now. He is ready to die.

"What I'd love to do is go in my sleep," he says. "God knows that, and that's what's going to happen, but until then, I'm living. Believe me, I'm living."

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