By Ben |

In the summer of 2002, while I was working for World Population Balance part time, I moved with my friend Marisa into a larger apartment in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis. One of our neighbors in the building was Ted Pinegar, a man in his late 40s who was being treated for AIDS and cancer. He and Marisa bonded over stories of chronic illness and navigating the health care and insurance systems, while I helped them both by running errands as their able-bodied friend. Marisa took to calling him Theodore, even though that was not his name, and he liked it, so I did as well.

A few months later, Theodore moved out into a supportive housing building specifically for AIDS patients. He called me to say that he'd been approved for a part-time personal care attendant, and he could hire whomever he liked, so would I be interested? I said I'd had no training to do nursing, but that was OK, he didn't need nursing, just cooking and shopping and washing dishes. I had no car, so I ran all the errands by bike or bus.

Theodore was in the process of converting to Judaism and was keeping a kosher kitchen as best he could, and he was a very particular person to begin with, so there were very strict rules about how I prepared the food and washed up afterward. He had very little money available for food but more than enough hours earmarked for my time, so he padded my timesheets to cover the grocery bills. He did this with my knowledge but made sure I never did anything I could get penalized for. He also often shared a meal with me after I'd prepared it, saying a prayer first in Hebrew. He was very concerned that the synagogue accept him so that he could be buried in the Jewish cemetery.

While I worked, he regaled me with stories about the gay scene in the '70s and '80s, and about his experience as a nurse during the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. Most of his friends and lovers from that time had died already; he was one of the oldest survivors he knew of. Before his diagnosis he realized he was likely to be HIV+ and, having watched patients fall through the cracks of insurance and government benefits, he got his own affairs in order before going to get tested. I learned a lot about what the social safety net does and doesn't cover and how many people have to bounce multiple times before they get caught by that net.

I worked for Theodore until I left on my bike trip in 2004 and then again when I returned in 2005. During my absence I referred a couple of my friends to work for him, with mixed results. I moved away permanently in June 2006, and he died the following January, though I didn't find out until later that year. He is buried in the Jewish cemetery.