An Inspiration

(Originally published for a.l.p.h.a – Allies Linked for the Prevention of HIV and AIDS)

When I met Craig Chappelle, I was allured with the way he carries himself. He has a quiet confidence, a sort of smooth, action hero swagger. I think Craig lost his calling: He should have been a spy. I picture him saying, “Shaken, not stirred.”  On anyone else it might come off as arrogance if not for the kindness in his eyes and in the way he relates to people.  Craig is the kind of person doesn’t judge you, and would give his left leg for you. Not only is he a friend to those he knows but has been giving his time to those he doesn’t here at a.l.p.ha.

I suppose the swagger comes from life experiences good and bad. Craig was diagnosed in a time when AIDS first made headlines. Diagnosed HIV positive in 1990 he says, “At first, I was in denial about it. Then I got tested and my numbers where okay. My partner on the other hand was sick and he had full blown AIDS and we had split up. I tried to take him back, to take care of him, but he wouldn’t do it. He died in 1993, before they had the drugs that they have now. It was a pretty horrible death. Up to this point, my numbers have been fine. So far I haven’t had to take meds. I have certainly lived my life for a long time like I thought I was gonna die because I was going to so many funerals. All my friends were dying, people were dying all over the country, all over the world. So I didn’t exactly live the most pristine life style. I partied and had a real good time, cause I figured I was on my way out.”

I asked him what changed, because I know Craig to be very health conscious. He eats right and works out. He says, “Nothing, I am a little calmer now.” He still parties and lives life to the fullest, but when he turned fifty he felt a change. “When my fiftieth birthday was coming up in January, I was just like here I am. I am fifty. I never thought I’d see forty, and I am fifty. And I just thought I needed to make some kind of sense of it, that’s why I joined a.l.p.h.a.”

Joined a.l.p.h.a. is an understatement. He is the Finance Director of a.l.p.h.a., one of four directors that answer directly to the founder and president. Craig’s responsibilities include bringing in the money and making sure it’s recorded correctly. Always on the job, he asks me to include; he is looking for a fundraising manager. I have heard this from many of his colleagues that Craig’s contributions are invaluable. I know that isn’t lip service because he helped me with two of my articles this week. Who ever heard of a finance director helping with the newsletter? He goes above and beyond.

Not only does he volunteer but he manages to hold down two jobs. His main job is for Qwest as a technical support screener, but he also sells residential real estate on the side. He sold me my home, and as a first time home buyer I highly recommend him. I don’t know how he has spare time, but in it–he makes beautiful stained glass creations.

I am amazed at all he does, and when asked if HIV has ever affected his work, he replies, “I’ve been open about it with my friends. I am not going to hide it, if someone asks me a question. I have been really lucky that way. I work for a company like Qwest where I can’t be fired for my sexual orientation. You just have to face it head on. Deal with it. Get involved. Don’t isolate yourself, that’s the biggest thing.”

When asked if his HIV diagnosis affects his relationships he says, “Well it affects dating big time because a lot of guys will just run the other way: others are cool with it. I am not very comfortable dating HIV negative guys. I have before and I have never knowingly given it to anyone. I would rather date an HIV positive person.”

With everything Craig does every day and with this diagnosis he still remains positive, “I just try to take care of my health and on the HIV side of it, my numbers sort of slip every year so eventually I will have to take medication.  I work out. I eat pretty carefully.  I eat a lot of antioxidants. I eat real food. I try not to eat out very much. I just try to follow the basic health rules that have been drilled into us for years. You have to eat real food and eat correctly and you have to work out, basic stuff.”

When I ask what he would want people to know Craig replies, “They need to become aware, they need to get tested, and they need to get involved. We are starting our new “twenty five will keep us alive” membership drive. We are just asking for a twenty five dollar membership, once a year, from a lot of people. That would fund us– that would grassroots fund us, and it’s in every body’s best interest. You know, the “at risk” groups are 15 to 24 year old girls and boys and middle age women.  The gay infection rate is about 40%, so it’s not even half anymore. A.l.p.h.a.’s mission is what I would want them to know.”

“Even not becoming sick, still HIV has changed my life; changed my thinking, caused a lot of depression, caused a lot of emotional problems, and caused a lot of destructive behavior. I did a lot of things that I shouldn’t have done, and didn’t do a lot of things that I should have done. Like 401K, why?  So the other thing that I would want them to know is that yes, it is a manageable disease, but there’s a cost to that. There are lots of side effects and it will change your whole life if you catch it. There are a lot of people who are getting tested now who have full blown AIDS, have had it for a long time, and have probably been spreading it. Getting tested is so important and being aware of it. We can slow the spread of AIDS. People that get tested and know are much less likely to pass it on than someone that doesn’t know.”

And for those who already have it? “Get involved. And get involved at least to the level of never passing it to someone else, practicing very safe sex, because there is still some of that going on.”

With the conclusion of our interview Craig saunters away with a purposeful yet smooth posture, leaving me to ponder his convictions. Having inspired me to also donate my time, I know how motivating he can be, just by his actions.  However, I think anyone can be motivated by his words.

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