Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2020-09-16
About WCMG Publications News  Entertainment Features Donate Bars & Clubs Calendar Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage



AIDS: Mike Barnes: Overcoming heartache
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

He rarely cries anymore, despite decades of personal and professional pain and heartache, combined with many, many deaths. Mike Barnes is cried out, he says, the direct impact HIV/AIDS has had on him over the past 26 years.

Barnes, 55, was with his first long-time partner, Donald Hendricks, from 1984-'89. Hendricks was diagnosed with HIV in 1986 and died in 1989.

Barnes was then with Sky Bixby from 1989-'97. Bixby learned he was HIV-positive in 1995 and died in 1997.

Barnes is now partnered with Bart Rarick, a relationship that started in 1999. Rarick, 53, has been HIV-positive for 22 years, and the last five have been a "living hell," Barnes said, as Rarick has endured serious liver issues, caused by his HIV and cancer treatment over the past two decades. Rarick has dropped from 170 to 125 pounds and even struggles at times getting out of bed or eating.

Barnes also has been a bowler since the mid-1980s in the local gay leagues, which have lost countless former participants over the years to HIV/AIDS. Plus, Barnes is a pharmacist at a Lakeview Walgreens, so he has met customers who became casual friends during their battle with HIV/AIDS—until many died.

Barnes learned last April, after a gut infection got worse following a routine shoulder surgery for arthritis, that he too was HIV-positive.

"Everyone always wonders why they're here in life. After Sky [ died ] , I figured that must be my lot in life: I'm here to take care of HIV guys," said Barnes, who lives in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood. "There are not a lot of mid-50-year-old gay men, because so many of them died in the 1980s. That's why I sort of feel like a survivor.

"HIV/AIDS has been devastating over the past 25 years, but also has brought me joy because I feel, at times, like I have been able to beat the virus."

The battle Barnes fights now is alongside Rarick, who measures daily successes with simple ventures, such as leaving their house—as Rarick did one early January day—and not for a doctor's appointment.

After meeting in 1999, Barnes and Rarick quickly realized that they had many of the same values, as each was raised in Michigan. They became really good friends, and then started dating. Ultimately, they became, "best friends," Barnes said. They moved in together in 2000.

"It was a fun trip until five years ago," said Barnes, who vividly recalls the exact moment their lives changed.

It was April 15, 2007, and they were flying home to Chicago from Palm Springs.

"On the flight, I could see that something wasn't right. He look fatigued; he looked awful," Barnes said.

The next day, Barnes convinced Rarick to go to the doctor, "and that's when, literally, all hell broke loose," Barnes said. "They thought he needed a liver transplant, but discovered his liver actually was really healthy."

However, he had circulation issues in his liver and many blood clots.

"That has been our constant issue since [ 2007 ] ," Barnes said.

Rarick is now just trying to put weight back on, which is no easy task, Barnes said. He was a flight attendant for American Airlines, but has been on a five-year leave of absence, the company limit.

On Jan. 8, Rarick was awake most of the day and able to feed himself, "and for someone who hasn't done [ those two things ] in a while, they are big things," Barnes said.

Rarick also in early-January backed off his interest in dying.

"He was ready to go, ready to die. We had had many conversations [ about death ] because he wanted to die when he was happy. He had gotten what he wanted out of life, including our relationship," Barnes said. "But then, almost out of the blue, he decided it wasn't time to die, that he said he still had things he had to do. Mostly, he doesn't think I'm ready to live by myself, yet."

Barnes, who has lived in Chicago since 1983, sees a mental health counselor himself to help his emotional roller coaster. He also views himself as, "the world's best caretaker." But still, "it's been very tough, very very tough for me."

But Barnes has friends for support, plenty of close, supporting friends. Or, as he says, "some of the best friends in the world." Including "the ultimate faghag, who is proud to be called a faghag."

Barnes and Vicky Wagner met in the late-1980s in the gay bowling league at the now-closed Marigold Lanes. They were immediately attracted to each other's spirit and sense of humor, Barnes said.

Wagner, who is straight, is still bowling side by side with Barnes—for a team long known as the Gutter Queens.

"She would do anything for me, literally anything," Barnes said. "She is one of my main pillars—through the death of my parents, the death of my dog, losing my last partner, and now through the struggles with Bart."

And there have been plenty of struggles over the past five years—with rock-bottom coming between Christmas and New Year's 2010. Rarick went into the hospital for a routine colonoscopy and almost died, Barnes said.

During surgery, doctors nicked a vein, causing excessive bleeding.

"We really felt that was it," Barnes said.

The struggles have changed Barnes' approach to life. Normally, a detailed, planning person, he now doesn't—or can't—look farther than the next day.

"I live one day at a time," he said. "I can wake up and he's [ doing ] really well, or, I can wake up and he's really bad. So, we don't make plans. Not even a week ahead. There is no planning ahead," Barnes said. "That's very frustrating, especially for a guy who likes to plan every step of his life."

Barnes learned he was HIV-positive last April and, despite years of unsafe sex, was "surprised" at the news, especially since he was HIV-negative two weeks earlier.

Barnes had a gut infection following shoulder surgery and his doctor ran an HIV test, just to re-confirm that HIV was not an issue.

Sure enough, a resident at the local hospital had his result and asked, "Is your partner around?"

Startled, Barnes replied, "Why do you need my partner?"

The resident answered, "We'd just be happier if he was here."

Barnes knew what he was about to hear. "I guess that tells me what the answer is," he said to the resident.

"I didn't really care [ about the test result ] because I've dealt with [ HIV ] so much, for so long that I almost feel like I've been positive for years," he said. "I was disappointed more than shocked [ at the test result ] because I just felt like I was one of those people who would almost be immune to HIV.

"But I knew there was a chance," of being infected.

Barnes said he enters the New Year "very, very healthy," other than "normal growing old issues." He still bowls every week alongside Wagner, a stress relief and escape from HIV/AIDS for Barnes. He also anxiously awaits spring to return to his passion for gardening—an at-home oasis away from HIV/AIDS, where he planted more than 700 tulips in 2011. Barnes and Rarick have won the gardening contest in their 70-unit housing association for the past two years.

Victories are few, have been few, for Barnes—but he battles on.

"I don't know how I do it, I just do," he said.

This story is part of the Local Reporting Initiative, supported in part by The Chicago Community Trust.

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


Gay News

COVID-19 Report: Latinx LGBTQ people suffer more from economic fallout 2020-09-18 - The Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ) Foundation released new data outlining the economic impact of COVID-19 on Latinx LGBTQ people. The new ...

Gay News

PASSAGES Gay philanthropist Henry van Ameringen dies 2020-09-16 - Henry van Ameringen, a major donor to LGBTQ+ and HIV organizations, died Sept. 9. He was 90, according to a Plus magazine item. ...

Gay News

Midwest LGBTQ Health Symposium going virtual Sept. 16-17 2020-09-16 - The Midwest LGBTQ Health Symposium 2020—with its theme, "Being Healthy is a Radical Act"—will be going virtual Sept. 16-17. The symposium ( presented ...

Gay News

SciLine hosts intersectional briefing regarding LGBTQ+, Black communities 2020-09-16 - Recently, SciLine held a media briefing discussing mental health in LGBTQ+ and Black communities. Yale School of Medicine's Dr. John Pachankis and ...

Gay News

Quigley, Demings introduce blood-donation bias measure 2020-09-16 - U.S. Reps. Mike Quigley (IL-05), who serves as Vice Chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, and Val Demings (FL-10) introduced the Science in ...

Gay News

SOCIAL MEDIA Sam Cushing talks COVID-19, creating meaningful content 2020-09-15 - Sam Cushing is a multihyphenate talent—musician, fitness consultant, digital content creator and mental-health advocate—with a focus on building his social media presence to ...

Gay News

Pritzker aims to connect unemployed with COVID-19 response jobs 2020-09-10 - Illinois Gov. Pritzker announced a new $16.6-million investment to expand job opportunities for Illinoisans who have lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. ...

Gay News

TAWANI Foundation's donations reach $1.8M 2020-09-09 - In response to the current health crisis, the TAWANI Foundation, TAWANI Enterprises' philanthropic organization, has donated $1.8 million so far to various organizations ...

Gay News

Chicago House moves central hub 2020-09-03 - Chicago House—founded in September 1985 as an organization committed to providing a home to individuals dying of HIV—has relocated its central hub to ...

Gay News

VIEWPOINT The common thread of LGBTQ+ stigma and mental health 2020-09-02 - The relationship between the LGBTQ+ community and mental health has always varied from country to country. But when religion enters the conversation, a ...


Copyright © 2020 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.







About WCMG Publications News  Entertainment Features Donate Bars & Clubs Calendar Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.