I first met Sonny at Cropsey Place when I had a meeting with new volunteers. Sonny came over, introduced himself and invited us to come to his apartment. His apartment’s entrance mirrored his warmth and welcoming nature, adorned with plants and mementos. A sign over the front door reads, “You’re the friend everyone wishes they had.”
Sonny proudly gave us a tour of his apartment, showing us his favorite things. He also told us that he is a huge Al Pacino fan, something that was confirmed by the many posters covering almost every wall. He loves to cook and, if the wonderful aroma was any indication, is quite the chef.
Sonny has been living in Cropsey Place since his case manager referred him to SAVE, Inc. five years ago, when he was homeless and staying at City Union Mission. Since that time, Sonny has gained weight and improved his health by taking his medication, eating a well-balanced diet and seeing his doctor regularly.
A couple of years ago, he became very ill with pneumonia, but refused to go to the hospital. He recalls that 10 to 15 people “nagged” him to go to the hospital. Fortunately, Sonny had a lot of people who wanted to help him; several residents and staff members checked on him regularly, encouraging him to go to the hospital and cooking meals for him. But Sonny was determined to stay at home to die.
“Sometimes, you just want to give up,” Sonny explains. Ultimately, and with a lot of persistence from those who cared about him, Sonny relented and went to the hospital. At the time, Sonny was irritated because he wanted to be left alone. Looking back though, he is touched by the way so many people rallied around him. When asked why he decided not to give up, Sonny simply replies, “Life, grandkids. Not yet.”
Sonny has 11 children — two biological children and nine children whom he raised with his second wife — and 43 grandchildren. He adds that the residents and staff at SAVE, Inc. are his family. “Whatever you are, you are. If you make me laugh, you’re in my corner.”
Still, Sonny says one of the worst things about living with HIV/AIDS is alienation. Strangers walking down the street have asked him if Cropsey Place is the “AIDS house,” but he always answers, “No, that’s my home.” Yet, Sonny’s strength and ability to reach out to people seems to be what has pulled him out of his feelings of alienation and taken him through his dark days. “I live on good memories. I don’t have time to be mad, so I just laugh,” he says.
I would have enjoyed spending more time with Sonny, but the doorbell rang; he had visitors arriving.