Wake-up call

GA Voice - - Front Page - By PA­TRICK SAUNDERS psaun­ders@the­

The signs that some­thing was wrong be­gan to ap­pear in mid-Au­gust.

“To­day has been the worst day ever,” O’Ryan Moss posted to his Face­book page, in what to most peo­ple would seem like ev­ery­day so­cial me­dia grip­ing un­til a post two days later. “I’m not dy­ing but I’m ready to go!” he wrote, tag­ging him­self at Grady Me­mo­rial Hos­pi­tal. Then noth­ing un­til Sep. 4, when he wrote “Som­body [sic] buy me a new stom­ach.”

The posts from Moss ebbed over the en­su­ing weeks and into Oc­to­ber as posts from his friends and fam­ily ask­ing for prayers mul­ti­plied. By Novem­ber, he had en­tered hospice care. On the evening of Nov. 10, he was gone.

Moss, 26, died from com­pli­ca­tions from AIDS, leav­ing his loved ones to won­der why the openly gay At­lanta man didn’t tell any­one about his sta­tus and how some­one that age could suc­cumb to the dis­ease with so many re­sources around him.

‘He loved to make peo­ple laugh’

Dar­line Do­dard met Moss in 2009, when she and a group of Moss’ friends were hang­ing out at MetroPointe Lofts (now known as West-Mar Stu­dent Lofts) in West Mid­town. The man they called “Oboi” loved to dance; that was his pas­sion. And he made an im­pres­sion.

“The thing about O’Ryan is he didn’t tell any­one [that he was HIV-pos­i­tive]. So I’m still in a state of shock that he had full-blown AIDS. We had to learn that through the GoFundMe page that his fa­ther put to­gether. That’s how we all found out. It was just mind-blow­ing.” —Dar­line Do­dard, a close friend of O’Ryan Moss

“He was funny, very out­go­ing,” Do­dard re­calls of Moss. “He al­ways wanted to go out, he never wanted to sit around. He loved to make peo­ple laugh. He never wanted peo­ple to be un­happy, he would do silly things just to make peo­ple laugh.”

Do­dard would later move to New York City, which is where she was when she got the call that Moss was in the hos­pi­tal.

“He was just say­ing that he had an in­fec­tion, that some­thing’s wrong with his stom­ach and his throat,” she says.

Af­ter nu­mer­ous ques­tions from friends, he fi­nally let them know the truth—he was HIV-pos­i­tive. But it was worse than that. A GoFundMe page set up by Moss’ fa­ther on Nov. 9 to pay for med­i­cal ex­penses con­firmed the worst—Moss’ health had de­te­ri­o­rated to the point that the dis­ease had pro­gressed to AIDS.

“The thing about O’Ryan is he didn’t tell any­one [that he was HIV-pos­i­tive],” Do­dard says. “So I’m still in a state of shock that he had full-blown AIDS. We had to learn that through the GoFundMe page that his fa­ther put to­gether. That’s how we all found out. It was just mind-blow­ing.”

Fi­nan­cial hard­ship a com­mon bar­rier to ac­cess

The big­ger ques­tion is whether, with a strong sup­port sys­tem and the num­ber of lo­cal re­sources avail­able, a 26-year-old man should be dy­ing of AIDS in At­lanta in 2015 in the first place.

“The ob­vi­ous an­swer is no,” says Craig Wash­ing­ton, AID At­lanta’s preven­tion pro­grams man­ager. “But be­yond the no it drives the why. It did hap­pen and it does hap­pen. The goal is that we move to a place where that doesn’t hap­pen at all.”

He cites a num­ber of ways in which to get to that point, in­clud­ing hav­ing more of an inter-gen­er­a­tional ap­proach, making the mes­sag­ing less sim­plis­tic and get­ting other play­ers in the com­mu­nity to take more own­er­ship over the is­sue of HIV/AIDS in At­lanta.

“One doesn’t have to be a NAESM or a Sis­ter Love or an AID At­lanta—if you have young black gay men in your midst, then you have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­vide some sup­port in what­ever form you can,” he says. “It may be open­ing up and reach­ing out to the Health Ini­tia­tive and say­ing, ‘Hey we’ll have 100 young guys here at Ein­stein’s this Fri­day. Could you come out and do some en­roll­ment work?’”

As to Moss’ case, Wash­ing­ton can only spec­u­late, but his fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion could have been a fac­tor. He re­port­edly did not have a steady in­come and was liv­ing at friends’ places, with Do­dard say­ing that to her knowl­edge Moss “had noth­ing to his name.”

“With any of th­ese ma­jor health con­di­tions and dis­par­i­ties, the most com­mon fac­tor has to do with lack of re­sources or poverty, that al­ways pops up,” Wash­ing­ton says, also not­ing that peo­ple with more re­sources of­ten take them for granted. “We don’t have to worry about where we’re go­ing to sleep, where we’re go­ing to eat, how we’re go­ing to pay that light bill, what we’ll have to do to pay that light bill, and that can get in the way of co­or­di­nat­ing your sched­ule and stay­ing in care.”

‘We all could have helped him’

Moss’ friends don’t know how long he knew he was HIV-pos­i­tive or why he didn’t tell any of them. His fa­ther did not re­spond to in­ter­view re­quests. It leaves Moss’ cir­cle of friends to ques­tion what was go­ing on be­hind the laugh­ter.

“He was al­ways look­ing for love in a way. Not hav­ing a steady long-term re­la­tion­ship, not hav­ing a steady ca­reer, not hav­ing his own place, not hav­ing any­thing to call his own. I think he just gave up,” Do­dard says. “Maybe when he found out he was pos­i­tive, he just didn’t care any­more. We all could have helped him. A lot of peo­ple act like they’re really happy and want to make peo­ple laugh to cover their pain. There’s a lot of un­der­ly­ing is­sues and now we can’t do any­thing about it.”

But Wash­ing­ton sees hope in the trail of so­cial me­dia posts as word spread about Moss’ de­te­ri­o­rat­ing health and sub­se­quent death.

“In the midst of this loss, that’s a win, that peo­ple can so pub­licly em­brace this young man while he was in de­cline,” he says. “And even in his part­ing be open about his ill­ness. That sug­gests a cer­tain kind of power. If they can do that, what else can they do in their re­spec­tive so­cial net­works and fam­i­lies?”

(Photo cour­tesy Dar­line Do­dard)

Friends of O’Ryan Moss say the openly gay 26-year-old At­lanta res­i­dent was funny, out­go­ing and loved to make peo­ple laugh.

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