Time was when Ginger Bowen could jog four miles, jet between cities for business meetings and -- off to fancy Washington luncheons -- allwith nary a thought of weariness.
Now just the thought of climbing the three brief flights of steps in her apartment building can bring on the fatigue.
But the gone-home-to-Jesus tired, the shortness of breath and thedaily sentence of facing her certain mortality, has not diminished Ginger's unmistakable vitality. It comes from a calling she had never thought could be forced upon her.
Ginger Bowen, daughter of conservative Southern Maryland farmers, wife of a Congregational church minister, 37 years in this world, is one of the new warriors in the AIDSepidemic. And one of its eventual victims.
And, as unlikely a warrior she is, perhaps the movement to get teens and adults to realize that unprotected sex is a veiled form of Russian roulette could not have found a more charmed messenger.
"I told everybody I know, my friends and family, right away that I had AIDS. I figured this whole disease has been a secret too long. And its the secrets that have madethis disease become far worse than it had to. I want to be part of breaking down the secrets."
It is a fall day when the trees have already been stripped of their autumnal glory. Ginger wears violets. A damson jacket, a lavender turtleneck and socks the color of lilacs, of spring.
She was still just a newlywed, she recalls, when the bone-tired spells and the persistent infections first hit her in 1989.
"It got to be everyday I'd wake up and something else would be wrong with me. Do you have any idea what that is like?"
She saw doctors. One told her she was under great stress from being newly married. She believed him and saw a therapist.
But she never could get overthe weariness. It was the unexplained pneumonia last January that finally rang the alarm bell for a blood test to see if she carried the HIV virus, which causes AIDS.
"I don't give the appearance of being in a high-risk group. I suppose all this time I was sick, that's why no doctor thought to test me even though some of my symptoms were clearly indicative of AIDS."
"I had unprotected sex, and I got AIDS. It's that simple," says Ginger. "People have to understand you can get this disease that simply. I'm a white heterosexual woman. None ofthe men I dated, were with were gay. None were drug abusers. I haven't had a blood transfusion. I didn't get it from a dentist. I got AIDS from having unprotected sex."
It's this message Ginger hopes to take into the high schools in Harford and Cecil counties next year.
That's if she and the regional AIDS education coordinator, Barbara Hernan, can marshal the school boards to speed their approval of Ginger as an AIDS education speaker in the public schools.
"They have to realize I'm on a short fuse here," says Ginger. "In a few months Icould be too tired or sick to do this."
Many have told Ginger what they would do if they learned they had the fatal disease, which medical experts say will likely have no known cure for years. Trips abroad, books written, dreams brokered.
But warriors have not time forthese.
"My energy is very limited right now. I have to focus it on what I can do to reach as many people as possible about how anyone,everyone can get this disease if they engage in risky behavior."
In the high schools, she will face a formidable task.
The studentsare at that crescent age when they seem to live as if shielded by aninvincible armor. The sometimes quixotic horrible downturns in life will not touch their lives, mar their futures.
"At that age you aren't really thinking about a lot of the consequences of your actions today. They don't do homework or study, yet think they will land big jobs. They have sex and don't think for a minute they'll get AIDS. It's a gay disease, a drug users disease, they believe. Not me."
Sheexpects there will be delicate questions, of course, from the schoolboards about what information she will include in her presentation.
One of those questions seems certainly to be the promotion of abstinence from sex as part of her message.
She won't yield on this. It would stretch the bounds of credibility among her audience. Kids atage 15 and 16, even younger, are having sex. It is a part of dating behavior among many teens today.
It's that reality that Ginger wants to engage with her warrior face.
"We need to be telling these kids that if they are going to have sex, then they have to do it with a condom, and if they have been having unprotected sex, they must gettested for AIDS. We need to be telling women that they can get this disease. My message is about individual responsibility, not morality."