It was my happy privilege today to sign books at Turn the Page, the bookstore owned by Nora Roberts in Boonsboro, MD. Nora was there, and I can tell you, she’s as witty, honest, and gracious in person as you’d anticipate, given her print persona.
Stephanie Dray was there with her very creative novel, “Lily of the Nile,” based on the life of Cleopatra’s historically significant daughter. I also met Jeaniene Frost, Pamela Palmer, Mary Burton, and Mary Reed, who are all lovely women who’ve written fascinating books which I hope to enjoy reading someday soon. I haven’t ordered their books yet, though there is one book I came straight home and ordered.
I was lurking in the back room of the store with several of the other romance author guests when this tall, lanky, fella came by toting a box of books. He wore cowboy boots—which detail usually recommends a man to me—but he was quite focused on riding herd on his stock of books, until one of us interrupted him (well, actually it was me) and asked him to introduce himself. “I’m Vaughn Ripley.” He stuck out a big paw. “I’m one of the longest surviving people to be diagnosed with HIV in this country. I’ve had the disease for twenty-five years….”
This man does not look like any long-term AIDS patient I’ve met, and I’ve met a few. He’s trim, true, and his complexion is pale, but it’s a Celtic sort of pale, not a sickly pale. He has a magnetic smile, a great handshake, and the easy manners of a natural story teller. He is a hemophiliac who acquired both HIV and Hep C through blood transfusions before anyone realized the blood supply could pose those dangers, and yet, Vaughn exudes physical and mental energy.
At the age of eighteen, the doctors told him he had two years to live. He began to keep a journal so his family would have something of him when he died. A few years ago, Vaughn’s wife got a hold of this document, and informed him it wasn’t just a few musings to pass on to immediate family. Because Vaughn listened to his wife, we now have a terrific and very readable book.
I asked Vaughn to what he attributes the miracle of his longevity. We didn’t finish that discussion, but I intend to read the book and find the rest of the answer. What struck me like a cinder block dropped upon my foot from a great height, was that this guy started writing not to get away from the day job or the demands of child rearing, not for his entertainment or financial gain, but out of love for his family and the desire to leave a record when he died.
He wrote in part to snatch a particle of immortality from the jaws of impending death, and he wrote so his love and wisdom would not die with him. In the right hands, writing is THAT powerful. It cheats death, it defies the dictates of mortality, and I would not be a little surprised to find that when used appropriately, writing—storytelling—can also add meaning to a life imperiled by all sorts of medical and spiritual threats. “Survivor: One Man’s Battle with HIV, Hemophilia and Hepatitis C,” by Vaughn Ripley, is available from Turn the Page at the following link: http://www.ttpbooks.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Store_Code=TTPB&Category_Code=VB or from Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_13?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=vaughn+ripley&sprefix=vaughn+ripley I’m going to read it, and I’m going to leave a copy where I can see it when I sit down to do my own writing.