Love, marriage and AIDS

Topanga resident Randy Neece, left, has re-released his memoir about being diagnosed and living with AIDS. Neece and his husband Joe Timko, right, now operate a dog boarding and training facility. Neece says he updated his memoir to shine a light on current issues such as gay marriage and what he feels is a growing complacency of a younger generation toward safe sex.

Sixty-year-old Topanga resident Randy Neece has lived with the reality of AIDS for nearly half his life. Diagnosed with HIV in 1988, he was in the throes of full-blown AIDS and fighting for his life by 1993.

But when he describes his memoir cataloguing that time, “Gone Today, Here Tomorrow,” recently annotated and re released by AuthorHouse, he characterizes it not as an AIDS story, but a love story.

The book tells of not just the painful journey Neece undertook with his diagnosis—years of panic at the slightest sniffle, the unending “cocktail” of drugs required to keep infections at bay, the increasingly debilitating illnesses and agonizing trips to the hospital, the point of deciding that death would be preferable to an AIDS-defined life—but the remarkable tale of the man who stood by him for the past 30 years, his husband, Joe Timko.

“Joe was with me every step,” Neece said. “He didn’t have to hang in there but he enlisted in this war. He crawled to the front lines to pull me back into a foxhole and saved my life and it wasn’t easy. To me, that’s what a real marriage is all about.

“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to re-release this book [originally published in 2007],” Neece continued. “At this time, when marriage equality is such a hot-button issue, I want people to see what a 30-year, committed relationship is like.”

Both Neece and Timko believe they come by their mutual dedication naturally. Neece was raised in Orange County in a tight-knit Quaker family (Neece calls it “The Friends Church”), where his parents worked together in a paint and wallpaper store. The whole family stood by each other, despite his parents’ initial skepticism of Neece’s sexuality.

Timko grew up in a traditional Italian Catholic family of chaos and family dinners. He kept his sexuality a secret from his father for years at the request of his mother, who claimed knowing his son was gay “would kill him.” But when Timko finally came out to his father, the response was simply, “You are my son and I’ll love you no matter what.”

That loving acceptance of whatever life would throw at them was the glue that kept Neece and Timko together for three decades. With the controversy of California’s Proposition 8 swirling and gay marriage being a touchstone of political campaigning, Neece believes examples like himself and Timko could be illuminating for some people who question their feelings on the subject.

“I think that most people who are opposed to gay marriage probably never met a gay couple who’ve been together for a long time,” Neece said. “What makes a marriage? We have all the same issues any long-together couple has. How have I handled it? Hmmm. Earplugs?”

Timko worked as a ski instructor and blackjack dealer in Lake Tahoe when he first traveled west. He had been with Neece four years before the HIV diagnosis came, and said abandoning his partner was not an option.

“It’s not anything heroic,” Timko said. “You stick with someone you love. We both came from strong family values. You face stuff together.”

Their struggle in negotiating his illness was another reason Neece wanted to re-write and rerelease “Gone Today, Here Tomorrow.” He is alarmed at the growing complacency he sees in a younger generation’s approach to safe sex, and their inherent insouciance toward AIDS as a life-threatening disease.

“I felt I missed something in the first version of this book that I needed to rectify,” Neece said. “We may have enjoyed a happy ending, but my life is by no means normal. We’ve progressed so much in the fight against AIDS, kids nowadays think you can just take a pill. It’s not like that. It’s a tedious daily struggle. But the history of AIDS and the devastation it continues to cause is just lost on this generation. I felt it was my responsibility, having survived to pass along what I’ve learned and detail the realities of my life.”

Though he found writing his book “cathartic,” Neece doesn’t dwell on it. After his health turned for the better in 1997, the partners opened a dog boarding and training facility in Topanga, which boards about 80 dogs per day and helps keep the couple running.

“When I got well, my life went back into full force mode,” Neece said. “I wanted to leave a legacy so I wrote this book, but I’m not going anywhere.”