My first-grade son was recently bitten in the arm by an exuberant classmate. Luckily (said his principal) my son was wearing a heavy jacket, and the boy’s teeth didn’t puncture his skin: “Human bites are even more dangerous than dogs’, you know,” she reminded me. Yes, I’d read that, and agreed that we were lucky—and then promptly translated the incident into just one more proof that all first-graders come from Mars. I chuckled as I told the story to a colleague, and the first thing she said was, “Oh, wow, I bet you were worried about AIDS until you found out Robbie’s skin hadn’t been broken.” Well, no, actually I hadn’t thought about AIDS at all. Until then.

* * *

North Dakota has two—that’s one, two, period—diagnosed cases of AIDS among schoolchildren. The identities of these children have been kept secret from even their teachers. Having with the rest of the nation seen the burned home of the AIDS children in Florida, and having imagined how the two North Dakota kids felt watching it and wondering when their neighbors would burn their house, I thought this secrecy was not a bad idea.

A friend of ours thought differently, as we talked at a party. “Teachers don’t know who these kids are, right? So they’re going to treat every kid as if he’s got AIDS.”

I nodded, seeing the logic in such behavior and not seeing any harm. “Well, what if one of your kids has a seizure and stops breathing—is his teacher going to give him mouth-to-mouth?” I’d never thought of that. “And what if your child gets badly cut—will the teacher stop the bleeding?” I remembered the near-bite. Suddenly the unlimited possibilities for worry became clearer.

My friend wasn’t finished. His wife of more than 30 years is a nurse, although they certainly don’t need the money. Among other things, she does hospice work, and that’s what has him scared. “It’s inevitable that she’ll come across an AIDS patient sooner or later,” he said, sipping his scotch, “and you know her—she won’t turn it down.”

Here I was sure that I could set his mind at ease. “You know what a good nurse she is. And she’s smart. There are things people can do to be almost perfectly safe giving care to AIDS patients. She’ll be fine,” I said.

He just shook his head. “Yeah, she’s a good nurse, all right. The best. Do you really think that if an AIDS patient needs immediate resuscitation my wife’s going to take the time to hunt around for her little mouth protector? What if the patient vomits or sneezes and she gets it in her eye or mouth or in a sore? There is no protection. I’ve told her it bothers me, and she just tells me not to worry, that she’ll be all right,” he said, pride in her mixed with his unwillingness to go gently into widowhood or death.

* * *

Nothing happened, really. I was waited on by a man who’d waited on me a hundred times. The only difference was that I knew something about him I hadn’t known before. He had confessed to the whole staff, including a friend of mine—”announced” is how she put it—that he had tested positive for AIDS. It wasn’t surprising, I guess, seeing that his homosexuality was well-known and long-standing, but he was my first acquaintance to be touched by the disease. After his announcement, the manager decided not to give him a different, less public position. And here I was, doing business with him, having tried my best to avoid it. He handed me my card, and I took it as politely as I could: What do you say to someone you barely know who will probably die soon and has brought it entirely on himself? There are no such words in my vocabulary. When he had left me to help someone else, I searched his face for signs of imminent death. They weren’t there, but suddenly felt a general malaise that took me an hour to discard. Was he still sleeping around, I wondered? Was he sorry he had? Should I wash my hands before I picked up my kids from school? Wash them with what? I couldn’t name the source of my rage.

* * *

All this takes on absolute importance because I have children. The children are physical realities from which there is no easy escape and on which the whole world hangs. Another, perhaps more abstract consideration is that my husband and I are Christians and are trying to raise our children as Christians. And it’s hard for me on this matter: I’m angry and full of resentment, because we—especially the children, damn it!—are in this respect the truly innocent. The promiscuous queers and the drug addicts—from whom AIDS predominantly emanates—have no right, regardless of what the ACLU says, to invade the happy, productive, godly life we’re trying to build. Is AIDS a punishment from God? It would be easy to think so—after all, most of its victims are simply suffering the logical effects of their own licentiousness—but it’s killing innocents, too. The “gays” take evil glee in telling us, loudly, often, that the number of innocent deaths is going to skyrocket. Is that a threat?

My daughter will be dating in a few years. My seven-year-old son, who is disgusted when I kiss the cats on the lips (and cat germs are even cleaner than dog germs), has taken to kissing Francie and Roslyn and Becky at recess—he says they chase him and pin him down, that he can’t help it, this boy who prides himself on being the Fastest Runner in the World. I’d give just about anything for the return of the innocent good old days when I would have had the luxury of talking to my children about self-respect and responsibility and mere propriety. Now I have death always at the back of my mind. Shall I let them be innocent a little longer? Will it kill them? There is going to be Hell to pay.