Cut to: a man’s profile, obscured for anonymity—the late suburbanite’s ex-husband. As the tape rolled, he calmly admitted that she had no idea he was bisexual when he married her. Clearly she never imagined he could give her AIDS.
“Do you feel in some way as if you murdered your wife?” the interviewer asked uncomfortably.
“No,” the man said with eerie confidence.
Rather’s 1986 report was a wake-up call for many women watching: a husband on the down-low, not that we called it that then—the whole thing a chilling reminder of how you could get AIDS from someone you thought was totally safe. For one viewer, though, the program was a death sentence.
Sharon Lund, a soft-spoken single mother in Los Angeles, was watching because her parents had taped it for her. They knew she worked with AIDS patients and brought the video when they visited over Christmas. With everyone settled on the couch, a fire going, the tree all festively lit, Sharon didn’t pay much attention until the man in profile came on, and then she started screaming.
“It’s Bill, it’s Bill,” she shrieked. Her whole body shaking uncontrollably, she yanked the tape out of the machine before the program finished and scrambled into the bedroom. There she grabbed the phone and dialed Bill’s number. She had been married to him after the frail woman. “Is it true you have AIDS?” she asked hysterically when he picked up.
By the time Sharon saw that CBS special, she was 37 and a veteran of tough times. Her two brothers died five years apart, both at age 23—Tommy in a motorcycle accident, Raymond from a heroin overdose. She’d been hospitalized with anorexia, lived (barely) through two suicide attempts. And her self-worth had been raked over by a childhood of abuse that started at age 3 and ended when she was 12, only because her grandfather, who’d been raping her, died. “And I felt responsible,” says Sharon, “because I’d been praying for his death.”
When she went into therapy as a young adult and told her dad she’d been molested all those years by his father, he turned livid. “I was so upset over it,” says Tom Clark, a former Navy captain who ran a ship-inspection business in Seattle. “If he hadn’t already passed away, I’d probably have shot him.”
The abuse left Sharon uncomfortable about getting physically intimate. Of her first husband, whom she married at 19, she says, “He’s a wonderful man, but every time we had sex I screamed inside, became numb, and wanted to die.” Three years before they split, they had a daughter, Jeaneen, who would become the reason Sharon fights to this day so fiercely for her life.