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the story behind the book | kate tuttle

Coming to terms with AIDS death, 30 years on

david wilson for the boston globe

Michael Ward fell in love with Mark on Fire Island; both in their late thirties, Ward says that Mark “had sort of stopped believing that he would ever meet anybody.”

They overcame some of the usual obstacles that new couples face — Ward lived in Massachusetts, Mark had recently moved to Florida, planning to become a sailboat captain. But the biggest test of their partnership came two years later, when Mark got thrush, then shingles, then a nagging cough.

Mark was 41 when he was diagnosed with AIDS in September of 1983. “I was in complete denial through the entire thing,” said Ward. Boston’s AIDS Action Committee had just formed, and Mark joined its very first group for people with AIDS. “It sounds absurd from this perspective,” Ward said, “but in that moment we really believe that he would get better, and that they would all get better. We were just relentlessly optimistic.”

Mark lived 10 months after his diagnosis. Ward always knew he wanted to write about their love, loss, and grief in those early days of the AIDS epidemic. But it wasn’t until 30 years later, now happily married to his husband, Moe (described by Ward as “miraculously open hearted, never jealous or competitive”), that he was able to finally do it. Ward’s memoir, “The Sea Is Quiet Tonight,” was published this month.


“I cried for the first six months I was writing it,” Ward said. But he hopes his story will help others who are still ravaged by all the losses of that era. “So many people in my age group died,” he said. “The ones of us who are left need to express more what happened, not only as a way of informing young people, but as a way of filling in that space that still feels empty.


Ward will read twice on Thursday, at 1 p.m. at the Medicine Wheel’s World AIDS Day commemoration at the Boston Cyclorama and at 7 p.m. at Brookline Booksmith.

Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at