Editor’s note: This is the only posting for the day. I’ve been friends with Rick for over 20 years and shared some of the heartache he so beautifully expresses here. Our lost partners, our lives now without this shadow darkening them every day. Nothing more needs to be said – Mark.
It was thirty years ago that HIV/AIDS entered our world as we know it. A time capsule was created ten years into the pandemic which has brought excruciating pain and endless questions . In it are impassioned missives from those living with AIDS at that time left for us survivors today. On June 5th, the noted discovery day of HIV, several messages were opened and revealed. These words from one of the many linger with me: “Look back in wonder….Prepare for the next time….Do not forget us.”
Does this warning resonate with you dear friends as it does with me?
I haven’t forgotten the mid 90s when there wasn’t a time in the day where I wasn’t thinking or dealing with AIDS. How does my partner Charles go on balancing one medical appointment with another, counterbalancing one cocktail drug with another? When will Celio’s mother find the courage to say goodbye to her dear son? Why didn’t Linda’s husband tell her he had HIV before they consummated their marriage? Where did Jenny, who carried the virus, find the fearlessness to decide to be impregnated, carrying “a child at risk?” How did her husband take the risk and go through with it? And why, why do these friends have AIDS, and I don’t?
I haven’t forgotten Charles, Celiio, Linda or the many incredible lovers and loved ones who have blazed the trail before me, onward to eternal life. And I haven’t forgotten the lessons they’ve taught me in preparing for the “next time”…the “next time” I say goodbye (as I did with my Dad, grandmas, grandfather and best friend), the “next time” I am called to action following yet another unexpected disaster (as I did with the Haitian hurricane, the Japanese tsunami or the Joplin tornado), the “next time” I fight with their courage and strength for the passage of a law or obtaining medical services for someone in need (as I do often).
But I have forgotten…a lot. I have grown to comfortably know a new world without AIDS, without the suffering my friends and I endured on an ongoing basis for over a decade. I lost 19 friends in one year. Fifteen years ago, I rubbed the feet of my friends with neuropathy as they fell to sleep; I reminded my lover with dementia of his next checkup and drove him there; I fed my friends with wasting syndrome and defended them in the eyes of passersby who never came to accept the “face of AIDS”; I cried myself to sleep regularly and prayed at night to wake up to a morning news headline pronouncing an end to HIV and a world without AIDS. I guess I got my wish.
I am complacent. I walk in the light of each new day, forgetting the shadows of those passed. I am blessed to be HIV negative, to have survived, and thank God for it. Yet I once was the one asking God to give me AIDS if it meant it would save the life of a friend. Sub-Saharan Africa is miles away from my safe little world on the border of Louisiana and Texas yet Baton Rouge which is second in the nation in AIDS cases per capita is a simple three hour drive for me. I have embarrassingly made a subconscious decision to have no friends living with AIDS, having been hurt, burned and salty eyed for far too long.
I write with a contrite heart as I do look back in wonder…and I do vividly remember Suzanne, John, Michael, Brian, Randy, Mark, Robin, my three babies with AIDS who I cared for, Larry, Tony, Jim, Amanda, the other Mark, another Michael, Linda, Celio and Charles, visualizing their tender feet in my hands, their fearfully faithful eyes staring in mine. I go forward. I ask for forgiveness and preparation as I pray that I don’t have to read a headline on July 22, 2030 stating: 180 Million People Liiving with AIDS Now Dead Since It Was Recognized
50 Years Ago.