World Aids Day

Today, on World AIDS Day, I happened to stumble upon this K.D. Lang video from back in the ’90′s. This was a compilation of artists singing Cole Porter songs with money being earmarked for the AIDS crisis.

Watching it again brought back so many memories; that initial fear of this unknown “disease” and the many rumors of how you could contract it. For so long there were so many unknowns…so much misinformation…so much ignorance. Could you get it by touching, kissing, hugging, coughing…? “Safe sex” was widely talked about but still hit or miss in its actual usage. And of course, with us being teenagers, we were convinced this scourge could never hit “us”. Until, of course, it did. My friend Mick was the first I knew who died of AIDS. Michael was the second. For Michael’s memorial he requested that all of us gather in the auditorium at work to screen the movie, “Longtime Companion”. Considering the subject matter of the film and the reason we were watching it, I’m amazed that any of us could drive home that night.

But drive home is exactly what we did. We drove home to our loved ones to sleep in our beds and find comfort in the mundane and routine. Those too scared to have an AIDS test would wait in fear after donating a pint to the Bloodmobile. Hushed whispers followed openly gay males when they experienced a sudden weight loss. An entire community of gay men, ravaged by this disease, attended funeral after funeral after funeral.

AIDS is a vengeful mistress, to be sure. It strips you of your dignity, as you reluctantly confess all of your sexual dalliances to a suited stranger with a clipboard, your humor as the sickness and drugs depress your mood and stifle your hope, your appearance as you discover Kaposi’s sarcoma covering your body and hollowed cheeks from the 60 pounds you lost seemingly overnight, your vital organs as you gasp for air from the Pneumocyctis Pneumonia or forget your family from the lesions on your brain.

July 23, 1996 – that was the day that the The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded the patent on the antiviral drug 3TC. This new “cocktail” of drugs from Emory University was a turning point in the AIDS crisis. It changed the disease from people dying of AIDS to people living with AIDS. That cocktail saved my friend’s life. He was literally on death’s door, resembling more a concentration camp victim than the witty, vibrant, funny man I knew. The hospice nurses warned us he wouldn’t see Thanksgiving. He survived. He thrived. Now he faced the new challenge of figuring out how to live on disability while shoveling pills that help him live (but also make him sick). Health care, job opportunities, everything he had needed to be rethought around his second chance.

Just recently another friend, who had AIDS for decades, passed away. It was a shock. He hadn’t made his diagnosis public, as many don’t, so it took a lot of us by surprise. It reminded me that we have gotten forgetful of what people with AIDS still have to go through every single day.

I am sorry for forgetting.

Today I remember.

I remember Mick, whose sardonic wit and perfect taste had people clamoring for his attention.

I remember Michael, whose gentle spirit and kind demeanor commanded fierce loyalty.

I remember Rick, whose funny laugh made my friends adore him.

I remember Kelly, whose Midwest stories during cigarette breaks could make the toughest exterior crack.

The final scene in the movie, “Longtime Companion” has stayed with me through these many years. 3 friends, walking on a familiar beach, discuss the day a cure is found. “Imagine what it would be like.” “Like then end of World War II.” They look into the distance and see a group of people come into view, laughing, hugging. You realize that many in the crowd are the friends and family who had died earlier in the movie. There is celebration and there is hope; of one day being able to say, “We cured AIDS.”

That day will be amazing.

“And I want to be there.”

To watch the final scene, go to the 8 minute mark on this video.


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