As summer begins I am often reminded that I live on borrowed time, that for the last 14 years I have lived on borrowed time. In a few weeks, we will cross the 15 year mark on July the 8th at 12 noon. I have been spending time at night reading books by one of the first authors that I met shortly after my diagnosis, his name is Paul Monette, he is the quintessential writer of the early AIDS experience, he later died of the disease, but not before penning some of the most important works of literary genius.
Last night I finished reading Halfway Home, written in 1991, three years before my diagnosis. Every time I read it I remember just how fragile life was in the beginning, how every day was planned for the most efficient use of time and energy. I remember how protective my friends were of who got into the circle and who did not. I always dreamed that I would find myself in some house on a bluff, overlooking the sea, like Tom Shaheen.
Every year Pride comes along and we remind ourselves why it is important to be seen, why it is important that we unite and why it is important to remember those who have gone before us. Because if we forget, there is no use to pride any more, because those men and women who went before us gave us this period of time to tell the world that we are here, we are queer and that we will not go quietly into that good night.
It wasn’t so long ago that this picture was seen all over communities, on placards and on buttons. I was lucky that I did not suffer the strains of AIDS that many did, I did not get cancer or lesions or all those painful killing strains of AIDS. The one thing that I did get is a virus that seems to be resistant to every known drug on the market, hence the reason that I am on experimental medication as a last ditch effort to keep my alive.
Every year that I live, puts more distance between the boy I was so long ago and the man I am today. I keep this library of old books that are starting to yellow with age and crumble at the turn of the page. Yet, at times, I long to be back in the thick of it – back in the days when life seemed so much more urgent. Death was very imminent.
When we read the stories of old, they are sprinkled with little seeds of truth and honest angst. Back in the day, men and women had love, the men who were sick and the women who helped them fight, men had an undying love for each other in the absence of drugs to save themselves. We read these stories and we are reminded of just how different life was just a few short years ago, and how the emergence of drugs has changed the story line of AIDS in such a drastic way.
Our lives have been transformed. In North America you do not find disastrous stories of mass deaths like we saw in the early years. The face of AIDS has changed. We are running marathons and climbing mountains, we aren’t sitting at home connected to IV poles looking sickly, dying. Have we forgotten about them? Has life happened so that we don’t take the time to remember what it was like? What happened? Because what it’s like now, is so different from the way it had been.
Aids is still a killing disease, but with all the designer drugs out there to combat the disease our preoccupation with death is lessened. The focus on what is important has changed. Yet we still see today, young people who aren’t worried about getting infected. And there are some called [Bug Chasers] those who actively seek out HIV positive men to infect them for the “thrill of it.” In their ignorance they forget that once the thrill is gone, a lifetime of medicine and waiting begins.
Death may be imminent, but not as imminent as it once was.
I hope that where ever you celebrate pride this year, that you take the time to remember the history, the pain and the achievement of so many, and that you pay proper respect to the angels in heaven that watch over you today.