Thursday, December 1, 2011

Today is World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS day. It's not a day to celebrate as much as it is a day to be aware, to remember where we came from, and how far we have to go. There is no happy salutation, no decorations, no special cake to make or food to use to show what this day means. I am somber on this day, remembering how many people I love that I lost due to a disease with no cure.
In the 1990's I sat in vigils waiting with other friends as our beloveds suffered in hospital beds mere feet from where we were. We would gather, all of us, after being notified by land line telephones that one more person we held so dear received what was tantamount to a death sentence. We sat, we spoke in hushed tones, we laughed quietly at stories of each other and our friendships. We sat and waited as our friends languished, in utter pain and sometimes despair at the height of their youth and their beauty. We got coffee, brought in food, fluffed pillows and smoothed blankets. We patted hands, kissed cheeks, and waited. In truth looking back we waited nearby fearful if we left we would miss the last word our friend would say, or the last time they would look us in the eye. We didn't want to miss anything back then, because we knew it was indeed the last of life as we knew it. I sat in more vigils than I care to think about. I lost some friends without knowing they had gone, only hearing later that they, too, had been taken far too soon.
My friends back then were all gay. I had heard ignorant hateful people refer to AIDS as the gay plague. I remember feeling revolted by the accusation that God had decided to punish my loved ones by giving them a hateful disease that held no understanding back then. My darlings, the dearest of souls that I loved so very much suffered a fate I cannot even begin to describe to you. We didn't know how it was spread, so many would not touch an AIDS patient. We didn't know how to stop it's rampant flow through the body, so my friends suffered every symptom, including open sores, hideous rashes, susceptibility to every germ or normally innocuous flu to come down the pike. My friends, many of them were human guinea pigs, being tortured with whatever new experiment was being tested out. My friends suffered. It was torturous to watch, so I can't even begin to imagine what it felt like to endure it. Back then being gay was something my friends could not do openly. They held jobs that prohibited any inkling of sexuality. "Socially acceptable" meant it was wrong to be gay. Wrong to be exactly who they were, which I must tell you, were the finest human beings I have ever known. There were no openly gay people on TV, or in the movies, where any normalcy could be seen. Only cartoon-like caricatures of gay people were displayed, as if they were an anomaly. My friends were anything but abnormal. They were funny, kind, generous to a fault, accepting of all others whoever they were or where they came from. They were the least judgmental, believing instead that we all have our crap and we need each other to get through this thing we call life. Being gay meant they had to do the emotional heavy lifting early in life in order to survive. My gay friends were required to be self reflective, insightful due to a society who repeatedly rejected them based on nothing. My friends had parents who refused to look at them, let alone love them for who they were. They had been faced with the choice of either acceptance by those who insisted they be anything but who they were or accept themselves knowing they would lose everyone who had a direct link to their past. Most of my friends walked away from the lives they had always known in order to be who they were internally, who they were born to be. For me, this is when I gained their love, this was when they entered my life just as they were forced to exit the family life that rejected them. I became their family, we all became each others family. When AIDS began taking my friends, my family, I began to suffer at its hand.
I was losing a friend a year, until one year it was two. I said I couldn't go the last time my friends sat and waited. I had had enough, I could not bear to lose one more friend. My heart could not take it, especially with no end in sight. I had buried so many, with so many more getting sick. The CDC was doing more research, drugs to suppress the monster were becoming more available and more of my friends were given some hope.
AIDS numbers are rising again, this time in China. They are the newest population to see increased infection. AIDS is still running rampant through Africa, as militias spread the disease to women and children through rape. Here, in 2011, in the United States of America 20% of those infected by the HIV virus do not know they have it.
Today is World AIDS day. After all these years we are still battling this incurable disease. Please take a moment, think of your friends and family. Remember all those who have perished, the ones still suffering due to lack of medication, or health care or the ability to even be tested. Today is World AIDS day and people are still dying. Take a moment and think of a single thing you can do to make a difference. Today is World AIDS Day. It effects all of us, it can infect all of us. We belong to each other. Today, take a moment and find something you can do to help those who are still looking, all these years later, for a cure.

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