The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

World AID Day Re-Post: All I Want is a Cure and My Friends Back

(Ed. Note: Today is world AIDS day, and while I’d like to write something about it, I can’t come up with anything better than what I wrote last year. So, if may be the epitome of lazy blogging, but maybe there are some people who didn’t read it last year. So I’m re-posting it today. More news posts to follow…)

Support World AIDS DayThere’s a t-shirt in my closet at home, black with white lettering, that bears the words above. It expresses the sentiment that’s in my heart today. It’s World AIDS Day, and a day on which I can’t help thinking about all the people who have been lost; the ones close to me and the people never knew but who meant something to someone.

It was on my mind this morning when I picked my son up and carried him downstairs, and it was on my mind when I kissed him and my husband goodbye and made my way out the door. It wasn’t until I was on the train that it truly hit me. I was sitting, reading and listening to music, and the next song that played was Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me In Your Heart for a While,” written before his own death from lung cancer.

Shadows are falling and I’m running out of breath

Keep me in your heart for a while

If I leave you it doesn’t mean I love you any less

Keep me in your heart for a while

When you get up in the morning and you see that crazy sun

Keep me in your heart for a while

There’s a train leaving nightly called when all is said and done

Keep me in your heart for a while

Sitting there on the train I did something I almost never do. I wept. I closed my book, bowed my head, covered my face so that no one would see, and quietly wept. Sentimental, I know. But I couldn’t help it.

I don’t remember a time without AIDS in my life as an out gay man. I came out around the age of 13, just when word of the epidemic was beginning to break. By the time I went to college I was already losing friends to the disease. For a while, I think I was going to funerals and memorials more often than my parents were. I spent much of my time in college doing volunteer work on HIV/AIDS education and prevention, and spent several years after graduation working on HIV/AIDS issues.

Ric was the first person living with AIDS that I met, and he was the first friend I lost to the disease. I’ve written about his death before, and what I learned from him about courage, honesty, and love — both in how he lived with his illness and in how he finally chose to leave this world. There’s now a clinic named after him at AIDGwinnett. I learned so much from the others too. Duane and Marc were a couple, both ill, and though they argued and fought passionately sometimes, they never appeared to stop loving each other, and now I think of that as a kind of lesson about the things that love can weather and still remain. They’re both gone now; one left shortly after the other. Neal and Alex were my fraternity brothers, and from each of them I learned strength and perseverance.

I think about them, and countless others today, and I can’t help asking “Why them, and not me?” I don’t have an answer for that, but today is a day that — as I said above — want them back.

And it’s not just the people I knew. I think of people like Joseph Beam, Marlon Riggs, and Essex Hemphill, whose words and work kept me sane at a time when it was difficult to stay that way, and helped me feel less alone. I think of Nkosi Johnson and Pedro Zamora, both examples of how one person can touch countless others and make a huge impact.

And there are so many others. Given the politics behind the epidemic — manifest today in “abstinence only” policies, etc. — it’s odd that my take on it is so personal, but it’s on a day like today that I feel my own losses to the epidemic most deeply. And I know those losses are multiplied by millions the world over. I know the stats.

People living with HIV and AIDS – 40.3 million

Adults – 38.0 million

Women – 17.5 million

Children under 15 -2.3 million

New HIV cases in 2005 – 4.9 million

Adults – 4.2 million

Children under 15 – 700,000

AIDS deaths in 2005 – 3.1 million

Adults – 2.6 million

Children under 15 – 570,000

Total HIV cases to date – 64.3 million

Total AIDS deaths to date – 23.1 million

But the numbers are just numbers to me until I can multiply them by the lives of the people I knew, and the loss I feel in my own heart. When I do, I know the truth is that we all have AIDS.

So, my hope and wish for everyone today is the same as what I felt and wanted this morning on the train; a world without AIDS; a cure and our friends back, and our mothers, fathers, sons, daughter, husbands, wives, neighbors and loved ones — all back. When I imagine it, it reminds me of the last scene in Longtime Companion, when a few of the main characters are walking on a beach and wondering what it will be like on the day there’s a cure. In the next frame, all of the people lost to the epidemic suddenly appear at the end of the beach and run towards them for a fantastic reunion. And then just as quickly, they’re gone and the three characters continue up the beach alone.

I know the reality is going to be something like that. There may come a day when there’s a cure, but there won’t be any reunions; at least not the kind where get to hug and touch and hear the voices and see the faces of the ones who’ve been gone so long. Still, the best way remember them and honor them is to continue working for a cure, and for real prevention.

So, today I remember Ric, Marc, Duane, Neal, Alex and all the others. I’ll probably cry again before the day is over. And I still want them back. I know that can’t happen, so I keep them in my heart and keep working for the day when no one else has to die from this disease and no one has to lose a loved one to it. Ever again.

Ronn, Rashid, Donald, Bernie, Efren, Keith, EJ, Brad, Howard, and Stephen are writing about World AIDS.

One Comment

  1. You made me cry at work. 😛

    Since I’m a bit younger, there hasn’t been a time in my life where AIDS has not existed. And since I’m a bit younger, I’ve only lost one person to it, and that was seventeen years ago, before I learned to type. People around me who have AIDS are on the miracle drugs, and thank God still doing well, so there’s this fragile shell of denial (it’s controllable. Really. Nothing to see here, move along).

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