Reflecting While Moving Ahead

10.22.14

Tony is in town. This means that I get to spend a couple of days with a man who has and shares my history. There’s a whole lot of not explaining who people are and even more laughing and not caring what the world thinks.

We’re heading to West Hollywood in a few hours to have a drink in honor of Steven. Tony’s not been back in something close to twenty years and so much of it has changed yet much of it never will. The men who brought us together have all died and none of them grew old. So there’s this notion that we’re about to waltz with two dozen ghosts who are dressed for white parties in Palm Springs while sporting deep tans and lots of hairspray. Like we have to revisit the place where it all began so that we can package it neatly in a box with a bow and hold hands and say, “There, now that’s done.”

But it’s never really done because you can’t undo your teens and your 20’s and you can’t pretend like it’s a normal life when you think about all the men you knew who died. It’s impossible to walk forward without fear when you’re holding hands with the last men standing after a plague. We’re going to do the impossible today.

It doesn’t matter that fears aren’t rational and it doesn’t matter that there are medicines. It doesn’t matter when your friends tell you they take Truvada. There are too many beautiful ghosts and some who died slowly and are firmly etched in my brain as skeletons with a bit of skin that was covered in festering wounds. Slow deaths are something I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

So as I move ahead, as my husband and I walk into midlife hand in hand I find myself reevaluating things. With every upset and curve ball we’re thrown – and boy we’ve been thrown a few lately – I ask myself who it is that I would go to. Who inspires me and who gives me strength? Who do I want to emulate and who just drags it all down?

A few times a day I ask myself if this were my last day on earth is this how I’d want to be spending the time? Quite often I smile and return a tennis ball on the court. Sometimes I’m sitting next to my kids trying to decipher homework or just watching Friends on the DVR. Preparing dinner for my family can be a process infused with love or feel like a chore. I have the opportunity every day to infuse the love and I’m mostly getting it right but not every day. Right now I’ve got a poodle on my lap and cup of warm peppermint tea. So I ask myself, in the least morbid way possible, if I am doing what I should be doing. Am I taking this gift that I’ve been given, this perfect family and pampered existence (trust me, if you aren’t getting water from a well and carrying it on your head it’s a pampered existence), and am I making the best use of it?

Today the answer is yes. Today I’ll do some reflecting with a man I’ve loved since we were immortal and then we’ll move forward because that’s what we do.

 

Surviving A Plague

04.18.13

 

I made a horrendous mistake last night. Mr. G loves to watch the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. I love being with Mr. G but I don’t love the shows the way he does. Since it’s become part of our evening unwinding routine I typically grab a tablet and goof around online so I can half watch the show without being bored out of my mind. I just want to be with my husband. I like him.

In any event I’d noticed that How To Survive a Plague was on Netflix so I decided to pop in some earbuds and be not-quite-present but rather sit next to Mr. G while he watched his show and I’d watch How to Survive a Plague on the tablet. I figured I’d get in 40 minutes and watch the last hour bit by bit during the course of the next week or so.

Do not make the mistake I made. Do not trick yourself into believing that you can watch this movie in pieces. It’s engrossing, infuriating and if, like me, you came of age in the late 80’s it will have you flashing back to die in’s you’d tried to forget and queer bills that your friends would pass around town. Watching Pat Buchanan and Jesse Helms say that gay men deserved to die sent my blood pressure skyrocketing and police officers with rubber gloves combined with hospitals turning patients away reminded me of details that I’d tried to forget.

how to survive a plague

Someday I’ll talk about the funerals I went to. There were so many of them. Someday I’ll talk about ribbons and how much that red ribbon meant because people will ARC and AIDS were treated much like Polio patients in the early days. Delivering meals with Project Angel Food turned me into a different person and I’ll never have the words required to articulate how profound those changes were.

So I sat up late last night and watched How To Survive a Plague and I sobbed and I cheered and I remembered how incredibly powerless and powerful that whole moment in time was for both the gay community and communities like my own that bordered West Hollywood and relied on the gay community for art, joy, love and freedom.

And I look at organizations like Aids Project LA and Project Angel Food that were once a very large part of my life. When Steven was dying APLA walked me through tremendous amounts of paperwork and held my hand while we cleared legal hurdles. Project Angel Food helped Gene stay home so he could die in his own bed, on his own terms. PAF delivered nutritious and delicious meals to my friends and to strangers, they work with nutritionists and master chefs so that the food with both sustain and delight their clients. They are angels on earth.

I have a few friends left who are positive. They have well controlled diseases and we don’t talk about it much anymore because we have the feeling (and feelings are very different than knowledge) that they can keep their disease under control until there is a cure. My kids know AIDS, they’ve watched men disappear. They’ve watched vibrant men grow gaunt and then quiet and then they’re gone forever but even with that teens and young adults are notoriously unreliable and I know that when I look at Jane and Alexander and all their friends one or more of those girls will be accidentally pregnant, a handful of them will have an STD, 10% of them will be homosexual and more than 10% will be unsure for at least a moment in their lifetime.

Everything about this panics me. When Bush drew the line in the sand and my brother made noises about enlisting my mother dissolved into a puddle talking about Vietnam and the body bags that came home. When I hear that young men are barebacking and the HIV infection rate is rising in minority communities I flash back to my own young adult years when having sex felt a little like Russian Roulette and even your married (female) neighbor died from it.

I’d urge you to watch How To Survive A Plague in part because it’s a story that needs to be told and it’s a moment in time where ordinary people came together to make extraordinary progress.

 

 

Back to AIDS

01.31.13

I just finished reading, no devouring, A Home at the End of the World. It’s a rich novel that explores relationships and the limits of love. It begins in the 60’s and I’m uncomfortable because there’s sex but no talk of condoms and I’m furiously flipping pages because I know what the 80’s will bring.

There was incredible sadness and fear in the 80’s and the 90’s were marked by slower deaths with anger and activism. There’s an article that needs to be written and it needs a more targeted audience than this site can provide but one day I’ll be able to write about what it is to watch someone die. Deliberately. One day I’ll tell you about the day he killed himself and we all watched and chanted and said the prayers he needed. We watched him take his last breath and no one interrupted to try and save him but no one helped either. We knew better than to do that.

In his dying months he regaled me with tales of Die Ins and trips to the desert where he and his friends from ACT UP would stamp their money with pink triangles. Queer bills, he called them. Just a year earlier in Colorado I’d watched in horror as the Christian Coalition rallied the troops and passed laws that were violently anti-gay assuring that the state would never see them as a protected class enabling good people to be fired, evicted and generally abused. I’d never really believed that people hated gays until I left Los Angeles. I should add that I’d never been to Church. My experiences in Colorado showed me that the hatred and fear I’d seen started at a pulpit.

I was checking the Lemmle for movies I might want to see and there were none so I looked at what might be coming soon and saw How to Survive a Plague is coming next week. I assumed it was a tongue in cheek title until I clicked through for the trailer. And then I sat and watched and sobbed.

I cannot tell you how many men died. I think this is a movie I need to watch alone.

A Book

10.10.11

There’s one. There are two really, one that is probably ridiculously unmarketable and includes stories of holding hands and singing Michael Row Your Boat Ashore while our friend killed himself. Well, not so much killed himself but beat AIDS to the punch. We didn’t help him. No one even touched his things, his legacy couldn’t be our prison sentences. In between the misery there were great love stories.

The other book shows you how to do this. I think people would buy it but I’m not sure why I’d write it.

I like you all enough to respect everyone’s time so I’ll just continue blogging.

A Cure For AIDS

12.14.10

I was 16 years old in 1986 when I met Mona. Mona was friends with my then boyfriend, she was 22 and recently widowed. Her husband had died of AIDS, she had it. I remember hugging Mona, but still feeling nervous about it. Before I was 17 she had called me at home from the hospital. She said she had pancreatitis and she felt like she was dying.

I never heard from Mona again. I assume she died, probably not that week.

I met Gene when I was 17. He was my best friend’s brother. He was HIV positive. He drove an enormous blue convertible and would park it in random places and we’d all hop out of the car and dance to “Losing My Religion” at the loudest possible volume.

I met Steven and Frank when I was 19. Steven and I were instantly joined at the hip. We loved each other. He’d tell me about his sisters back home and how much I reminded them of him. We got our puppies at the same time, we did our hair and nails together, we danced until the sun came up, and we held hands all the time.

Frank died when I was 21. His parents did not want Steven at the funeral. They were cruel to everyone from West Hollywood and angry with Frank for being gay.

Gene died of AIDS when I was 23, sort of. He was dying, there was nothing left to him, so he hurried it along with a bag full of pills. It made sense at the time, and everyone was excruciatingly careful to not help him. We wouldn’t even pick up his prescriptions for him. We didn’t want to be called murderers.

We sat at his bedside, a dozen of us, and sang “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore” while Gene ate poison applesauce that he’d prepared himself. For another dozen hours men laid in bed with him chanting Ohm. When Gene stopped breathing we called the funeral home and left his body for them.

When Steven died in 2007 part of me died with him.

This morning my brother sent me an email. It read:

http://bloodjournal.hematologylibrary.org/cgi/content/abstract/blood-2010-09-309591v1

Read the last sentence of the abstract.

I sat at my desk and cried. I never thought this would happen in my lifetime.

In conclusion, our results strongly suggest that cure of HIV has been achieved in this patient.