New Yorkers don't just quietly survive. We wear our survival the way we wear Yankees caps, hotpants, dashikis, gold chai pendants, rainbow flags and "I [Love] NY" tees -- as emblems of pride, attitude, chutzpah. Up in Harlem, down on Wall Street and beyond, every day there are 8 million of us shouting: "We're still here, dammit!"
Here are just 10 of them -- who happen to have weathered HIV for up to 17 years, and who had looked life and death in the eye long before September the last. We convened them on the POZ rooftop one sultrily perfect June night, as a fire-engine-red sun sank into the Hudson. Our mission? To document the careworn faces of those who have endured this disease and its lifesaving, though often cruel, treatment.
And yes, those faces yielded pain. Also anger, fragility, loss. But ultimately, they yielded beauty. The kind that has nothing to do with perfect skin tone and sculpted abs -- but everything to do with the Manhattan skyline, broken but breathtaking, that very night. The kind that says Knock me down, but I get up again.
Study these 10 faces and see what they tell you in this 21st year of viral wartime. For many of us, Love me, love my HIV now may as well continue And my lipo, too. This fight writes itself all over your face. Dare to put a voice to that face and you're already a hero.
42, Crown Heights, Brooklyn
9 to 5: Bike messenger (and Efrain's best friend)
First went on meds: 2000
Current combo: Combivir, ddI, Norvir and Fortovase
Who do you see in the mirror? "A muscular, athletic guy -- with a rugged look. I had wasting before. 'Am I gonna make it?' I asked myself. Now I've got 47 T cells, up from 12. I feel healthy."
What's beautiful to you? "My daughters Kimberley and Korina, 22 and 12. Luquillo Beach in Puerto Rico. And my Dane/pit bull Brutus."
What's beautiful about Efrain? "His house is my house. When my girlfriend kicked me out, he took me right in."
What does your face say to the world? "I'm a survivor."
38, Flatbush, Brooklyn
9 to 5: HIV peer educator (and Harry's best friend)
First went on meds: "I think 1997."
Current combo: Viread, Fortovase and Norvir
Who do you see in the mirror? "A person with a lot of potential, going places, happy to be alive. I stay clean, take my meds, exercise. I used to be heavy into drugs till I said, 'I'm too young to die.' When my old druggie friends call me up, I say, 'I'm happy with my Playstation.'"
What's beautiful to you? "My parents, my health, my good mentality."
What's beautiful about Harry? "He's trustworthy. We walk our dogs together, ride bikes, know each other's mothers. He's my boy."
What does your face say to the world? "I'm not ashamed."
64, Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan
9 to 5: Writing a novel and a civil-rights-movement memoir
First went on meds: 1995. 3TC and d4T
Current combo: 3TC, ddI and Sustiva. "I've had a little lipo since meds -- my veins now show -- but it's not too bad."
Who do you see in the mirror? "A senior happy with the way he looks."
What's beautiful to you? "The sunsets over the mountains in South Africa, where I visited friends recently."
What does your face say to the world? "I'm gonna live a long life."
45, East Harlem, Manhattan
9 to 5: HIV peer educator
Diagnosed: 1998. "I broke out in a rash when I found out. All my problems since have been internal."
First went on meds: Four to five months later. Combivir and Viramune. "The meds were rough at first. Severe headaches, sinusitis, nausea, diarrhea."
Current combo: The same
Who do you see in the mirror? "Unless I've had too little sleep, a fairly attractive face that helps me get through the day. I do a daily apricot scrub. It's a beauty ritual."
What's beautiful to you? "My life view -- everyone has a choice to live healthy. And just the fact that I'm alive. I do safe-sex outreach for Gay Men of African Descent. When I talk to a down-low brother, I just ask if he's using protective measures for whatever sex he's having, ask the last time he's been tested. I don't question his sexuality. I have no heaven or hell to put him in."
What does your face say to the world? "'Look Ma, no hands!' Just kidding. It would say, 'I'm being all that I can be.'"
41, East 20s, Manhattan
9 to 5: Founder of Equi-Aid, a horseback riding program for at-risk inner-city kids
First went on meds: "When I got PCP. I went on 3TC, d4T, Viramune and Bactrim. I wasn't even on a protease and I got a big belly and scrawny legs."
Current combo: 3TC, d4T, Viread and Kaletra. "For the first time, I'm undetectable. But I have buffalo hump and I can't get rid of this stomach even though I'm a skinny person. Every day I have to muster compassion for my tummy."
Who do you see in the mirror? "A face that has wisdom, that struggles, that wants to put fabulous makeup on it quickly. Especially this opalescent pink lipstick I have -- kids really love it."
What's beautiful to you? "Children -- they're pure, open and know the truth. Horses. And the ocean -- it makes me incredibly relaxed."
What does your face say to the world? "Can we please have some compassion and glitter?"
34, Ocean Hill Parkway, Brooklyn
9 to 5: AIDS agency community follow-up worker
First went on meds: "The same year. I've had 50 T cells. I've also weighed 100 pounds because AZT made me throw up, not able to eat. People were telling me how small I looked. I just said, 'Skinny is in.'"
Current combo: Ziagen, Viread, Agenerase and Kaletra. "I'm doing great -- about 400 T cells. I go to the gym twice a week."
Who do you see in the mirror? "I see me. Beautiful. Healthy. Wise. I've learned a lot."
What's beautiful to you? "My husband and two kids, 12 and 18. They're my support system. My 12-year-old can't understand why they can't just take out my old blood and give me new. Also people's amazement when I tell them I'm positive -- they can't believe I look so good. And the beach in Barbados, where I used to live."
What does your face say to the world? "She has AIDS and she's OK."
Mark de Solla Price
42, Greenwich Village, Manhattan
9 to 5: Technology consultant
First went on meds: 1997. "AZT and something else. My T cells had just dropped dramatically for the first time."
Current combo: 3TC, Ziagen, Viread and Viramune
Who do you see in the mirror? "I look better now than I've ever looked in my life. Look how fat I was. [Shows license photo from six years ago.] I've lost 80 pounds, beefed up at the gym. I'm having a lot of good days now, but I don't see myself as a survivor so much as having dodged a bullet. Nearly everyone I've ever known is dead."
What's beautiful to you? "My apartment -- it's a jewel box, a tiny oasis. Having hot sex again -- I would have thought it a thing of the past, but it's nice to see it all still works. But mostly my husband Vinny. We've been together nine years -- AIDS years. He's had huge wasting, extensive cosmetic surgery, liver disease -- people ask him if he's pregnant. He used to be a Ford model, a world-class beauty -- but I still see him that way, because he loves me more than anyone else in the world."
What does your face say to the world? "This is what being positive for almost 20 years can look like."
27, Upper West Side, Manhattan
9 to 5: Account exec
First went on meds: Same year, 3TC and Crixivan. "I was incapacitated with side effects. I lost my appetite, lost weight."
Current combo: Nothing for the past two and a half years. "I'm better off. I have good numbers. My glands are swollen, but they don't show."
Who do you see in the mirror? "A face I'm happy with. HIV has made me a better person -- more forgiving of myself. That was a long time coming. There was a lot of shame at first."
What's beautiful to you? "A night like this, people uniting over something that can be so divisive. Sitting on a rock in Central Park like a fly on the wall, watching people do their thing. And just life -- it's more beautiful to me than it's ever been before. It's amazing how much beauty I missed before I was positive."
What does your face say to the world? "That I look like someone who could be your friend."
44, Gunhill, the Bronx
9 to 5: AIDS intake assistant (and Emilio's fiancee)
First went on meds: 1998 , 3CT and d4T. "It gave me lipo in the arms, legs, and belly."
Current combo: ddI, Ziagen, and Sustiva
Who do you see in the mirror? "A happier face."
What's beautiful to you? "I have five and half years drug-free. Emilio has eight."
What's beautiful about Emilio? "That big heart."
What does your face say to the world? "There's still hope in life."
42 , Gunhill, the Bronx
9 to 5: fitness assistant (and Nancy's finance)
First went on meds: Same year, Combivir and Fortovase
Current combo: 3TC, d4T, and Kaletra
Who do you see in the mirror? "A lucky guy."
What's beautiful about Nancy? "She inspires me."
What does your face say to the world? "Life goes on after HIV."