I can’t tell you how many times it’s happened. I bump into someone I
haven’t seen in years. We chitchat, then they blurt: “I thought
you were dead.”
I’ve finally nailed the response: “That was my sister, the Wicked Witch of the East. I’m worse.”
reports of my demise are somewhat exaggerated. To paraphrase Stephen
Sondheim, I’m still here. So is AIDS, of course. Worldwide, the
staggering deaths persist. But in the mid-’90s, drugs arrived that halt
HIV. In the West, the epidemic continues, but the crisis is over.
friend and former bigwig at a leading ASO recalls a 1998 fundraiser
where a speaker cried: “AIDS is still killing gay men. AIDS is still
killing women. AIDS is still killing people of color. The AIDS crisis
is not over!” At each declaration, the crowd erupted into thunderous
applause, as if even the slightest acknowledgement of the resurrections
all around us would fatally compromise…what? What were we holding on
to? The suffering of those who remained sick? The nobility of our
fight? Our guilt for surviving? Or had we been traumatized into
believing that hope itself was unthinkable?
The funerals that
flooded my mid-twenties have essentially stopped. Last week, I lunched
with two old friends, both positive for years. We lead active lives and
face the reading glasses of middle age—something we never thought
possible. It’s not all lollipops and rainbows, but it ain’t all
explosive diarrhea, either. Our challenge? Rebuilding lives that honor
what we’ve lived through and still battle—but that aren’t defined by
the ravages of HIV or the rhetoric of crisis junkies.
challenge is a privilege. But to demand that HIVers, who have lost so
much to the disease, refuse to enjoy their respite until all HIVers
everywhere share it…is like my mother demanding I eat my string beans
because children are starving in China.
For me, 1999 was the
dark time. I became terribly ill, broke up with my lover and had to
leave AIDS advocacy work. I wandered around in a weepy, HAART-induced
Convinced I was dying, I tried what 12-steppers call
“a searching and fearless moral inventory.” I found much to be proud
of, but even more I didn’t like: the little slights and destructive
people I’d held on to, the acts of kindness I’d left unthanked.
I’d been in a state of crisis for so long that I’d forgotten how to
take care of myself and the people I loved.
I somehow stumbled
into a little Episcopalian church in Greenwich Village. Leather daddies
knelt beside tweedy little old ladies. The pastor preached not the
Baptist brimstone I’d grown up with, but love. I had found something
It was spring when I felt the sun on my face for the
first time in a long while. My drugs were gradually controlling the
virus, and I realized I was, in fact, going to live. I felt like
shouting, “It’s not too late.” I promised myself I’d be kinder, more
generous, more courageous. I’d be nothing more or less than me. No
apologies. No explanations.
And, say what you will, no more AIDS crisis.
I first left activism and anger behind, this magazine dubbed me “the
Dorothy Parker of AIDS,” a sobriquet I’ve clung to proudly. But I now
renounce that brittle, cynical persona. Yes, we must ask, “What has the
epidemic meant to us, and what does it mean that some of us have been
given our lives back?” But let’s ask other questions, too. Such as,
“What’s cooking besides all those goddamned string beans?”