I can’t tell you how many times it’s happened. I bump into someone Ihaven’t seen in years. We chitchat, then they blurt: “I thoughtyou were dead.”

I’ve finally nailed the response: “That was my sister, the Wicked Witch of the East. I’m worse.”

Yes,reports of my demise are somewhat exaggerated. To paraphrase StephenSondheim, I’m still here. So is AIDS, of course. Worldwide, thestaggering deaths persist. But in the mid-’90s, drugs arrived that haltHIV. In the West, the epidemic continues, but the crisis is over.

Afriend and former bigwig at a leading ASO recalls a 1998 fundraiserwhere a speaker cried: “AIDS is still killing gay men. AIDS is stillkilling women. AIDS is still killing people of color. The AIDS crisisis not over!” At each declaration, the crowd erupted into thunderousapplause, as if even the slightest acknowledgement of the resurrectionsall around us would fatally compromise…what? What were we holding onto? The suffering of those who remained sick? The nobility of ourfight? Our guilt for surviving? Or had we been traumatized intobelieving that hope itself was unthinkable?

The funerals thatflooded my mid-twenties have essentially stopped. Last week, I lunchedwith two old friends, both positive for years. We lead active lives andface the reading glasses of middle age—something we never thoughtpossible. It’s not all lollipops and rainbows, but it ain’t allexplosive diarrhea, either. Our challenge? Rebuilding lives that honorwhat we’ve lived through and still battle—but that aren’t defined bythe ravages of HIV or the rhetoric of crisis junkies.

Thatchallenge is a privilege. But to demand that HIVers, who have lost somuch to the disease, refuse to enjoy their respite until all HIVerseverywhere share it…is like my mother demanding I eat my string beansbecause children are starving in China.

For me, 1999 was thedark time. I became terribly ill, broke up with my lover and had toleave AIDS advocacy work. I wandered around in a weepy, HAART-inducedstupor.

Convinced I was dying, I tried what 12-steppers call“a searching and fearless moral inventory.” I found much to be proudof, but even more I didn’t like: the little slights and destructivepeople 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 totake care of myself and the people I loved.

I somehow stumbledinto a little Episcopalian church in Greenwich Village. Leather daddiesknelt beside tweedy little old ladies. The pastor preached not theBaptist brimstone I’d grown up with, but love. I had found somethingspecial.

It was spring when I felt the sun on my face for thefirst time in a long while. My drugs were gradually controlling thevirus, and I realized I was, in fact, going to live. I felt likeshouting, “It’s not too late.” I promised myself I’d be kinder, moregenerous, more courageous. I’d be nothing more or less than me. Noapologies. No explanations.

And, say what you will, no more AIDS crisis.

WhenI first left activism and anger behind, this magazine dubbed me “theDorothy Parker of AIDS,” a sobriquet I’ve clung to proudly. But I nowrenounce that brittle, cynical persona. Yes, we must ask, “What has theepidemic meant to us, and what does it mean that some of us have beengiven our lives back?” But let’s ask other questions, too. Such as,“What’s cooking besides all those goddamned string beans?”