Welcome to World AIDS Day circa 2005.
AIDS has now been with us for over 30 years, three generations, and the disease seems to be as dangerous as ever.
When I first heard about AIDS, it was the year 1988 and I was really active in peer counseling. We were having a meeting and a guest speaker was joining us during lunch. As we all shuffled into the room, it was a combination of nervous chatter and good natured pushing and shoving. Friends were sitting together. There was talk of who's finished with their homework and more importantly can they copy them. Nobody paid much attention to the new face among us.
I sat down next to him. I don't remember his name, although he introduced himself. So I'll call him "Steven". Steven was a fairly attractive guy around our age (I was 16 at the time). Then the food came into the room, buffalo wings.
It was controlled chaos for a while, while ten hungry teenagers grabbed their fill of spicy chicken wings, celery sticks and cups of cola. We all started deboning the helpless wings when Steven spoke up.
I had tried to start a conversation earlier with Steven, but the only thing I got was his name and that he was the speaker today. He had food on his plate, but I noticed that they weren't touched. I thought that was strange. That was when Steven started speaking.
He talked about how he was really glad that he was there speaking with us. Then he mentioned how we all dug into our food with such energy. He compared it to himself, how he eats much slowly, because he wanted to savor each bite, because he didn't know if it was going to be his last bite.
Everybody in the room stopped moving. All chatter stopped.
Steven told us he had AIDS.
He went on to tell us a little more of his background. Steven had needed a blood transfusion and apparently, the blood was infected with HIV. He showed us the little purple dots on his arms and told us what they meant. He had KS, Kaposi's sarcoma.
Back then, fear and ignorance was pretty much the norm. People in the room visibly shifted away from Steven.
I was in shock. I had heard about this disease affecting gay men and it was pretty much a death sentence. I had never heard of any kids my age getting it.
Steven continued with his talk and I can't remember everything he said, but I do remember how he looked as he talked. As if he had very little energy and that the very act of speaking was taking everything it took.
At the end, when Steven finished speaking, he answered questions. There the usual stupid ones. Someone asked if the KS sores will spread to his face. The answer was yes.
One girl remarked "Ew, he ugly".
Another girl next to her told her to shut up.
I just remember giving Steven a hug and thanking him for being there and speaking with us. Later on, some of the kids asked me why did I do that, hug Steven, and I noticed that they avoided me...almost as if I had somehow contracted AIDS from that hug. During that hug, I sorta knew that I would never see Steven again and that this was also a hug saying goodbye.
I never did see Steven again, but I try to remember the lessons that he taught me.
Ignorance isn't hereditary, it can be cured, as long as you're willing to learn and grow.
Live each moment, as if it were your last, it just might be.
Get more current info about HIV (treatment, prevention and policy) from the UCSF Medical School
For more info on support groups to stay negative (HIV-) or healthy (HIV+) and where to get tested.
If you're in San Francisco and worried about more than just HIV, go to Magnet for a more comprehensive check up. They also provide free accupoint and massage sessions.
To celebrate today, some other bloggers are writing about their thoughts and experiences. We're linking our blogs together, so click here for a current list and see what others have to say about today.
How do you measure?
A year, a minute, a life?
In moments of love!