I don’t know about you, but I certainly never imagined surviving two pandemics in fifty some odd years. As Covid-19 rages in a country often more committed to individual rights to not wear a mask than to preserving health, it almost feels quaint to reflect back on the first pandemic I witnessed – the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.
Like the current virus, HIV was politicized. The Republican President, a perennial asshole who continues to be worshipped by his party, refused to acknowledge the disease which was decimating the gay population and destroying entire neighborhoods. This “gay cancer” wasn’t deemed worthy of mention, much less action, and the federal government horrifyingly joked about HIV rather than deal with it.
I remember those days, particularly the early 90s when I worked for a medical practice in NYC. Our doctors (all gay) worked out of St. Vincent’s in the West Village and the mental and physical energy they put into keeping their patients alive was one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen. They were goddamn rockstars.
I learned lessons about preserving health, the practice of medicine and the soullessness of big pharmaceutical companies. I witnessed people faced with the choice between paying rent and taking the chance on a new experimental treatment for which they would have to pay out of pocket. I saw men losing their lives at a speed that was often breathtakingly fast – and I cried for every single one of them.
So, today I’ll cry some more. I’ll remember them, maybe not all their names but their unique essences which left a mark on me that I will carry forever in their honor. They are missed. They are not forgotten. They were loved.
The AIDS Memorial Quilt is available virtually this year and it is amazing – indexed and searchable by state and name. Maybe there’s somebody you want to take a moment to visit and remember?