April 24, 2006

One Foot In Front Of The Other

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When I moved to New York and came out of the closet (Ed. Note: I HATE that phrase. HATE it. It just has such weird connotations. I'd prefer to say "Accepted myself" or "Finally got me some man lovin" or "Signed up for a lifetime of bodyhair maintenance and $200 jeans". But I guess as a people we've opted for "Came out". Whatevs. What was my point? Oh, yeah...) AIDS was, to me, kind of like the gay equivalent of a baby pigeon or a compassionate conservative: I knew it had to exist, but I just had never seen it up close and personal. I mean, I watched And the Band Played On and Philadelphia, and I had a concept of the disease. But a concept does little good.
In June of 2003, I was engaged in a rather casual relationship with someone I had met in my neighborhood. I was always safe, but it was just out of habit.

I became friendly with my paramour (sounds better than "fuckbuddy"), who was (surprise, surprise) a Latin immigrant. I was working for an immigration attorney at the time, and he asked if I would talk to my boss about picking up his stalled case from his current attorney. I called his attorney from my office on a Monday afternoon, 4 days after my 24th birthday.
"HIV Law Project can I help you?"
"Uh, Hi. What did you say?"
"HIV Law Project. How can I help you?"
"I'm sorry. I thought I misheard you." This is where my mind locked in for about 3 seconds and asked the only logical question I could think of. "Do you only handle clients who are HIV-Positive?"
"Yes. HIV-Positive and families of HIV-Positive individuals."
I don't remember thanking her. I don't remember hanging up the phone. I don't remember walking out of my office, buying a pack of cigarettes at the newsstand and passing out against the office building on the corner of Fulton and Broadway. But I did all of these things. I remember coming to and lighting a cigarette, calling my doctor, my shrink and my mother, in that order, and sitting on that street corner and shaking from sheer terror for about 20 minutes. That was the day that HIV became real for me.
Breathe. I tested negative. Although the lab lost my bloodwork and I spent 10 days freaking out every time the phone rang thinking it was my doctor calling with a death sentence. Those ten days lasted a lifetime. For me, for my family, for my friends.
I have perspective now as to just how close I've come to becoming infected, as to how in an instant AIDS can go from being just another cause to the controlling factor in your life. I'm still friends with the guy, though it took a few years for me to really forgive him for putting me in a situation that didn't provide me with all the information I needed to protect myself. He has since apologized for not telling me up front, and I after I forgave him I thanked him. Because now it's not just habit using condoms. It's real to me, and I know that I will never be the guy to say "what the hell" or to assume anything about anyone's status.

Before I moved here, I had never met anyone with HIV.
Now, one of my close friends is positive. Every time he gets a stomachache I lose my mind with worry. One of my best friends from my last job went to the doctor for pneumonia last spring and came back with a positive diagnosis. Roommate's best friend, who is 23 FUCKING YEARS OLD was diagnosed positive two months ago. And that's the tip of my personal iceberg. AIDS is out there in a big way. We all know someone living with HIV. And if not personally, consider my friends your friends.
Meds for HIV are incredibly expensive, and pharmaceutical and insurance companies are not chomping at the bit to lower the price. There is ongoing research, but we're living with a government that would rather spend millions to end lives in the Middle East than attempt to save them worldwide. HIV and AIDS don't need to be slowed. They need to be stopped. And people currently living with HIV/AIDS need as much help as they can get.
Mainstream culture seems to have forgotten about AIDS to a degree.
I haven't. My friends who are infected certainly haven't.
On May 21 I'm participating in the AIDS Walk with many of my friends, some of whom are living with HIV. If you're in New York, walk with us. 6 miles isn't far, but it's not the walk. It's the money it raises. It's the show of support for people living with HIV and AIDS. It's giving something to work towards a cure.
Please give if you can.

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Blogger VegasGustan said...

You are doing a great thing man. I am proud of you. If I had any extra dough I would throw it your way, but I just maxxed out a credit card. Good luck to you and all that jazz. By the way, how often to you get tested just in case?

11:41 PM  
Blogger allison said...

Not that it matters to anyone but me, but in the spirit of your post...

Tested. Negatory.

Best of luck with the walk, babe.

3:26 PM  
Blogger HIV+DaveyBoy said...

I started my own HIV/AIDS live chat support network (no AIDS org near me) on http://www.13km.com so I could meet more HIV positive or affected friends online, please stop in, we are not alone ;)

7:07 AM  

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