It was early summer probably about 1985. I remember sitting on the couch of my then boyfriend listening to Bronski Beat.
We discussed how we could relate to the story the lyrics told. We moved to the rhythm and the beat of the music. We shared a few beers and a home made dinner as we discussed what we both had done at work that day. John was a good cook. At the time I was a respiratory therapist at a local community hospital, he was the new director of the newly opened AIDS community center.
When we had AIDS patients in the hospital it was I that was assigned their care. I was single, gay, had no kids and had probably been exposed. Thus it was always my job to take care of them, as they were always gay men just like myself. John’s job had him entrenched in the community. He was tasked with care, education, support and most of all organizing disorganization and fear. Fear infiltrated our culture. People feared us that we might be sick. We feared each other. We feared our own selves and what was to become if us. We did our best. We somehow found strength.
I cared for my patients, he for his clients. All were sick and dying. More were getting sick daily. Our friends, sex partners, lovers and those we didn’t know other than seeing them. It quickly became identifiable. A look you could tell, once they were sick. Others weren’t yet sick but knew of people they had been with who were.
At the time AIDS was a horrible death sentence. No one knew how it was transmitted. The treatments were next to non existent and those they had were only experimental. Still somehow we marched on. We were fearful yet managed. We were the dirty ones, the diseased feared by everyone including sometimes each other. Yet we stayed strong for each other, we were all we had as a community.
We danced. We danced to music and danced the dance of life. Loving each other as this was the life we were given, it was our time as the twenty somethings. We were the future. I don’t know what happened to John. It was a short boyfriend-ship. We each moved on. Many of my friends died, past lovers died and “encounters” died as well.
At the time we lived and survived. We still dreamed. We marched on. The ability to take a relationship to the level of government recognition let alone marriage wasn’t even part of those dreams. I remember just dreaming of a day when I wouldn’t be afraid of becoming sick, a day when my friends weren’t dying and that I would somehow escape to have a long happy life myself.
One of the dreams I shared with my lover Tim was to move to San Diego one day. Neither of us had ever been to California, but San Diego sounded like a nice place. That dream went to the place dreams go to, somewhere far away. Neither of us made any moves in that direction. Tim and I went our own way after a couple years and Mark came into my life.
By this time we had tests. Anonymous test because if it was recorded it was on your medical record and you were marked. I tested negative for the HIV virus. I was elated. I know I had been exposed multiple multiple times, because men I had been with all the way back to age 18 were either sick or dead. I was elelated that I had escaped, thus far. So Mark decided to get tested as well.
To get these anonymous tests you had to go to back entrances to county health facilities. It was less than glamorous. Usually standing in an alley behind a building with other men like yourself. Heads looking at the ground, little if no talking as fear permeated like a rancid fog in the air.
Mark’s test didn’t go as well as mine. He was positive. We stayed together for a couple years. Unfortunately Mark was not a well man on many levels and our relationship ended not because of his HIV but because of other reasons. Mark is no longer with us. I remain negative to this day. But I remember the horror of what HIV/AIDS is in graphic detail.
Why do I post such a memory today? The day that our federal government validated our relationships as equal. I post this memory in honor of all of the men that I knew, loved, cared for and laughed with. These were the men that marched before and with me. The men that paved the way for what we enjoy today. One step at a time. They worked, opened businesses, loved, shared, lived, gave, volunteered, taught, lead, cried, feared, parented, fought, built, created, cared, mentored and marched. I owe what I enjoy to all that came before me as well as those who march with me today.
They may have never dreamed this day would come, but in ways that they do not know, they helped get us here. They aren’t here today to call, hug or share it with in physical form. They are in spirit. They are in my heart. They are in your heart. All live through us. Let us not forget them, but rejoice with them.
….lets dance, love & celebrate Love. Love won today. Freedom won today. Our constitution won today. We won today. Those who walked before us won today!
(Posted in memory of Jerry Smoot. Thanks Jerry for teaching me to dream. Dreams really do come true.)