Monday, January 17, 2011

AIDS- Thirty Years Later

When I was reaching puberty, the first cases of AIDS or GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) as it was known as then, were diagnosed in America. 
That was 1981- thirty years ago.

But, we didn't know in 1981what it meant. 
We heard rumors of it being a gay disease and so felt strangely immune.

Then in 1985, the beloved Rock Hudson announced he had AIDS and died months later.
I adored Rock Hudson and Doris Day and their movies Pillow Talk and Send Me No Flowers.
At thirteen, I fully understood what had just happened. 
We now had a face to attach to AIDS and that meant perhaps we were not so immune after all. 

Two years later, I was in the 10th grade, enrolled in Health and Guidance where we learned about drugs, driving, drinking, our bodies and sex. 
We learned that AIDS was sexually transmitted and that it wasn't just gay people who caught it.
That meant that if we had sex, we would not only get pregnant or get an STD; we could die. 

Then AIDS got personal with me.
My mother told me that my Uncle Johnny, her brother, had AIDS.
He was her youngest brother, the baby of the family, the only gay person I knew. 
And I loved him.
I loved how he hung out at our house all the time when I was a little kid.
I loved how he would show up in front of our house in a limo without calling first. 
I loved how he was crazy and impulsive and glamorous. 

But, now he was dying. 
And as a kid in 10th grade, I didn't want anyone to know. 
I was ashamed and embarrassed. 

My mother asked if I wanted to go see him before he died. 
It was during his last days.
I was scared—to see someone dying, to see how the disease had ravaged his body, that I might catch it.
I had been taught the ways it was transmitted— blood, sexual contact, pregnancy, needles—but I was scared anyway.
So, I went to a football game instead.
And said goodbye to him at his funeral. 
He was 24.

My adult self regrets it. 
Just like my adult self regrets how our country treated or didn't treat those who initially had the disease.

And Ryan White,
remember him,
the kid who was a year apart from me in age and a hemophiliac who contracted the disease through a blood transfusion.

Remember how he had to fight to go to school, to be around other people, all the while knowing he wouldn't live to go to college.
His courage was astounding. 
I think now how proud his mother must have been.

Then, in 1987, Princess Diana helped us be more humane. 
She walked through a hospital full of AIDS patients and without gloves,
touched them, talked to them, helped them. 

In 1990, Ryan White died.
In 1991, Magic Johnson, a heterosexual, announced he was HIV positive.
I remembering wondering when he would die. 

But then he didn't. 
He lived as many other Americans with the disease now have.

The fear has diminished. 
The country eventually came together and created things like this—

Remember the AIDS quilt spread across the lawn in D.C?

AIDS isn't gone. 
It is still ravaging third world countries. 

And it left a permanent mark on this country... and this girl. 

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Farmgirl Paints said...

Oh I'm sorry Brigetta. That's sad about your uncle. I've never been personally touched by the disease and for some reason when it doesn't affect you it's easy to forget about. Thanks for reminding me about those that deal with this disease on an everyday basis.

Brigetta's Mom said...

I miss Johnny everyday! He was such a bright light with an infectious smile entering a room. I see him in you and your beautiful sister's creativity. We lost him much to early but he lives on in you. Thank you for honoring him in this blog. Your writing is a gift and touches many lives...I love you so!

T. Anne said...

*hugs* I'm sorry for your loss. It has shaped you in many ways I'm sure.

Donna's Daze said...

I'm just a little bit older than you, but I remember the hatred and prejudice this disease illicit ed from people. I worked in a lab at the time, and there would be bright orange stickers across the top of the paperwork of HIV patients that read "Blood and Body Fluid Precautions", which I always thought was stupid because we were just as likely to pick it up from someone who didn't know they had it. I didn't know any one who had the disease, so the stickers were just a minor blip on my radar.

Then, one day, that paperwork came across my work station with my favorite teacher's name across it. That hit me hard. I saw him a few times before he died, and he will forever be the face of AIDs to me.

Joybird said...

There was a man who was a family friend and my own friend who lived with AIDS for as long as I knew him (more than 12 years) and as far as I know years before that. He died in June of 2009 and I had the responsibility and privilege to be his family almost around the clock that last week. And I had the honor to hold his hand and love on him as he died. Rick is the face of AIDS for me.