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,
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.