Kile Ozier looks back on this year’s World AIDS Day and all the ones that came before it.
“Loss has a Beginning, it has no End…” Alice Russell-Shapiro said, closing her comments andwelcoming guests to the “Light in the Grove” at the National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park on the eve of World AIDS Day.
Nearly 500 were gathered on this night, marking 30 years since the discovery of this savage virus and 20 years since a small group of vigilant mourners successfully approached the City for permission to renovate these overlooked acres and founded the Grove as a place to mourn, to remember, and to surreptitiously scatter the ashes of lost loved ones among the trees and flowers of this Dell. In 1996, this glen was added to the List of National Memorials, alongside Pearl Harbor, Mount Rushmore, and the Vietnam Memorial.
James Hormel, when asked what he would do were a cure for AIDS announced, said, “… I would go into the streets and cry…” Cry for all the beautiful souls lost; cry for all the survivors, those of us left behind to grieve a grief not felt by a generation for decades; cry for a generation abducted by an invisible foe, stopped dead in our tracks just as we had begun to have compassion and respect for ourselves and to celebrate the unique men and women we were becoming.
Closing my eyes, I remember for the first moment in a long time the true darkness of those days and weeks and months and years. Years of being both eager and afraid to open the newspaper to read of who had died this week and when the services were to be held. Facing each day with trepidation, already drained of tears while knowing that more were on the way.
Great clouds of sadness and hopelessness hovered over every city and many, many towns. It was so different than it is, now.
When the scourge first made its presence known, the depth of fear was tangible in every quarter. Young men were thrown from their homes by their roommates within hours of discovering they had an incurable, deadly disease of which nobody seemed to know much—other than that it was fatal. We scrambled to find places for people to live.
The infected would become evident, and then disappear within weeks, one after the other, again and again. Professional offices emptied, cubicle by cubicle, floors empty within months. Yet no one knew exactly what it was or what caused it but that it was killing gay men, indiscriminately.
It was such a scary and sad time, a time so many of us have wrapped up and shelved. So much beauty of youth lost, eaten away before our eyes. So many young men having to call home to tell their mothers of their gayness—coming out before they were ready, then having to follow that news in the same conversation with the fact that they were dying.
Many families couldn’t get to their children’s bedsides before they were gone. Just gone.
What affect has this had on us, I wonder? What parallel might there be for a population, a generation, watching their peers, their lovers, their partners, their friends waste away before their eyes in mere moments, yanked from life by an invisible force that is only now coming to be understood? What damage do we carry with us, unable to clear, unable to discern, unable to surmount without understanding?
San Francisco lost 17,000 citizens to AIDS in the first 10 years of the epidemic. Today, populations throughout the world are experiencing the same magnitude of bewildered and frightening loss that we encountered in the 1980’s.
Forty million people in the world are infected with HIV. There is so much left to do, so many for whom we’ll need to care; as humans, I believe we are responsible for our brothers and sisters.
I write this, in honor of World AIDS Day, with respect for the thousands of HIV/AIDS caregivers, philanthropists, and volunteers who give of themselves and give what they can to alleviate the suffering. And, probably at least once each day, I hope for a cure.