Thursday, December 01, 2005

World AIDS Day

So today was World AIDS Day and each year this days causes me to reflect and ruminate a lot.

Back in sixth grade my family went to Arizona on a vacation. We spent time visiting family that lived in Phoenix, my mom's uncle Shelby and his wife, Maxine, and Shelby's son, Danny. Danny was really sick and he was secluded in a bedroom. I had just gotten over a mild case of the chicken pox and my sisters were in the middle of a full-blown case of the pox. We weren't allowed to see Danny because we were told that he might get sicker being exposed to us. [At the time, I didn't know the ironic truth of that.] This didn't really bother me, b/c i didn't really know Danny at all and I didn't want to make him sicker either.

When Danny died a few months later, my parents told me that he had died of AIDS. It was 1986/7 and I knew Danny was gay, but I had had no idea at the time that it was AIDS. My parents told me that part of the reason we weren't allowed to see him was because they were afraid of exposing us to AIDS. I wasn't angry or anything at them for (unnecessarily) shielding me and my sisters from this. And even now I'm not angry or disappointed or anything in them. At the time, there was so much that wasn't known about HIV/AIDS and so much misinformation out there. Hell, at the time i wouldn't have been comfortable going to school with an HIV positive student. I know thay my mom loved her cousin Danny, and even though i know she think homosexuality is wrong, I also know that she wouldn't stop loving her cousin or treat him badly because of his sexual orientation.

Anyway, for a reason I'm not sure if i'll ever know, this experience and its aftermath has really affected me. I've by no means become an activist or even done as much as I should have been doing all these years, but HIV/AIDS has become something pretty important to me. I give to AIDS Project LA, I have a red ribbon tie, I buy AIDS stamps (or did when they were issued), read many articles about the disease, especially its effects in sub-Saharan Africa.

While in college I started subscribing to Entertainment Weekly magazine. And every year the first issue in December in recognition of World AIDS Day the magazine would publish headshots of short bios of every one in the industry who had died from AIDS the previous year. After a couple years I noticed that the list started growing smaller and smaller, which was awesome, until it disappeared altogether, which wasn't as awesome. With some 8,000 people dying around the world each day from AIDS, the pandemic hasn't gone anywhere, we're just lucky that in the United States things have become much more manageable and controllable. But let's please never forget that THERE IS NO CURE.

Among my favorite movies are And the Band Played On and Angels In America. And I would definitely count the story below as one of my faves from my time as a newspaper reporter at the Albany Times Union. A cool thing about this story was that the day after the organizer of the event called me to thank me for my sensitivity. But what would make this much better would be for there never to be a need for another AIDS walk again.


ALBANY--A pastel chalk message was all Emily Parker could write to honor her brother. Shielded from the truth about her brother Chris' death 15 years ago, Emily didn't learn that her brother died of AIDS until 1992. On Sunday, she tried to make amends by letting him and anyone else who reads her fleeting memorial know "one day we will beat this."

While scrawling her 8-foot-by-5-foot message, Parker fixed areas where people walked over it. She also took the time to brush the chalk so that it filled in the heart she drew evenly.

"It's a tribute to my brother, because I never really got to say goodbye," said Parker, 22, who was one of 1,500 walkers who participated in AIDSWalk 2001. This year's event raised more than $200,000 for education, research and patient care.

After the walkers finished the trek through and around Washington Park, dozens grabbed colorful pieces of chalk and transformed the asphalt in front of the Lakehouse into a rainbow of remembrances for "Fred" and "Jim" and "Uncle Dan."

Sadly, said AIDSWalk coordinator Linda Glassman, the list will get longer. There are 3,475 people in northeastern New York with AIDS and thousands more infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to the state Department of Health. Nationally, 774,467 Americans had been reported with AIDS and 448,060 had died of the disease through last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

"AIDS impacts a wide variety of people," said Glassman, noting that the infection rate has remained constant even while the death rate decreased.

When Parker learned that her brother died of AIDS, she was angry and sad and even a little glad that she hadn't known all those years.

"This way I remember him as my brother," Parker said as she recalled photos of him laughing and having fun.

While progress has been made, frustration abounds for AIDS caregivers, who must compete for limited funds with myriad other diseases and catastrophes. Throughout the last several year, AIDS has ebbed in the public consciousness following the limited success of drug "cocktails" in treating patients.

"But it's not a cure," Glassman said. In fact, strains of the virus are becoming resistant to the $15,000-a-year drug combination, which counts liver failure and fatty lumps among its harmful side effects.

"What happened in New York City was horrible, but each day across the world 8,300 people die of AIDS," Glassman said.

Now Parker, who walked for the first time this year with the Starbucks team, said that she wants to learn more about the disease and to do something concrete to help.

"I'm just really glad that people can do this at least," she said, "so that other families may not have to deal with this."


And on this day of rememberance of people who have lived and died with honor, dignity and grace, our federal government continues to embarrass the fuck out of us. Today the Los Angeles Times reports that the military hired a public relations firm to "plant" stories in the Iraqi media of "positive" developments in Iraq. Once again, the century of Liberty doesn't have anything to do with an open democracy.

No comments: