BY HEATHER MARLETTE
This is an issue that I care very deeply about. It is not one that directly affects me, but I have felt deeply about it since child hood, and more so since my tenure at UAlbany. There I meet some of what I truly believe to be the kindest people around, and one of them was named Jamal. Jamal and I became fast friends, and he said it was because I liked to listen and he liked to talk, so we were made to be friends. Jamal is not someone that I ever really broadcasted our friendship, or that I felt needed to be connected with at all times, neither one of us were that people. Every morning before class and every day between our classes, if we weren’t with other people we migrated towards the fountain. We always met up at the same picnic table in nice weather, and near the same vending machines in bad. Jamal was an older guy, a returning student who had had life take some nasty turns on him and who was trying to accomplish some goals in his life so he could make peace with his past before he died.
See, Jamal was a very sick guy, had been sick for many years. It was the third or fourth time we were talking over cigarettes (yes, I smoked, deal) when he let me know that he was infected with the AIDS virus, not HIV, he made it very clear that he was one of the unfortunate ones that had progressed to the full blown virus. I remember him watching my face very closely as he told me, and I also remember controlling myself. Not for the reasons why he was watching me, but for my own. He was sure that this was the end of yet another blossoming friendship, as the stigmatism and fear of HIV/AIDS still controls society whether they want admit it or not when it is presented to people’s faces. NO, I was controlling my emotions, because if Jamal could see that I truly didn’t care that way about his diagnoses, I also didn’t want him to see my fear not of him but for him.
I looked at him, said Okay and went back to talking about how annoying it was that you couldn’t sit at the tables next to the fountain without getting sprayed. He got a little choked up, smiled and moved on as well. The flood gates seemed to open from that day forward however, and I learned that no matter the advancements, no matter the treatments, HIV and AIDS are still horrible diseases that tear at your body, mind and soul. I learned that part of what had advanced the disease in him was HIV drug resistance that causes the cocktails to become less and less effective, and allows the system to be more susceptible to the AIDS virus once more. I listened to the fact that even when they work, the drugs often make a person just as sick if not even worse than the virus itself. I realized over time that yes, it is a treatable disease – then in the early 2000’s, even more now. However, it is still one of the worst diseases that can attack a human being. More so then ever Jonathan Larson’s haunting lyrics in RENT hit home as you listen to the stories of throwing up, crying, wishing it were all over – will they lose their dignity? Will anybody care?
One day late in the first semester of my senior year, as I always knew would happen, Jamal let me know he was pulling out the next semester. Sporadically we e-mailed back and forth, but slowly the e-mails were shorter, some were even confusing. Then they stopped. I don’t have the confirmation on it, but in my heart, I know they only stopped because his body gave out, and he finally got to lie down and stop fighting. When I said earlier understand, he was not an older guy where he had white hair and could have had grand babies. He was in his mid-thirties when we met, about a dozen years older than me. I know that he, as many were in the 1980’s, early 1990’s was a promiscuous gay youth who did not believe he was anything other than invincible and therefore did not feel the need to practice safe sex. Though the HIV/AIDS crisis was in full gear, he was a stupid kid that felt it could never happen to him. Here is where my plea comes into play. I work with LGBTQA youth regularly. I facilitate youth groups, and I am involved in the first ever LGBTQA camp this summer in the Upstate NY Capital Region. What terrifies me is the attitude they have towards HIV/AIDS. Sadly, it is the same attitude I see in most of today’s youth and even young adult generations. That this is a thing of the past, that the fight has been fought and that they are safe. THIS IS NOT TRUE. If you look at the numbers, due to these attitudes and people straying from safe sex and regular testing, infections are again on the rise.
DO NOT FORGET HISTORY – when they say those who forget it are doomed to repeat it, it’s true. Trust me, I was a history major and you can see the truth of that statement in all of the books. If we for one second forget the beginning of HIV/AIDS in this country in the 1980’s we will have another one. We CAN NOT let that happen. This is a NON-DISCRIMINATORY disease people. It attacks first, and NEVER asks questions. Left untreated, it escalates quickly and unforgivingly. Please educate yourselves. Please practice safe sex. Please remember every time you sleep with someone, as much as you roll your eyes or think we are old for saying – YOU ARE SLEEPING WITH EVERYONE THEY HAVE EVER SLEPT WITH. We must restart the fight against HIV/AIDS. Yes, Mr. Larson, sadly many of them will lose their dignity – but I also answer YES – I will care. About every one of them. Every time. And even if it is just me, I will be fighting the fight, and letting them know that someone cares. Please, join me. Click below, donate even a dollar, or walk, or fund raise yourself. Please, REMEMBER