25 August 2008

The Last Summer

Another summer's winding down. But not without a fight. Today was pretty warm, but very humid. This isn't quite late enough for the final heat of summer, but it shows summer's not quite over yet.

About which I have very mixed emotions. On one hand, I want this and the months that follow to just fly by. They're what's standing between me and the surgery. On the other, I know that this is the "last" summer. I use the quotation marks because I mean "last" in a metaphorical as well as literal sense: as a symbol as well as the reality.

It seems that there are always "last" summers. For one generation of Brits and Europeans, it was 1914; for the following generation, it was 1939. Perhaps in this country those terminal vernal seasons came in 1941 and 2001. (Actually, I feel very sure about 2001: After all, I lived through it.) And some Southern writer--I think it was Percy Walker--said that in his part of the world, it came some time around 1950.

I think for a lot of people in my generation--particularly those of us who are LGBT--the "last summer" might have been 1980 or 1981. Back then, some of us heard about young men dying from "gay cancer." But the disease had not become an epidemic; most of us who weren't living in the Village (Chelsea wasn't yet Gay Central) or the Castro district had yet to see anyone die in such an awful way--if indeed we had seen anyone die.

Ten years later, I would teach a college class for the first time. Then, I realized how much that "last summer" mattered. Anyone who came of age after it grew up with the idea that a careless or random--or any at all--sexual encounter could be lethal. In my day, we only had to worry about herpes and pregnancy. Not that either--especially the latter--is anything to sneeze at. But compared to AIDS--well, I don't have to say any more.

I recall a party I went to shortly after returning from living in France. At that party were nearly everyone with whom I was friendly during my undergraduate years.

In those days, I drank a lot and dabbled in a few drugs. So you might dismiss the perceptions I had. Hey, I dismiss most of them. But I had a premonition that I knew was stronger than any of the drugs or booze, or any other vibe at that party. Somehow it was revealed to me (I know. I hate that kind of language, too. But it's the best I can do in this situation.) that a germ of death had been planted and that someone--or some people--in that room carried it. And they, or others in their circle, would die from it.

Sure enough, within ten years, five people who were at that party would die from AIDS-related illnesses. I doubt that any of them knew he or she (Yes, a woman.) was infected: Almost nobody--not even a doctor-- outside a couple of New York and California neighborhoods was even thinking about the disease.

It's rather ironic that a party full of the proverbial sex'n'drugs'n'rock'n'roll can seem almost innocent. How so? Well, what we did, we did in--if not ignorance, than at least unawareness. That was probably the last time all of thus in that room could not connect sex and death. All the young people in that first class I taught, a decade later, had been coupling the two almost from the day they knew what either was.

Anyway, I know I've gone off on another tangent, but there's a point coming up (and you should put a hat over it). It's about those "last summers": They were times when something in everyone's life was coming to an end, whether or not anyone knew it. Even if no one knew for sure, some of us had a sense that something was changing, possibly dying. It might be the people they know. Or that the place in which one lives, works or shops is about to be tamed beyond recognition.

And what's changing for me, besides whatever the gender will change. Stay tuned...