27 June 2014

The Last Night Before AIDS

If you are my age, or a little older, you can clearly remember a time when most of the world--and, probably, you--didn't know about AIDS.

The "beginning" of the epidemic is often placed on the 5th of June in 1981.  On that day, the Center for Disease Control released its report documenting five young gay men who were treated for pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in Los Angeles hospitals between October 1980 and May 1981.  On the day the report was released, two of the men were dead.   

The reason why this mini-outbreak of pneumocyctis carinii was seen as so significant, even unusual, at the time, is that nearly every recorded case of PC developed in people with compromised immune system.  That meant most of those afflicted with it had been, up to that time, elderly, suffering from some condition that compromised the immune system or were taking medications--or abusing substances--that weakened them.  The patients in the report were described as "previously healthy"; the oldest of them was 36 while the youngest was 29.  So they did not come close to fitting the profile of previous PC sufferers.

At that time, I was living some semblance of a straight male's life.  By that time, I'd had relations with two males; the rest of my romantic/sexual life, such as it was, involved females.  So, not many people would have described me as being part of the gay (nobody was calling it LGBT) community.  Still, I knew more gay men and lesbians than most other people I knew and had heard stories about the "gay cancer" before the CDC report was released.

Still, I didn't think much about it.  Part of it was that I wasn't really gay--which, by my definition, meant that I had nowhere near the number of male partners as some gay men I knew.  Also, I suppose I had some of the arrogance of the young:  I didn't think it would happen to me or, by extension, anyone I knew.

Well, a couple of weeks after that report was released, I went to a party held at the house my closest friend (a woman) at the time shared with another woman and two gay men.  We were all students or recent graduates of Rutgers and some of our friends and classmates attended this party.  

It would be the last time I would see most of them.  Of course, some of us simply drifted apart, as people often do after graduating or leaving school.  But four other people--including my first roommate at Rutgers-- would die within the following decade--from HIV, of course.

But none of us were thinking about it then.  Nor were very many other people 

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