My daughter turned 12 last week, on Thanksgiving Day. At times like theses, I often think about what I remember about being her age and given her birthday’s proximity to World Aids Day, this year I was thinking about growing up in a world that just discovered AIDS and HIV.
When I was 12, they were just starting to talking about it, but I didn’t really understand what it was. As a 12 year old girl, it was hardly a concern of mine. I didn’t even know anyone who was gay and back then — we thought you only got it if you were gay (One of many, many things people thought at the time that was utter crap).
But, that year, I met my first gay man. Turns out, I’d known him all along, but it was quite a shock when my best friend’s dad, Bruce, came out of the closet and moved out of the house and out of town. I was more concerned with the fact that this man, who had been essentially an uncle to me, was suddenly gone, than with the fact that he was gay. And I was more concerned that, a short time later, we found out he was going to die. Bruce had AIDS. This terrifying specter that hadn’t even registered on my radar was suddenly invading my life and taking people I cared for.
It was a scary time. There was so much misinformation, so many misconceptions, lies, fear, discrimination, even violence, it was difficult to know anything for certain beyond the fact that Bruce was going to die. Sooner, rather than later. It is a tragic thing to mourn someone who is still alive, but back then it wasn’t a question of if, it was only a question of when and how bad it would be.
Thankfully, my dear friend, Bruce, died peacefully and with very little suffering compared to some people stricken with the disease. We still miss him and I still think of him every World AIDS Day.
Today, things are so different. About 15 years ago, another dear friend of my family was diagnosed with HIV. He was, and remains today, a very healthy person who, while he takes medication every day, shows no signs of being positive for HIV. His experience is what AIDS is today and his experience is what my daughter knows of this disease. For that, I am thankful.
Much of the stigma, the suffering, the misinformation and the certain death sentence that accompany an HIV diagnosis has disappeared in the United States (much, but not all). And there is hope that efforts in other parts of the world will bring about a similar change.
What was once the considered the next plague has evolved into a chronic disease that can be managed if you take care of yourself well and if you have access to the proper medication. This is the world in which I am raising my daughter and I am thankful she didn’t have to experience the terror we all felt when we learned Bruce had HIV.
What I wish is that we can soon live in a world where AIDS has gone the way of smallpox, completely eradicated from the planet. I remember a time and place when AIDS did not exist. My daughter has never known a world without it. We have come so far but we still have so far to go which is why World AIDS Day and all the efforts of so many people who fight against this disease are still so important.
Because maybe, just maybe, if we keep at it, someday my daughter will also know a time and place in which AIDS does not exist.