Fri Dec 1st, 2006 at 02:26:46 AM EST
In my memory, all the Reagan years have a taint--a texture almost -- of cruelty. I particularly hate 1982. In 1982, Nancy hadn't just said "no" yet, and the drug war wasn't officially announced -- but it was on, let me tell you. The neighborhoods I lived in then were "those" kinds of neighborhoods. They were full of junkies and in 1979 they were full of ambulances.
By 1982 you only saw coroner's vans. No one called the police anymore, not with so much brutality and fear. Reagan's presidency heralded the outdoor overdose, the corpse on the lawn, the curbside hospital drop.
A few minutes is an awfully long time when someone's not breathing. The time it takes to pause and wonder if it's as bad as all that, if it's worth the risk -- that uncertain minute can make the difference.
So many people died in those minutes.
And that's why I hate 1982. In 1982, I knew about AIDS. It was a year of despair, disbelief, hopelessness. A year holding your breath. 1982 was the life or death minute, stretched to eternity.
1981 wasn't like that. It was wild and thoughtless and angry. For me it was breaking up with the drummer and running off with the artist. It was nightclubs and concerts. It was no place to stay and nothing to eat, but who cared. It was going to gay nightclubs and dancing to Pete Shelley's "Homosapiens." It was excitement and wonder when my friend Dennis told me we could travel the world by stealing credit card carbons out of dumpsters in Beverly Hills, but then not having the nerve or ambition. It was breaking my engagement to the artist and marrying the drummer. It was turning 18.
I didn't think at the time that I was hopeful or optimistic. I didn't think I was naive or trusting. But I'd think all that later, looking back on the last year I didn't know about AIDS. Looking back, I'd think that we'd all been innocents.
At the end of 1981, my friend Rob got sick. He had a cold or an infection or who knew what. He went to the free clinic a couple of times. One of the doctors admitted him to the hospital. They said he might have the gay flu, which is what they called it before they called it the gay cancer. They said there was no cure, that it could kill you.
A year is an awfully long time during a deadly epidemic. An awfully long time to let it spread. That's what I kept thinking in 1982. Why aren't they saying anything? Why aren't they making announcements? How many people are getting it right now? When will someone tell them?
They named it in 1983. Ronald Reagan didn't mention AIDS publicly until 1987, the same year my artist died of it. I imagine he caught it in 1982. Dennis and Rob are dead now, too, and I remember them today on World AIDS Day.
I remember being told that my shy artist's last words were "I worked for Andy Warhol." I remember thinking it's odd what you'll say when you want someone to acknowledge that you're worth their notice.
I remember Dennis regaling me with tales of his world travels. I remember Rob at the bus stop, going to the clinic, wearing a suit. I remember 1981 and the dancing. I remember 1982 and the silence.