Sunday, December 1, 2013

My Time of Reflection


     Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of World AIDS Day, as declared by the World Health Organization. This was done when the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, wouldn't even utter the word. 

     I felt I needed to say a little something today. One reason was that I felt I had to explain myself as to why I do not send out Christmas cards or holiday cards. Why? Well, a good friend, Dani Mass, asked that I send her a holiday card. It stopped me short. I hesitated. In the end I didn't tell her why I didn't do cards. At least, not anymore. 

     So…here goes… 

     In 1989 I was living in Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital, having moved there for a job that didn't last. Never fear, I persevered and got another job and had a grand old time. Of course, this was a difficult time for any gay man. The threat of AIDS was ever present in our minds as our government sat on its proverbial ass, doing nothing. There was fear in the eyes of most gay men in those days. 

     It was the gay male population that took control of the situation and demanded that something be done. We educated ourselves as best we could with the information we had. We took care of each other when we were sick. We held the hands of our friends while they lay dying, their families having abandoned them long ago. We made sure they had food to eat. Hell, there were even fundraisers to help feed and get vet care for their pets! 

     This was a strange time for the gay man. We were all scared for our lives but proud that we had pulled together, rallied for our cause and were slowly making headway. It just wasn't fast enough to save so many lives. You see, the only medication available was AZT and it was almost as bad as the disease itself. I don’t think a day went by when there wasn't either a fundraiser going on, a lecture on how to be safe with the latest knowledge or a funeral to go to. 

     The day after Thanksgiving in 1989 will be one I will never forget. Being the ritualistic individual I am, I always sat down and did my Christmas cards that Friday after turkey day. I got a good bottle of wine and went to it. That year was no different. I opened the wine, one of my favorites then, a lovely red, Robert Mondavi Merlot. I opened the two boxes of cards. Two boxes that was for all my gay friends and another box for the few family members that I stayed in contact with, and of course those pesky straight friends. He he he… Got my address book out and started. 

     The further I got into my address book, the more and more names were crossed out. I stopped filling out the cards and went through the entire address book, crossing out the names of all the friends I had lost that year. By the time I was done, more than two-thirds of them were crossed out. The more I crossed off, the worse I felt. 

     To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, it kinda goes like this. There were eighteen men in the Rook Card Club I belonged to. We meet once a month for a potluck and to play cards. That day, half were either dead or dying. The Gay Men’s Chorus of D.C. was decimated. There were over 30 dead. The Leathermen of D.C. was disbanded because there weren't enough members left of the hundred or so. And so on. The numbers just kept adding up. 

     I picked up both boxes of cards and tossed them into the trash. I poured the bottle of wine down the drain. Got my coat and went out and got totally shit-faced. I stayed drunk for three days. I called off work sick and did nothing but cried and stayed drunk. 

Since that mournful day in 1989 I've never sent out a Christmas card. 

     It sometimes surprises me when I hear or read something and I get a strong emotional reaction. I do the same thing with smells, too. Certain things just send me back to another time and place, and I avoid them like the plague. That old Aqua Net hairspray? That is one of the worst. The smell takes me back to the day when my mother told my sister and I that she and my father were getting a divorce. It wasn’t so much of an issue for me because I didn’t fully understand it, but my sister fell completely apart. My mother was fixing her 1960’s hair and using that hairspray when she told us. I know it may sound odd, but that smell brought it all back like it was a movie playing in my head. 
AIDS Quilt. Each panel is the size of a casket.

     I guess this is where I get my key out to the express escalator to the top of my soap box…hold onto your jewelry! 

     For those who are against Obama Care, pay very close attention here. Did you know that insurance companies could refuse anyone who was HIV positive or had AIDS? If they did accept them, they made them wait up to two years to provide any medical coverage for HIV/AIDS and that included any medications. 

     Why is it that our government sees fit to pay the drug companies to send these same life-saving medications to Africa and not force those same drug companies to provide these drugs to Americans? I gotta ask, what’s wrong with this picture? 

     In our not-so-great state of Georgia, the local government turned down the funds to expand Medicare, purely for political purposes. What did that do? Well, first off it denied seniors the added benefits to keep their drug prices low. It did away with dental coverage for children. Oh, and of course, it meant those living with HIV/AIDS were not able to afford life-saving medications. Do they have to worry? No, of course not. The STATE pays 100% of their health benefits, and their families. Am I the only one seeing this as a problem?  

     Okay, down escalator… 

     We are far from having this HIV/AIDS situation under control. What saved so many gay men’s lives was education. One of the largest school systems here decided they would try to teach abstinence instead. Yeah, well, we all know how that worked. What is really wrong with this picture is that parents are more than willing to let the public school system teach their kids the basic facts of life, which includes sex education. If I had kids, there would be no way in hell I’d leave it up to those ass-hats. Just sayin’. 

     I’d like to know how many of you have seen any type of public information about this day? Any announcements? Dedications? On the local TV stations here I’ve heard nothing. Zip. Zero. Nada. It is like it doesn’t exist. 

     I’m tellin’ y’all now, this is going to come back and bite everyone in the butt. The issue is still there and it isn’t going away anytime soon.

     So, today, I am dedicating it to the wonderful friends I've lost. The most creative, imaginative men who were artists, cabinet makers, pastry chefs, chefs, cooks, waiters, bartenders, landscape designers, musicians, telephone linemen, electricians, plumbers, accountants, architects, small business men… I salute you, I raise my glass and I remember your smiling, happy faces of so long ago. I wipe my eyes as I love you still. I miss you and wish I could hold you once again in my arms. 

     I remember…


  1. Thank you Max for letting us have a glimpse into your heart. You are one of the kindest men I have ever met. My heart breaks for you and all those who suffered through the epidemic. Those who died and those who live, but are scarred. You have given us a much needed education and reminder. It is too easy to forget. They were too important to forget. This disease is too deadly to forget. A beautiful post. Love you.

  2. Thank you for this peek into your very personal thoughts and emotions . You are such a special person and i feel honered to have gotten to know you . Your friends who have past live in your heart and you give them a voice . Thank you for sharing this special very intimite part of your life ...I love you <3

  3. Max living in Toronto, Canada I am very lucky to have Proud FM as a local radio station. Today has been discussed, lots of events are happening and all of December has been earmarked for education and volunteering. We still have two positive people a day in Canada which is two to many, so the focus is remember and share, educate with names and personal stories and memories like yours. Hugs to you Max and please know that your thoughts are heard.

  4. Thanks again, Max, for an emotional post- i lost my cousin to AIDS, and lived in Seattle though it. It was a nightmare. So many of my friends were lost. Keep the memory and battle going. <<>>

  5. Thanks Max. I remember those days in the late 80s and early 90s. It seemed "who died" became a replacement for "Hello." We all worked so hard on HIV education and awareness and then it all seemed to go away. People got tired of talking and thinking about it. The meds got better so it wasn't in their face anymore. The kids thought all they had to do was take a pill, now. This old man just shakes his head. What was it all for?

    I wrote this a while back.

    Thanks for your post!


  6. Thank you Max. So well put. I am in tears. There are so many people that just disappeared from my life. That includes one of my closest and best friends. I still remember too.

  7. Thank you, Max. I remember those times too, as a young woman living in a small city in the most conservative area of Northern California. My high school music teacher was the first AIDS death in our county. I saw him when he was sick but still didn't know what was wrong. Then it was like a wave came through and when it passed, so many were missing. Years later, I'd meet young men and women who had no clue and were so cavalier about their safety. Many of them are now "Living with HIV" and a couple died, even while in denial of their own mortality. You are so right, our public health department had a great HIV/AIDS prevention program aimed at junior high and up, but the county cut the funds, viewing it as an unnecessary program.

  8. I lost so many in those years. The terror, the fear, the death sentence permeated everything, everyone. I volunteered at a free clinic, but it never seemed like enough. Your post brought back a lot of memories, most of them sad, but I am so thankful they were in my life. I am richer because of them. Today is the day to honor them all.

  9. I had a good friend who said the same thing, once... over about 4 years he lost nearly everyone in his address book. And I lost him, too, a few years ago... he was diabetic and couldn't afford health insurance. God damn all those right wing killers-by-neglect to the coldest part of hell.

  10. Painful to read...too close to home. But thank you for reminding people of what is too quickly forgotten.

  11. I'd like to thank everyone for their comments. It isn't an easy subject to talk about, and I will admit that I openly wept while writing it. As long as we continue to talk about those who we've lost, they will never be forgotten.

    Thank you all,


  12. what a change. Did you see the ribbon on the White House!!.
    My list was 400 when I quit keeping a list.
    Richard E. George