December 01, 2003

AIDS awareness

I have a very particular relationship with AIDS Awareness Day and with AIDS in general. Yes, Iíve known several people who have died. The first friend we made in LA, a graceful, perceptive man who told us with a hint of mystery and a sadness I couldnít quite read back then that he was moving back to Seattle, moving back in with his parents. Months later, a friend of his called: would we like to come to his memorial service? Later, an assistant on a TV show I worked on. His boss was annoyed at his constant sick days. How many times can one man get the flu? She learned. She shut up. The office was shrouded in black. Others too through the years, people I knew, people Iíd known. The closest was a friend of my fatherís, a larger than life sharp, sassy, funny, soft and prickly Italian who encouraged me to get involved with Dan.

So AIDS has touched my personal awareness, yes. But my father is/has been an AIDS doctor and researcher since the early Ď80s and so itís touched me in other ways. I wonít speak to my relationship with him here, itís not the right place for that complex, personal issue. But for so many years, Iíd visit him at his loft which was also his workplace. Iíd meet men and sometimes women in the waiting room which doubled as his guest room. Iíd talk to them, get to know them a little. Theyíd call him at midnight. Scared. Sometimes angry. Wanting answers, needing help.

AIDS patients are often the most educated about their illness, more so than people with other diseases. Theyíve had to be to wade through the morass of accepted treatments, soon-to-be-approved drugs, potentially promising drugs and all the quack and not-quack alternatives. Theyíve had to doctor themselves. The people I spoke with were often so strong, so fierce. They sometimes seemed to see my father as their own father figure. I guess that happens sometimes. It was strange to see him in his white lab coat, his soft professional voice in full purr. Their potential savior.

Iíd look at the medical equipment in his little office, the one where his patients sat on his so-familiar faded brown couch and talked of their blood results and inevitably of their own parents and lovers, too, Iím sure, because my father in that white cloak was something of a Father Confessor. And sometimes Iíd sit there after they had all gone home and squint, trying to imagine their ghosts, trying to hear the after-echoes of their words. Trying to imagine myself as one of them. Not that I ever want that, I have no martyr complex. But it was so real, so tangible in that room and in my fatherís life. Almost mundane, but no. Not mundane. Not really. Not ever.

My awareness of AIDS is an odd thing, comprised of so many faces, so many voices on that answering machine. So many files in that black cabinet. So many people. Some stayed healthy. Others did not. So many lives.

Posted by Tamar at December 1, 2003 10:03 PM