My best friend contracted HIV when he was around 17 years old. That was 23 years ago, a time when there was insufficient advocacy about the disease, a time when persons hid their diagnosis from even family members because it was a time when many people still believed you could have gotten the disease from touching.
My friend is African American, but I remember that even in Jamaica, people were dying all around, and family members handled loved ones with gloves and masks. And they served loved ones out of specific plates and cups. And they washed their clothes and utensils separately.
And when they died, the family would never admit that AIDS was the killer. Instead they blamed it on all sorts of sickness. It was a time of paranoia, of shame, of shifting blame, of making AIDS victims feel as though they were cursed by God for sexual promiscuity.
There was so much lies and misinformation about the disease at the time with some people saying voodoo priests created it in Haiti. But the statistics proved that a higher percentage of Americans had the disease compared to Haitians. Folks then started saying Africans created it by having sex with jungle animals.
Then, there was talk that white American males with their gay lifestyle were perverted than any other race and so they were the AIDS hosts who were spreading it and blaming it on other races. And when enough people caught on that such explanations made no sense, people started saying white people created it in labs in apartheid South Africa.
To this day, some people believe this latter explanation, but none of those persons has provided reasonable evidence to back up their claims. Regardless of how HIV came into being, since 1981, AIDS has killed more than 25 million people worldwide. And to date, more than 35 million people have HIV/AIDS. It is well known that by living a healthy lifestyle and taking medications, which have improved in the last decade, persons with HIV are living longer and having healthy normal lives.
But there are some who still won’t make it. My friend who is 40 years old made it for 23 years, but within the last 10 years he stopped taking his medications. He said he didn’t like how they made him feel. He knew that new and better HIV medications were available, but he decided to take care of himself using naturalist remedies. It is shocking that he survived for more than 10 years without any HIV medications, but last week Tuesday, November 26, he passed away.
When I got a call from the doctor that he passed, I sighed with relief. After seeing him suffer for almost three months in pain, his eyes looking wild, him losing his ability to walk and talk, the fat beneath his skin had fallen away and his body had become skin covering bones, and just seeing his eyes looking wild, shifting all around the room but thankfully settling down to look at me, I wanted him to go because I knew at this point, he wanted to go.
December 1st will be World AIDS Day, and I don’t think it is respectful to keep it quiet that my friend died from AIDS. He was a person who cared about other people. He attended many activist events, always supporting, always looking out for the sick and the weak. And while he isn’t around to share his own testimony, I am revealing a sketch of his history to let you all know there are loved ones and strangers around us with HIV and AIDS. Let us acknowledge them on World AIDS day.
Yet even so, I must emphasize that I won’t remember my best friend as the one who had AIDS. Instead I remember him as the one who listened to me at nights on the phone when I felt insecure, when I felt lonely, when I felt I had no family in the world to love me.
He was the one who wrote me an email saying, I will fight to keep you as my friend, when I was pissed off and tried to end the friendship.
Such powerful words taught me to never be quick to dump people but to fight to keep certain friendships. And in moments when my head was spinning fast, and I was angry at the world and ready to speak my mind on the Internet, he was the one who read my blog and my scripts and advised and told me to temper my views and ensure that I am teaching, sharing, rather than only offending others.
He was powerful because he taught me to own my power, to walk and talk powerfully with confidence even when others tried to silence me. And he was atheist, gay, black, a human being.
I really miss him, but I am no longer crying. Rather my heart is beating a little faster each time I look at his pictures. It beats with love, love that’s a constant reminder that yes, there is love in the world, love so powerful—from friend to friend—that it can make you take deep breaths to slow down your excitement.