AIDS IS….

Published: October 5, 2012

Today I’m going to open a new document, and I’m going to start writing a story that includes the phrase, “…the illustrator Antonio, who died of AIDS in 1987 at age 44….” And I am going to think, while I am writing, of many facts about myself that relate to this short phrase.

The number “44” sticks in my mind, because I am 42, because when Antonio died, he was an internationally known fashion artist who was trying, with all his might and mixed success, to become a fine artist, because I wanted to become a different sort of person than I am now, a different sort of writer, a published and recognized writer of fiction instead of an anonymous writer of magazine profiles and essays, because Antonio is dead and I am alive, although part of me is dying. This isn’t self-pity; it’s a bland fact. Lots of writers are, and I am not special in that way.

The word AIDS (I paused here for a long time; writing that word sends me down a rabbit-hole of memory to the first time I heard it, in a sex-education class in my Episcopal high school in 1983 when I was 12. Mike Waters, a classmate, probably also 12: “What is AIDS?” The teacher: “AIDS is what happens when your penis touches shit.” I’ve never stopped being angry over this misinformation. You could fuck piles and piles of HIV-infected fecal matter and walk away scot-free. If you don’t know something, educators, try using this handy expression: “I don’t know.”)…the word AIDS relates to 1983 for me, and, by extension, 2012. I turned 13 in 1983, and I’m 42 today, and because of AIDS, through that entire span of years, my sex life has been mediated through a thin layer of latex. Well, no; no, not entirely.

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