World Aids Day – December 1, 2011
(First published on Tumblr).
We met in college, over the easy-listening jazz of Michael Franks. We had that immediate connection (I’m from Jersey, you from Jersey?) that you get when you are from NJ living in Florida. He had a girlfriend back home. I imagined I was keeping him out of trouble. The second year into our friendship (‘78?) I was in the right place and the right time to facilitate a meeting between Michael and the guy that gave him his first restaurant job. He was always overly grateful for that, because it allowed him to stay in Florida. About 2 years went by before gradually his hair started getting blonder, he became more concerned with his appearance, Nancy stopped coming down to visit. It is easy to look back now and see that he was trying to come out to me, literally for years, but he was not really out and we were not ready to catch him.
In ’80 he got a job as a “coffee, soda, juice girl” at an Atlantic City casino. We had a party to celebrate both the opening of this new casino and the new job. We ended up in a lounge that was not operational yet, just the two of us, when he told me he had something to tell me. I was pretty sure he was going to tell me something about Nancy….
It wasn’t long after that, as if someone threw a switch, everyone was dancing, dressing up, doing poppers. Well, not everyone. I had two distinct circles of friends. On my 21st birthday I threw myself a party at St. Petersburg’s premier gay bar, a big fancy run down dance hall that we all loved. There were wall to wall guys, four lesbians and about 8 of my straight friends in attendance. At first there were a handful of people who were irritated that straight people had invaded the bar, but it soon turned in to a big happy celebration. Me and my friend Sue went into the lady’s room and swapped dresses. I share this detail for my kids, who seem to like to hear about the “wild” stuff we did. We did this simply because we each liked the other’s dress better.
Fast forward and the first baby to be diagnosed with AIDS was on in the news. It was no longer a “gay man’s disease” but a “blood borne disease”. That’s what the history book will tell you but I was there, and believe me, it was a “gay man’s disease.” I was pregnant with my first child when Michael told me he tested positive. It was like someone telling you they had something stage 5. People heard this news and they didn’t expect you to live. I hear stories of people sitting around crying. Michael and I didn’t cry. We were going to show this thing a thing or two about stamina and resistance!
Michael spent the next 3 decades being the reluctant poster boy for AZT and other anti-virals, often participating in trials. He was always warm to the touch, as in feverish. The first time he visited me after his diagnoses he brought straws, because he thought I wouldn’t want to drink out of his glassware. I said “don’t be silly” and accepted the straw. We visited almost every year for many years then our visits became sparse, me, living back in Jersey, and Michael, staying where he had health insurance and a job.
I’m not good at conclusions. I wanted to remember Michael on this day. I remember lots of folks that I met through Michael, some who are no longer with us. If you are reading this and thinking “man, I should get tested,” go to the nearest testing center. AIDS.GOV, enter your zip, there’s a map. My nearest testing center is also my local Planned Parenthood.
Last year, after spinal surgery (that he thought was in part due to carrying all those heavy trays of “coffee, soda, juice,”) Michael passed away. I wanted to spend some time on World Aids day remembering him.