I graduated a semester early from high school and tried getting work as an actor. I was cast in an educational film which provided the opportunity to meet a person with AIDS for the first time. Something clicked in me and I felt an enormous deep inner compulsion to held ease the suffering, for at the time the best treatments would only add a handful of painful years to one’s life. That was then …
In 1989 AIDS was still new to mainstream culture. Many people were extremely afraid and did not believe they limits o the ways it can be transmitted. We had just begun distinguishing HIV+ from AIDS and we still talked about Aids Related Complex (ARC) in ways that now seem archaic. I was entering a very Conservative Christian college and I went to their Spiritual Development office and told them I felt like we needed to be helping somehow. Much to my surprise they gave my $500 and the name of a local hospice that needed volunteers.
It was there I met Carlos. For months Carlos would not let anyone from our Christian college, “cross the threshold of his bedroom.” I think the whole team somehow understood that and respected it. We definitely understood why. Famous figures were still calling AIDS God’s judgment on gay people. That was not going to be us. Sometimes when I was at the hospice I would help cook dinner or do dishes afterwards. Carlos was forced to break bread with me. After several months of eating together he let me rub his feet to help with the neuropathy. a few weeks before spring break, he was a friend. He let me cross the threshold and we would sit together and hold his hand. There he crossed my threshold too. I prayed God would forgive me for my degree of judgment. I was one of the last people to see him alive. Clearly he is still with me.
Back then not only was effective treatment for HIV something of a pipe dream, so were the hope to deal with the social stigmas that went with it. Today AIDS is no rarely spelled in red and sewn to one’s clothing. New technologies make it possible for a massive shift in Africa to create the “AIDS free generation” in 2015.
There was a time in which a new horrible death hovered over our imaginations. There was a fear so great it sparked a death in the souls of those whose imaginations could only lead them to judgment. It has taken 22 years since Carlos died and we have not entirely conquered AIDS. But we have carved out a new world that has also force our culture to appraise how we live with gays and lesbians. I believe there is a little part of Carlos that gave me the courage to come out.
More is possible than we can see. “We do not have to settle for the spirit of death. ”