In 1989, I moved to Japan. This was seven years after AIDS was first clinically reported in the United States, after Reagan's press secretary had laughed about it, after Rock Hudson. But it was before things got really bad, before I understood how bad they would get. My move was not connected, but it is related to my perception of things. I moved to Japan, and as this was obviously before facebook, before the internet, I lost contact with a lot of my friends in what felt like a natural way. People change, their priorities change, we move away, move on. When I came back three years later, it seemed to me that about a third of the people I'd known were dead. Frankly, considering my friend circles, it's a very low number. Some friends, like me, got scared and careful early. Some of my friends are HIV positive and taking medication and surviving well. Some of us are just ridiculously lucky, I guess. This feels to me like a dark time I lived through, because I have suffered some of the repercussions of it (Michael, who introduced me to Cocteau Twins, dead; Tim, who loved movies, dead; Jason, who just wanted to be loved so badly, dead...). But I didn't, I wasn't there, I only heard about it, I saw the art and felt profoundly moved, read in the paper about the loss and knew the world was shifting but I didn't live through it like my friends who stayed on the ground tending sores and making phone calls to estranged families and the bleak and terrible humor of San Francisco real estate prices.
Every World AIDS Day (other days, too, of course) I think about this. I know the epidemic is going on still, which is just impossible to fathom for me. But I think particularly about where I was when I became aware of it. It's not my pain being commemorated. I don't have a right to speak. But I also think about what world we are in now, the loss of those voices, we are all still suffering. Some of my friends would have done nothing interesting. Some would have turned out to be people I didn't talk to anyway. Surely this is true of the population at large. Not every loss needs to be tragic to be a loss. The powerful play goes on, though, and they might have contributed a verse. What would art be like now, what would politics be, if those voices hadn't been silenced.
I don't know. I looked away for a minute and the landscape shifted. Sometimes I wonder if my focused extreme attention on people who don't necessarily appreciate it is related to that, to the fear that if I blink I might lose them. If you lost someone to AIDS, I am so sorry for your loss.