The President's AIDS Day address is online, and in city after city, communities will gather this Tuesday to pay tribute.Having a President that cares matters, because AIDS is still with us and is very real.More often than not, like last week in Fort Lauderdale, when the Office of National AIDS Policy solicited public opinion, we hear stories of survival. More and more people are living longer and longer with HIV. It is so encouraging. Too encouraging.
As a result of better treatments, higher standards of care, and more attention to the disease, we have become too complacent. Apathy has set in. People are still dying. Too many of us are looking at living with the disease comfortably instead of ending the pandemic urgently.
On this day, where we celebrate the lives of so many who died too young, one particular person jumps out at me. His name is Jerry Michael James, and he died of HIV last Friday, at the age of 38. He was a friend too be sure, and his loss hurts very much. As I go about the process of starting a new South Florida gay newspaper, he was the first one I considered as an editor and writer. However, I knew he was in hospice, working on a horror film, a project he loved.
Mike was a 50's character, like Jack Kerouac, one of those geniuses who lived on the edge, and often ran it to excess He was a filmmaker, an artist, a writer, an editor, a colleague. We spent too little time together these past few years. We went in different directions, but the bond remains, and I will remember his recklessness and his passion; his willingness to buck the tide and assert his independence; to be the master of his fate, the captain of his soul. I salute him as a champion.
But then, I ran an AIDS clinic for two years. I met many champions. I saw many young men living with HIV. They refused to let it hinder their goals or drive. But I also saw single moms, and teenage children born into HIV who have known no other life. I saw doctors working daily on infections, colds, swellings, diarheea cutting through people's bodies like knives. Behind the shadow of the clinics who hold car washes and art sales to raise money, there is a silent pain you cannot imagine. The fear of an unknown that tomorrow might bring.
There are clients who need acupuncture and transportation. Case managers who need to find housing. Patients who need medicine. Recovering soldiers who need employment and hope. Warriors who need counselng. Scientists and scholars who need funding for new protocols. Pharmacists frustrated their medications were so expensive they could not reach all in need. There is a hidden world of HIV the public never sees.
I remember Mike James more for his infectious smile than his infection. But that is for those of us who knew him. Most of all, to remember him properly, and all those living still with HIV, as well as those lost too soon, we must remember our battle is not won, the fight goes on, the disease must still be conquered. It is the only way to honor so many so long gone who gave so much and were denied by Fate, destiny and T cells the opportunity to give so much more...
For those of us who remember stories of Patient Zero, the day AIDS was called GRID, we have all had a Michael James in our life.
Remember those friends, past and present, this Tuesday nite.