As a baby of the sixties, I was a young adult of the eighties. Although I was not a child of free love, I came of age during the sexually carefree eighties. I enjoyed the liberty this time offered, until AIDS came crashing down raining on everyones parade.
I remember when the Grim Reaper advertisements hit our Australian television sets and how over the top we had imagined it to be. I was happy to think it was an over reaction or some kind of conspiracy theory aimed at trying to repress the mass coming out of our gay comrades. I even found it hard to comprehend when a friend who was studying medicine cautiously predicted that within 10 years we would all know someone who had died from AIDS. The gay community may be first, but this disease would have further reaching consequences.
It was hard to imagine that making love could ultimately end in death
It seemed like fear mongering. But my friend was right and by the early 90’s we had lost 2 friends in our network. In those days AIDS was a death sentence, not a life sentence of medication as it is now. There was no cure and we all knew the death was inevitable and unbearable. The fact that it took some years before AIDS reared its destructive head, seemed like an extra cruel trait of this disease, as everyone looked back on their unprotected sexual past; living in a delayed game of Russian roulette.
The men who I knew who had died of AIDS were in my network. One I knew was living with AIDS the other died from a commonly related cancer, and it was never made public that he had the auto- immune disease. Both were young and did not want to die and both faced their death with courage I only ever want to imagine. In both cases I was removed from the closeness, more friends with their close friends, and while not within their inner circle I was privy to the experience of those who were. As the disease progressed and slowly decomposed our friends, I was consoling those holding vigil.
I was however there the moment when Brody realised he had become ‘full blown’
This was such a scary phrase in those days because we all knew at this pronouncement, the bomb had started ticking and death was inevitable. Brody was one of the most playful people I have ever met. Being around him was like being seven again. He was sweet, playful and had innocence about him. On this day I decided to pop into his share household. I knocked and I knew someone was there, I could hear noises. I waited by the door for about 10 minutes, knocking and listening to the noises in the hallway. Brody eventually opened the door, his face literally white. He said “My knees wont work. I can’t walk”.
He had bottom crawled his way to the door. He was able to stand but couldn’t walk unassisted. I was not prepared to have this conversation and had lived in a denial that included never mentioning the word AIDS (like somehow I would jinx myself and those around me). We both knew what this could mean (and in fact did), but I regret to say, I was not brave enough to have an honest conversation. I suggested he go to the doctor, but he decided to go to bed. I helped him down the hall and I left…. maybe I escaped; leaving him to lie down with what must have been the most confronting moment of his life to that point. I guess with AIDS or any other fatal disease there are probably a series of progressive ‘most devastating confronting moments’.
Soon after this he moved back to his home state to be near family and friends. I never saw him again. As I said I heard intimate details of his prolonged, agonising, wasteful death. I have wondered what I could or should have said to him in that last shared moment of his life? I have no answer. My youth and lack of experience offered no other possibilities.
For many years I would think about Brody when I went for my daily swim. At that time a disease was meant to be for the old, or so I thought. Brody will always be a young man to me with a sweet and playful sparkle in his eye. Maybe I was a coward not to go on the last part of the journey with him. All these years later I can empathise with my younger self and forgive her unpreparedness. How could it be otherwise? Its Life. And death within Life, that awakened me to navigating the teachings of death. These young men and their cruel passage towards and through it, are significant landmarks on my map of navigating my own mortality.