Today is World AIDS day.
I haven’t heard much about it this year. I’m sure there will be ceremonies. And speech giving. And there will be protests. And picketing. With signs.
But you have to wonder if it will change anything.
Even in a perfect world an AIDS vaccine is years away. A cure is even farther away.
And yet every day you hear less and less about HIV and AIDS. You hear about gay marriage. And Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But when was the last time you heard something in the mainstream news about AIDS related issues.
I have but it’s because I read a couple of blogs that cover news in the world of gayness.
In case you missed it, there is a recent study that covers the Efficacy of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. Seems if you are prescribed a specific drug currently used to treat HIV it lowers you chance of becoming HIV+. If you are consistent about taking the medication every day it is even more effective. How many of you saw this in the news this past week? I thought so.
AIDS has become something we just live with. People aren’t keeling over dead like they used to. It’s consider a chronic disease now far more than a terminal disease. And unfortunately with the new attitude has come complacency. We still have people not practicing safe sex. We still has sex education that doesn’t allow the discussion of safe sex alternatives. And god forbid we actually discuss how to have safe “gay” sex. And then we are surprised when the number of infected people continues to rise.
As a 45 year old gay man I count myself VERY lucky. I have only had one close friend die from AIDS. Most men my age have known too many to count. I’ve known acquaintances who have died. But only one close friend.
His name was Tony Giatras. I met him in the spring of 1989. I had just put my stuff into storage and was living with my friend Shelley until I figured out what I was going to do with my life. We met in a parking lot of a gay bar in Atlanta. He was short. And cute. We hooked up that night and that should have been the end of it. But of course then he asked for my number and what was I supposed to do? I gave it to him.
He called. We went out. I called. We went out. And then he took my prisoner. After about two weeks I told him that enough was enough. I didn’t want to be his boyfriend. That he was smothering me. And that he needed to back off. The next day he brought me a bouquet of daisies and a note apologizing. I still have the note. Even though we would never be boyfriends we became very good friends. We hung out together. We shared waiting tables stories. I worked at Bennigan’s. He worked at Steak and Ale, which was owned by the same company. And our friendship was sealed.
That summer I moved back to Kentucky to start grad school. He stayed in Atlanta. We continued to talk on a very regular basis. My best friend at the time Stacey also lived in Atlanta so I drove down to visit often. Tony and I always had lunch/dinner/drinks when I found my way there.
I don’t remember when I found out he was HIV+. I had called a couple of times and he’d been sick both times. The last time he’d just gotten out of the hospital with phenomena. I finally asked what was going on and he told me. It changed nothing about our friendship. We continued to talk. I continued to visit Atlanta. Whenever I was there I always made time to see him.
Tony’s birthday was three weeks after mine. He’d always call me on my birthday to say hello. And I always called him on his birthday to say hello. In April of 1992 I was in the middle of tech for a show and forgot to call. It was five or six days later and I said, “Oh fuck!” I picked up the phone, called and his roommate answered.
“Hey Jeff. Can I talk to Tony?”
There was a long pause.
He didn’t have to say the words. I knew. He explained that Tony had died the previous week. It was very sudden. He went into the hospital and died three days later. He’d lost his sight about 24 hours before he died. But he didn’t suffer and he seemed peaceful at the very end.
I asked why no one had called.
His roommate explained that he couldn’t find my number. He’d looked and looked and had been unable to locate it. He apologized over and over. I asked if there was going to be a memorial service. He explained that Tony’s family had taken him back to Tennessee and hadn’t discussed any of it with his friends. They’d never been accepting of his being gay.
The thing that was most sad about his passing?
Tony had been a lost soul. He didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. He had no goals. Wasn’t very motivated. He just sort of went with the flow. He drove a truck that didn’t work half of the time. He was a waiter. And then a this. And then a that. He didn’t stick with things very often.
In the few months right before he died, he’d finally gotten a real job. One that would have provided him with some stability and was most certainly leading him toward a career. He and his roommate had just gotten a new apartment. The week before he got sick he traded in that fucking truck and got a new car.
He’d finally gotten his life on track and it was stolen from him.
I think of him often. I miss him often. I don’t really think of him as dead. We hadn’t spoken for a little while before he died. In my mind he’s just one of those old friends you just lose touch with. He’s out there somewhere. And he’s got an awesome boyfriend. And an awesome job. And an awesome dog. And he’s as happy as he’d ever wanted to be. I just wish he’d call and tell me about it.
One last note. The Christmas before he died he sent me a Christmas card. It was a beautiful card with three trees and the word peace written on the front. When I called to thank him for the card he told me that he’d made it. He’d hand drawn the card with me in mind.
When I was home over the summer I found the card in a box with lots of other items from my past. It made me tear up then. It’s making me tear up now.
You will always be loved Tony.