World AIDS Day

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.

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9 thoughts on “World AIDS Day

  1. Lemuel December 1, 2010 / 06:54

    A beautiful tribute for one among far too many whose life was robbed from them.
    Thank you for this post.

  2. catrina December 1, 2010 / 17:21

    As a straight woman I’ve lost two friends to AIDS. My best guy friend was married to my best girl friend, and doing dangerous things on the DL. It was a very stressful time for me and I almost lost the friendship of both. I was with him three days before he died, and we had a good long talk. I miss him every single day.
    The second was a straight-laced preacher’s daughter who went hog wild when she left home and was infected within six months of leaving. Sad.

  3. catrina December 1, 2010 / 17:24

    That ‘as a straight woman’ sounds kind of uppity, doesn’t it? What I meant was that ‘they’ associate AIDS with the gay population, and that I, not being in that population, have loved and lost two.
    Sorry if I came across as uppity!

  4. Urspo December 1, 2010 / 23:26

    People get burned out with staying the course; and attention spans are short. we have to not only fight AIDS but apathy and despair.
    ironically, the strides we have made and kept people well enough that many people now don’t see it as a big deal.
    Worse, younger generations don’t see it as a problem not having seen the carnage and deaths.

  5. Java December 1, 2010 / 23:50

    Thank you.

  6. Java December 1, 2010 / 23:51

    Thank you

  7. Rich September 19, 2014 / 17:38

    Wow – I briefly dated Tony when we were both at UT in the mid ’80’s. I’m sitting at my computer, and something told me to Google “Tony Giatras” – I haven’t thought of Tony for many, many years. Tony and I met in Knoxville when I was something like 19 or 20 years old. I was just beginning to come to grips with my sexuality, and he was the first guy that I ever dated. As described, Tony came on way too fast and strong, and I was freaked out by it all. He suddenly came down with Hepatitis and was quite sick – that totally freaked me out, and I just stopped returning his calls. It was the first time in my life that I didn’t feel invincible – a real sign of things to come!

    You really hit the nail on the head with your description of Tony. He was short, cute, fun, and mostly carefree. Tony drove this crazy old Subaru that was jammed full of everything he owned – it was literally packed so high with dirty clothes that he could barely see out of it.

    Tony lived in a super cool little apartment in South Knoxville that was way up on a hill and had the most amazing view of the city at night. He would seductively lure me there, put on some Kate Bush and when we were done, I’d go home feeling like I’d just been raped – god, what an amazing time I’m having thinking about all of this after so many years!

    I’m 48 years old now – I’ve had a successful career, a good life, etc. I wish that Tony had been able to have some of the experiences that I’ve had – he was really robbed. I wish that at 19 I had the courage to return his many calls – to have the courage to just tell him to back off a little. Instead, I just ran the other way and ignored him.

    RIP Tony – I hope you’ve found your way to whatever it was that you couldn’t find here.

    • Maddog September 21, 2014 / 22:33

      Rich,

      If you see this reply to me with your correct email address. I’d like to chat with you.

      Thanks.

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