I moved to New York when I was 21, and sublet an apartment from my cousin. She had two roommates, who became my roommates Ė two men, a couple. I was raised in a very liberal household, and had been around gay people before, but never like this Ė they were the only people I knew in the city, and became my friends and my family. My everything, really, that first year. In the spring of 1997, they signed up to volunteer for the AIDS Walk New York, an annual event sponsored by the Gay Menís Health Crisis (GMHC). I was completely unexposed to and unaware of the gay culture in New York, but my friends were volunteering, so I signed up to as well. We got up before 5:00 a.m. on the designated Sunday in May, and made our way to the north-western side of Central Park. We were assigned to the ďteamís tables,Ē checking in corporate participants for the 10K walk-a-thon. The day was long, and I was exhausted by early afternoon, when we were responsible for breaking down and packing up what seemed like hundreds of folding tables. After the walk was over, I went to brunch with my friends, as well as two other men, both affiliated with the GMHC. I was the youngest one at the table, the only female, the only straight person. They talked about friends they had who were sick with either HIV or AIDS. They talked about loved ones who had died from the virus. They talked about the scary days in their past when no one understood what AIDS was, when all they knew was that their young friends were dying at an alarming rate. I sat and listened.
The following year, and every year since, I have participated in the AIDS Walk New York as a walker. Iíve walked with my hair dresser, with my best friend, with co-workers, with friends who strolled with infant babies, with my husband. It is always a fun day, sometimes hot and sometimes cold, always crowded and always worth it. But since that first experience, when I went to brunch and listened to the ways in which AIDS has touched the lives of people I know, the walk has gotten more and more removed from the cause for me. I care deeply about the cause, and supporting the GMHC as well as any AIDS research, but the event has become a social one for me, and I spend less and less time reflecting on the reason for the walk.
Not long ago, however, I volunteered with another organization Ė Godís Love We Deliver . It is a non-profit organization that prepares and delivers meals to homebound people with AIDS (and their dependent family members). Several years ago I began volunteering with Godís Love, working in their kitchen once a week, mainly chopping celery, onions, and carrots (which go into just about ever meal). I lost interest after a while, though, as horrible as it may be to say so. The kitchen was tedious, and I wasnít making friends, so I stopped going. Then, co-workers asked if I would be willing to help out delivering meals for the same organization. I went with a friend to a pick-up center and assembled several meals. We set off for the addresses, food in hand. Iíve delivered food on a few occasions now, and it is a sometimes shocking experience. Because the people we deliver to? Are regular people. Men, women Ė mothers, even. And theyíre dying. Some are doing better than others, some have fallen off the delivery list, for reasons I donít want to think about. But despite my light attitude surrounding the AIDS Walk, HIV is still here, AIDS is still here, it is killing people, and those people are our neighbors.
December 1st, is World AIDS Day. People are suffering all over the world. Women in Africa make Thanksgiving turkeys out of discarded plastic bags which they sell in order to buy medication. Iíve seen them. Men and women in America are victims of HIV-related discrimination. But Iíve seen people with HIV and AIDS Ė people living with the virus, and people dying from it Ė and they are us.
Visit the World AIDS Day site and read about ways to continue raising awareness about this epidemic. Wear a red ribbon, light a candle Ė the action is not important, but the act is.
Much thanks to Tyger for organizing the collaborative entry. Check out her site and read what other participants have to say as well.