Friday, November 18, 2016

A TARNISHED JEWEL


I picked this place. Not once but twice. And it’s not a wholly irrational decision. After all, Vancouver is beautiful. It consistently makes top ten lists for world’s best cities. Usually it’s number one in North America unless you count affordability. A trivial factor, right? Just peek out from under your umbrella and look at the mountains as you amble along the seaside walkways and get passed by Lululemon-uniformed joggers pretending sun is overrated. Our license plates say, “Beautiful British Columbia,” an intentional act of brainwashing as we wait through a succession of ill-timed red lights in a city that refused to build a highway.

And when I returned to Vancouver, I specifically chose my neighborhood. It was a matter of convenience in that I still faced a major commute and needed to be near a particular transit line. I’m in a central location, mere blocks from the sports arenas, parks, the water and the oldest parts of the city in Chinatown and Gastown. It’s a vibrant scene, peppered with trendy businesses. But even at surface level, all is not bliss. I am adjacent to the poorest part of Vancouver and the most troubled place in the country, an area bursting with people struggling with homelessness, drug addiction and untreated (or undertreated) mental health issues.

A block from home
Most of the time, that’s a part I like. Reality in Pleasantville. I chose this area because I’m a do-gooder by nature, a naïve liberal who has in the past spouted off all sorts of cures for the struggles of the less fortunate based on a reading of a few newspaper articles, a free lecture at the library and some documentary downloaded online. I’m done with being naïve. I know there is much more that I don’t know than that thimble of insight I’ve gained from hearing a few interviews and digesting statistics in colorful pie charts.

This morning, as I walked to a local café to write, I cut through an alley littered with the discards from a shooting up session. Heroin? FentanyI? I confess, I don’t have a clue how you consume either. And I still have no idea when to call for medical attention. Is it when I pass a person who is semi-catatonic? Because I see that an awful lot and everyone just steps around them.

I emerged onto a sidewalk where a young woman berated a pigeon. Seriously. It was all-out harassment as she ridiculed its “rude voicebox” and followed as it pattered in semicircles on the concrete. The bird appeared unflappable but it must have wondered how much more of a dance it had to do for a handful of breadcrumbs. A half-block later, a man seized on the opportunity to manipulate some premature festive goodwill, wishing me “Happy holidays” as an icebreaker to “Spare some change?” I walked on and overheard a brief exchange between a customer exiting a Chinese bakery and a man sprawled on the sidewalk. Was the patron ridiculing the man? Or was this some sort of happy banter after the patron had perhaps done better than me and parted with a quarter or two?   

In a year and a half in this neighborhood, I confess that I haven’t learned much. I’ve gained a clear sense that there is absolutely nothing to fear here. We coexist. Parallel societies. Aside from the gentle requests for money, we don’t interact. I’m a Have here. The Have-Nots don’t even see me. I’m not prey. I am nothing. There is a social fabric amongst the Have-Nots. It’s genuine. In fact, they seem better connected than the rest of us in this pristine city which is routinely regarded as a tough place to connect. (Maybe we’re too busy staring at mountains.)

I don’t have any clearer idea for how to foster positive change. Only a few surface-level improvements. More trash cans, emptied more often. The Give a hoot, don’t pollute message never made it here. There are too many more pressing needs. Social and environmental responsibility are not the focus of day-to-day survival. Of course, the garbage improvement makes things better for me, not them.

But I think everyone can agree on more bathrooms. I smell urine as I pass alleys. At this very moment as I type, a man is pissing against a wall behind a telephone pole across the street from the café. The restrooms are locked in many of the local establishments. You have to be a paying customer. You have to ask for a key or a combination. (I hate handling these keys. I know too well that there are many soap-averse paying folks.) I’ve seen arguments between shop owners and the downtrodden. And I get it. I’ve heard two homeless people having sex in a café bathroom—sex should be a basic right, shouldn’t it?—before employees and an apparently bloated customer started banging on the door. I’ve seen another person doing an impromptu laundry load with liquid soap in another café sink. And, yes, I’ve noticed syringes on the bathroom floor.

But where do they go? Can’t there be a shred of dignity in a blatantly undignified existence? Whoops, that’s my naïve liberal voice creeping back in. All I know is the few public bathrooms that do exist cannot meet the needs of all the people here who have no other options. Don’t we all deserve a few private moments for whatever reason? Despite our progressive-sounding mayor, this city, the provincial government and the federal government don’t have the will to handle the influx of desperate people, many of whom migrated to the West Coast from colder, even less hospitable environments. So much time gets sucked up by jurisdictional buck passing.

And I continue to spin in place, ever aware of my ignorance, ever hopeful that I should come upon an epiphany. I’m fortunate that it’s in my backyard. There is no chance for change if we strive for NIMBY-thinking—out of sight, out of mind. Please don’t let me ever come to accept things as they are. This too is Vancouver.




Saturday, November 12, 2016

ET TU?


What now?

Yes, I was wholly disturbed and disheartened by Tuesday’s election result in the U.S. What seemed a novelty to the press and the public sixteen months ago actually came to be. Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. How did a country that endorsed Barack Obama for two terms turn to Trump as his successor? How did a hate-spewing and hate-sanctioning egotistical billionaire become the answer for people who felt they didn’t have a voice in government? As a Trump presidency looked more and more like a reality on Tuesday night, I tweeted, “I can’t cope.” Still can’t.

But something more personally disheartening came to light Wednesday morning. I scrolled through Facebook posts, knowing that many of my American friends would be despondent. I wanted to commiserate and perhaps offer something hopeful. At least you’re in a blue state. Hillary got more votes. Red cups are coming to Starbucks. To be sure, there were many people to try to console.

There was the predictable post from my Baptist sister-in-law, praising God for the Republican triumph. I do my best to ignore whatever she writes. She’s too far gone. (She’d say the same of me.) And my mother, a self-declared “independent” who has never voted Democrat but sat out the vote for the first time ever, expressed relief that Hillary would not have a national stage to bash cookie-baking, stay-at-home moms. Apparently some anti-cookie Clinton comment made two decades ago is the closest my mother has ever come to having her identity bashed.

But then I glimpsed a post from a friend in Dallas. I had to read it three times, certain that I’d misread it due to my sleepless night.

Living through amazing history. A beautiful day and warmth in my heart.

America you continue to surprise. Here we go. About to Make America

Great Again!

I do have a few friends from my days in Texas who are clearly Republican. We went to high school or university together. We have the past, if not the future, in common. But I got to know Ben while working in a department store part-time as I had to supplement a then-paltry teacher’s salary from a private school (since I couldn’t work in public school without declaring an intent to become an American citizen). Ben was far more social than I was and he invited me along with other “sales associates” to restaurants after work. Eventually, Ben got me to join him and a smaller group of his friends at clubs. Gay clubs. Yes, despite my being firmly settled in the closet—it seemed the safer option in Texas—Ben figured me out. He was one of my first gay friends.

And now this. How did my eternally optimistic, treat-everyone-with-kindness pal become an apparently rabid Trump fan? It’s more baffling, given that he is Mexican-American and has an immigrant boyfriend from Vietnam. I’m stumped.

I’m aware that people can have differing views, on religion, on politics, on whether pineapple belongs on pizza. (It doesn’t.) I’ve known about Log Cabin Republicans, gay men who align with The Other Side. Okay, I’ve at least heard they exist, like alien life forms, Rob Schneider fans and The Great Pumpkin. And I thought this was the year that even gay Republicans couldn’t endorse their party’s candidate.

So what did Ben see that the rest of us didn’t? How can anyone whose identity has been bashed by hate while growing up set aside the vile Trump so easily spewed and condoned? How can any other issue trump human dignity? I’m not ready to ask. Frankly, there was a moment when I thought I’d have to “unfriend” Ben. I don’t seem to know him anymore. And, really, I don’t. Haven’t seen him since he flew from Dallas and I flew from L.A. to meet in Seattle in 1992. Time passes but what about core values? I may never understand Ben’s thinking. This is not something to be hashed out on Facebook. For now, I’ll continue to “Like” his photos from his world travels as part of his job and I’ll politely take in his comments that I don’t seem to age—I do get to choose which pics I post, after all.

Despite my dismay, I’m coming to accept the fact that Trump happens. Sometimes even to truly good people.




Sunday, November 6, 2016

FURNITURE VOWS


I suppose it’s fitting that the first thing I write on my laptop while stretched out on my new sofa is about the sofa itself. After all, it took nineteen months to arrive.

That’s not the fault of a delivery truck driver. They only made me wait four and a half hours. And it’s not because a furniture warehouse burned or a vendor went bankrupt or some temperamental maker kept fussing over the fluffiness of the seat cushions. The delay was entirely my doing…by not doing.

When I moved back to Vancouver after an ill-spent decade in Nowhereland, I gave away all my furniture other than my bed. Technically, a little cash changed hands for a few items—fifty bucks for the six-month-old $900 chair, a twenty for a $500 mirror. (Perhaps the best decision I ever made was against pursuing a business degree. I’d have flunked out of college.) I just wanted everything gone. Moving from a three-bedroom, two-level house to a 570-square foot condominium, I knew things wouldn’t fit and, besides, the size and scale would be off. (Or, at least, I think that’s what home décor folks would say.)

In truth, there was a darker reason to chuck everything I’d amassed by the age of fifty-one. I wasn’t set on staying in Vancouver. I wasn’t set on staying anywhere. I remained firmly uncommitted to life, ready to succumb to the undertow of a persistent, profound depression. I held off buying furniture in case I mustered up the guts to jump off the Second Narrows Bridge, leap from the roof of my 28-storey building or swallow a bottle of whatever pill I could track down at the recommendation of a savage Internet troll. I wanted any aftermath to be with minimal inconveniences. My parents live 2,200 miles away. Why task them with posting my wares on Craigslist? They’d first want to figure out who the hell “Craig” is and what happened to the apostrophe and space in his business name. (I wonder myself.)

But sometime in the spring, I had my own reawakening. There were breaks between lows. Sometimes I’d go a whole day without thinking about suicide. I didn’t feel good, but feeling ambivalent was several rungs above where I’d been. I started to believe I might stick around. And that’s when I dared to walk into a Crate & Barrel. Didn’t buy anything—too soon—but I found myself drifting into other furniture stores in the months that followed. Sometimes I’d get sidetracked by funky credenzas or bold prints on pillows, but I knew it all had to start with a sofa. I still wasn’t sure if I could commit.

How long do people stick with a sofa? Longer than any of my past relationships, no doubt. A decade? Two? And still that nagging thought: Who will have to get rid of it?

I put off the couch quandary throughout the summer, instead pouring any extra funds into trips—the Oregon Coast, Ottawa, Dublin. If I spent recklessly, I wouldn’t have to think again about furniture possibilities until 2017. 

But somehow, in changing jobs, I came upon a small cash windfall. I still had money in my bank account by summer’s end. And then I walked into another furniture store with a friend as we waited for a Ramen noodle place to open for dinner. I looked. I touched fabric. I surprised myself by liking two models. My friend sat on one and noted it felt comfy. I tried it out. Was orange too kitschy? Then he waved the ring of other fabric options in my face. The sales guy swooped in and mentioned a half price three-day sale later in the week. That was our ticket out the door. It wasn’t quite the right time to buy. I had time to talk myself out of it. Surely I’d have second thoughts. Maybe even dark ones. My condo could retain its open space character indefinitely. I could go longer with a clunky plastic office chair and a stool that doubled as my dinner table. The sofa was too big a decision. It had come to represent too much.

Over the course of that week, I lowered my expectations. Happiness was too lofty a goal. Feeling stable was good enough. I celebrated by going off both my meds. And then on Friday night, the last day of the sale, my workload seemed to increase as quitting time neared. My co-workers gleefully filed out while I tapped away on my computer, with the finish line for my must-do project pulling farther and farther away. I eyed the salesman’s business card and chucked it in the recycling bin.

Slowly I began to make progress with my work. I solved the snags or found ways around them. Hours after everyone else had left the building, it was my turn to begin the weekend. No plans. Just me and all that condo emptiness. Driving home, I thought of the one that got away. Sleek, clean lines, steel gray. So much better than a wooden stool. And with rush hour over, I made better time as I crossed bridges and darted by drivers with too fixed mindsets of speed limits. (Merely suggestions, right?) I began to feel that sense of elation that comes after running two yellowish lights in a row. I set my sights on getting to the department store before closing.

Yes, I wanted that sofa.

And so, just like in the movies where the doubtful bride or groom makes a mad dash to the altar, I raced to The Bay. I arrived fifteen minutes before closing. (What was the rush?!) I clomped up five escalators and marched straight to one sofa, then the other. Both decent home companions, by the decision became clear.

I choose you.

And so here I sit on my new sofa. Ironically, it’s not the one I thought I chose. Did the salesman err or did I? This is what happens when a year and a half decision gets crammed into the final moments before, “Attention shoppers, the store is now closed.” It seems fitting that I should end up with the bridesmaid. I’m not about to send it back. We were made for each other.

This extended time sitting feels right. My butt and my back feel pampered. I can even feel a nap coming on. A future day home with the flu seems like something to look forward to. But it’s more than the obvious comfort that comes with what some of us in Canada refer to as a chesterfield. From my sofa, I see things differently. I have stopped several times while writing to gaze out my window and marvel at my water view. (It’ll go away with pending condo development, but so what? This is now.) I’ve watched the November sky change countless times in the past hour. The clouds darken and then seemingly softer, white ones drift into the mix. There have even been blinding moments of sunlight, a rare sighting at this time of year in Vancouver.

I see the walls of my living room differently. I glance at the empty floating shelves and realize they should come down. I don’t need them. I don’t want them. It’s exhilarating to have an opinion. I’ll have to Google how to get wallpaper off the wall the sofa rests against. The previous owner proudly told me he ordered it from Belgium and it is classy, but it clashes. (What does that say about my style choices?) I’m wondering about my next purchase. Coffee table? Desk? Maybe I can still find those flashy pillows. It’s a lot to take in. There is so much more to do.

Seems like I might be here for a while.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

LOOKING LONGINGLY

Sometimes it’s agonizing,…not being noticed. There’s a Janet Jackson song off her “Control” album; it serves as the soundtrack of the moment: “He Doesn’t Know I’m Alive”. I stare at him, one second, three seconds, thirty. Doesn’t matter. His head is buried in the financial pages of The National Post.

There’s no ring on the long fingers of his left hand. How is that possible? Maybe it’s nothing personal. Maybe his head is always down. He’s thin, his shoulders are slight. But he exudes a kind of sex appeal that comes from not knowing. The wavy salt-and-pepper hair adds to the ooh-la-la. (My chronic state of singlehood is not helped by the fact my brain thinks in terms like ooh-la-la but, golly gee, he’s all that and some extra la-las to boot.)

He’s got that Mediterranean olive complexion. I imagine he’s Portuguese. Accent or not, it doesn’t matter. His face is long, unblemished and...perfect. Delicate. Pretty. This was my ideal kind of man before being an out gay man led to years of overexposure to masses of muscle packed tightly into white tank tops.

He wears simple casual clothes, stylish, new. The blue sneakers still have that new-shoe gleam. The dark blue jeans shoe no sign of fading. The black hooded jacket remains zipped up, sagging a bit too much but it looks great on him anyway.

I’m this smitten.

Once or twice a week he comes into the café where I write each weekday morning. When he’s not consumed by the newspaper he stares at the screen of his laptop, gazing at stock market graphs. He’s never even glanced my way. That makes me feel more desperate, like a sixteen-year-old in high school, yearning to be noticed, befuddled by what makes others the center of attention while I am forever enshrouded by an invisibility cloak. Magic? No. A freakin’ curse.

I tell myself there’s nothing to be gained from continuing to look. The ooh-la-las don’t lift me as high as they should. The sense of oblivious rejection—not even worth a glimpse—carries a stronger, downward pull. Ah, but so beautiful. My very own Siren.

Perhaps it’s just as well that I don’t register. I know nothing about stocks. I don’t even like The National Post. I can’t make chitchat in the best of times. I doubt I could dazzle him with “Nice that it’s not raining, eh?” (“Tell me all about Portugal” seems too risky.)

He neatly folds his paper and places it in a pocket of his satchel. I don’t know how it’s even possible to fail to see anything around you, but he’s completely in his own world. Maybe it’s a skill you learn when you’re so regularly and aggressively ogled. He gets up, turns and exits. I watch him cross the street as his stride turns to a dash. Off to catch a bus? Or maybe he noticed me after all.

Perhaps it’s better for both of us if I switch to writing at the Starbucks down the street.



  

Monday, October 10, 2016

THEY DO, THEY DO, THEY DO, THEY DO, THEY DO


I know I’m supposed to look away. It does no good to gawk. Certainly doesn’t help the situation. May even make me cringe. But I get sucked in every Sunday. I take a glance. I tell myself it breeds hope, but what I immediately feel is a wee sting and a pang of jealousy.

Another couple getting married and posting the announcement in the New York Times. Two men. A few years ago, when I first spotted one, I felt pride. Sound the wedding bells and a certain ABBA song! Another step forward for the LGBT movement. Affirmation in my favorite newspaper. I was truly happy for the (presumably) happy couple.

But somewhere over time, resentment nudged its way in. These smiling men with Harvard law degrees and PhDs from Berkeley were marrying other guys. Not only were they smartypants, they looked decent and served on boards of noble-sounding charities. Their smiling faces served as a slap across my own, refuting all my whining that there aren’t any good guys out there. (Maybe I just have to move to The Big Apple.)

I always compose myself enough to wish them well. Surely they’re not trying to rub it in that they are Haves and I’m a Have Not. Surely weddings have nothing to do with flaunting. (It’s about new dishes, isn’t it?) How could the rest of us feel anything other than pure joy? Congrats, guys!

And then a few months ago I felt more of a comeuppance when I read the final sentence of Stewart and Paul’s wedding announcement: “The couple met on OkCupid in 2015.” Two weeks later, the last sentence regarding Gregg and Jonathan stated, “The couple met through OkCupid in 2011, and learned that they lived around the corner from each other in Brooklyn.” And just yesterday, regarding Johathan and Matthew (who happen to look an awful lot like Gregg and Jonathan): “The couple met through OkCupid in 2015.”

Hmm. I could draw one of several conclusions. Perhaps OkCupid has found an inventive way to advertise in the oh-so-reputable New York Times. Could Gregg have changed his name to Jonathan and is Jonathan going by Matthew now that he’s shaved his beard? After all, Americans love their conspiracy theories. (Even the backgrounds in the pictures look similar. Same photographer? …Or…same poseurs?!) Perhaps I could be the one to uncover the scam. Maybe it’s incumbent upon me to do so. No other reader would have saved these clippings, ostensibly for some future blog post.

Egad. Is this what happens after a dozen years of being steadfastly single? How jaded and cynical can I be? Will it get worse?!

Even if I were to dismiss these “Ok” success stories, I came across another stop-yer-whining notation in a September blurb regarding Daniel and David: “The couple met in 2012 as members of Front Runners New York, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender running club, and started dating in 2013.”

Perhaps there is an undercurrent of hope in all of this. Finding love may still be possible. Dating sites just might work. By golly, I’m still on OkCupid and, as of today, 210 men apparently “Like” me…though not enough to send a message. (Weirdly, it only takes sixty seconds to scroll through the thumbnail photos before the site tells me, “That’s everyone we could find.”

This morning I messaged the guy with the second highest percentage match—a 92%er! A glance at his profile reveals he’s a bisexual who “might” have sex with his best friend’s partner if he knew the tryst would never be discovered and who would consider cutting a partner if requested during sex. Yes, folks, this is 92%. And suddenly hope feels like false hope…

But there’s Front Runners, too. I officially joined in August. I rarely make Wednesday night runs because I can’t get out of work on time for the 6:30 run, but it’s a new week and I’ll try again. If my future husband isn’t there, at least my belly can get some toning. That’s something. Or maybe that’s false hope, too!








Wednesday, October 5, 2016

...BIRTHDAY TO ME


There are people in cancer remission for whom each birthday is an extra celebration, each Christmas all the more cherished. I’m not sure I’ll ever get the point where Christmas will be pleasant again, but birthdays do have new meaning now. I still don’t celebrate. I don’t answer my phone, I don’t tell people and I cringe over the well wishes that spring from an automated Facebook notification. But I do mark the day—quietly—as an achievement.

One of the reasons I grew to hate my birthday is that it felt so arbitrary. Twelve months pass…so what? (I feel the same about New Year’s.) Maybe there are moments during any given year that are deserving of a special dinner or at least an ice cream cone based on something good I actually did. Those are the times when recognition would be authentic. Going another 365 days? Not so much.

Except now. 365 is an achievement. When I was forty-nine and a half, I was committed to a psych ward. I was suicidal. If I hadn’t been locked up, I’d have totaled my car and, if it went well enough, totaled my body. Game over.

I managed to fake my way out. The immediate crisis was over but living to see another birthday seemed utterly implausible. I tried to be gentle, coaxing myself to hang on for two more years to see if I could turn my life around but I wasn’t invested. I was stunned that I made it to fifty. Life remained bleak, recovery impossible. The only way I survived was through running away on weekends to Seattle, Whistler, Victoria…anywhere that helped distract me from a stagnant, failed existence. It was an expensive coping mechanism but at least it wasn’t destructive like turning to drugs or alcohol. I’m fortunate that I’m not wired that way.

Lo and behold, fifty-one came, too. By then I’d switched psychiatrists after sessions with Dr. 7 became combative. I acquiesced to meds. First one, then a second as well. The lows weren’t quite as long or, well, low. I went off the meds, had a setback, went back on. And now I’m fifty-two. I’ve surpassed my two-year goal. I can’t say I’m happy…that was too lofty an aspiration. But I’m not depressed. I’m stable.

Sessions with Dr. 8 have gone from weekly to monthly, in part because work is too busy at the moment, but the urgency is gone, too. My family doctor no longer insists on regular check-ins. (Has it really been nine months?) And I’ve gone off my meds again. “I’m concerned,” Dr. 8 said during my last session. But it’s Day 27 without and so far so good. I’ve come to accept that I will feel sadness more than others. I no longer fear that I may be hospitalized again. If it happens, I just hope to have the wherewithal to drag myself to a different facility.

So…another birthday. Fifty-fuckin’-two. It’ll come and go without fanfare. I have a thirteen-hour work day and then I’ll hit the gym. Maybe I’ll have ice cream on the weekend. But this birthday seems like an achievement. Each one is a milestone. While I’m far from thriving and as alone (and sometimes lonely) as ever, I get teary realizing how much I’ve fought to last this long. I still don’t feel I’ve made any social inroads and I’m still relying on travel as a way of coping. (I have three weekend escapes planned for this month.) It continues to zero out my bank account but I can go longer without furniture. It’s not like I ever have anyone over. There is a lot of work for me to do to reach a point of being invested again. But I’ve given myself the gift of time. Seems I’m sticking around. It’s not exactly “happy birthday”, but it’s a birthday. And that’s something.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

NEVER WALK ALONE


The numbers continue to dwindle. AIDS isn’t what it used to be. There are buzzier causes: ALS, prostate cancer, refugee resettlement. Staffs at the past two schools where I’ve worked attend charity dinners and auctions each September to support research for medical conditions a few of our students have battled. There are other banners I want to get behind, like mental health, everything pertaining to animals and the environment and, yes, refugees.

But AIDS remains closest to my heart. I first grappled with coming out back when Geraldo Rivera reported about GRID—Gay-Related Immune Deficiency—on “20/20”. It was the acronym that preceded AIDS, with a heavy emphasis on “gay”. Gay men were getting sick; gay men were dying. I signed up to volunteer with the AIDS Resource Center in Dallas before I’d ever so much as kissed a boy. I was profoundly impacted by Randy Shilts’ agonizing account of the early years of the AIDS crisis (And the Band Played on) and the haunting, Oscar-winning documentary “Common Threads: Stories from the AIDS Quilt” before I’d ever had a date. Gay may technically be synonymous with happy, but in those days it was heavily weighted with fear, maybe even death. AIDS will always play a part in my identity as a gay man.

I made sure to avoid any proximity to this sign. Just not me.
And so I showed up at the Roundhouse Community Centre yesterday for yet another AIDS Walk. I first participated in a walk twenty-six years ago in Los Angeles, a decidedly grimmer time when the people with full-on AIDS sat in wheelchairs pushed by loved ones. Some bravely walked, with or without a cane. We knew who had it. Their faces were gaunt, unnaturally tanned and KS lesions dotted their skin. I remember trying to project hope. You can beat this. The AZT will work. The cure is coming. But my sunshiny disposition faded after seeing the ravaged bodies of so many men in their prime, from watching mothers push their thirty-year-old sons, from seeing the inequity as one healthy-looking “longtime companion” supported the weakened one.

So much has changed. In the past year I’ve briefly dated two HIV+ men, each “undetectable”. They are among the lucky few who were diagnosed thirty years ago and somehow managed to survive the darkest years. They take their meds but show none of what once were the telltale signs of AIDS. They manage their condition. The hope now is real. Still, it’s not like diabetes or epilepsy. There remains a sense of shame and even shunning from potential partners. As I listened to both of them tell their story, one was wracked with guilt while the other’s language was loaded with affirmations delivered defensively rather than convincingly. The mental toll remains great.

In truth, I’m out of touch about what it means to live with HIV or AIDS today. I don’t have a clue what the needs are. I don’t know what is within reach and what remains a loftier goal in terms of medical research. Where are things at in terms of a vaccine? Why won’t my medical insurance cover PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis)? What are the inequities regarding prevention, detection and treatment in developing countries?

How did I become so removed? Why did we stop rallying? Where did everyone go? Thousands turned out for AIDS Walks in the early ‘90s. In recent years, only a few hundred show up. Contrast this with the fact that, according to the CBC, “hundreds of thousands” showed up for the Pride parade in Vancouver only seven weeks ago. Something seems amiss.

I need to re-educate myself as to where things are at regarding AIDS. I need a better sense of how the donations help. Despite my ignorance, I know I must continue to participate in this annual event. For me, the AIDS Walk is a meditative time when I honor the thousands who died from AIDS in bleaker times. Knowing that HIV is no longer a death sentence makes it more critical that I remember friends whose bodies and minds battled desperately and ultimately futilely and who died at twenty-eight, at thirty-five, at forty-one. I continue to mourn the passing of Stephen, Don, Farrell, Steve, Greg and Jose. The anger is gone but the tragedy only feels greater. All their potential wiped away. All so unnecessary.

I keep hoping the number of walkers will stabilize and that more gay men will show up again to reflect and remember. Pride celebrations offer more opportunities to ogle glamorous drag queens and ripped studs in Speedos. Pride leaves many feeling good, but the AIDS Walk stirs trickier emotions and commemorates an era that must not be forgotten.