On July 19th, 1986, I went to a party at this girl Valerie's house with my friends Andrea and Monica. It was just a regular old party, and since I was the designated driver, I wasn't expecting much. But by the time we piled out of my car, we knew -- this was a good one. All the usual suspects were there -- the usual skate punks and new wavers and mods and "death rock" kids, all mingling together. (There was enough hairspray and eyeliner going on in that house that I suspect the early evening hours of July 19th, 1986 burned a swath in the ozone layer.) The house was jam-packed, beer and wine cooler bottles everywhere and hazy with smoke, Echo and the Bunnymen blaring over the speakers, and a mad panic dash to the bathroom when the police arrived. Yep, it was a good party, alright.
In fact, to this day, exactly 23 years later, it is still the best party I ever went to. (And I have been to many a party. But this one will always be my favorite.) Not to be corny, but that night my entire life changed. I can still remember what I was wearing, what the porch looked like. I can remember the exact pinpoint moment when my life began: I was hitting my friend Clark with a broom (yeah, I was sober) when someone called my name, and I turned around and found out there was such a thing as Love At First Sight.
He was tall and dashing, and absolutely charming and sophisticated. He was different than the other boys I hung out with (I would NEVER consider hitting him with a broom), and the conversation sparkled. He wrote his phone number on the visor of my car, and told me to call him. I went home that night, floating on air.
For the next year I vacillated between floating and drowning. I loved him more than I had ever loved anyone -- he was IT. He was PERFECT. He was only 2 years older than me, but he seemed so adult. I was away at college and wrote him long letters, agonizing over every word, worried that he'd think I was silly and stupid. I got quick and witty postcards from him, that I carefully pinned to my wall. He came to visit, and asked me to marry him. But something wasn't right -- our relationship was strange and chaste. If I broached the subject, he told me not to over-analyze, and then talked about something else while I, yep, over-analyzed. We spent magical days riding his scooter all over San Francisco, and nights bundled in pea coats, sharing bottles of Boone's Farm. Every second with him was an adventure, but every second without him I grew more and more confused.
"He's gay, you know," someone pointed out. And they were right.
Of course I was heartbroken, and thought that I would never stop crying. (My poor, poor friends. I made lots of shoulders wet with tears and snot.) But eventually I did, and our friendship resumed, stronger than it had before, because there wasn't that unspoken secret anymore. And I found that I loved him even more after that, because he wasn't perfect -- he was my friend. (And I would, in fact, hit him with a broom if I had the chance.)
He changed my life. He was my first love, sure, and with that my life changed. But more importantly, he opened doors for me that I never thought possible. I learned more from him than I did in school. He was a traveler, and told me all about the amazing places that someday I would go, too. He introduced me to new music, new food, new cultures, and showed me hidden nooks and crannies of San Francisco that made me fall in love with my city and left me breathless. He helped me move, and he made me laugh hysterically. He lent me books that he found fascinating and I tried to read them, but they were a little too, uh, smart for me. We worked together at the circus one summer, and got in trouble for printing nasty comments on tickets. I barfed in his catbox. Thanks to him, I met amazing people, most of whom are still my best friends to this day.
About four years after we met, he called me and told me that he and his boyfriend, who also became one of my dearest and most beloved friends, had something to tell me. They came over, and we laughed and ate and it was like any other afternoon hanging out, until they told me that they had just been diagnosed positive with HIV.
I was stunned. I swallowed and wouldn't let myself cry, and made some sort of comment like, "Well, we'll get through this. It'll be okay." And after they left, I broke down in my tiny kitchen and sobbed.
I knew what being HIV positive meant. My cousin Paul had succumbed a few years before, and his square was a piece of the AIDS quilt. My aunt and uncle had been devastated to lose their son. You couldn't live in San Francisco at that time and not hear about AIDS daily. And in 1990, being HIV positive was a death sentence.
But 23 years later, he and my other dear friend are still alive and thriving and doing well. I know there are bad days and good days, and I don't talk to him as often as I should. But I love him just as much now as I did back then, at that First Moment.
Which is why this is the fourth year in a row I will be doing the SF AIDS Walk. I'm pleased to say that every year I have been a Star Walker, meaning I have raised over $1000. Out of all of these 97 Things, this Accomplishment may be the one that I hold highest and dearest. Until someone finds a cure, I will continue to do what I can to help.
And you know, you really do meet the nicest people on The Walk:
Me and The Outrageous Miss DiDi Mau. I LOVE her. She walks in 6 inch heels!
So on Sunday, July 19th 2009 -- 23 years to the day I met him and the irony is not lost on me -- I will be walking six miles through Golden Gate Park in his and my other friend's honor, and in the memory of my cousin Paul and friend Cherel, both of whom I've lost. And for all the others out there who have been affected by this horrible disease.
But I have fantastic company:
Jennye, co-captain and co- supper club hostess
And should you want to sponsor me (and I would really, really appreciate it), go here:
My AIDS Walk Page
Thirty-five down, 62 to go.