I know someone who is dying of AIDS.
This is a dramatically different statement than the one I would've made 15 years ago, which would have been 'I know some people who are dying of AIDS.'
Those people are all dead now.
15 years ago the generational divide over the AIDS issue manifested itself to me during a conversation I had with my boss. While discussing "how girls handle dating and AIDS" with her we both discovered that at that point in time I'd never had sex without a condom and she'd never had sex WITH one. Safe sex was paramount. There were condom case earrings, key rings (both of which I had, more for fashion than for function - I swear I never actually fetched a condom from one of thse items to get jiggy with anyone). Bars had huge bowls of of condoms at strategic places around the bar, and what was safe and what wasn't was a topic of polite conversation.
Today the generational divide opened up to me again on this subject, this time with me sitting on the side of the elder - although not necessarily wiser, generation. Person with Aids walks through the break room and I greet him with enthusiasm. I hadn't seen him in a while, and I was genuinely happy to see him.
My companion at the table says to me "What's wrong with him anyway? Why does he look like that?"
To which I respond, "He's Sick." Inflection on SICK. In 1995, if someone was Sick, they were not long to be among us and everyone knew what you meant. It had happened to them. The unthinkable, the death sentence. Through carelessness, or bad luck or both they had run headlong into an incurable epidemic that led you along a path that was too horrible to spend much time contemplating. And it happened enough that even those who weren't directly involved knew the parlance. T-Cells. Red counts. Hystoplasmosis. Caposi's Sarcoma.
My companion stared at me blankly. "What do you mean, sick?"
And I realize I was sitting across a new divide.
What do they do, these girls, to protect themselves now? We don't seem to be OUT THERE beating the "USE CONDOMS" drum anymore. They don't seem to know that there was a time when a funeral was a social event just like a party. Because they were that common place. That the death is slow and painful and that it is final. I wonder if they can imagine what it's like to visit a nursing home full of AIDS patients and to know more than one person in it?
It hasn't gone away, yet it almost seems like our knowledge has gone. Is it because the drugs are better and now instead of a quick hideous death in 5 or less years you now get about 20 years before it takes you down that we don't care as much? 20 years, hell that's better than some cancers.
I think that the straight 20 something community isn't afraid like we were afraid.
And that makes me very afraid.