Last week’s chapter brought us face to face with the reality of AIDS at the end of 1982. Like today, there was no cure. Unlike today, there wasn’t even a treatment regimen. Indeed, even the cause of the disease, what we now call HIV, was unknown. Nor was there a test to determine whether you were infected.
The only certainty about AIDS at the end of 1982 was death.
In retrospect, I probably should have ended the story last week. I won’t discourage you if, upon reading these words, you decide to skip this week’s chapter, which is narrated by Tommy and takes the form of an epilogue. Try as hard as I could, and I tried very hard, I had difficulty making the chapter work.
It was certainly well intended. I didn’t want to leave you as readers on such a bleak note. I wanted the ending to convey at least some sense of hope. But I probably tried to accomplish too much in this epilogue and may have ended up not accomplishing anything much at all.
But you’re probably the better judge of that so read on if you choose and let me know what you think. Be honest!
I decided to post two images tonight, one at the top and another at the bottom of this post. The sizing and locations were deliberate.
At the top is an image of Ryan White. Ryan wasn’t gay although he was taunted for being so by some of his peers and their parents. And yet even though Ryan wasn’t gay, he probably did more than anyone else to change how Americans reacted to AIDS. Unlike Tommy’s story about Jimmy, which is fictional, Ryan’s story was real.
Ryan was the innocent victim of AIDS that the media was looking for; the young boy who acquired the disease as a result of a blood transfusion he needed and could thus be sold as a genuine hero to the American people. He was sweet and pure and innocent unlike all those guilty victims of the disease, the ones who probably deserved what they got in the minds of many.
That wasn’t the way Ryan looked at it, of course, but it would take a while before Americans finally realized innocence and guilt are inappropriate ways of looking at such a horrific disease; that Christians who believed AIDS was God’s punishment for sin weren’t really Christians at all, just hateful bigots.
For all of that, Ryan White was a genuine hero who made an extraordinary difference in his brief life. In our story Jeff believed that the only way of opening the hearts and minds of the American people was by humanizing the disease; and that’s precisely what Ryan did when his story finally captured the imagination of the nation back in the mid-eighties and beyond.
It would have been better if it happened earlier because Ryan was truly a transformational figure, one who will be long remembered. But like they say, it is what it is.
Thank you, Ryan.
There were other heroes, of course, two of whom are shown below. You’ll learn more about the two Bobbies, however briefly, in tonight’s chapter (or by following this link, which I encourage you to do). They deserve your thanks as well, especially since, like so many who died of AIDS, they’re largely forgotten these days.
As many of you know, I’ve berated myself quite a bit about this story. Not because the topic was unimportant or the message I wanted to deliver unclear in my head. I just feel the delivery was very uneven. So let me share a few parting words.
If you go back to that public service announcement which I used as an introduction to the story, you’ll see a good example of the message being sent to American boys in the 1960s and 1970s. Boys needed to beware of homosexuals because, uniformly, they were pedophiles and mentally ill. Indeed, some homosexuals were so depraved they would kill you to satisfy their lust.
It may be easy to dismiss this today, but it was an all too common message at the time and it had real effects for many boys who were subjected to similar messages in their schools, churches, and homes – a message endlessly reinforced by families and friends. The one thing you definitely didn’t want to be if you were a boy was a homo!
Is it any wonder a boy who was homosexual himself would be filled with fear and self-loathing when exposed to such messages; that he might try very hard to suppress who he really was or to find some way of reconciling what he wanted with his own interpretation of himself?
The question this story was designed to raise is what might have happened if Jimmy had grown up in a more loving atmosphere, one where love in all its many variations was respected and honored? I’ll let you judge for yourselves, but I believe many boys like Jimmy would still be alive today.
In any event, I plan to put up a final post next Wednesday before taking my leave, but don’t feel compelled to read it. When you strip it down to its basics, all it says is that I don’t have any plans to write any more stories as I feel there are more important things I need to do with my time.