by Amy Martin (c)
I have this dream sometimes. It’s dark and I’m in a rage. I lash out at a formless thing that advances toward me, striking it again and again. It swallows me. I struggle free and then attack it some more while screaming in anger. It just keeps growing larger until it is all that I see. Then it rolls back into deep shadows, leaving me alone.
It is AIDS, and with each passing day the formless takes a face. At first it was an admired actor. Next, the friend of a friend. Now the threat of AIDS has struck people very close to me. I so desperately want to stop this amorphous beast, this invisible virus, that it intrudes on my sleep, infiltrates my daydreams. Ultimately, I am powerless. I can’t make the virus disappear.
An HIV positive blood test result is not a death sentence I keep telling myself. It just means that they’ve contracted the virus. Their immune systems may never degenerate into AIDS. But so many of those who test positive will die within years; for the rest, only time holds the answer. Though I feel the momentum of medical science’s search for a vaccine and cure, it just isn’t comforting enough. My friends hang perilously in the balance, waiting.
We conduct our lives as if immortal, rarely contemplating the risk of death we face every day. Most of us never know our odds; those who test HIV positive learn their score. But with that knowledge comes the ultimate irony that while death may be more imminent, the need to live life to the fullest will never be greater, that to be positive of spirit is the best defense besides medical treatment anyone can take against AIDS. A paradoxical balance of life and death, Shiva manifested in a disease.
Facing the potential of AIDS leads you to examine the nature of love and what relationships mean, why it is we exist to connect with one another and what happens to these ties when we die. My friends and I have entwined for no other reason than serendipity and we remain together out of choice. But now I’ve seen our bonds as friends run as deep as family. And through this, I’ve come to understand how much of love is to bear another’s burden.
Now I am part of the network of secrecy that protects the HIV positive from losing their jobs and insurance, a mute understanding from which we draw strength. But I can’t stop from defending these people who must live in such silent dignity against the reactionary and bigoted who say they deserve this disease. I can’t stop being angry that they must sometimes buy drugs black market because the FDA won’t make more available as a preventative. And I can’t stop from dreaming that I could kill the beast.