I don’t know how many people I have known and loved that have died from complications from HIV/AIDS. I remember when it went from two hands to three. I was 28—a long, LONG time ago. It was 1995, and I was on my way back to LA from Denver. My flight was diverted to Phoenix due to a rainstorm. That was crazy. It rarely rains that much in LA.
I was excited because I was going to call my friend Maio. We had become friends through my roommate who was also from Phoenix. When we met Mario and I became immediate fast friends. We laughed at the same jokes and finished each other stupid sentences. We were thick as thieves. And, we were obnoxious beyond belief. Mario always said “If you ever get to Phoenix, although I don’t know why you would go there, be sure to look me up!”
I used a pay phone to call, and Mario’s phone rang and rang, and finally his roommate answered. ”Oh God Jon, I didn’t know who to call. You see, Mario got sick. Real sick. The big sick. We didn’t know what else to do, so I called his family. They came, scooped him up and dropped him off at the ER. They were so ashamed to have a son who was gay and who had AIDS. We didn’t know where he was, and so late that night he died, alone.”
I don’t remember what happened next. I was running for help and someone was screaming, and then I realized it was me as a policewoman grabbed me, and I slunk to the floor. I sobbed and sobbed, and I don’t remember getting home. I do remember making Mario a promise. As long as I have breath in my body, I will do whatever I can to end this, but more so, end the shame and stigma for people living with HIV and AIDS.
The cause, this cause. This people living with HIV is my life calling. I have really been slowing down, but, I am still at it. I give the best that I can that day. I have never missed an AIDS Walk in 33 years. And, I always question whether I am right for this work, but some how friends and colleagues nominated me for Grand Marshall for Atlanta Pride. It is a great honor. Real important people have been Grand Marshall. John Lewis. Stacey Abrams. Ruby Redd, and Bubba D. Licious to name a few—and now me. ME!?!
Thank you. I don’t want the spotlight. All I want. All I have ever wanted is vaccine, a cure, and all my friends back. Will you please help me by donating today.