It's the fall of 1983. I had only lived here for a few months, but The Bar on 2nd Ave and 4th St was already my favorite hangout. That's where I met Danny, and after talking a bit about music sipping our beers by the jukebox (oh wait, Danny never drank beer), we left and went to my place. We dated for just a couple of months; he's not one of the three "official" boyfriends I've had - I generally count just the ones that have lasted more than 6 months. Anyway, those couple of months was mostly going to movies, listening to music together, smoking pot - fairly laid-back relationship that somehow (miraculously, actually) smoothly went from boyfriendness to friendship rather seamlessly -- just one day we realized we had stopped sleeping together; I was dating someone else, and so was he.
We stayed good friends, but saw each other less, of course. A movie here or there, bumping into each other at the same East Village bars, and of course our shared interest in music (he always had the coolest 12-inch records, and turned me on to THE THE, for example). But as the decade progressed, every once in a while I would get a panicked phone call. An unexplained purplish spot, a cold that wouldn't go away - always common symptoms that could be anything, but somehow he'd work himself up into a panic and freak out. He'd see a doctor a day or two later, all was fine for a few months until another panic hit. Even when the HIV test became available, it was too scary for most of us to even consider taking it. There wasn't anything to actually DO about a positive result, for one; and there were a million reasons to worry about what could happen to you if someone like a landlord or boss found out.
We saw each other less and less, but sometime in the late 80's he called to tell me his brother, who lived in LA, had died of AIDS. Apparently he had been sick for a while, his brother's lover had been quite wonderful to him, even his Mom had flown out to help in the final days. It was quite unlike Danny to share intimate details like that, with me or anyone from what I knew of him. But he needed to talk, and we talked about it for a while, then on to other topics, catching up, and vowing to see each other more often. That didn't happen. We'd still run into each other, I got involved in ACT UP, he moved out of Manhattan (temporarily, he would always say). He no longer had his full-time office job, but several part-time freelance gigs, which seemed fine, but money was always tight. He managed to move back to Manhattan, but we didn't really see each other more - not planned, anyway. But it was good to bump into him when we did, of course. Meanwhile, the mid 90's were tough - my Dad passed away suddenly, then two very good friends got sick, and both died. I had given up on ACT UP for lots of reasons by then, and the day-to-day of seeing Rick get sicker, spend time in the hospital, and finally give up, was just too overwhelming. And only a few months after Rick died, Danny called.
He needed help moving. Since leaving Manhattan a few years back, he'd lived in Brooklyn, Manhattan again (scary Avenue D), and then Queens. He couldn't even afford Queens any longer, and could I help him pack and move? Sure, of course (although I dreaded it - I'd helped him before - he's one of those guys who gets huge boxes and throws everything in them while the moving van is in the street waiting). The shocker was that he was going to Long Island, to live with his mother. That's when he told me. He's sick. He has no money, he has no insurance, he has to sort through his stuff and throw stuff out so he can move into his mother's small Long Island apartment. He was barely working. When I first got there, he looked OK. Not great, but not sick, ya know. Worried, overwhelmed, and in the middle of tons of shit. We busied ourselves with the task at hand, getting his stuff ready, sorting what's going, what has to be thrown away or given away. I don't think we ever talked about him being sick. I did find out that he had no actual way to transport his stuff to his Ma's house, but I knew someone who I figured would work cheap.
I can't remember how long we worked, or if I went out to Queens more than once before moving day to help sort. But the toughest part was as he's pulling stuff to throw away. One of our running "disagreements" in terms of music was the Rolling Stones. He loved them. Absolutely adored Mick Jagger, thought he was sexy, talented, etc., etc. I thought quite the opposite, and would often tease Danny about it. Danny had a couple of huge advertising placards, these huge monstrosities that he somehow finagled from some record store years ago. I couldn't tell you which albums they were from, except that they had huge ugly Mick Jagger all over them. He was bringing them down to the garbage. I stopped him. He argued that he had no room for them - I reminded him that he never had room for them, I'd helped him move them before. His mother would kill him anyway with all this shit he bringing with, there was just no way. I offered to keep them for him, until he got a new place. He thanked me, but calmly said it's better that he just get rid of this stuff. I was getting very upset;, but it was irritating him, so I let it go.
Moving day comes, we somehow managed to get all his stuff in Norman's van, leaving more stuff on the curb of his old apartment building in Queens. We get stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway; I'm in the back seat, and Norman starts to make conversation with Danny. Why is he moving, why Long Island, etc. Danny is evasive at first, but eventually he tells Norman he's sick, no money, no insurance, etc. I can't hear everything that's said, but by the time we get to Danny's Mom's place, Norman is writing down some info, some phone numbers and names to call. Danny's Mom is overwhelmed by the amount of stuff Danny has, and oh-fuck, we brake something of hers while carrying the boxes inside. She has totally not prepared for a grown man to move all his worldly possessions into her home, and we are just stacking boxes of albums, books, art supplies, etc., where ever we can. She offers to take us out to lunch, but Norman needs to get back to the city. I say my good-bye to Danny, he tries to give me money, so we have one last argument before I leave. We hug. I wait until we get in the van before I cry, riding quietly back to Manhattan.
It's the fall of 2003. A pal of mine from North Carolina is sitting shirtless next to me at the upstairs bar at The Eagle. We're buying each other beers, when I notice some hair that I recognize. Danny still has his big 80's hair, the freak. I get his attention, introduce him, he sits down. I hadn't seen him in maybe a year or more at this point, I ask him what's going on. "I'm living in Paris with Jacques, (I'm totally making up the name, as I have no recollection of what his name is, but Danny says it like I'd remember, and Danny would never say "boyfriend") been there since the beginning of the year, learning French. I've sold a few paintings, in fact. And I come back to the States every 3 months to see the doctor, have my meds refilled, he takes a few tests, etc." We talk more about other stuff, he doesn't stay long, we exchange addresses.
I can't explain why this all came back to me this week. Probably those grim statistics, and the numbness. 5 million new infections, 3 million deaths - this year? I sat in bed after reading those numbers, and it was too big. It makes no sense; and worse, it's so huge, it's nearly meaningless. How can this be? And for the past few days, I'm thinking of one person. One person who got his life back. And that was what, 8 years ago; how can it be worse now? We don't know less, we don't have less powerful drugs, we don't know less about prevention. But one thing has stayed the same. The wrong people have it, the wrong people are still getting it, and whogivesafuck?