MARCH 14, 2012 8:00AM

Lost Friends

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death 1I was reading an article saying that the incidence of HIV infections among young men was once again rising. The advances in the treatment for AIDS has improved so much that too many think that it is no longer a death sentence. They do so at their own peril.

 

I am one of those who remembers all too well when AIDS first descended upon the gay community. It didn't even have a name yet, but it gripped us all in something akin to terror. Our friends were dying. They were fine one day and then they were ill and then they died, and no one knew why, or if we might be next.

 

And for reasons totally unknown to me, I found myself thinking of Matt Rushton. Matt and I were never more than acquaintances, but he was both charming and charmed. Chest-achingly good looking, he had everything going for him. He was a P.R. man for Studio One, the hottest predominantly-gay dance bar in Los Angeles. Studio One also had a show lounge featuring  mostly high-end B-list entertainers, and as editor of a major gay men’s magazine, I was invited to every opening. Matt was always right there, effortlessly efficient, and giving me the definite impression each time that I was the most important person on the guest list.

 

Beautiful. Charming. Young. Friendly. A truly nice human being. And dead of AIDS within two years after I met him. 

 

I met Mike at a San Francisco bar during Gay Pride week. We got together on a Friday night and spent the weekend together. We became friends, exchanging frequent visits between L.A. and San Francisco. When he met his partner, we remained friends, and through Mike, I met his best friend, Tim, who was cute and funny and about as promiscuous as they come. Rick and Mike brought him down with them from San Francisco for a visit, and he and I established the same sort of back-and-forth visiting that Mike and I had enjoyed before Mike met Rick. It wasn’t long, however, that Tim phoned to say that he had just been diagnosed with AIDS, and did not think it wise for us to see one another again. He did not want me to come up to visit him. We talked often on the phone, though, and within two months he was dead.

 

When I moved to Northern Wisconsin, Mike and Rick came to visit. Within months after their visit, I received a note from Rick saying that Mike was dead. They’d both known that Mike was dying (and in the early years of AIDS a diagnosis was a death sentence) when they visited, but didn’t want to upset me. Friendship sometimes makes me cry.

 

My next-door neighbors in Los Angeles, Bill and Larry were among my best friends. Larry was an entrepreneur, always busy with one business venture or another. Bill was what some might call “ditzy”…totally irrepressible, totally spontaneous, always with grand schemes which never came to fruition. Larry and Bill had been together well over 10 years when I met them, and they had an “open relationship.” Well, Bill had the open relationship; Larry didn’t like it, but he loved Bill too much to give him an ultimatum.

 

Bill developed AIDS just before I moved to Wisconsin. I was devastated for both him and Larry, but they both took it with amazing calm. The last time I called to check on how Bill was doing, I talked to him briefly. “I had a dream about my grandmother,” he said, casually. “I’ll be seeing her soon.” And the next week he was dead.

 

Ed was one of my oldest friends in L.A. He was unique among them in that we were what is now known as “friends with benefits” (our relationship was similar to that of Dick and Jared in the Dick Hardesty Mystery series). When either of us was dating someone, the “benefits” were put on hold, to resume again when neither one of us was involved. Ed was a pediatric dentist and had a very lucrative practice. He bought a beautiful home on a hilltop overlooking the city. However, he grew tired of being a dentist and gave up his practice to move to San Francisco to become a psychologist specializing in...gerontology. I moved to Northern Wisconsin about the same time and we lost touch. And then one day a rabbi from San Francisco, traveling cross country, stopped overnight at my B&B. I asked him if by any chance he might know Ed, who was Jewish. “Yes,” he said. “He was a member of my congregation.” “Was?” I asked. He looked at me and said “You didn’t know?” And in that instant, I did. “I was with him when he died,” he said.

 

And then there’s Ray, whom I still consider to be the love of my life. Ours would have been a perfect relationship were it not for the fact that he was an irredeemable alcoholic who was partially responsible for my leaving L.A. I thought by taking him away from the bars, I might save him. But there are bars in northern Wisconsin, too, and it reached the point, after a drunken rampage wherein he broke a bar's large plate glass window, where the court ordered him to either go to jail or return to Los Angeles. He reluctantly chose the latter. Within two years he, too, was dead of AIDS.

 

These stories are not unique to me. Every gay man who survived the early years of AIDS has similar tales of loss--and while so many young men today think modern medicine can save them, they are wrong. So many friends. So many decent, kind, warm, loving men snuffed out like so many candles in a windstorm. We cannot forget them. We must not.

 

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1 ).

 

 

 

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open call, aids, loss

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I'm so sorry for the loss of your friends and loved ones. I watched How to Survive a Plague last weekend and it brought back those memories. I saw it with my 16 year old daughter and after talking to her most kids her age don't realize that HIV once automatically meant death. To them it is just another chronic disease.
"...most kids her age don't realize that HIV once automatically meant death. To them it is just another chronic disease."

Exactly! Which is why we must keep reminding the young that AIDS is still out there, and it can happen to them if they forget that fact.
I unrated and re-rated to try to get this into the feed. I hope you don't mind. I find it very compelling and important. --MM
Thanks for your comments, MM, and thanks too for wanting to make others...especially those your daughter's age... aware that the danger is still out there.