Candles outline an memorial ribbon on World AIDS Day 2014.Photo: Associated Press
On the morning of my 30th birthday, I checked my then-partner, Shane Sawick, into the hospital. He would not come out.
Shane died just two weeks later, suffering from Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy (PML); one disease, among many, battled in his long war against AIDS. Once in the hospital, the illness quickly progressed, and in just a matter of days, he could no longer speak, blink, nor respond in any way. Through it all, though, his mind still raced, and processed, and thought.
Long before that ill-fated sojourn, I remember lying next to Shane one night, reading, when he suddenly grasped my hand. “Will you remember me?” he asked. I smiled and nodded benignly, “Of course,” as if this were a given. He more firmly squeezed, focusing his eyes on mine. “No,” he insisted, “I want to be remembered.”
At the time, the notion that knowledge of him would remain when so many others before had died, largely forgotten, seemed almost lofty. And yet I instinctively knew that I needed to find some way to pay tribute, for I too had felt that same desire: to have walked the earth and for it to have mattered.
Since then, my life has changed dramatically.
My partner of 12 years and I are the proud fathers of two amazing boys. My days have gone from being filled with parsing out pills and leading safer sex workshops, to ones focused almost exclusively on the kids’ schooling and sports, where the most traumatic of incidents can often be cured with a simple kiss.
And yet I am also fully aware that my ability to be both parent and partner is directly formed through my experience as caregiver for Shane and my friends.
Were it not for them and that tumultuous time, I would not be the writer, father, lover, or person I am, and I owe a debt of gratitude to those lost during those tragic years.
More often than not, that period is often spoken of as if it were a purely historical event, a footnote in our collective history.
There seems to be an unwillingness to delve more fully into that experience, to examine it, and discover its inherent value. Indeed, something about the reticence of the LGBT community to fully explore the AIDS epidemic reminds me of Shane’s catatonic state. Just like him, there are emotions and thoughts coursing throughout, just under the surface, even if unacknowledged.
I understand the need to move on and fully realize that not all may be willing or able to return to that era, in any manner. Many have found other causes to adopt. Some have attempted to lose themselves in parties and clubs. And others are still exhausted, trying to recover from the toll AIDS has taken, both in numbers lost and in our own emotional health.