Thursday, December 01, 2005
For World AIDS Day - a story about a walk
It was October 1995.
I was walking with my girlfriend in the AIDS Walk here in Philly. I honestly lost count by this point on how many times I had done the walk (maybe five). My first walk was in 1988 - one year after the very first one. Boy, that Walk was tiny (crowd-wise not distance) - you could tell it was a pure grassroots effort. By '95, it had grown and developed a life of its own. And my girlfriend really wanted me to be with her at this one.
Her brother, 18 years her senior, was going to be there and he had full-blown AIDS.
We walked with his group.
That was the first time I ever met him. I had seen pictures of him at her home. He looked like a big hulking guy in his Army uniform. The picture was taken in Vietnam around 1969. It was there that he learned how to deal with the pain and stress of army life and warfare - he started shooting heroin. He tried to kick the habit. He even got married and had a couple of kids (my girlfriend's "niece" was born two weeks before she was). But heroin is not the easiest of habits to walk away from. Fifteen years and one dirty needle later, he contracted the HIV virus. It lay dormant in him for a time but eventually became full-blown by '94. And here he was one year later at the Walk.
I didn't recognize him at first. No longer the strappin' guy, he looked very thin and drawn in the face. He still had the same smile and glint in his eyes that I had seen in many photos. But he looked ... different.
There were a lot of people there in '95 at the Walk. There was one guy in particular I'll never forget as long as I live. He was in our group and in a wheelchair. AIDS had robbed him of his ability to walk great distances so we all took turns wheeling him. He had his dog with him, too - a German shepherd. That dog walked right next him the entire way (with the occasional potty stop). The guy's mom was also in the walk. She told me that the dog never left his side, not even for a minute. It was a living picture of the phrase "man's best friend."
My girlfriend and I split up about a week after the Walk. It was a rocky relationship from Jump Street and agreed on breaking up. We went our separate ways and lost touch.
A year later, she called me out of the blue (I was surprised she had my number) She called to let me know her brother had died. I'm pretty sure I told her I was sorry to hear - I don't remember verbatim. It wasn't that long of a call - she had list of people to contact.
However, she did give me one other piece of info upon my request of wondering how they were.
I asked her about the guy in the wheelcahir at the Walk and his dog. She told me the guy died a few weeks after the Walk. He had contracted pneumonia and took a turn for the worse. He was rushed to the hospital and never came home. With tears in her voice, she told me that his dog laid by the back door of the house, waiting for him to come home from the hospital. The dog died a week later. A vet said it was starvation. We both agreed it was a broken heart.
AIDS knows no age, no race, and no social boundaries. It doesn't care who you choose to sleep with - it kills gays and straights. We need to educate more than ever. Children, babies, are raped in some areas of Africa because it is rumored that AIDS can be cured by having sex with a virgin. Children are being orphaned. Lives are being destroyed. Something needs to be done.
Just because AIDS hasn't grabbed a national headline lately doesn't mean it has disappeared.
Please, say a prayer today for those who live with the disease, for those who help others with the disease, and for those who are working to find a cure.
"I think [AIDS] is one of the biggest problems on the planet, absolutely. It's something that's going to affect everybody in one way or another. I think that one of our biggest issues as humans is that we don't look at each other as part of the same life." -- Alicia Keys, US recording artist