AIDS survivor’s guilt

World AIDS Day 2008

Ever survive a plane crash, a tornado, a car accident, a war, a shootout or some other calamity where you should’ve been dead like all those around you? But somehow, you didn’t die. You’re still alive. You lived to tell others about it.

But the one thing you can’t tell anyone, including yourself, is why you’re still alive and the person who was next to you isn’t. You can attribute it to everything from your lucky tie to the row of the plane to your position in the foxhole to the random path of the fury of nature. You can even evoke gods and karma. Truth is, you have no idea why you survived and others didn’t.

I have no idea why I have survived HIV/AIDS for 23 years and counting. I have no idea why so many others have not been as fortunate, people like the souls sitting next to me in the doctor’s office 23 years ago, 20 years ago, 15 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, last month.

We were all in the same foxhole in the same war, which isn’t even over. The men and women seeking medical treatment in the 1980s and 90s were in the same trenches as me. We were all under siege from both a virus that was killing us and a world that feared us. When somebody on high declared War on AIDS!, we were in the crossfire, fighting for our lives on more than one front.

Why am I still alive? Why am I not dead like the countless souls who didn’t make it? Their gaunt, ghostly faces still haunt my mind like the victims of a disaster who had no chance of survival. I can still remember their faces in the doctor’s waiting room, their hope fading, the life draining. Help me! Save me! Their bodies seemed on the verge of leaping up and reaching for a life vest …

Why am I here all these years later?

Sure, there’s the educated guess, but a guess is just a theory. Why I’m still alive is but a mystery wrapped in an enigma surrounding a crazy fucking universe.

And still it doesn’t change how rotten I can feel for knowing I’ve made it this far while so many others have not. This alone takes away a piece of the joy of living long enough to see World AIDS Day, 2008. It’s enough to bring me to tears.

I take heart knowing those no longer with us are no longer in pain. The fear, the panic, the sickness, the desperation. It’s all over. They’re free.

The thought brings a smile to my face. Then I start to wonder what, if anything, I’d say to my fallen warriors.

Believe it or not, they’ve got a whole day for us now!

  • Find out how television told me I had AIDS the day Rock Hudson told the world he had AIDS in Disease-Free At Last from World AIDS Day 2007.