Tuesday, October 25, 2011

30 Years of AIDS: The AIDS Alphabet--D is for Disease, Despair and Death

Three Decades of AIDS: The AIDS Alphabet

D is for Disease, Despair & Death
In the AIDS alphabet, the letter D is for Disease, Despair and Death, among many others. I'd like to share with you a short excerpt from JOURNEYS THROUGH DARKNESS, a biography that tells the story of AIDS through the story of a long-term survivor and warrior. His name is Kurt Weston and he is an award-winning photographer who lost most of his eye-sight to AIDS-related retinitis. This particular excerpt from JOURNEYS  describes the beginning of the dark years of AIDS, as told to me by Kurt.

Hope you'll enjoy the read.

As always, thanks for visiting!
Alina Oswald
                                                   Author of JOURNEYS THROUGH DARKNESS


Excerpt from Chapter 2: Cold Warning

It was only a blip in the news, but Kurt Weston heard it as he was watching TV in his condo in Chicago. The photographer wondered if he could actually get the strange “gay cancer” and he called his friend, David, who was living in the same neighborhood. His friend had no idea about the mysterious disease threatening their community, but he agreed with Kurt that the gay cancer news was indeed scary news.
It wasn’t until a few years later that the “gay cancer” made headlines again, under a new name. In 1985 the Center of Disease Control announced that it wasn’t a (gay) cancer causing all the disease and suffering and death, but a virus called Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV. The CDC called the multitude of strange diseases the virus caused Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS.
    In the late eighties, after David’s lover died of AIDS-related causes, Kurt reminded his friend of the CBS report from back in 1981:
    “David, do you think you have AIDS?” Kurt asked.
    “I think we all have AIDS,” David answered. 
    He died the following year. He was Kurt’s first close friend to die of AIDS.
    The early eighties were the years of silent sufferings and mysterious deaths. They were the years when a lot of people just… disappeared. One day they were around, the next they were just gone, and nobody knew for sure what had happened to them. It took four years of too many silent deaths and one publicized celebrity death for AIDS to make the headlines in the U.S. It wasn’t until the disease claimed the life of a movie star, Rock Hudson, that the threat of the virus was brought home to many Americans. 
    But that doesn’t mean that the first four years of loss and suffering and sickness of unknown people were forgotten. The early eighties have inspired many artists to capture the epidemic in various forms of art, from literature and Broadway shows to film and photography.
    Those living in New York City at the time may remember the giant billboard posted in Times Square displaying a picture of Ronald Reagan, his face covered with purple Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions. It was a protest message capturing the administration’s response to the AIDS issue. The picture was taken by Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani and made the cover of Colors magazine in 1994.
    Kurt Weston lived through the early days of the AIDS epidemic, when people were getting infected and having to deal with the reality that they were sick, victims of the mysterious “gay cancer” and that there was nothing that they could do to stay alive. He had to watch helplessly how his friends were dying horrible and silent deaths, a lot of times having no idea what exactly was killing them, or how, or why. In only a few years AIDS has claimed the lives of everybody the photographer knew in Chicago. And when it didn’t claim lives, AIDS isolated and stigmatized its victims.
    While many of those infected were too weak and sick to leave their beds, others were struggling to maintain some connection to the world outside their homes and their disease. Young men looking three times their age walked the streets, their faces drawn and covered with purple blotches, their emaciated bodies hunched over their canes. They were the messengers of the strange and scary disease, and living proof of its presence in the American society.
    But nobody wanted to be around the disease or anybody carrying it. So, many started avoiding using public restrooms or drinking from water fountains, afraid to touch or be around people who could have the disease.

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