Sometimes it seems like an entire lifetime has passed between my first awareness of HIV and today. Today I woke up and remembered that it's December 1, and a flood of memories came crashing down on me, most strongly what my first introduction to what AIDS was. A history teacher at my little high school in Santa Fe had gotten very sick. He was short and adorable with a ring of grey hair, and soft spoken. He wore tweed. During a school assembly he was led by the arm down the middle aisle to the front of the auditorium, where he gave his illness a name. I'm sure that most of us hadn't heard of AIDS then; I certainly had not. Shortly afterward, a friend's father perished from pneumonia-related causes.
When I first moved to Chelsea in January, 1993, it was still possible to identify the walking sick and dying population. Those who were inflicted often wore a ghostly pallor and were rail thin. My apartment was three blocks from ground zero of the AIDS crisis, of course St. Vincent's Hospital, and this was a daily vision of sadness. It was nearly impossible to walk past the little white building on West 12th Street, with the circular windows, and not imagine the horror and sadness unfolding inside. When did the cocktail kick in that began to protect them?
Last Thursday night, Community Board 2 passed a near-unanimous resolution to create the first official AIDS Memorial Park at the sight of the current St. Vincent's Triangle Park, right on Greenwich and 7th Avenue. I can think of a no more appropriate place to meditate and remember what the neighborhood used to look like, and who used to populate it-- New York alone lost 100,000 people. This is a day to raise awareness about the ongoing AIDS crisis, but today my thoughts are hanging on to those who are missed dearly from our streets.