This is Not My First Pandemic

In my book, Community, the word “AIDS’ appears 54 times. Our midtown New York City neighborhood was hard hit by the AIDS epidemic. In November 1985 the local hospital, St. Clare’s, opened the first state-designated AIDS unit. Many of the patients were uninsured. People were unprepared for this disease, which was found in other countries as well. A true pandemic, HIV/AIDS continues to infect millions around the world.

In the 1980s it killed people I knew, neighbors and co-workers, in the city and the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. For several years, we didn’t know how it was transmitted. We didn’t know what the stages were. People were afraid to be near a person with AIDS, to shake their hands, or breathe the same air. Then it seemed only certain people got AIDS: gay men, drug addicts, and sex workers. As with COVID-19, many people felt they were not at risk. They were wrong. It killed people in all walks of life, all ages, rich and poor, black and brown and white. One was a postal worker in my building, another an innovative developer, and another the head of a major homeless services organization.

Initially, the gay community was hit hard. My personal experience with AIDS began with a young man who lived in the apartment next door, whose mother came up from South Carolina to be with him in his last weeks. I saw the sores on his legs, his wasted body. A friend had a neighbor going through the same thing, another young guy with his life before him; his parents came to be with him, too. Another young man, Frank Clemmons, had started out in community activism at the same time I did. When Frank told me he had AIDS, it was just before going into a community meeting. We were in the Art Deco main hall of the McGraw-Hill Building on West 42nd Street, green and gold motif, decorated elevators around the corner at the far end.

Several years later, I dreamed I was in the elevator at the McGraw-Hill building. Muted light. Green, gold. Quiet. The elevator operator was a cab driver-philosopher. Going up was against the gravity of my mind, coming down we slipped 1-2-3 floors. Then 6 and 7, then 17. Fast. I stood watching the lights, the floor numbers flashing by. Wondered if I should care, say anything. Time slipped away.

I said, isn’t there anything you can do?

I saw a notice in a newsletter that Frank Clemmons had died in February, 1996.

Frank had been the Chelsea Reform Club’s “district leader from 1989-1991. Frank served on Community Board 4, Area Policy Board 4, and as a board member of NYS Gay & Lesbian Lobby—the predecessor of the Empire State Agenda. He was also a strong supporter and fundraiser for the Gay Men’s Chorus and a member of the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats.” He was also active in the 30th Street Block Association, Chelsea Waterside Park Association, and the Midtown South Precinct Community Council.

“Frank’s gentle manner and devotion to helping others will long be remembered by those he touched,” the notice said. “He was forty years old and died after a long illness of complications, due to AIDS.”

This is not my first pandemic. It amazes me that so many people have a casual attitude towards it. Every life lost is precious. And that should not be tolerated.

4 thoughts on “This is Not My First Pandemic

  1. You’re quite right Mary, every life is precious. It might help a great deal if there weren’t so many conspiracy theories touted about the pandemic by the politicians whose job it is to protect the lives of the voters. That there is no pandemic, that the pandemic is Government sponsored, that the vaccine contains a tracer so the Government knows where you are at all times. Things so fantastic that wouldn’t have been so readily believed a few years ago. Tis morning I read that the Governor of Texas has refused to allow any of it’s local authorities permission to mandate masks. A move that could allow untold thousands to die and to infect others. Unless the World can get a grip of the idea that Covid19 is no worse than the common cold and have responsible governments provide poorer countries with surplus vaccines or the means to produce existing vaccines free of all property rights in their own countries this virus will rage on for years.
    Huge Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

    • Therapeutics made a vast difference especially in Europe and North America. So it’s not as visible as it was. I remember the fear too, and all the confusion about it that took years to sort out. This pandemic was actually better handled in that regard.

      Liked by 3 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s