HIV/AIDS in American Literature
I no longer think of AIDS as a solvent, but perhaps rather as a kind of intensifier, something which makes things more firmly, deeply themselves. Is this true of all terminal illness, that it intensifies the degree of what already is? Watching Wally, watching friends who were either sick themselves or giving care to those who were, I saw that they simply became more generous or terrified, more cranky or afraid, more doubtful or more trusting, more contemplative or more in flight. As individual and unpredictable as this illness seems to be, the one thing I found I could say with certainty was this: AIDS makes things more intensely what they already are.
I’ve lived through such terrible times and there are people who live through much worse. But you see them living anyway. […] Death usually has to take life away. I don’t know if that’s just the animal. I don’t know if it’s not braver to die, but I recognize the habit; the addiction to being alive. So we live past hope. If I can find hope anywhere, that’s it, that’s the best I can do. It’s so much not enough. It’s so inadequate. But still, bless me anyway. I want more life.
We’re all going to go crazy, living this epidemic every minute, while the rest of the world goes on out there, all around us, as if nothing is happening, going on with their own lives and not knowing what it’s like, what we’re going through. We’re living through war, but where they’re living it’s peacetime, and we’re all in the same country.
The patient lies in the ICU, and you charge in gabbing about the weather, which you have brought into the room: you shake the rain from your hair, or the cold air reddens your cheeks and clings to your coat, or sweat beads on your upper lip and dampens the hair on your temples. You draw the patient’s attention to the view from the window, the time of day: the sun, the moon, the clouds. Your vigor, your life outside, is an affront. It’s utterly frivolous, the world and its stupid times. Here in the hospital is the real thing. Eternity.
Being scared is not the same as being convinced. Fear still has the room to maneuver, and every wave of its energy goes into pushing the terrible thing away, like the ocean leaving a body on the sand.
My thoughts are crowded with death
and it draws so oddly on the sexual
that I am confused
confused to be attracted
by, in effect, my own annihilation.
The story of the first Wall Street Journal piece on the epidemic would later be cited in journalism reviews as emblematic of how the media handled AIDS in the first years of the epidemic. The reporter, it turned out, had long been pressuring editors to run a story on the homosexual disorder. He had even written a piece in 1981 that the editors refused to print. Finally, the reporter was able to fashion an article around the twenty-three heterosexuals, largely intravenous drug users, who were now counted among GRID patients. With confirmation of bona fide heterosexuals, the story finally merited sixteen paragraphs deep in the largest-circulation daily newspaper in the United States, under the headline: ‘New, Often-Fatal Illness in Homosexuals Turns Up in Women, Heterosexual Males.’
The gay plague got covered only because it finally had struck people who counted, people who were not homosexuals.
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