Many years ago, my friend Larry told me at a dance that he had just been diagnosed with AIDS. He was 27. WE sat and cried, held hands as we walked back to our hotel and promised each other we would fight this together. He died less than a year later.
My relationship with Larry was just the beginning of my time spent with people living with AIDS. I, too, have the long list of friends who are no longer here. I shared a Halloween birthday with Gary. His partner Chet with the wonderful, sparkling laugh always made me feel special. Jay, the very busy man who one day woke up and realized he didn't want to be so busy anymore so he quit everything, his job, his volunteer activities, all of it. He was dead less than a year later.
There were men, women, children, all struck down with this disease and living a very short time after their diagnosis. Their contributions were many, their lives lived preciously every day. The lessons they shared with us were many. I even remember Jay saying to me that he measured his problems based on one thing, "Will this matter a year from now?"
Now we have AIDS drugs. Protease inhibitors, cocktails to slow down the progression of the disease have caused a shift in many viewpoints on AIDS. People are living a long time now so this is now a chronic disease, not what was causing walking cadavers back in the day. My spouse's friend, Gary, held on so he could be Grand Marshal of the Santa Cruz Pride parade. Then he went home and died that night.
The only drugs available were the pain killing drugs. We became experts at administering morphine - two for you, one for me - in the singsong manner meant to cheer up the patient and the caregiver. No we weren't taking any, just playing a form of jump rope to alleviate their pain and the horrible deaths we were watching in front of our eyes.
California appears to be heading back to those horrible days of AIDS without life saving drugs. Millions are being cut from the state budget for the funding of these drugs and with those cuts are the federal funds that accompany these expenditures. Specifically California is cutting HIV/AIDS funding by $80 million. We will also lose $88 million in federal and an estimated $234 million in private matching funds.
There are lots of horrible cuts coming that could mean death for the poor, elderly and the sick. Education will surely suffer. I keep seeing letters to the editors repeating the message, we didn't vote no on the measures so that you could punish the most vulnerable.
Many years ago there was an often used saying: Silence=Death. I can no longer stand silently and not keep my promise to Jay, Chet and Gary. It is time for the governor, the legislature and citizens of this state to find a way to solve these problems and not on the backs of the ones we are charged with aiding.
My friends died long painful deaths, covered in cancer, gasping for every breath. But I promised them that I would always remember them and keep their memories. They lived, they were loved and their lives mattered. Just like all the people in California who depend on the state to get them their drugs, I wonder who will tell them their lives are no longer important enough and they are not loved enough to get the drugs they need to stay alive?
Figure it out folks, this is your job! Hopefully no one dies while you are silent.