A shadow came over my life. A deep darkness of fear. I saw that darkness in the eyes of others. I heard desperation in laughter too loud and desolation in profound silences no longer filled with chatter. I saw grief in eyes never quite dry and in shoulders never quite unburdened. That shadow, that darkness, I now realise has shaped my life. It has made me different. I will never, as I did in youth, trust sun. I will never, as I did in the years before, trust the world I live in. Humanity existed only as a terrifying thing. I knew society to be a dangerous place where the prejudice of the norm is the norm. And it has hardened me.
The fact of AIDS in the time of AIDS wasn't just about the disease. It was also about the gleeful way in which the disease was greeted. Our lives, the lives of my community, were being mown down to the applause of those who stood on the sidelines. Our lives, the lives of young gay men, were counted as worthless. Our lives, the lives of children and brothers and friends, were seen as kindling, as faggots, to be burned. I sat amongst people, people not knowing that a gay man was amongst them, and heard them cluck with approval at the quickness with which the numbers of the dead grew.
Christians told us that God was punishing us. That God hated us. That our love was an abomination. That God was hunting us down in the places where we lay and slaying us - the dirty dogs that we were. Our God is a vengeful God and our God loved the smell of Gay blood.
And it felt that way.
It felt that God had given approval for us to die. Like God had begun to answer the prayers of those who hated us and ignored our pleas, not for healing that would have been too much to expect, but at least for mercy.
I remember a very young man.
Who ran across Church Street to talk to Joe and I. His face was shining. His voice was hopeful. He said that he was so full of the spirit of God that he had to share with us - he had knelt and prayed. He had asked Jesus into his heart. He felt the softness of God's approving love. He felt Jesus at his side. He knew. HE KNEW. That God would heal him. That Jesus would take his sins away. Tears flowed down his cheeks. He was barely twenty.
A week later we'd heard that he'd travelled home to speak with his minister.
And was cast out.
Days later, he was dead.
The shadow. It came. It made me look warily at the world around me. There are those who wish the different dead. There are those who do not want, and will not countenance any idea beyond 'us' ... a 'them' is unthinkable and undesirable.
I live in a world where I believe hatred can burst into flames at the slightest provocation.
I live in a world where love is sung about, proclaimed everywhere ... but where the work of love is reviled.
I live in a world that I do not trust.
We lost more than friends. We lost more than bodies and souls. We lost a belief in a loving world.
And that may be the greatest tragedy of all.