Eric Leven

Lifelong Companion

Filed By Eric Leven | January 04, 2008 3:23 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media
Tags: HIV/AIDS, Prevention, safe sex, short stories

Dear Virus,

I was born on June 24th 1981- the same year you would be discovered. 18 years later, sitting on the living room floor of my suburban New Jersey home, a stream of tears running down my face I would come out to my mother as being gay. My mother would remove herself from her seat, crouch down to my eye level, tears welling up too and in a soft, breaking voice say, "It's going to be OK. Everything is going to be alright." She hugged me and hasn't let go since.

From the day I was born, through the days of my coming out and pushing into adulthood you would match my years, gain speed and mutate. From pre-school to grade school you would ravish an entire community, leaving thousands of bodies in your wake. From grade school through Junior High you would break community boundaries and affect broader populations. By the time I would reach College you were on your way to sweeping whole nations.

As I received pluses or minuses on my Grade School exams men would be receiving similar symbols forecasting their mortality. As I was beaten and/or standing up to bullies on the playground, a community of men would be doing the same in the streets. Screaming or having their screams be ignored by authorities. "You're not on our team, Eric. You're too short." There will be no education bill that will "encourage or promote homosexual activity." Senator Jesse Helms- October, 1987. At six years old, first grade, at the 8AM bell, 250 bright-eyed youngsters would stand at their desks, place their hands over their hearts and pledge allegiance to the flag. Elsewhere 71,000 people would be diagnosed. 41,000 would already be dead. As I collected baseball cards and Garbage Pail Kids men collected their friends at funerals and as I ate Skittles and learned of the birds and the bees men would be crying and desperately reaching for their AZTs.

You would change, evolve and progress. From not understood to deadly, from death to comprehension, from comprehension to manageability from manageability to normalcy. At 10 a famous black basketball player would be diagnosed and remove your face from one community to all communities. You would be mentioned on Beverly Hills 90210, Pop singers wearing bright fluorescent clothes would sing "let's talk about sex, baby" and Tom Hanks would play a role in a movie called Philadelphia.

By the time I strapped on my first spike-studded bracelet, dyed my hair green and discovered Operation Ivy, The Misfits, Sex Pistols, NoFx and Jack Kerouac you would receive your first blow. They called it a protease inhibitor. In first world nations men began to live and by the time I reached college T Cell levels were stabilizing, but you were still spreading. As I received my diploma and stepped out into the world it was said that in some African nations you would leave 1 in 4 children orphaned.

This June it will be our 27 birthday, Virus, and where are we? I've become a man, I got a job, moved into a city and continue to grow and learn. You've continued to grow as well, doing what you do best, spreading and multiplying, spreading and multiplying. But we have you understood virus, we have you suppressed, we even know how you're spread and you remain one step ahead! Somehow you've even managed to go quiet. When I hear you talked about it's with a roll of the eyes, hushed tones- if even mentioned at all. But I've seen what you can do, the fear you cause, the hate you muster up, the divisions you create, the scars you leave on bodies and the memories you leave on brains. You're once favorite victims, men 10, 15, 25 years older than me are showing a decreasing level of you but you have moved on to us, our generation, your own lifelong companions. You're infection rates are still the same and in some cases, growing. You haven't changed for 10 years.

I've always kept my eye on you. I've wrapped myself in a giant quilt made by your victims, listened to stories, seen the pain in my friend's and mentor's eyes and my veins have woven themselves into a hard, red ribbon- my shield against you, education and history. But with your aimless direction you burrowed yourself in the generation that is the same age as you. We live with you now. You no longer have the ability to kill as easily a you once did and you have many of us believing you're not the same as you used to be. You're aided by a large portion of this nation who refuses to accept the reality of my sexuality and with further determination, refuse to condone it. These people help you and you help them. Yet, even if it was you alone- you'd still do damage.

Dear Virus, mine and many other's, lifelong companion, just know that I will be running alongside you, always. As long as you are there, I will be too. There are others like me who have been running against you before I was able too. Together the group of us have become a WE and WE have existed as long as you have. It is my time now to pick up the pace, to go round for round with you as long as you still stand. To bring those uneducated and unaffected to light. To snap awake those sleepy heads who are unconcerned, uncaring, neglectful and passive. I will be there, as I have always been in the past, since you received a name and I was placed on this planet. Since I can't find you in any school-based text books and teachers as well as many families aren't talking about you, you'll find me on the edge of a broken generational bridge separated by the very mass grave you helped create. One side older, one side younger and in the middle tens of thousands of dead bodies. I'll be there, on that edge, doing what I can and yelling to the other side for stories, history and shared experience until we can fix this gap and stand in the unity we need in order for us to beat you.


The Younger Generation

PS: Inspired by this must-read article: New HIV Cases Drop but Rise in Young Gays

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chandler in lasvegas | January 4, 2008 5:06 PM

Eric, this essay is fucking brilliant!
Thank you.

Really good post, Eric. Well done!

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | January 4, 2008 11:55 PM

I'm one who now does less but has not forgotten. Doing less was inevitable because crisis pitch cannot be sustained and the things neglected in its favor could not be neglected forever. Now crisis calls again but I will not forget the lessons learned about crisis and neglect and will impose balance this time.

Harm reduction is an eternal vigilence process as long as humans resist self-actualization.

chandler in lasvegas | January 5, 2008 3:30 AM

Marla, you seem to have read plenteous Emily Dickinson. I, too, died for beauty.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | January 5, 2008 7:29 AM


This is a wonderful, wonderful post!

From the moment we met, I have been greatly impressed by your honesty, commitment to building a stronger community and your passion. You give me tremendous amount of hope and inspiration.

I am honored and proud to call you my friend.