Like I was saying, before it was thrown in my face repeatedly by the school full of Generation X professors who have all worked in the industry and watched HIV tear through it in an irreparable way, the topic was not usually at my immediate attention. The thing about us, who were only children in the 90s, is that we couldn’t quite grasp the gravity of the situation. I remember knowing that my mother had a friend who died, but that was the extent of my personal knowledge of the crisis. I recall being a little girl and visiting Silly Billy, which is what we called him when we were babies. He was a waiter at my mom’s cafe and he collected dolls. And I’m not talking little bullshit dolls, I mean DOLLS. He had a Beatlejuice doll that talked that I wanted sooo badly when I was a kid. We’d go to his apartment and it was basically play time.
Billy had a boyfriend that we never got to see when we were little. I was 7 years old in 1994 when he died, but even prior to that, we were always left at home if my mom was going to visit him. She’s since explained to me that as he became more and more sick, they all agreed it would be too frightening for small children to see a man in his unfortunate state. My mom was very sad when he died, and that’s the conclusion to my recollection of my experience with AIDS.
We watched a documentary at school last week about an artist called Keith Haring who took the art world by storm with his unique use of line work and progressive, but simplistic imagery. I hadn’t heard of him prior to that day and was really digging his style and energy and the impact he had. At the very end of the film they let you know that Harring contracted AIDS and died in 1990, and it broke my heart.
Though it seems that the epidemic exists only in the past, we must be aware that this horrifying disease does continue to affect thousands of people in Canada alone each year. From 1985 to 2008 there were over 18,000 positive HIV tests in Toronto – 28% of all positive HIV tests in Canada. Approximately 65,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS in Canada today and about 30% of those have no idea they’ve been infected with the virus.
When I read these statistics, I was surprised. This isn’t in the past at all; it’s real and all around us, especially in a city like Toronto. I feel like for the most part, our generation has a habit of looking to the media and internet for their facts and news on life. So when the media ceased to pay attention to the epidemic, the general public pushed it to the back of their minds, replacing it with terrorism, the economy and our beloved technology – the earmarks of our culture.
So hug your family and friends and make sure you and everyone you know are safe and aware of these continuing dangers. It’s all we have to do to avoid a tail spin of tragedy from reoccurring in our most fragile and vulnerable society .