Colin is alive and well-ish, and will return next Sunday.
If you caught his column from two Decembers ago, Believing in Santa Claus, you may recall how my then-six-year-old son, Andrés, rekindled my own faith in St Nicholas.
Colin invited me to share here a perspective on this holiday season, unaware that I would be sweating the deadline as Andrés sits on the floor beside me gleefully writing his wish-list to Santa.
Colin and I have known each other since 1990, almost half our lives, long before Andrés was a twinkle in this queer Filipino American’s eye. Colin once wrote that we met during “an era in New York City when we were both young community leaders simultaneously creating and being influenced by an incredible historical moment of GLBT people of colour organising.” We would have met through any number of community organisations; just as likely, our first contact was at a memorial for another brother felled by HIV/AIDS.
Compounded grief makes up part of the connective tissue in my relationship with Colin. We share the experience of losing many people to HIV, while remaining HIV-negative, literally living through that period’s pandemic. Surviving means having a chair when the music stops. It means bearing witness, remembering, telling the truth.
Here in Northern California, where I live, covid19 vaccines are just beginning to roll out. My 91-year-old mother, living with Alzheimer’s, is slated to be among the first to receive one. My 66-year-old spouse Mickey will also be early in the queue. Public health guidance regarding vaccinating children should also emerge for Andrés, so he’ll be able to see his teachers in real life and tussle with peers on the playground.
May the dispatching continue according to plan. May those most in harm’s way – health care providers, essential workers, prisoners, black, brown and indigenous communities historically and disproportionately affected – be protected.
In the part of my brain that processes global pandemics, something does not compute.
How do people contract a virus, and actually recover? How do people receive a vaccine that prevents said virus from threatening their life? We did not see this, have not seen this, in the case of HIV.
According to UNAIDS, since 1981, 33 million have died from AIDS, 76 million have become infected with HIV. And here we are, on the cusp of 2021, still no HIV vaccine in sight.
And, I’m also sitting with a deep ambivalence as I learn the details of this unprecedented mobilisation of people and medicine. I find myself wondering, what if the pandemic of our youth had met with a more robust, rapid, and resourced response by the government? If cures, vaccines and treatments for HIV/AIDS were pursued as vigorously, who would still be among us?
I maintain a list of the HIV-positive warrior-ancestors in my own life who didn’t get a chair when the music stopped.
One of these was Colin’s friend Bert, and my former life partner. In 1994, Bert had recently tested HIV-positive. On the occasion of Bert’s and my commitment ceremony, long before gay marriage was law on these shores, Colin gifted us a garter belt, in his tongue-in-cheek way, and also a pair of his-and-his watches, bearing the message: “...more than anything, I wish you time.”
And here we are, having made it through to our 50s, with our 60s just around the bend.
Cancer was definitely not on our radar, nor part of the plan. The irony.
If we can’t have more time, may we be more artful in stretching time in the season that we find ourselves in.
If having terminal cancer means that Colin has a finite number of columns left in him, then perhaps writing today’s dispatch helps extend his run.
Protective vaccines are intended to extend people’s ability to ward off covid19.
Andrés’s firm belief in Santa is intact for at least another Christmas.
Our Jewish relatives celebrate the festival of Hanukkah, when, as the story goes, a small quantity of oil to light their sacred candelabrum miraculously lasted eight days.
Perhaps it is the work of memory that stretches time the most. When we are able to invoke those on whose shoulders we stand, to "presence" them through communal practice and creative ritual, we get to more fully appreciate the time we have right now.
Season’s Greetings, from John.