I hardly recognized the young boy in photo, walking in the surf, letting the late summer waves frolic with his hands. That beach. It had felt like the very definition of liberation when I visited. I remember trembling with excitement when I stood at the rail, my first trip on a Fire Island Ferry. All that thick black hair waved, shined in the sun calling to men like a siren from Greek mythology. The twinkle in my eye lead to humid late summer days of cruising, relentless sex, strong cocktails, sin and scandal.
Of course, just a few years later, it came - and that changed everything. By 1988, there had been 61,816 deaths in the U.S. alone. I was twenty-five. Two years later, nearly twice as many Americans had died of AIDS as died in the Vietnam War. By the time I was thirty? 234,225 deaths. Forty? Nearly 600,000 deaths. Twice the population of Minneapolis, three times the population of Madison, six times the population of Salt Lake City or Boise, dead. It's weird to say it - to have measured my entire life by death. You can't really blame me, though. I grew into adulthood convinced I would never see old age - and nothing around me convinced me it would ever be otherwise. It was an Arthurian legend - an embedded sword my kind was destined to never pull from the rock. Yet, here we are. How the hell did I live through all that shit to get to fifty? Sheer dumb luck, that's how. I listen to my heterosexual peers begin to bemoan and worry about their final walk with death. I feel sorry for them actually, that they have waited their entire lifetimes to become comfortable with death. I actually smile thinking about it. It is not new to me. It doesn't scare me - I've known it my entire time here. It has been a comfortable companion reminding me to live every second because the wolf is never really that far away. When I do finally meet her, I will slap her across the face as hard as my elderly hand is capable, then gladly disappear into the ether like everyone else before me.