Thursday, January 12, 2012


ednesday evening before Thanksgiving Cindy came up out of the Muni station at Castro and Market to catch the bus home from work and found the plaza full of young men milling about.  Small groups huddled together trying to light candles that protruded through the bottom of paper cups and random people held small whiteboard signs on sticks as if it was a political rally.  She asked what was going on and was told this was the annual candlelight march for Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk who had been slain on this date in 1978.  Seven years ago.
''And the signs?''  The number of AIDS deaths in San Francisco, a disease that was all but unknown when everyone in America sat down three turkey dinners before, had passed one thousand and people here had written the name of someone they knew who had died.  Most of the dead had lived within a few blocks of this intersection and tonight those people would be carried in the march to the Civic Center.  Cindy got a blank board and put Roger's name on it and then wandered around in the light mist with her sign at a casual right shoulder arms.
She'd met Roger a bit over two years before when an old friend excitedly introduced her to his new lover.  Early thirties, tall, trim, big grin, dark hair and moustache, David could not believe how fortunate he was, or, as he confided to Cindy when Roger went to the kitchen, that anything bad could come of Roger having just been diagnosed with this gay disease everyone seemed to be talking about.
"I mean, just look at him!" David exclaimed.
Cindy froze, this slow dread filling her as she stared at the friend sitting there so happy.  David made light of too many things, once joked with a gleeful reminisce that the gay VD clinic was the best pickup joint in town because whoever you met there wouldn't have gonorrhea that night at least.  Sure Roger looked fine but nobody knew, that was the scariest part, absolutely no one knew anything.  Except that young gay men were dying in very strange ways.  There was the feeling that day-to-day reality was slowly dissolving, taking the quality of a dark and claustrophobic dream.  A party was winding down, the record player is skipping and most guests have coupled up and departed while your trapped in the almost deserted room with someone very, very creepy.
A young man had just walked out of the room and AIDS had moved into her life.

A few months later, in August, 1983, David told Cindy how Roger had gone to Washington, DC with the San Francisco contingent to lobby Congress for funding.  Roger was chosen to be one of the three that testified before a House Government Operations subcommittee about the disease.  Three young men in suits and ties stood with their right hand raised, solemnly swore, and then sat.  Each told his story in turn and answered questions from the officials.  They still had faith in the American system they'd all grown up under.
David's biggest thrill, ``Roger got his name in the paper!''
Cindy found the newspaper article and read the quote from Roger: ``I came here today in the hope that my epitaph would not read that I died of red tape.''
Two months later Roger helped organize an AIDS vigil in the Castro where the names of people in the Bay Area known to have died of the disease were read.  The small crowd gathered there heard one-hundred and eighteen names that Saturday night.  Across town in the bathhouses people were burning the safe sex posters and pamphlets given out by the Health Department, ranting about the self-loathing and latent internalized homophobia of those gays pushing for closure of these establishments.  They had not moved all this way to be confronted with the same middle-class morality they came here to escape.
The following year, as Roger's health deteriorated and the frequency of his medical appointments increased Cindy began helping care for him.  In just a few months he dropped twenty pounds, one of the first to engage in what would become a San Francisco tradition for gay men: punching another notch to tighten the belt. 

he cab honked and she ran down the stairs from the second floor apartment and told the driver they'd be right out.  She left the rear passenger side door open and went back in building.  Roger was at the top of the stairs with a cane. ``Go on back,'' he called down, ``I don't need any help.''  She waited by the cab and then went to the door and looked up.  Roger was only halfway down the staircase.  ``I'm fine!  Just need a little time.''
When his turn was called at General she walked him to the exam room and then returned to the waiting area.  A little old lady in a chair along a facing wall smiled at her and asked, ``Is that your husband?'' and continued, not waiting for confirmation, ``You've got to start feeding him better young lady.  He's awfully skinny.''
Roger signed a waiver allowing his colonoscopy to be videotaped.  Sarcoma lesions on the interior colon wall might be worthy of a journal article and the information may be of help to surgeons who would be seeing things like this in the future.  Roger eventually became weary of the whole routine, the hope and optimism he'd had a year before had essentially evaporated.  Cindy was next to him on the hospital bed as support to sit up so the doctor could examine him.  He did a quick scan of Roger's mouth with a little flashlight and casually mentioned, ``Got a bit of KS in there.''  She was watching this from an angle, ``Those don't look like lesions, they look like holes.''
The doctor brought the flashlight back up.  ``You're right, those are holes.''  Some fungus had found a nice warm, moist place grow without an immune system to disturb it and was feeding on the roof of Roger's palate.
Around this time Roger decided he'd had enough, he was tired of being poked and prodded, he just wanted to be in his home.

he gray mist muted the colors of the shop lights along Castro Street.  At some point, as if an hourglass had reversed, people began slowly flowing away down Market, the candlelights separating and stretching into a ragged wavering line.  Others would fall in behind, each seemed to know his place.  Later, in the darkness at the Civic Center, after the speeches and impromptu memorials and the sobs from grown men they would put the placards with the names in a patchwork up on the wall of the Federal Building.
Just before Cindy was swept into the stream one more young man came over and looked at the name she carried.  Things had changed so much in just two years.  ``I was in the group with Roger in Washington in 1983,'' he said, ``All the rest are dead.  I didn't think anybody remembered us.''