Wednesday, December 27, 2006

No one ever told me grief felt so like fear

For Christmas i got a novel I asked for called Grief by Andrew Holleran. It's about a man who's been caring for his invalid mother in Florida for 12 years, and as the novel begins, she's just died and he's accepted a teaching position at a university in D.C. In the house that he rents, he finds a book of Mary Todd Lincoln's letters to Abraham and he becomes obssessed with her. Apparently 3 of her 4 children died, one in infancy, one as a young child, and the third from some virus he picked he up in Scotland when he and his mother went there on vacation after President Lincoln was shot. Before that, after her husband was killed, she didn't get out of bed for 6 weeks, and various mourners ransacked the White House and stole lots of items as souvenirs. When she was finally essentially kicked out of the White House, she was blamed for all the missing stuff, and accused of stealing it. She never really recovered, and then after her third child died, she basically went completely crazy, and her surviving son had her committed. Seventeen years after her husband was shot, she died, homeless, in her sister's house.

All the main characters in the story are middle-aged gay men, who were all adults in the 80's and lived through the AIDS crisis (well, the genesis of it anyway; it's not like the crisis is over). People say the next generation (which is me) suffers from "AIDS fatigue," since we never really had to live through the years and years of having to bury every friend and lover we ever had, and the constant terror of every sore throat, or cough, or runny nose being an omen of our own long and torturous demise. One of the characters in the novel likens it to being at a dinner party, where random guests are taken outside and shot, while everyone else is expected to just sit there and go on eating.

Today I picked up my nephew from school 3 hours early, and took him to the lake to feed bread to ducks. (Yes, it was just me and a 4-year-old.) It was fun, except the ducks were really geese, and you know what geese are, especially when you're feeding them? Fucking aggressive and scary. So after being swarmed and squawked at, we both got sort of freaked out, and went to play on the playground, which was fun. A young hispanic man was also there with his two tiny children, both about my nephew's age. My nephew's not shy at all, so he went up to play with them and introduced himself to the dad, and the dad introduced himself back. The kids didn't speak English, so I taught my nephew to say, "Hola, mi nombre es Cade." It was awesome, even though he really didn't have any idea what he was saying.


Mandy said...

Geese totally scare the crap out of me. I was chased by them at the Mill too many times.

Stacy said...

You're a great uncle!

bryan h. said...

please say you have a recording of your four-year old nephew speaking spanish.
i know you're not a fan, but dan savage has an interesting take on the "AIDS crisis." he believes the crisis phase ended once the virus was identified, and prevention methods became well known. (the epidemic, though, goes on.) i guess it all hinges on what one means by "crisis."

ryan said...

Well, seeing as how Dan Savage is the authoritative voice in all things gay, I guess he's right that there's no more crisis. Or not. What I actually forgot to include in that post about "AIDS fatigue," is that AIDS is starting to make a big comeback in urban areas among 20-something men who don't remember everybody dying in the 80's. They don't know people with AIDS (although right at this moment, I can count at least 5 people I know or have dated that have HIV, all of them under 35), therefore they're being less careful about safe sex (aka "condom fatigue"), and well, the vicious cycle continues. There's also been a huge surge in cocaine and methamphetamine use in inner cities (particulularly on the east coast), which many HIV experts believe is contributing heavily to the cause of the rise in HIV. So Dan Savage can shove it up his self-righteous ass.

I've become kind of obsessed with AIDS lately.

bryan h. said...

i didn't say anything about dan savage being an authority in anything gay- or AIDS-related, but the guy has been an advocate and writer following the epidemic for quite a long time, and has some well-taken points.

does people being less careful about safe sex (or less careful about abusing drugs) really equal the situation in the 1980s? nobody had any idea what this "cancer" was, or how is was contracted, and various levels of government adopted measures that either ignored or exacerbated the problem. that sounds like a crisis, to me. a lack of willingness to adhere to preventative measures seems like something different, even if it is widespread (or regionally concentrated).

my feeling is that not everything that kills someone is a "crisis." people choose to smoke cigarettes and drive drunk, yet we don't refer to the lung cancer crisis or the drunk driving crisis. people also make poor decisions that increase their risk for heart disease and diabetes (both of which kill more people and put a larger strain on the health care infrastructure in this country than HIV & AIDS). we, likewise, we don't have a breast cancer "crisis."

these may seem like semantical points, but precisely defining a problem is important to treating it.

ryan said...

I know you never implied Dan Savage was any kind of authority; I also hope you realize that my rant was aimed at him, not at you. I guess I should have clarified that.

As far as defining something as a "crisis" or an "epidemic," then yes, I suppose it all comes down to semantics. I'm sure there are plenty of cancer activists who would classify tobacco-related deaths as a crisis, or MADD members who would characterize drunk driving accidents as a public crisis. It just so happens that I feel very passionately about AIDS, so I choose to characterize it as a crisis in my own terms. Largely since so much of the new infections seem to stem from carelessness, or intentional disregard for health or consequences that seems directly related to the mental health and overall self-esteem of an entire group of people. If things continue as they are unabated, it's not entirely unlikely that we could see another explosion, or crisis, if you will, of the virus, and a whole new generation of lives wiped out. Frankly, I find that absolutely terrifying, and if that doesn't fall into (at the very least an "impending") a crisis category, I'm not sure what does.

I very much appreciate your input. I sincerely apologize if it felt like I was yelling at you instead of the real target.

ryan said...

Oh, and one more thing: I would, without a moment's hesitation, classify obesity and the skyrocketing rates of diabetes in this country as a health crisis. honest to god, my paranoia about someday contracting diabetes is second only to my paranoia about contracting HIV.