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Without a Date: Being Poz at 67

Without a Date: Being Poz at 67

Without a Date: Being Poz at 67

At this age, I’m closer to death from old age than from HIV complications.

My name and birthdate are engraved on a grey, granite headstone in Woodlawn Cemetery. At Dad's death, Mom thought it best if all our names were carved on the headstone. It was cheaper. I have a constant reminder of my immortality, as if I needed it.

I've been at the threshold of death since age 40 when I left a California testing center holding a piece of a paper that said HIV-positive. My life, and my friends instantly became like batteries, forever viewed as positive or negative. That day I felt fine. There was no diarrhea, no night sweats, no neuropathy, and no pill box. At that moment, I would have been content to be Lot's wife, a pillar of salt caught in the moment, never to change, looking like a graceful palm tree outside the testing center. The only future I saw was disability, suffering, and death. So why not end it now? That day, was a safe haven away from a perceived empty future.

Then, as time wore on, I became the aftermath of a plague, archeological dust -- unwanted and sifted out, a broken vessel. I saw my parents' names engraved on that headstone. Other headstones and other names were added, ending with Aunt Mary, the last of my parents' generation. I'm now the elder, and I never prepared for this rank.

Though I often surrendered myself to the inevitability of death, night's dark comfort, for 30 years, my mortality escaped daily with the stars into the brightness of day. Trouble is, when you're not dead you'd like to talk to someone about being a survivor. I want to tell someone my thoughts, my concerns, my preoccupation with death, but anyone who might care stopped listening long ago. They're weary of the same, old survivor story. Conversations and tears are reserved for those who died. Those who listen do so out of kindness, willing themselves to hear only words, their meaning floating up and away unnoticed, like smoke from the morning fire.

Occasionally an unfamiliar person at the local coffee shop will engage me in polite conversation. They inquire about the nature of my day, and I want to tell them my day always starts with the thought of death. They find this bizarre. Why not think of life if you're up and walking?

When she was young enough to still ride in the child's seat of the grocery cart, my boisterous, redheaded daughter would often say, "Daddy, I said hello to that woman and she won't talk to me."

I responded, "Honey, people don't always want to talk." She couldn't comprehend why, and I couldn't understand why she kept asking. Now I am the one wanting to know why people don't want to talk. Of course, I'm not as cute or as innocent as a 3-year-old redhead.

But I'd still like to talk to someone about surviving AIDS.

I don't want casual conversations about lives lost. The number of panels on the AIDS Quilt is well known to me. I've seen them displayed in the engine room of the Queen Mary in Long Beach and on the mall in Washington D.C., and I have a patchwork quilt of my own, pictures of my friends who died and visions of those I never knew. Problem is, I ached to be a panel on that quilt, not look at others. And I wonder if anyone's memory can be reduced to a square of fabric.

So at 67, where does this leave me? I still have an uncertain future, but I am much closer to death from old age than AIDS complications. Looking at a chasm in my sexual history, friends who have died. Anxious about long-term effects of HIV and the drugs used to treat it. Still hearing voices of damnation: "Gay is evil, AIDS is God's punishment."

Most of all though, glad I did not become that pillar of salt. I would have missed a lot of life. I would have missed telling my story.

Dr. Holt, a retired physician, 30-year survivor, and award-winning author of Square Affair (, lives with his partner in Chicago.

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