Today is World AIDS Day.

I was a young teenager when the men around me began to die.

I wasn’t a good person. To be fair, I wasn’t even really a person to begin with yet. I was still struggling through a childhood of immense abuse and the loss of two men who’d been my anchors and my protection. I was searching for a place to belong and to feel safe.

One of the places that gave me solace was the original Hula’s.

Mind you, I was underage and so were a lot of the people who I went with but I think the statute of limitations has run out on that. It was a loud, obnoxious, sometimes tense, but always freeing place to be. For a couple of hours a week, I didn’t have to be who I was to other people. I could just exist.

But, the familiar faces around me, the men I knew on sight and told me their stories about how they found the place and how they found themselves were disappearing.

It was a difficult, frightening time and so many of us felt like the world was crumbling around us. We’d existed behind those flimsy walls and under the sparkling lit trees, secure in our innocence and guarded by a few enormous men by the open gate. That was being taken away from us by a disease no one seemed willing to fight and was being used to condemn people to death others said they deserved.

While it was a different time, the hatred and fear was palatable and echoes of that still remain.

I lost a few friends. I have relatives who live their lives with HIV. While the horrors of the time it first struck like a reaper with a scythe remain with me, those are truly not my stories to tell. The injustice of that time also sticks with me. No one should be told as they take their last, final breath they deserve their death because of who they love.

I remember the sense of relief when I heard the drug cocktails were working because suddenly there was some hope sprinkled through the dread. It was too late for some and we lost some brilliant people, beautiful souls we could use right now. But others remain, strong and thriving, and I am forever grateful for those who continue to fight for a cure.

So on this day, I would ask all of you to embrace someone in your life. Just give them a hug. And send a prayer or a wish or whatever hope you can find that we put an end to this tragic disease.

 

* Photo credit to Alan Light.
Hula’s Bar & Lei Stand, Honolulu
The original location, as photographed in 1993. This location was sold, torn down, and Hulas has moved to a new location.

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