AIDS Before it Had a Name: Grace within Tragedy by da-AL

“Hope for the Future,” an earlier post by my good friend David Hunt, got me to remembering AIDS during the early 1980s. At that time, it was a mystery so dark that scientists had yet to name it. It took a while for experts to figure out how it was contracted. All anyone knew for sure was that it was deadly, most of all to gay men at their physical primes.

People in other countries called it an American disease. They talked of screening us before allowing us to visit. Some argued that gays should be segregated. Conspiracy theories abounded.

During then, I reported news for KPFK, a non-profit radio station based out of North Hollywood. At the same time, I paid my rent thanks to a ‘real’ job, while I attended college part-time and interned at CNN.

David was news editor for a lesbian and gay show at KPFK, called IMRU. Today IMRU is syndicated. It proudly boasts itself as, “The nation’s longest running Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Radio News Magazine.”

Despite my work load, David’s civil rights stories seemed far more imperative than anything I was already reporting on. After enough pestering, sometimes he allowed me help him with his projects.

There we are in the back row, David Hunt to my right. To my left, the man with the devilish grin and muscled good looks is a fellow radio host.

David Fradkin’s entertainment career began as a kid on the TV show, Romper Room. He was smart, multi-talented, and totally fun. To this day, it’s still hard to believe that AIDS took him only some years later.

David Hunt’s post describes Robert Bland, one of the valiant first to battle AIDS. Thinking of Robert makes my eyes mist up, as much for him as for his mother. During his final months, she moved into his small apartment to nurse him through the horrible, messy, gut-wrenching end.

Months later, she appeared at my workplace. It was a car rental counter in one of Los Angeles International Airport’s terminals. Flights unloaded customers, some of them nice. A lot were drunk businessmen who would holler when their cars were five minutes late, or threaten to slug each other over who was next in line.
Employees were closely policed. During quiet times, we were prohibited from reading, socializing, and talking on the phone.

The despair in his mother’s eyes sheered away my trepidations about risking my job. I set out an extra stool for her. She stayed for my entire eight-hour shift, desperate to talk to anyone who had known her son.

Eventually David and I opened a video production company. Later in his post, he refers to some of the HIV infected kids we featured in a video, along with professionals from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles on AIDS. HIV is the virus that lowers the immune system. AIDS is the final stages. We interviewed scores of patients, professionals and volunteers. Every single one fought hard to conquer AIDS. One was a woman whose husband, a drug user, had died of it. She lovingly cared for him until his last breath. He had infected her and their infant.

Another mother adopted two small children, a boy and a girl, whose biological mothers had died of AIDS. Both kids were charmers, a shy girl with pink ribbons in her hair, and a rambunctious boy with a fierce hug. The new mom sobbed inconsolably through many nights. Lest her husband miss work from lack of sleep, he took up residence on their couch.

Back then, blood donations weren’t screened. A young boy we interviewed had hemophilia. He was infected as a result of a blood transfusion. His parents feared that people at his school would be awful to him. Was it health and social challenges that matured him beyond his real age of about twelve? That made him and his family so caring and wise?

Fortunately, AIDS research has made great strides. Its become rare for kids to die of it. Still it remains a tragedy. At such times, grace is most evident. I was fortunate to meet those early AIDS fighters, each of them full of wanting to live, to love, and to give.

David Hunt’s blog

More on the early days of AIDS

KPFK

IMRU

More on the difference between HIV and AIDS

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

Libraries still carry the video

Classroom lesson plan we wrote for the video

Ways to end AIDS

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