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By Nelson Vergel

January 25, 2012

I know I should have written this before. But I was dealing with my mixed emotions about Bonnie's death and wanted to let them settle first. When I found out she had died, my heart sank. But it did not sink like it had in the past when most of my friends died of AIDS after a long battle for which I was present. This time it was different. Here is a woman that I thought I knew well and that I was kind of pissed at for the last year or so. She had not returned my calls or emails wanting to chat like we used to when she used to be with But it never crossed my mind that she was struggling with a health issue.

I met Bonnie years ago at a conference. I had seen her writings and picture on and quickly recognized her by that bushy, beautiful black hair. She introduced herself and we clicked right away. Months later, she asked me to write for I kept telling her that I was not good at typing. But she said I could do it at my own pace. It was the start of my columns and blogs.

I remember the great view of the Sydney opera house from the restaurant we were having dinner at during one of the HIV conferences we attended. She told me about her brother who died of AIDS, her years of being an activist for ACT UP, her passion for helping those living with HIV, the injustices she had seen. She told me that she would never leave HIV activism, even if she retired from She did not believe in getting "burned out." I loved her passion while we drank some wine and ate great food (she was a foodie). I had a view into her soul that night.

She encouraged me to write my last book and edited it for me as a favor. We would have long conversations on the phone about things that we wanted to see change in the world of HIV.

And then she left

We talked once after that and she told me that she was enjoying bike riding and going to museums in her own city, things she never got to do when she was working. And then she stopped returning my calls and emails.

I would remember her saying "I would never leave HIV" while wondering if she in fact had just done so. My disappointment grew. I doubted her. I imagined her having a good time and forgetting about her friends.

She never mentioned her illness, even while surrounded by people who had faced theirs in her presence. Maybe she wanted to always be the strong one for all of us. We will never know.

This experience has taught me some things: I will never assume that I know why someone leaves my life without a reason. I will try to give these people the benefit of the doubt. I will try to reach out but respect their choices even if it is not pleasing to me.

Bonnie, wherever you are, know that I am still pissed but missing you a lot. Not pissed at you, but at death for taking a hero of the community with her.


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