My fiftieth birthday came and went with no particular symphonic fanfare or 4th of July fireworks that one expects when they reach the half-century mark. Besides the mood of my day being tainted by George Bush's creepy sixtieth birthday the day before, I was expecting those feelings a PWA is supposed to have when they reach fifty. But I felt anything but celebratory. I just felt, well ... old.
Cards and gifts have been less forthcoming as I have gotten older, but it didn't make me feel better that at fifty I only received one card, one gift, one belated e-birthday card and a well-intentioned dinner party where half the invitees didn't show. Where was the Mediterranean villa with tubs of champagne and caviar? I got no dancing boys at fifty! At any rate, the casual attitude didn't make me feel it was supposed to be a special birthday.
Several people tried encouraging me by saying that I am fortunate to have survived to fifty. But I wasn't encouraged much that day. My feelings were more about aging than a victory in surviving AIDS for 18 years. I'd probably be having a much better fifty had I not had AIDS in the first place. Truth is, my perspective on turning fifty was screwed up because of my near quarter century of fighting AIDS. I wasn't quite prepared to reach this milestone.
First I had to grow up,
then I tested positive,
and now I'm old.
Don't get me wrong, I never thought I would reach forty when I tested positive in 1988 at the ripe old age of 32. I should be dead, according to the testing counselor who gave my ill-fated result. Still, every day I mourn my community of brothers and sisters who didn't live to see 28 AIDS drugs and HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy). Now that I have survived at fifty I can reflect on life as a half-centurion as almost any person would, AIDS or not. I can turn fifty now and know that I will most likely lead a normal lifespan of wrinkles, gray hair and a failed social security system. Yech.
Being fifty and HIV-positive is no joyride in our society, where young looks and good health reign supreme. As a single gay man it is even more challenging trying to meet guys when everything is based on "disease free" and "18-45 only." (Oops, five years over.) The whole Internet-based scene is a scam anyway, as so many people lie in order to market themselves, especially for sex. People say anything to get what they want online. Guys reject you if you disclose your status when you could just lie and they'd never know. Totally weird and dangerous!
Obviously, HIV is not over for me simply because I turned fifty. I am by no means out of the woods. My 18 years of HIV has been a constant battle staying ahead of the antiviral resistance game. Recently, I missed out on a new drug trial that was my last best hope of controlling my rampant, resistant virus. The university stalled too long and the study never began. Now I have to wait another two months for the expanded access program to open. So staying ahead of a resistant virus will always be my agenda, but will a cure come before I die?
The newer drugs are appearing to be better for treating resistant HIV and there are hints that at least people like me will live to the old age of ... sixty? Who knows? All the pitfalls of turning fifty and beyond can at least be celebrated because of the miracles of research into HIV and activists who have fought and died and never had the chance to reach fifty. For those who did not survive I will celebrate my fifty in their memory.
But I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel anymore turning older. First I had to grow up, then I tested positive, and now I'm old. It has been a long fight for me to survive HIV, but perhaps I am taking survival for granted now that I have been lucky enough to reach fifty.
Reaching this age has led me to think about new prospects on living and getting some real perspective as to why I am still here. Surviving with AIDS to 50 and beyond will take more guts, more fortitude, and more commitment. Turning fifty hasn't detracted from surviving AIDS, it just created a new opportunity to reflect, stay strong, and gain steam for the next 50 years. An old ACT UP comrade of mine helped to keep the struggle of survival in perspective by saying, "Keep Your Eye on the Prize."