Remembering the AIDS Community

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Last year, 177 people died of AIDS in San Francisco. In 1983, I was working as a nurse on the AIDS Ward at San Francisco General, before we had a name or a test for the new disease killing gay men. That year, more than 1000 died. 

The stark difference brings back memories of a painful time but also a sweet time when a community carried that burden in a way worth remembering. 

I met countless humble and anonymous heroes.  So many came to help us.  We needed their help. They didn't want publicity or accolades, they just gave, ordinary people trying to ease the confusion, pain and loss commandeering our lives.

 Someone we only knew as "The Cookie Man" baked delicious cookies and dropped them off every couple weeks. He just delivered the cookies. He never took his coat off and didn't want attention. He died of HIV, too.

And Cosmic Lady. She sent us intergalactic 'tomes' about spirits, death, angels, life and the universe.  They were oversized, handmade watercolors, dusted with glitter.  Her writing was part crazy, part prophetic and emanated love. 

Men in leather frequently brought bathrobes, slippers and personal luxuries not available in a public hospital, even as many of these godfathers became our patients. And of course, Rita Rocket tap-danced down the hall, bringing home-cooked brunches and a crew of volunteer hairdressers. A local healer and porn star provided foot massages. 

And I think about the nurses I worked with and loved. Many of them became sick, too, and together our private family of nurses prepared for cruel reality when signs appeared. These men worked courageously and with great humor until they couldn't anymore. They usually died within weeks of leaving work. Bob, George, Lloyd. Their faces impossibly young now. 

Remember them all with me, and how their selfless acts of caring comforted so many and built decades of memories by simply offering cookies... and love.

With a Perspective, I'm Marcy Fraser.

Marcy Fraser is a nurse and lives in San Francisco.