HIV diagnosis leads two friends down different paths
“Drug addiction is really exhausting,” Mark S. King says in this week’s StoryCorps, recorded at the Palmer House Hilton Hotel in Chicago’s Loop, in conjunction with the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association’s annual convention. “I was here in this very hotel maybe eight years ago, and was in a room upstairs for five days and never left my room.”
“Why’s that?” his friend Rick Guasco asks him.
“Because I had a crystal meth pipe in my mouth and was smoking and injecting crystal meth for five days.”
“That’s kind of surprising to hear you say that,” Guasco says. “So how did you fall into it?”
“What happened to me…It was about 1996 and we had just gone through 15 years of pure hell in the gay community, with AIDS. And I had certainly seen that. I had lived through the ‘80s as an HIV-positive person in West Hollywood. And in 1996, at long last, we had these medications that came out…and for the first time almost since the crisis began the dying seemed to almost stop in its tracks.
“And It was kind of at that nexus of new medications beginning and gay men looking for a reason to celebrate. And it wasn’t long until crystal meth started creeping into that equation, creeping into our community.
“That’s where drug addiction takes you: It makes your world very, very small. You keep shutting out everything else and you’re left in a small room, in a hotel room, with you and the drugs and nothing else.”
“Those of us who have lived with HIV for a longtime…We came out of it one or two ways: Either we came out of it with a strong sense of empathy and sadness and wanting to do our best to help and understand. Or you come out of it with a real sense of judgment and bitterness, as if this is a new phenomenon amongst young people.”
“I do feel a little sad and scared for younger gay men. I’m not judgmental. I worry for them,” Guasco says. “I had developed Kaposi’s Sarcoma…the spots. And there were more of them on my legs, and I started to get nervous, worried. And I fell into the sense of denial. The first spot came in May. I didn’t get tested until December. And a week before Christmas that year, I found out that yes, indeed, I was HIV-positive.”
“We have two HIV warhorses here,” King says. “We’re learning as we go along. And that’s what I try to keep in mind when we are speaking to other gay men, young or old, about how best to get a handle on this epidemic.”