Long-term AIDS survivor yearns to just dance
May 1, 2018
Editor's note: This column is part of an ongoing series provided by the Diverse Elders Coalition, http://www.diverseelders.org.
It's 1959 and I'm six years old. My family has gathered at my grandparents' house this Sunday to watch The Ed Sullivan Show. I'm sitting on the cold linoleum floor, watching, as this very tall, thin, very regal-looking woman walks onto the stage. Her gray hair is pulled back in a severely tight bun, and she's wearing a high-necked long-sleeved black dress. The music starts, and she begins to sway from side to side as if blown by the wind, and then she's pirouetting and gliding across the stage, and I am mesmerized, I cannot take my eyes off her. The music stops and the applause thunders out of the television. Suddenly, I jump to my feet and I begin swaying and gliding around the room and spinning and twirling. "What has gotten into you?!" my dad yells at me. "Nothing, Daddy, I just wanna dance!"
It's 1989, just one week before I find out that I am HIV-positive. It's 9:30 on a Saturday night, and I've just returned home from another memorial service; it is my second memorial that day, my third that week. I've been to so many memorials already-I'm only 36 years old and I've already lost 36 of my friends. I'm tired and I'm hurting and I'm afraid to be alone tonight. I need to dance, I need to sweat, I need to flirt, I need to move, I need to forget the memorial services and all the grief and chaos, all the death and terror. So I pull on my jeans, lace up my boots, and put on a tank top. I'm headed to the End-Up because I know that, more than anything, I just wanna dance.
And now it's 2018, and I've just turned 65. The virus that invaded my body 30 years ago continues to inflict its damage. I used to have forearms like Popeye's and biceps the size of tennis balls; today, I am so weak that I can't lift anything much heavier than this cane. My bones have grown so brittle that I have fractured my spine just by bending over. I've lost so much muscle in my legs that I cannot climb stairs without assistance, and some days I can barely walk at all. Still, no matter how painful it is, I know it's true, I still just wanna dance.
So tonight, I'm hoping for a miracle! Send me a tall strong dancing god! Let him see me from across the room, see how hungry I am to be dancing. Let him cut through the crowd on the dance floor and walk right up to me. Let him offer his hand and pull me up to my feet and guide me to the middle of the dance floor, where I kick off my shoes so I can stand on the tops of his boots. I want to wrap my arms around his neck and lay my cheek on his shoulder as he dances me around the room. Dance me to a time and place where I can sway and glide and twirl like Martha Graham, and no one yells at me. Dance me to a time and place where all my friends are still alive and kicking up their heels. Dance me to the end of the universe and back. Dance me to the end of time itself. And if this turns out to be the last waltz, that's okay. Tonight, I just wanna dance!
Hank Trout is an Editor-at-Large for "A&U: America's AIDS Magazine," and writes "For the Long Run," a bi-monthly column addressing the struggles and triumphs of being a long-term (29-year) survivor of HIV/AIDS. He has lived in San Francisco for 38 years, currently with his fiancé Rick Greathouse.