Dearest Mark

My first boyfriend Mark died from HIV when I was just 18 years old. I have come to the realisation that Mark is still in me. The love and compassion I have for him is still alive today. He is the person who helps me find the drive for my work in the HIV community today.

‘Sometimes, I feel like an 18-year-old stuck in a 33-year-old’s body.’

Sometimes, I feel like an 18-year-old stuck in a 33-year-old’s body. At 18 I felt like a baby on the gay scene in London. Spending the weekend partying did not feel soul destroying. Though, reflecting back now I went from being a loner at school to all of a sudden having lots of men loving the way I looked, I dressed, how skinny I was, how I was able to dance and how I loved the music on the dance floor.

Then all of sudden Mark was there; we had a very intense six months, then he got a really bad chest infection and lost lots of weight. Mark knew something was wrong. I was so young and very naive then, but in my soul looking back now I knew I was losing the beautiful man I had met. I will never forget the day we sat in the waiting room for Mark’s HIV test results a week after the dreaded blood test. He asked to go in with the health advisor alone, and the health adviser then invited me into the room. Mark looked like the carpet had been pulled from under him. Mark could not bring himself to tell me his diagnosis. The health adviser eventually said that Mark was HIV positive and that now I would just need to have a test as a precaution. Mark’s results indicated bad news; CD4 65 and viral load in the millions. They wanted to put him on medication straight away. Mark took the medication reluctantly, and showed no signs of improvement. My results came back clear that time and this provided Mark some hope for a short-time, but at that time the medication was only just getting better.

At the time I was not out to my family, although Mark had prodded me that nothing would fall apart if I did decide to come out. I was leading a double life, part-time I was the Jewish ‘straight’ son and at other times having to seek the support of friends, pretending to be staying with them, so I could spend some days and nights with Mark. I came over to Mark one afternoon and he had written a letter to his family explaining that he was very sick. I went over to his place a few days later and rang the bell, his landlord/housemate told me he no longer lived there. His family had come to get him to take him home. Mark did not have the best of relationships with his family, they were very homophobic and he did not care to talk about them very much. He left me his address. We became the gay lovers who write letters and then all of a sudden the letters stopped arriving. A few months later I got a call from his mother to say Mark had died a few months before, she said that the family did not want me or any of the other gay freaks at the funeral.

At 18 I found the only place I could escape to was the gay scene in London. Partying the night away was my way of escaping the pain I was feeling and working in catering provided me a function. I felt I had nowhere to take this; I was slowly coming out to my parents. I felt with what I was going through I would be mirroring the assumptions they made about gay people and the AIDS epidemic. Somewhere on my journey of losing myself in the scene, I managed to catch HIV. But reflecting back this is no surprise as I didn’t look or feel good about myself.

‘Celebrate every minute and make every minute count.’

When I go on the gay scene these days I find it a task. Depending on the venue there is a code; you have to wear a certain outfit even to be able to get into some venues. In my fast-reaching mid’ thirties the energy put into nights out, having the best skinniest body are no longer as important to me. As long as I can look in the mirror in the morning, like and be proud of the person looking back at me; that is what matters. Having good friends and my family around me where we can share both our happy and sad times from time to time, are both so very important.

Writing and speaking about my first partner is relatively new to me, my way of dealing with my loss was to close down and shut out the world around me. By sharing my story I hope it will give you, as the reader, the time to remember those you have loved and lost, or those who are still alive living with HIV.

What I learnt that is so important to me now is to celebrate every minute and make every minute count with those you love. But also celebrate it whilst we are still here, as we are now likely to be here for longer than anyone expected 30 years ago.

Written in memory of Mark and those wonderful people we have lost in our community this year.