There are some things I have done in my life that I’m not proud of. There are more things that I should be ashamed of but am not, and some things that most people wouldn’t be ashamed of but I deeply am. This is one of the first things.

About fifteen years ago my brother ran across a road and got hit by a car. He may, or may not, have been wearing a box on his head at the time but that is beside the point. The point is he shattered his shin and had to be hospitalised for a few months, and my friends and me visited him a lot, mainly because it was somewhere warm to go while we skipped college. The only other long-term patient in my brother’s ward was a cheerful young guy about the same age who my brother quickly made friends with, and by extension so did we.

I don’t remember his name

Once we were visiting, but my brother was asleep. Now, with hindsight, I suspect that the nurses were dosing him with powerful painkillers and sedatives because as much as I love him I can understand how he could quickly become a pain in the arse. So we talked to this kid. He, like any good long-term patient, had a massive stash of food, which he was sharing freely with us, us being my friend Lee, me, and my dad.
‘What you in for’ I ask jovially
‘AIDS’ he says
I could feel my face go white, and my hand, which was about to push some Salt and Vinegar crisps into my mouth, dropped the food back down. As if I could get HIV from a packet of fucking crisps. My dad stopped eating the sandwich, and my friend physically recoiled, only slightly, but it was there.

He saw the reaction, and I saw his reaction, the memory of which still hits me like well-aimed shot to the balls to this day. I feel physically sick just reliving it now to write it down. It turns out that as a baby he received a blood transfusion in a hospital. Even back then being HIV positive wasn’t a death sentence but he was in hospital because the drugs were not working and they desperately trying to keep his white blood cells up.

I’m not going to excuse my reaction, but I’m going to try and explain it. In my formative years, the 80’s, when AIDS first became public the awareness campaign was stark, I remember the word in huge slab like monoliths and the deep baritone voice “AIDS – don’t die of ignorance”. This, along with the very severe anti drugs campaign featuring unflinching close ups of emaciated scabby users forever linked the two and attached that stigma in my head. Of course I carried this with me until it was slapped out of me by meeting with this kid and the thought of him having to see that expression on the faces of everyone he told.

Over 85,000 people are living with the disease in the UK; the terrifying thing is that over a quarter of them are undiagnosed because there could be no symptoms. This is especially scary if you have ever caught one of the relatively milder social diseases and only found out through a routine blood test, the unspoken thought from the doctor being ‘this could have been worse’.

For World Aids Day Twitter is turning any tweet red that has the hashtag #red today. Normally I am cynical about campaigns and causes on Twitter (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, go catch a mammoth for dinner or something caveman) thinking that they don’t really do anything but make people feel as if they are doing something while doing very little. But World Aids Day is about awareness and dissemination of the facts, so if it takes a stunt like that to point people to the website here, then its very much worth it.

And if it teaches you that you can’t catch HIV from Walkers crisps then maybe some kid doesn’t have to see disgust on peoples faces where he should see support.

Advertisements