wind was whipping up the street, and Isobel shivered in her leather jacket. We were sitting at our outside table in the Russian Hill cafe, surrounded by the usual suspects: no-visible-source-of-income bohemes with a light sprinkling of yuppies for good measure.
"I love San Francisco summers," Isobel said cheerfully, peeling off a sheet of newspaper that had blown up and attached itself to her leg. "The furnace broke down last night, and I was so cold that I called Mel and he stayed over."
I wrapped my fingers around my coffee cup, trying to unstiffen them. "How was it?"
"Great. Always great. I'm sure it wouldn't be that way if we were doing the boyfriend/girlfriend thing. The occasional is just fine with me. He has this new thing that he does with his finger, when I'm thinking it's his tongue..." I sighed, tuning out. It had been so long since I'd had sex that I could barely concentrate, I was so filled with envy and longing. But then I heard "...of course he thought I had a condom, and I thought he would bring some, but... well, you know the routine."
"So you didn't do it."
Isobel looked a little guilty. "Well..."
"Come on Isobel. You aren't serious."
"I know, I know. It was stupid."
Is it just my impression, or has the fear of AIDS disappeared?
Case #2: "I met this guy at Club Universe," Tim tells me. "Do you want to hear this story? Maybe you could write about it. He was into, like, everything. We're at his house, watching this bootleg of 'Trainspotting.' I mean, how cool is that? He, like, totally rips off my t-shirt. Totally rips it! I couldn't believe it. You know, it was like sex used to be. Totally uninhibited. Neither one of us gives a shit."
"Yeah? You mean, literally?" Butt sex has never been a favorite of mine, and I don't particularly like to hear about the gory details, either. "You used a condom, right?"
"Uh, well, it broke, kind of early into it."
"No. Please. Don't tell me this."
"I know. It was dumb. But we didn't, you know..." It's not like Tim to be coy, but I was so angry at him I didn't want him to finish.
"Oh, Miss Judgmental, here," he said, seeing my face. "As if you haven't done the same thing."
"No, I used to do that. I don't anymore, I can tell you that. And you're an asshole, Tim, for being my friend and not using a condom."
In the early '80s, my boyfriend was a well-known local musician. He bore a striking resemblance to ex-Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders. When we started going out, someone confronted Isobel: "Why's Courtney going out with that junkie?"
Actually, John had dabbled. No, more than dabbled, he finally confessed: He'd been a regular user, and had been run out of town by a Louisiana judge who'd threatened to send him to Angola if he ever saw John's face again.
He was clean now, he said, and had been for some time. Still, most of his friends attended regular shooting galleries, and John too had participated in them, but only occasionally.
Fast-forward to winter of 1986. John is getting sick all the time. Colds, flu, coughing, general malaise. We were living in London, and finally a doctor said to him: "You need to get tested for AIDS. It's a gay disease, but you could have it."
The results were negative.
A year later, he takes the test again. Still negative. Maybe it was that wonderful British weather. He takes it again, and again, and again, every six months. Negative, negative, negative. To this day, as far as I know, the results have always been negative.
I'm not a believer in God, per se, but this seemed to me like a warning if there ever was one. I've been tested myself about six times; each time, I wonder why I was lucky enough not to contract the virus.
I also count myself lucky to know personally only six people who have died of AIDS. This doesn't count a former teacher who died in the early '80s, an acquaintance who's dying right now, and an immediate family member who is HIV-positive.
How sad that we still let luck play such a major role in our lives and deaths. Hasn't the specter of AIDS taught us anything at all?