I watched Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart this week and was transported back to a strange and terrifying time in New York City.
I moved to NYC in 1981 as a punk rock, 17-year-old who wasn't exactly palatable in the small, quaint town of Rumson, New Jersey. In Jersey, my leather jacket turned heads, but in Manhattan, I didn't even register on the "freak" scale.
Another little tidbit about NY that I loved: Nobody cared that I was gay, although even I wasn't ready to say it out loud.
Back then in Jersey, being gay was grounds for having a beer bottle thrown at your head. So was being a punk rocker. Being a gay punk rocker? OY!
Suddenly, (well at least in the West Village) it was as though GAY ruled the world.
Gay men were not cowering in fear; they were out loud and proud, parading in drag down Christopher Street or in leather or in whatever made them feel sexy. I felt sexy just breathing the pheromones in that air!
One day, I started hearing about "gay pneumonia." I don't know when it was that I first heard the word "AIDS."
My beautiful friend, soul brother and chef Adam, who looked like an angelic, muscular Jim Morrison, started to lose weight. A lot of weight. Adam was always on a mission to live life to the fullest, so I didn't question when he suddenly chopped off his gorgeous long black curls, dyed the rest platinum and started traveling the world. He came back from India looking 20 pounds lighter.
"Just a parasite I picked up in India," he said, doing bicep curls next to me at the gym.
Then he said what he always said when there was trouble: "It ain't deep."
A lot of the gay boys had butch tattoos, but Adam had butterflies fluttering across his ribs.
My beautiful muscle boy in butterflies, Adam could wear a white leather motorcycle jacket and gold beads around his neck and make it look butch. He was like the Pied Piper. Everyone wanted to be near him -- men, women, even dogs. Some of his allure was his beauty, but most of it was his heart. He had the purest, kindest soul.
"Adam, my girlfriend doesn't like me anymore," I cried to him one day.
"Honey, it ain't deep! She wasn't good enough for you, anyway."
He stopped returning my phone calls, then a month went by, and I started to worry. It was his best friend Cam who called to tell me he was back home in Pittsburgh surrounded by his family and terribly ill.
"Can I go see him?"
"He doesn't want anyone to see him like this."
"He's down to 80 pounds and needs a diaper."
"He didn't want anyone to know. ... He has AIDS."
His father held the phone to his ear so I could spill out my tearful words.
"Thank you for pretending not to know I was learning how to cook while watching you make all those mother sauces, even though I was supposed to be your boss. Thank you for always being kind. Thank you for making me feel like I was beautiful. ..."
"He's too sick to speak, dear, but he is smiling," his father said.
His father called me a few days later.
"Adam died quietly in his bed with your letter on the table near him and the flowers you sent. Don't worry; you were in the room with him."
My beautiful butterfly was gone too soon. That's the thing about butterflies.
Adam touched so many lives. I often wonder what magic he would have created if he had lived.
In 1991, I went to Union Square Park to join in a gay pride rally. A man named Larry Kramer came to the microphone. He was gay and Jewish and felt so familiar.
He was wearing a T-shirt with Keith Haring's "Silence = Death" image on it. Larry talked about the loss, anger, exhaustion and frustration of fighting for drugs, resources and dignity in the AIDS epidemic.
In those days, the gay community was so divided: black, white, Hispanic, gay men and lesbians. They just didn't mix. Which is probably why I hadn't heard of Larry Kramer until then.
Larry demanded that everyone in the audience be one together. He asked that we hold hands and love each other, because life is precious. He said we were at war, and he was calling in the troops. He demanded we fight back.
After hearing Larry speak, I stopped crying and started writing.
Some will say Larry Kramer is an anger monger, a show-off, badly behaved -- things he wrote about quite openly in The Normal Heart. But his words plucked me out when I was drifting in a sea of victims, and enlisted me in a powerful army.
That is a feeling I carry with me still. Me and my normal heart.