This Oct 1st our country will start to build plans to end the HIV epidemic. We are about to write history. This is something that most of us only dreamed about happening. As we work to end the HIV epidemic, I do it in the memory of Michael Hirsch.
When I moved to Washington in 1985, I had no idea which way was up. Michael Hirsch was the first person to take me under his wing. He was the quintessential New York activist, and the first executive director of the New York PWA Coalition and The Body Positive. Michael could drive me crazy, make me angrier than I thought possible, and make me laugh until I cried.
He would attend board meetings while still infusing. He wanted to remind the world that HIV was about real people with real problems. Because of Michael, I was accepted into the PWA community. He insisted I attend early organizing meetings that would later become the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA).
Michael would write these long diatribes about life, the movement, his frustrations and joy. They were intimate letters between someone who was dying and someone who would remember. He would close each letter with “Yours in the struggle.”
Then I got the call. If you did AIDS work in the ‘80s or early ‘90s, it’s the call to come to the hospital/hospice/home quickly because your friend is about to pass. The call for Michael happened while I was in Washington. I hopped the shuttle to New York and prayed I would make it on time. The taxi ride from LaGuardia to Saint Vincent’s seemed to last forever.
When I rushed into the hospital, Michael’s mother and sister were sobbing. My heart sank. Was I too late? Just then Rona Affoumado found me, “Oh God, you made it. The family just decided to pull the plug.” I wasn’t too late Rona escorted me into Michael’s room. It was all pumps and whistles from the many machines keeping him alive. It had that funny smell, the smell of death. Michael was unconscious. The morphine stopped the pain so he could sleep. When they turned off the machines, there was an eerie silence. I held Michael’s hand and told him how much I loved him. Just then his eyes opened, and a single tear rolled down his cheek and he was gone.
The nurse later said it was a reflex. To me it was a sign: Michael saying goodbye and to always remember. I close all of my emails with “Yours in the struggle” to honor his life and the lives of so many we’ve lost. The theme for the 2019 United States Conference on AIDS is “Ending The Epidemic in Their Memory.” I remember Michael Hirsch.
Yours in the struggle,
30 Years of Service