5B, or Not to 5B
Dashed hopes, current fears & why I don’t feel good about our future
by Harry Breaux
It’s 4:00 a.m. and I’m wide awake with regret that I didn’t die in Ward 5B in the eighties. No, I’m not suicidal, I’m pissed. Spent a couple of hours yesterday protesting the inhuman conditions at the border detention facilities, frustrated that it will do little to convince the authorities to do something before more die. HIV/AIDS is just one of the conditions I suffer from.
Disappointment in this nation’s current trajectory of ceaseless and careless treatment of each other on this planet—the deterioration of the morals and values of my country—is another.
At the protest yesterday, an American flag was hung upside down. This is the proper way to hang the flag when it’s meant to signal distress. I was torn about that display as I felt that I wanted the flag to be hung upright. I felt that it’s us, the ones that are appalled by this situation, that should be displaying the flag as a proud symbol of America. Instead, we’re having to mount an SOS for our country.
I lay in my bed mulling over all the ways that my saved life is not working as I continue to “survive” this AIDS disease. I have no long-term plan for “retirement” that has been forced on me by a universe that plays cruel jokes on people who lose their passion for growing old. At seventy-four, I don’t know that growing old is even a sensible concept anymore. It’s hard to grow old when I feel I have already done as much of that as is required for the title.
The future I see is devoid of the pride in this country’s attitude toward “others.” Whether they be people of color, immigrants, LGBT+, women or any of the “other” than white that seems to be receiving the brunt of the hatred and discrimination that is currently espoused as American.
At the height of the AIDS crisis, there were so many that found the passion and strength and downright courage to fight for what is right and decent in humans. There were great strides made in bringing love and light to bear on the suffering. Now it seems the most that many of us can bring to bear is a “like” on our Facebook posts.
There was a time, now just nostalgia, when I sang songs of national pride in elementary school. “America the Beautiful.” “God Bless America.” Even the “Star Spangled Banner.” Yes, it was mostly only good for whites in the fifties but being isolated in my little ten-year-old world, I could naively feel the connection that promised fair treatment and protection from the bad guys outside my country. Those times have changed. Now the protection I need is from my own government and the devastation it has caused.
Losing so many friends to a disease is something that is difficult but I can find ways to make sense of it. It was a disease, a natural occurrence of an organic Nature that found its way into our bodies. Our clever immune systems were attacked and not strong enough to resist. Battles have occurred throughout history and one side wins, one side loses. I don’t always like Nature’s ways, but I can cope with it mentally most of the time.
I can even cope with having survived and being aware of what that means in terms of being unprepared for longevity. Others have survived along with me and together we’ll find the strength to carry on until the time comes that we eventually will succumb to some natural demise of this skin bag we live in.
What I can’t fathom is the dark void that is called the future when so many forces are pitting and splitting us into as many pieces as they can. José Sarria had a great quote I love. “United we stand, divided they catch us one by one.” That’s what I feel is happening now. We’re being caught one by one and when that happens, the group consciousness that can mount a significant defense is rendered all but null and void.
My desire to continue to speak up and speak out begins to wane. More and more I find myself in that self-pitying place, regret that I didn’t die in Ward 5B.
Oh, I’ll keep on, after all, the end of my film is already in the can. I don’t know it yet, but I know with great certainty that it’s there, lurking somewhere in the future for me. And when it comes, no matter where or when, I’ll meet it with that one regret, my name won’t be added to those others who found their end in the arms of the caring ones on Ward 5B at San Francisco General Hospital. Surrounded by love and acceptance.
Harry found his way to San Francisco via a commune in Oregon in the early seventies. He was a part of the bloom that created a “new age” for queers of all sorts in The Castro. His participation in this gave him his place in the AIDS epidemic and he sero-converted in 1980. After years surviving a two-year death diagnosis, he acquired an AIDS diagnosis in December 1996, just in time for the “cocktail.” He has survived long enough to be one of the fortunate of that period to still be living. Now he spends his time advocating and speaking to the hopes and dreams of those who are no longer here to speak to them for themselves. He/They/We speak and hope for a world that works for everyone.