Have The Last Thirty Years Been A PTSD Induced Coma?
I saw the documentary “We Were Here” last night, http://wewereherefilm.com/ , and while I knew it would, like “The Life and Times of Harvey Milk” and other explorations of this point in our history and culture, be heartbreaking and difficult for me to watch, I knew I must.
Not only were “We Here”, as the title implies, but, more to my personal point, “I Was There…….and I’m Still Here”.
As I watched the 5 people profiled throughout this film, telling their stories, choking back their still stinging and potent memories, I was transported back in time to an era I was loath to forget but compelled to remember.
It was MY youth. It was MY coming of age story. It was MY San Francisco. I considered myself, as all of us who lived there in those heady days of post-hippie hedonism did, to be the most privileged and “special” people on the planet.
When the sun shown down on the City, no matter how broke you might be or how difficult your current job/living/life circumstance might be, there was nothing you couldn’t handle, with style and joy and a form of gleeful abandon that only youth….and life in San Francisco in the mid 1970’s could engender.
And when the fog slithered over Twin Peaks leaving the top of Sutro Tower to look down upon the Castro as if in protective awe, when the brunt of the incoming mist-chilled winds forced you into heavy sweaters and made your gate stoop forward and your eyes water from the bitter chill, you still marveled at how completely lucky you were to be ALIVE, in this CITY, in this PLACE, at this moment…..in time.
What struck me most about this film was the utter scale and total destruction of the humanity that was our world. In the midst of what were my freewheeling and carefree 20’s, this stealth bomb of disease crept in and stole the lives of thousands of my friends and compatriots in the prime of our lives.
We were not supposed to die, not this soon, not this young, and definitely not in this hideous and utterly dehumanizing fashion.
This “disease with no name”.
This disease with no cure.
This disease with no treatment.
This disease with no………………….hope.
The interviews in this film were gut-wrenching; you could hear the sobs in the still darkness around us.
The glimpses of the faces in the obituaries on screen were like black and white flashbulbs going off in slow motion in front of you, blinding you to the individuals whose lives they represented, whose love the world was now without, whose filaments of connection were forever severed from those who knew and loved them.
But it was the faces of the sick, in still photographs and grainy, aged movie footage that seared my soul forever. Those faces stopped me cold and left me questioning….. everything.
In every pair of eyes that pleaded with the camera for help there was the same haunted, paralyzed and heart-stopping gaze of utter, soul-stealing fear. These faces were like demons of Dante’s Inferno, brought barely to flesh and haunting the streets of San Francisco and the lives of all of us who wandered the world with them.
I had forgotten that fear, or at least suppressed it into a place in my core that I could not access easily. I had to. We had to. To survive.
We were trying to come of age. We were trying, desperately, to love the lives we had in front of us and all the while horrified at the “end-of-lives” we had all around us. We were living in a contradiction of herculean proportions that we had no context with which to compare it to. It is only now, looking back, seeing those faces, hearing those stories, remembering that fear, that we have the context, possibly.
The context was war.
And we were losing.
We were ignored by the politics, the religions, the people and the doctors.
We were more than ignored, we were attacked, castigated, cast out and abandoned like refugees from a combat torn war zone.
It was our……..real……..war. And we instinctively knew it.
Some fought back. Many gave aid and comfort. Thousands gave all.
And here I am.
Thirty years on.
One of the doomed back then, one of the “lucky” now.
How to live purposefully, in peace with these awful apparitions, is my particular question these days.
This Occum’s Razor of a conundrum presumes that I now have the benefit of the context inherent in thirty years of history to help me choose the life operating hypothesis that makes the fewest new assumptions. But even though many of the assumptions regarding AIDS of thirty years ago have been answered, dispersed with, proven right or wrong; there still exists the over-arching storyline of the fear.
The fear that all those men knew, all those years ago.
The fear of the death that was imminent and omnipresent.
The fear that radiates still from the freeze-framed gaunt faces, so shockingly reminiscent of Holocaust victims that you cannot help but make the comparison to the WWII footage from the camps in Europe and wonder, again, and again still today, how did this happen to us. To the U.S.? To humanity?
And how do I put this into a living perspective with a future that acknowledges the past and thrives within the present?
And therein lays my question.
Have the last thirty years been a PTSD induced coma?
When I call up the demons of my youth, demons that surrounded and overwhelmed the joyous many times, where do I put them now?
Can they be exorcized?
Should they be?
Like Scarlett of Tara, I have been blithely thinking about that tomorrow.
I think tomorrow is here.