By Emily Carlton
Originally performed by Jack Mosedale
An attempt to look at the common dissonance between the 'observer' and the 'observed' in a lot of reporting around the epidemic. How the exoticisation and marginalisation of those who are open about their status leads to misconception and insensitivity, and those who believe they mean well, can excuse themselves from considering the issue with any sensitivity.
A mid-20’s boy, Eric, sits, as if about to be interviewed, talking to someone off camera, he is lean, and visibly nervous.
What do you want me to talk about? HIV and foster care? Man, that’s my whole life, you want me to talk about my whole life?
God, I’m not very good at things like this. You’ll cut the bad bits out right? You just want me to speak?
I was born with my HIV...so...Yes, it probably made me an angrier child....is this...is this what you want?
I’m not sure how or why I have it, because they say that if you know you have HIV you can usually stop it from being passed to your baby. But maybe my mother didn’t know. Or she found out too late. Or maybe she couldn’t afford help to give birth safely, or maybe the doctor wasn’t very good, I don’t know. I didn’t know my mother. She gave me up immediately, or perhaps she was too sick to take me from the hospital. At either rate she’s probably dead now. In 1989 she had HIV, which on average developed into AIDS in 10 years, and was fatal in 5. So she’s dead now, statistically. Sometimes when I see these campaigns for safe sex, or for celibacy, in the HIV community I feel a little funny. Because it’s trying to prevent positive babies being born, which I guess is a good thing, but it's like people like me shouldn’t exist, that’s something I can’t think about too much.
For a while when I was younger it sort of felt like I had a double life, like, the life I liked, in public, and then the life where I was sick. Only that was probably the real life, so I couldn’t just give it up. When I was younger I wanted to, though. It was all mixed up with the anger and I sort of wanted to pretend it wasn’t real. To everyone else and to myself as well.
From the age of five to 17, I had to take 23 tablets a day, and I felt like I had to do it in secret, as part of the sick life. When I was 6 or 7 I used to hide them. They tasted horrible and I remember feeling like they were making me sick. I’d pretend to swallow them and push them into my cheeks. Then, when my foster mother, her name was June, wasn’t looking, I’d spit them into my hand. June was a big, scary looking woman, so I wouldn’t do it every time, just whenever I felt like she wasn’t paying attention. They were always wet and floppy. The outside case had started to dissolve, so I had to carry them very carefully so they wouldn’t break in my hand. Usually I’d hide them in one of the plant pots lined up by the window, or try and stick them to the back of the dusty old TV cabinet. Then one day June found them, when she was watering those little plants. She was furious. I remember her screaming and screaming at me, asking me how many and how long for, and I pinned myself against the wall I was so terrified. I liked her really. But I didn’t stay with her for very long. My medication’s changed a lot and I don’t notice the taste of the pills
Now I worry about kids not taking their meds properly, because they don't really understand, as a kid you never really get that you're breakable. And it's easy not to, especially if no ones paying that much attention. Only they might not be lucky like me, because I didn't do any long term damage and it was ok. When June took me to the doctor he was very clear about that. I was lucky.
Think of HIV as being in the boxing ring, you have the first medication punching HIV and it's doing a good job, but not a great job, and then another one came along that was better. It was able to beat the HIV down more and more and more. My disease never grew, it never got smarter, it got dumber. Right now my HIV is at the dumbest form that it can be because it doesn't replicate, but you’ve got to keep punching it. You don’t get a break.
It’s odd, because people expect me to experience HIV as a big political thing, when for me, it’s really just a fact of my life. So people keep talking about how it’s got better, and I guess, globally, it has. But for me not a lot has changed. Although, I guess if I ever fell in love, I could have a child, and that child and my wife could both be HIV negative, and stay that way forever, that’s possible, and that's huge! But it’s complicated. I can’t really imagine that. I know it's stupid, but in the back of my mind I find myself worrying that they're just seeing the illness, or at some point they might judge me for being sick, which I couldn't forgive because who can judge you for something like that? But I know people do.
There's never been a better time to have HIV though, I don't want you to think I don't realise that. I'm lucky.
The scene changes suddenly, perhaps signified with a small change in costume or physicality, the actor is now portraying Richard, the interviewer.
For me, yes, it was quite an experience interviewing Eric. I’m a filmmaker, that’s who I am, and I’m always looking for a story. So, yes, when I found out Eric had HIV I was pleased. This was the angle I needed. I was doing a piece on foster care and it was sad and all, but it lacked that...that hook you need, that thing to grab the audience by the throat and really make them listen. And there he was, a real issue to pull the whole thing around. Not gay...or black... that’s good too, that surprises people.
It’s not that I’m unfeeling... or... not sympathetic, I wouldn’t want you to think that. It’s just I really needed this film to work. I mean really needed it to work. I graduated 3 years ago. 3 fucking years. And there have been jobs, and internships, but not really paid stuff, and not really my own things, you know?
I mean, it’s not much to ask, just one little break, some sort of affirmation from the outside world that yes, it’s worth the effort, that I can make money from this, that I’m any good. Then it came, just the slither I needed, a commission, 6 minutes for daytime TV, a segment on foster care.
So I'm not being heartless when I say Eric was just what I needed. It was weird interviewing him. I got in touch with him through this foster home. I’d been talking to these old foster mothers and one of them, she wasn’t really in touch with him, but she mentioned him in a story. And I asked and she had an address, said she liked to think she could check he was ok if she wanted to, but they hadn’t spoken in years. Anyway, I was in a desperate place and sort of the end of my tether and so I just called the guy, unsolicited, right out of the blue. And he was fine with it. Really nice actually. Happy to talk to us. So that was a win.
So yeah, interviewing him. It sort of made me feel confused. Because I’m one of the good guys, let me get that straight right from the start. Like, I’m one of the people who cares about AIDs, and I’ve totally seen the documentaries and the exhibitions and stuff. But I guess that it’s all a bit different. Because it’s in the 90’s, and it’s all creative and well, fucking exciting. But then meeting him it was just quite small. And his room was a bit dirty. And he has this little tattoo, on his arm, just poking out from his shirt. The whole time we were filming I was thinking, and I mean we were getting gold on camera but I wasn’t even thinking about that, I was thinking he has a tattoo? Is that ok? Is he allowed to have one? Didn’t he bleed a lot? Do they bleed more than a normal person? Did the tattoo artist know? Did he tell him? Surely he tells everyone right? Is that ok?
And he told us these stories about his life. And it was like he didn’t really care about them at all, and it was just really fucking sad, and not sad in the good way like it’ll make the people who watch it feel things. Just small, and sad.
And then it was over. We shook hands and he signed the release, and I left, and I’d got what I wanted and he was still just there, doing his thing. It sort of felt like, you point a camera at something, and everyone gives you a pat on the back for addressing some issue, but it doesn’t really do anything? Doing ‘good’ in this general way, it doesn’t really do anything for him does it?
And just, obviously AIDs, I mean HIV, Is, like, this really huge awful thing. And I’m totally clued up on all the people it affects, and the people it kills, and the problems with taboos, and discrimination, and the support movements and the activism. But as I was leaving him alone in that little room, I just thought how sad his life must be. Because he was alone in that room when we went. And I, like physically relaxed when I left the room. I realised I’d been conscious the whole time of how near he was to me, because it’s mad isn’t it, it’s not just that he has this disease, he’s filled with this blood, this infectious fucking blood, and there’s something so primal about that. And really it’s right for me to be tense. Isn’t it? Because, he can infect me with something that is terminal, he can totally do it by accident, so yes, I was always aware of how near he was to me. And that’s ok, that’s not my fault. That’s just natural. Does he have relationships? Can he? Does anyone really relax around him, or is it just with other people like him. How many of them can he know? Fuck, its bleak. Yeah, that's the word, bleak.
In the end we didn’t use as much of the Eric material as we’d expected. The show cut our segment to 3 minutes, some actress slash model had agreed to come on, to talk about her divorce I think, and they were squeezed for time. So in the end we centred on this little blonde orphan, because it cut down better. Not much of a story really, pretty orphan Annie Hollywood shit, but she cried on camera well.