Monday, June 05, 2006

25 Years

The media is full of stories about the 25th anniversary of when AIDS was first written up in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

I first learned of AIDS before it had a name. (I grew up in a suburb of San Francisco.) One of my high school English teachers, an ex-Marine, was rumoured to be gay. He was also rumoured to live with another male English teacher. I remember him for several reasons.
  1. He was very muscular.
  2. He was very strict with students.
  3. He loved the novel, Moby Dick and spent en entire quarter teaching us to really appreciate that novel. To this day, I cannot look at a mandala without thinking of him and Moby Dick.
  4. He gave hard tests. Once, when someone stole his exam from a locked file cabinet in the classroom, he pretended not to notice. Then he gave a different and incredibly tough exam on which I scored only 1 or 2 right answers.
  5. I was so scared of writing essays for him, that I procrastinated and missed a deadline once. I owned up to him and met with him with my notes for the essay. He reminded me that his penalty for late essays was one letter grade per week of tardiness. I told him that I knew, but I needed help pulling my ideas together. We sat down and worked on it. I went to the library and made draft after draft. I figured I was going to lose a grade anyway and poured a whole week into it. When he graded it and returned it to me, I was shocked to see that he gave me a B+. He wrote on it that I should have started working on my essay earlier.
The next year, he was hospitalized with a mysterious illness. The doctors had asked him if he had ever been to Egypt. I later learned that Kaposi's sarcoma, a cancer that afflicts AIDS patients, had previously rarely been seen outside of Egypt.

When I was an exchange student in Germany the following summer, my host father read about the disease. He told me that there was a disease that was killing all the bad people in my country. They should import it into Germany.

I thought about my English teacher. I became very angry. The sum of someone's life is not how they died, but everything they did in their lifetime.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you. This was moving and made me think of some of my own teachers.

    As an angeleno, thanks, too, for that beautiful jacaranda picture! Kevin Roderick at L.A. Observed linked to it, so you'll probably get a lot of visitors today.