Improbably, considering the way I lived for several years in my 30s and early 40s, I'm going to be 50 in 50 days. Even though I've been sober for more than six years now – therefore less likely to do something that would lead to an early demise – I'm a little surprised that I've gotten so close. I never expected to live to be 50. Well, at least not from the time I was about 23.
Ask just about anyone who was gay and in his 20s in 1987 and you won't find a ton of us who expected to live this long. And you will find a lot of us who didn't. More than 25,000 people died of AIDS in the US in the 80s. I couldn't find stats on how many of them were gay, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say it was a lot. The original name for the disease was GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency). I remember reading an article in the paper about it in 1982 or 1983. I wasn't even 20 years old and hadn't even acknowledged to myself that I was gay, and already I was terrified of dying.
I only mention all that to explain why I, and so many other gay men my age, had no expectation of a life past 30, let alone 50. The irony, at least with regard to me, is that it wasn't until I was a few years into my 30s that I started to go off the rails. It started pretty slowly, which led to an overlapping period where my life was veering off course, but no one would have noticed. At 35, I was the development director for a non-profit organization in Philly. It was a good job and had I stayed that course, I might have ended up making a pretty decent living. But at 35 I was also just getting introduced to club drugs like ecstasy and ketamine (K).
The problem, I think, was that while I did a really good job of making sure I lived past 30, I never changed my thinking about how unlikely that was. So by the time I was 35, I really had this mentality that I was living in the bonus round. I had accomplished the biggest goal I had when I was 25.
I had a lot of fun from 35 to 38. We ran up and down the east coast to celebrate gay pride events, NYE, Tuesdays. And when we weren't traveling we just turned the spotlight on the disco ball hanging in my living room, smoked pot and watched the room spin. We came up with so many brilliant ideas in that apartment in South Philly. I wish any of us could have remembered even one of them a day later.
Of course, the more fun we had the more fun I wanted. The answer to the question of how much do I want (of anything) is always more. I always want another piece of cake. Another day off. Another bump of K.
That pursuit of more led to a string of bad decisions. For about five years it seemed like there was no problem so bad that I couldn't find an even worse solution. I know by the time I was 40 I was very keenly aware that I never expected to live that long. What I'm not sure about is whether I thought death was chasing me at that point or if I started chasing death.
Whichever the case, it only took a few more years before it was apparent that death and long prison term were waaaaaaay higher on the list of probability than good job and house with a picket fence.
So now I'm closing in on 50 and somehow death seems farther away than it has at any point in my life. I live in an awesome city, with a wonderful man and I'm about ten days away from having a master's degree from USC. I never wanted to be this old. But only because I had no idea it could be so much fun.