Can We Also Bury Anger With Him?
I remember the years after Ronald Reagan very well. My parents were still alive, I was young, and times were different. Times were very different then. There wasn’t access to the news at the spur of the moment because smart phones had not been invented. If you wanted to read the news, you went out and got a newspaper. You put your quarter in the machine on the corner and walked back home, past the telephone booth. In my neighborhood, you waved at the local hooker and gave a head nod to the guy across the street who you knew was selling drugs out of his house. You kept your head down and you stayed out of trouble.
The Early Nineties
The year was 1991 and I had just moved to St Pete, FL. I was working as a waitress in a place that still required me to wear a dress and pantyhose each day. I walked to work or rode a bicycle. I had a car and it was broken down more than it ran. It stayed parked most of the time. It was a brand new Dodge and to this day I won’t own another one.
I had moved to the coast because my parents lived in Ocala. I had not been very wild about the fact that they sold their house and followed me to FL in 1987. I considered it my mother’s final attempt at ruining my life and continuing her efforts at manipulating everything she could. Of course, she wasn’t all bad. As an adult now, I can admit this. At that time, however, I had just come out as gay and she and I were not getting along at all.
The AIDS crisis was in full swing. Being a young lesbian, I was aware of it and was fearful of contracting it myself. Even though it predominantly was an issue that affected gay men, women were not totally safe. I read “And the Band Played On” from cover to cover and was somewhat horrified. It would be many years before that made it to the big screen. Gay people knew. We were living in it, neck deep.
The Real Reagan Legacy
Ronald Reagan didn’t acknowledge the epidemic for what it was. It was never funded. It was, to be blunt, completely ignored. Gay men were dying at astronomical numbers. These deaths were long and painful. Most of the people I personally knew who died passed away from breathing complications – typically pneumonia. I remember one friend the most. His name was Christopher Gomez. Chris was a wonderful person. There were times that he’d see me walking home after work, or on the way to work. He would do a big U-turn in the middle of crazy 4th Street North, stopping traffic in the process, in order to pull-over and yell, “Get in, I’ll drive you!”
He was a nice person. He had dark hair, brown eyes, a pale complexion, and he was short. Chris probably didn’t stand over five feet, six inches tall. He worked as a waiter and he made good money. Like most of us in those days, he spent more on beer and having fun than anything else. We lived in neighborhoods that were seemingly small in the middle of a large city.
I had several friends, a different life back then than the one I live now. I was more social and could more easily deal with loudness and chaotic situations. As I’ve grown older, my spectrum disorder has become increasingly a challenge. I don’t react well to intrusions into my quiet time, I do not socialize outside of the home much because the recovery time for me is lengthier than it used to be. I get grumpy if I feel intruded upon too much. It unnerves me. I do look back on those times fondly, in part because I was able to be social. People don’t realize that those on the spectrum want to be social. We just cannot be social all the time.
George Herbert Walker Bush was our president in 1991. I do not remember ever hating him back then. I disliked his policies and I disliked the fact that we were at war in Iraq. The Middle East has never seemed like a place for American soldiers, in my opinion. Those people don’t like each other, and I don’t think they ever will. Why we have to get in the middle of it all the time is truly beyond me. I am 28 years older now than I was then, and I still don’t understand our constant involvement in the Middle East. It seems a never-ending circle of death for American soldiers to me.
Times Were Hard
My mind still goes back to a time when I held the hands of dying friends, like Christopher, with tears in their eyes, knowing there was absolutely nothing that could be done. Watching someone die, resigned to their fate, is a very difficult thing to when that person hasn’t led a full life. You mourn the years that should have been.You wonder whose lives they should have touched, the loves they should have had. . .
What was extremely troubling, and has haunted the legacy of President GHW Bush, was his continuation of the Reagan administration’s neglect of the AIDS crisis. So many in the LGBTQ community hold them personally responsible for the deaths of countless people in our community. As recently as a year ago I was accused of being a single-issue voter, which I’m not and never have been. The accusation was because of my concern over gay rights issues. That just happens to be a life or death thing for me! As is healthcare. As is social security being there when I am 67 years old one day. As is the housing crisis. As is gerrymandering and voting problems, lobbying, term limits, and a nauseating list I don’t want to focus on at this moment.
I digress. The AIDS crisis is still held against the senior Bush. I have recently seen many people bring this up the last two days. I’ve seen some very hateful things said and shared on social media. I’d be a liar if I said that it didn’t make me sad because it makes me weep for the society we have become. We are just very hateful now!
Human beings are imperfect. Our special qualities have always been in our ability to forgive, to love, and to understand that none of us is perfect. We all struggle with our demons and we all make mistakes. Some of us make bigger mistakes than others. What I base my judgements of people on is whether or not they intended to harm others. I also look at whether or not the individual has done anything to redeem themselves.
Should Four Years Determine Your Legacy?
The patriarch of the Bush family has left behind a legacy of charity work that most of us will never achieve. George HW Bush worked in every way he could to do bipartisan work with Bill Clinton, to bring humanitarian aid to others. He supported and founded the Bush Clinton Coastal Recovery Fund. He also supported the following charities: Covenant House, FC Harlem, Heifer International, Save the Children, Smile Train, United Nations Development Program, and the Vijay Amritraj Foundation.
President Bush was a man who could reach across aisles and do what he thought was best for the country. He lied about his age so that he could fight for his country. He is guilty of imperfection. Aren’t we all? Has he fully made up for the lives lost to AIDS? I’m not sure that he could ever have done that. Is it so hard to believe that in the early days of AIDS many people made bad decisions? They did. It caused a loss of life greater than what it probably should have been. Is the man responsible or was it the era that we lived in? We have learned more and we have moved on. Have we not?
I can tell you that Christopher would say that ‘the guy did a lot of great things the rest of his life. He made his peace with his own God.’ Forgiveness is the only way forward. Today, I’m making the choice to forgive him and move on. While we shouldn’t use our current administration to normalize anything, I do believe that it certainly must be a basis for clarity.
We can say a lot of good things about the senior Bush. We can say that he was a man who made mistakes but tried to do much that was right with is life. We can say that he was a sensitive man, a family man who loved his children and his grandchildren. He was one of the last truly moderate Republicans who could listen and work with democrats. He was from an era that wasn’t all that bad, even though it wasn’t totally good.
The older I get, the more I want peace. I have learned to pick and choose my battles and I’ve learned when to forgive. This is a case that I will choose the latter and show my respect to a man who gave most of his life in service to his country. An honorable member of the armed forces, he never shirked his duties. He knew what decorum meant. Even in death, there is a calm, quiet dignity that we are not accustomed to anymore. I can welcome this return to tradition and values today, with my hand over my heart.
“Thank-you for your service, Mr. President.”