I’m a 39 year old gay man who grew up in the Golden Age of the 1970’s, then came of age during the Plague Years of the 1980s. So just happy to still be here. Never thought I’d reach 40 since it seemed that most gay men died in their 20s and 30s when I was coming out. I remember praying to reach 30 and was convinced for most of my adult life that I only had 5 more years to live at most (the average time between diagnosis and death in the early days).
Then I reached 30 and the “death sentence” of AIDS began to evaporate and I allowed myself to live a little more slowly. For the first time, I began to consider what a regular life lasting 70 years might be like. And began to worry about maintaining my health, caring for my family, saving for retirement, finding a boyfriend.
But its still hard to shake the fear that I might die tomorrow. Its almost engrained in me since I spent so much of my life assuming I would die young. (In addition to the specter of AIDS, my Dad died from cancer when I was young and my sister was diagnosed with aggressive, Stage IV cancer at 38.) So I still believe in living for today and not counting on tomorrow. But I’ve tempered that with preparing for a longer life that I might need to pay for.
My fear of dying young (and a soul-sucking, life-absorbing job) lead me to stop working at the age of 35 with the intention of taking a year off. I just didn’t want to die before 40 without ever having lived life on my terms. My father put off all happiness until retirement but then never made it there.
Almost 5 years later, I’m unemployed and living off savings but I still think I did the right thing and would do it again. I’ve had a chance to LIVE life without the sociopathic, soul crushing stress of modern corporate life and to be truly who I am.
I’ve been able to care for my sister as she struggled through a death sentence, poisoning by chemotherapy, and a nervous breakdown; to protect my nephews as they evolved through the demanding and impressionable first years of their lives; and to comfort my mother as she aged and dealt with the potential death of her firstborn child. These are the most important things I have done in my life.
And if I died tomorrow, I would be happy. I’ve had more life, love and happiness than I ever expected. Everything else is gravy.