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Hidden Costs

STORY: 1981-2017: If I had to select one photo from my archives which personifies the devastation wrought upon my generation by the AIDS epidemic, it would have to be this one: a group of handsome and fit gay men in their late 20’s, smiling while posing on a beach (July / August 1981, as the discovery of AIDS was being announced). Iconic, yet, also a parable for innocence about to be destroyed.

I’d met Jeff (left front) on Fire Island the previous summer, during which we’d consummated a short, but passionate, affair. A year later, I visited him in Chicago and took a day trip with him and the others here to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Rick Angelo (upper left) was a golden boy, Dartmouth & Harvard Business School grad, and son of two Cuban immigrant doctors. He’d recently moved to Chicago, where I’d introduced him to Jeff. Rick Lomanto (front center) and Brian Riley (back center) were a couple, friends of Jeff’s, who I’d met on this trip. It was an idyllic summer beach day.

Jump ahead and where are they now? Rick, Rick & Brian succumbed to AIDS within another 5 years or so.

And Jeff? He retreated into his own world, spending his life focused on business (accumulating wealth in the process), but shrinking from the world of social intercourse. He claims to not have had sex with another person in the intervening 30 plus years, a direct result of the fear instilled by AIDS. When he contacted me while on a trip to Berlin last year, I urged him to go out and get laid. After all, he was in the “sex capital of the world”. He told me “I know I should. But, I won’t.”

There was obviously a huge cost in lives lost in the epidemic; but, there were also hidden costs inflicted on those of us who survived.

—Mike Balaban


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