Of Nepalese prostitutes and apprehensive buttons -dlh

“If I’m ever in Nepal, I’ll stay away from the brothels.”
This is one of the uncomfortable jokes I opened several conversations with last Thursday.
You see, I, like several Lawrentians, received “HIV in an Envelope,” accompanied with a letter stating how I supposedly contracted it and instructions to wear a red button reading “HIV Positive,” affixed to black clothing, all day Thursday.
It sounded simple enough.
I have to confess, though, it wasn’t easy putting it on. And, that morning, I faced a number of choices: do I wear the button to my music lesson, or is that just weird? When my mom comes up to visit in the afternoon, do I wear it and explain the simulation, risking what she’d think? Do I just pretend I never got the envelope?
It seems very trivial, and it is. The very act of choosing is, in this case, very trivial, once you have such an illness. And so, feeling a bit funny, I put on the button and wore it most of the day.
What struck me the most was the conversation the buttons produced. Nervous joking seemed in line. Others objected to the entire program on its face.
One objection did strike me as valid: that most students “contracted” the virus, according to the letters, by visiting a Nepalese brothel.
Now, I don’t doubt Nepalese brothel-goers are at risk for HIV, but that doesn’t seem to me the most relevant way to drive AIDS’ ubiquity home. Moreover, pinning the entire hypothetical problem on distant Nepal seems to reinforce the very fallacy the exercise sought to exorcise: that HIV and AIDS are “over there.”
They are over there, but they are also over here. Very over here.
I often forget that I have a relative living with HIV. It’s very easy to forget. Other topics, strangely, seem to be much easier to casually bring up over Christmas dinner. HIV is just kind of a downer. And so in my family, it seems it is a fact, something realized once, lamented, and then … forgotten? We choose not to remember it.
I bring it up here for one simple reason: the act of choosing. I realized that here was an entire day, albeit just one day, when I “chose” to debate whether or not to put a measly button on, when I “chose” whether or not to think about AIDS. When I “chose” whether or not to open my mind to some semblance of awareness of a holocaust sweeping across Africa and creeping across Appleton all at once.
Chuck Erickson (or, as I believe the beaming-with-Viking-pride alum may actually prefer to be called, “Chuck Erickson, LU ’03”) doesn’t get to choose whether or not to “feel” like having AIDS or not every day. As I snuck out of the end of orchestra to hear Chuck speak, I found the largest crowd I’ve ever seen in Riverview (save, perhaps, for a Feingold rally and an acapella vocal music concert, two events that, knowing Chuck, he might defer to.)
My freshman year, I met Chuck when he was president of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia and I joined. This may seem like an unfortunate phrasing in this context, but there is no better one: Chuck’s joy and honesty are, in a word, infectious.
Here was a grown man, a bright, witty, and driven man, standing atop a platform, microphone in hand, telling a room full of near-strangers that he has our cultural equivalent to leprosy. Talk about courage *******– I had a hard time even putting on a button.
While more precise figures are forthcoming, I know donation cups for the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin raised several hundred dollars within the span of a few weeks. I would like to encourage all ********Lawrentian******* readers to get involved with the ARCW, a shining example of what a charity should be.
In closing, I’d like to apologize to the Nepal for the many awkward jokes I made at its expense, and to thank Chuck, who’s just really really cool.