I had a goal with this book, I wanted to be able to read and review it in time for World Aids Day, which is December 1st. I have been reading some heavy hitting things of late; Between the World and Me, Rabbit-Proof Fence, and The Fifteenth Minute come immediately to mind for different reasons, but each was difficult to review in its own way, and this one is as well. In my last review I talked about how the dark times in our history are where we have the most to learn, and how giving ourselves over to looking at the other side is where we grow. I think for many people, nearly 28 years after its initial publication Borrowed Time is a great place to start to see the other side of AIDS, if it has not already been a presence in their own lives.
In Borrowed Time, Paul Monette was describing the year and a half fight to keep his love alive and how they and their friends fought the early years of the AIDS crisis away from the hotspots of New York and San Francisco in the early to mid-1980s. On the surface, this should be foreign territory to me, but it isn’t. The people in our lives dictate what we experience and understand, and nine year old me was introduced to my first openly gay man (to my recollection), who was HIV positive after we moved to Florida. He was my neighbors’ uncle and a delightful human. He died a few years later due to complications of AIDS and knowing him, his family, and his illness has prevented me from ever viewing someone with HIV or AIDS as being the other.
But there is value in looking back, and seeing a from the trenches view of the time now that I am old enough to fully understand the ramifications of what was happening. Monette uses his journals, memories, and recollections of family and friends to reconstruct 3 years, 1984-1987. In those years, his friends are being diagnosed with what would later be called HIV and some already progressed to AIDS. For years the medical community would be chasing its tail on what was causing the decrease in immune responsiveness and opening up these patients to opportunistic infections. Monette documents and discusses the health scares and setbacks, as well as his and Roger’s emotional responses to what was happening around them. It is also a fascinating firsthand account on the early medical research and how much of getting care was about who you knew, and how hard you were willing to push.
This book starts slowly, but builds in pacing as Roger becomes more ill. A fascinating and engaging read, all these years removed.