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Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir Paperback – 1 Jun 1998
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But it isn't.
We are not yet free.
All these years after Paul and Roger passed away the battle is still being fought in different places and in different ways. The war that Paul Monette and Roger Horwitz fought is far from over and their story is a reminder that we shouldn't give up because we still have a long way to go. One of the things that challenges me about this story is the way in which it has become in part my story, my life. A part of my life which is very painful for all kinds of reasons and yet also a part of my life in which there is hope.
I was a young girl in the early days of the Aids pandemic when Roger and Paul were fighting the 'war'. I was stuck in a boarding school in the middle of nowhere in Africa. I went through University not hearing anything about Aids or HIV either. In fact it wasn't until the late 80's when I returned Europe that I began to hear about HIV and AIDS but it didn't loom large on my horizon even then because I had 'wars' of my own.
I was caught up in a very difficult marriage, child birth and then divorce. It wasn't until the mid-nineties that HIV and Aids began to hit my radar and even then it was something distant, something that I didn't understand. I couldn't understand how the same disease was cutting down gay men in the global North and cutting down Africans in the global South especially African women, my beautiful, beautiful sisters who died in their millions, leaving millions of children behind. I couldn't yet join the dots and I had far too many difficulties in my own life to stop, to pause and to try to understand the bigger picture.
But HIV and Aids was there, reaping havoc, destroying families, devastating lives.
It wasn't until 2003 that I really began to understand and personally experience the devastation that is Aids. I did research into HIV services in London and I had the privilege of meeting many people living with HIV and the sterling organisations working for prevention, treatment and seeking to address HIV related stigma and discrimination.
I was divorced, free and able to pause and finally able to listen to the lives of others and to hold my beautiful sisters and brothers and work alongside them. I was appalled to hear what people had gone through in the early days of the pandemic. I was appalled by the initial silence and condemnation of many churches. I was appalled by the complacency of certain Governments and the ignorance and myths that still abounded. I was appalled by the numbers of people who had died.
I began to involve myself in the response and I opened my heart to my African sisters and gay brothers and I became a soldier just like Paul and Roger. Now years later responding to HIV and Aids is a major part of my life. I am grateful that I had a chance to put my own shoulder to the wheel and join the millions of people who are pushing against the injustice that lies at the heart of the HIV and Aids pandemic but there is a big part of me that regrets not being there at the beginning. There is a big part of me that still experiences pain when I read about the loss from the early years and the losses that still happen because it isn't over yet.
This book is a testament to the early days of the Aids pandemic: the ignorance, the fear, the denial, the stigma and the suffering. It is easy to look back and lament over what should have been done but this book should serve as a reminder about what is still to be done. There is still ignorance in our world today about the HIV and AIDS pandemic. There is still fear, denial and now much more complacency.
There is still injustice.
Paul Monette and his beloved partner Roger Horwitz are gone along with 36 million others but 35 million are still alive and living with HIV, and the millions that are dead should spur us to keep alive the millions who are still with us.
This book serves as a prophetic voice calling us to remember and not forget. Calling us to act in whatever way is possible for us and it has called me to keep acting and praying.
Some of this story makes me angry. Paul and Roger were privileged and well-educated. They were able to access drug trials and push for treatment. They were able to spread the word and help others and in this way they contributed to the progress of the development of the treatment that keeps people alive today, but thirty years on we are still fighting the 'war' for access to treatment and so many people in countries with weak health systems are still dying.
We still fight 'wars' about prevention strategies. We know how to prevent the transmission of HIV but utterly stupid debates about condoms and promiscuity have overshadowed the urgency of saving lives. Religious and political ideologies have become more important than saving lives and finding ways to help people who have limited choices and limited access to economic and health stability.
We still fight 'wars' about stigma, discrimination and human rights as so many Governments criminalise HIV transmission and criminalise homosexuality. Imprisoning people and silencing them, eroding their human rights is simply waging war against the people not the virus. Blind and stupid leaders, rotten in their hatred and complacency they are paralysed by their ideologies and fail to hear the cries and struggles of the millions of people in need. Thirty something years on the 'war' that Paul and Roger fought continues along different perhaps more subtle and less visible battle lines.
But along with sadness and pain and anger, as I read this story I am grateful. There is gratitude, gratitude that Roger and Paul were able to find love and create family with each other, gratitude that they had the love of their families and friends, gratitude that these two beautiful men were able to live their lives to the fullest despite the fact that Aids cut both of them down in such an untimely way. I am grateful that they did not die alone and that they were able to gain access to the limited treatments available at the time.
I want to remember those many people who died and who were affected and the many still living with the virus. In this way I can enter into the frustration and the fear of the early days of the pandemic and I can use this to continue to work for a future hope.
So this is my small response to this beautiful and yet challenging testimony. The author is no longer with us but his words remain and his story remains. It is a privilege to read his words.
I am privileged to be able to hug and encourage the many positive people who are living and who are now my family and I am hugged and loved by them. They enrich my life today and the words of Paul Monette enrich my understanding of our journey and 'wars' together.
His words awaken an ever deepening thirst in me for justice and a desire that everyone may have abundant life and not be excluded because they are positive, or gay or female or African. This is my dream and I hope the words from the battle front, the words from Paul Monette will continue to give me the energy and courage to dream and to write, to speak and to pray and to act.
Finding this book on my reading list for a literature course, I certainly was not looking forward to spending a few days under an umbrella of gloom and misery. But I resisted the temptation to overlook it and plunged right in. I'm glad I did. It's a humbling experience to be faced with mortality, especially someone else's.
Borrowed Time recounts the eighteen plus months where Paul Monette cared for his dying partner who was suffering from HIV and then AIDS. This is not a 'gay story' as such, simply an affirmation of compassion, understanding, love and friendship between two people.
Monette allows us into his life during the mid 80s in America, where his partner Roger Horwitz has been diagnosed with AIDS. Being a relatively new phenomenon, AIDS wasn't really understood and was veiled in uncertainty, fear and misunderstanding. When Horwitz was unable to shift a lingering illness, Monette used his medical contacts to obtain a second opinion. Finally the correct diagnosis was achieved and so started an endless round of combination drug therapies to try and beat the grotesque and frightening disease.
Monette asserts himself as a one-man terminator to rid his partner of the frightening and life-extinguishing illness. Initially the bravado and chemical arsenal appear to get the upper hand: Horwitz even returns to his law practice and Monette to his writing, but the inevitability of the prognosis reaffirms its dominance. . . As his condition deteriorates and the endless rounds of searching for the magical elixir gently subsides, a somewhat tragic calmness becomes the normality. Aspect by aspect, Horwitz's life is taken from him as the disease poisons his blood, until the inevitability of the prognosis concludes the tragedy.
Monette's love for his partner is evident throughout the 342 pages of this heart-wrenching memoir. With just a little hysteria, he allows the reader to share the darkest parts of the "fight", while also participating in the brief respites of happiness. It is an angry read which evokes many conflicting emotions, not least the enveloping shroud of inevitability. Monette captures and recreates this 18 months of the dark struggle through the comprehensive journal that he kept throughout his partner's illness and subsequent death. This allows for the detailed general interaction between the two to be resurrected with soul-shaking clarity, while avoiding the regurgitation of facts.
The emotions conveyed and evoked are frighteningly potent, aiming at the heart with conclusive exactness. It is difficult not to reach out each time Horwitz experiences a slight reprieve from his illness, only to have it cruelly snatched away. But they employ the philosophy of glass half full - replacing hopelessness with thankfulness - rejoicing that he is still alive. Constantly re-evaluating their perception each time the disease mounts an onslaught becomes the pattern and blanket of defence: no longer does Horwitz's losing sight in one eye precipitate doom, rather they celebrate the vision of the other. But the disease is tireless! Inevitably the perimeters of the drug's defences are finally breached, rendering the disease triumphant.
Borrowed time is 'charged', frightening and tragic. Conversely, it's a testament to love, understanding and friendship. It is not a book to be read by a prejudicial mind that validates through labels or eye for an eye philosophy. . . rather by a mind that is receptive to an embrace of understanding, humanity and compassion.
Further to Roger Horwitz's death. Paul Monette was subsequently diagnosed with the same condition and died in February 1995. He did live to see the memoir published.
Borrowed Time is must!
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
I wanted to write to Paul Monette to share my love of his work but alas he too had died from AIDS. He lives on through this beautiful work that also records the epidemic in its full blown horror. A masterpiece.
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