He was born Justin. Half French, half Italian, he was gorgeous. He IS gorgeous, atleast he was the last time I saw him. Now his body is being covered with black sores, his body, usually a hard mass of muscle and physical perfection is losing its definition as he loses weight during this hard time of his life. We met in high school, he was just another addition to my ragtag bunch of friends, all of us different, gay, transgendered, straight, bisexual, Wiccans, Atheists, Christians, Buddhists, Agnostics, Spiritual, Hermaphrodite, Cripple, we were a bunch of people who became friends because of our love for the theater, drama, music, sex, alcohol, and amazingly enough our mutual love for Brad Pitt.
Justin, Ryan, Angel, and I naturally gravitated towards each other. We were far and away the most dramatic and flamboyant of our little makeshift "family" of 15. We were all outcasts, the black sheep, who just happened to be the most popular people around. All for different reasons. Angel, the gorgeous Puerto Rican boy who women desperately wanted to turn straight and for whom men were willing to turn gay, was always known as being the life of the party, with his flair for fashion, he was Lady Gaga before Gaga existed. I was the chameleon, able to blend in with my surroundings yet staying true to who I really was. I was popular because of my talent, my ability to accomplish whatever I truly set my mind to and because while I wasn't considered "beautiful," guys were still drawn to me. Ryan, the hermaphrodite of our "family" was popular because of how smart he was, his sarcastic wit, and because he was one of the few open-minded, TRULY loving Christians that existed. Justin, however, was a force to be reckoned with. A hulking mass of sexiness, he was popular because he was beautiful, his smile could stop traffic, he was the biggest sweetheart in the world and while girls were often brokenhearted when he told them he was "a flaming homosexual" they were only too happy to consider him a friend.
Justin was free-spirited. Then again, we all were. Spending our days skipping class or daydreaming about moving to Los Angeles and becoming "Super-Celebrities" in our own ways. Justin wanted to be the highest paid porn star in the world and be President of the United States....simultaneously. He dreamed big and often. He was also one of my biggest supporters/fans. Justin could never understand it if a guy didn't find me attractive, or if someone told me "no," or if I got turned down for anything. He always seemed truly shocked. That was Justin's thing though, he believed that all of his friends were the best thing walking and could never believe it when someone disagreed with him.
Justin grew up in a family where his parents were just as free-spirited and flighty as he was. They changed ideals, beliefs, religions, and values about as much as they changed the furniture in their house. Perhaps that attributed to Justin's restless spirit, or perhaps it was always there, regardless, Justin was not one for committing to anything, not a job, not a place, and especially not a relationship. So it was to the shock of all of us when he told us that he had not only been in a committed relationship with the same guy for a year but that he was in love with him. Being the type of friends that we are, we immediately teased and berated him for it before asking to meet the guy in question, Isaac.
Isaac was your typical rich boy, spoiled, entitled, arrogant, thinking he was God's gift to men AND women and I of course had a problem with him dating my best friend, especially when he hit on me one night and told me not to tell (which of course I did). Isaac and Justin's relationship was fraught with violent arguments and fighting, excessive drinking and drug usage, and other addictive behavior. Isaac also cheated on Justin....repeatedly. Justin always took Isaac back, much to the chagrin of the rest of us.
So I wasn't too shocked when Justin called to tell me that Isaac had confessed to having an affair for four months, not even when he told me that Isaac had been cheating on him with a woman, I wouldn't have put it past Isaac to cheat on him with a dog if giiven the right motivation and circumstances (gross I know, but hey, I'm being honest). However, I was shocked when he told me that Isaac had gotten this other woman pregnant and the two of them had decided to keep the baby and to try to be together.
Justin was devastated and rightly so. So, being the family that we are, we all pitched in and helped to fly Justin from New York over to London, England where Angel and James lived with their own house, thinking to help Justin heal over his harsh breakup by indulging in the life of a British man. It seemed to work for a while, Justin began laughing and smiling again, returning to a glimpse of his former, vivacious self.
So I was shocked when he called to inform me that he'd had to go to the doctor....again, to get bloodwork done. Then when he told me why, my heart stopped.
You see, our family started off with 15 in 1997, and now in 2010, we are just 5. Losing the other 10 to drugs, jail, and AIDS. So when Justin told me that he was having another "outbreak" of sores, weakness, and feeling sick, I felt the air in my world being sucked out.
Justin is a big, huge, important part of my life. The results of his test came in and when he called me, sobbing openly on the phone, my heart broke. I am so afraid of losing him and so angry that he didn't get tested sooner, earlier, yearly. He knew his partner was unfaithful and yet chose to remain in denial rather than face reality and get tested. His partner put his life on the line by sleeping around and yet Justin is not completely innocent because he didn't use protection and he didn't get tested.
Now, our days will be filled with nostalgic memories, hospital visits, medicine, attempts at trying to cram as much of Justin's "bucket list" into what remains of his life, trying to be hopeful, and all of us will spend our days with this black cloud looming over our heads as we try not to focus on the fact that we will be losing another family member to this horrible disease soon.
We have a responsibility, not just to ourselves but to our partners, our loved ones, the world and our family to get tested as often as possible, to stay healthy, informed and aware.
Justin hasn't lost his vivaciousness or his flair for life, he's wiser now, he's sicker, but he's still the same guy who tossed me over his shoulder and carried me to my Drama class, one day, our freshman year in college, because he said that "Divas don't walk."
His story has motivated those of us who remain to get tested but to also tell his story so that through his life and impending demise, we might save the lives of others.
By the way, Justin's favorite movie is "Rent" and his favorite part? The restaurant scene where the cast sings "La Vie Boheme." Favorite line: "Actual reality, Act now, FIGHT AIDS!"