Love And HIV

Apr 4, 2014
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GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:

Now, Daniel Goldstein lives right here across the bay in San Francisco. Now, Daniel's an artist and he tells SNAP's Anna Sussman a story about his first love.

DANIEL GOLDSTEIN: You know, he was my first love.

ANNA SUSSMAN, BYLINE: How'd you meet?

GOLDSTEIN: He was my best friend's date. And my best friend wasn't interested and I was. I just thought he was fascinating. And plus he was gorgeous. But what's interesting about him being a scientist in the gay community is that wasn't really - not necessarily not that it wasn't accepted in the gay community, but it wasn't highly valued. And so then here comes the AIDS epidemic and he becomes a very highly valued member of the community because he has information.

SUSSMAN: So what was your first memory of what we now know as HIV?

GOLDSTEIN: So right at the beginning I was aware of it and Steve, because he was an immunologist, was hyper aware of it and he was reading everything he could get his hands on because all of our friends were totally freaking out and so they were coming to him and going, what is this? People were dying. Literally, they'd be fine, they go into the hospital, and then four days later they were dead.

And it was really quick, really mysterious. At first it was called the gay cancer. So it was just like any little cough or any little spot on your skin, you know, a pimple or something, you were freaking out. There was no test available, but Steve, my partner, was working at the lab and they actually had the test in the lab. So he took our blood to the lab and I didn't get a whole lot of sleep that night.

But I do remember when he came home and said we're both positive. You know, this - it sounds so weird when I tell people this, but the first thing I thought of when I found out I was positive was like, I have all these sculptures in my head and if I don't do them now, I may never get to do them. I mean, it's sort of weird.

SUSSMAN: You wanted to make more sculptures.

GOLDSTEIN: Right.

SUSSMAN: What did he want to do?

GOLDSTEIN: What did - he wanted to research. I mean, he wanted to save our lives. He found out about a study that had been done in Africa on a drug that seemed to have some efficacy. This drug was called Seramin, and they decided to do a study in this country. In total there were 80 people who were in the study. Of course, yeah, we talked about whether it was a good idea, but also it was - there was nothing else.

So we would go to General Hospital and sit in this chair and they would stick a needle in our arms and you'd sit there for a couple hours. And, I mean, I've had friends with cancer go through chemotherapy, it was like that times five. I could barely move. It was just - it was a horrible drug. After about a month of it, I just thought, you know what? I want to do this anymore. It was just like, I think I'll just wait. Steve kept on with the drug.

SUSSMAN: Was he upset with you?

GOLDSTEIN: No, not at all. No, he totally understood it. I just, you know, he respected that I just didn't want to do it anymore. And so Steve had stayed on it for like a month or two longer and then I just said, I think you should go off this this, it's just going to hurt you. But by then it was too late. And he just got sicker and sicker. And in January, he died. There were 80 people in the study including me, 79 people died.

I was the only one who made it through and mostly because I quit. A couple of months after Steve died, I was back at General Hospital and I was talking to the guy who had organized the study. And he told me about this meeting of all the doctors from across the country who had been in charge of the study. And he said he'd never been in a room before of doctors and clinicians who were sobbing because they lost - they basically lost all their patients. Back then, AIDS was a death sentence, you know, pure and simple. Probably the only way I could explain what that kind of loss looks like or feels like is imagine yourself going to a party and there's 20 people at the party. Imagine a year later that 16 of those people are dead. There's only four of you left. That's what it was like. I didn't plan - I wouldn't take commissions because I didn't know if I was going to be around in three months to do it.

You know, I did not plan on living. And most, you know, most of us did not. I know lots of people who basically maxed out all their credit cards. And I would go into my studio, literally look around like turn around 360 degrees, then walk out. It was just like - I couldn't handle it. You need to be focused in order to do art and when you lose somebody, that's the first thing that goes is your focus. But the art did come back and the art really helped me back into the world. It all started with workout bench covers, leather workout bench covers from my gym.

SUSSMAN: Seriously?

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah. The gym that I went to, it was the main gay gym in San Francisco during the AIDS epidemic - the height of the AIDS epidemic. And I would say probably most of the people who went to that gym are dead.

It was a place where, you know, inside your body was being wracked by this disease, but the outside, you could at least try to make yourself strong on the outside. It was also - it was like the town square. It was where you found out who was in the hospital, who was sick. So I used to look at these pieces of leather that we would work out on and there would - just the patina on them was beautiful. I just know that I wanted them and I bribed the manager. They would take them off and replace them with new leather.

And I said please, please, no, don't throw them away. Save them for me. He gave them to me and I brought them home to the studio and laid them out on the floor, didn't know what to do with them. Then one day I took one which was about six feet tall, big one - had been for a big sit up bench - and I tacked it up to the wall and it literally blew me across the room. It was sort of like the Shroud of Turin, but it was a whole body. It was astonishing.

SUSSMAN: I don't know you're saying. You tacked it to the wall?

GOLDSTEIN: I tacked this piece of leather to the wall and because people had been working out on it for years and sweating into it and, you know, rubbing up against it 'cause they're working out, they had rubbed away the surface of the leather and what was left was an image, a ghost of a body.

And it was really strong and I thought, OK, I have to honor these 'cause this is not the Shroud of Turin of one guy, this is the shroud of every man - all their DNA is in these pieces. You know, I need to honor them. It took me quite a while to figure out how to do it. I sort of made these - they looked almost like packing crates - and put them in it real simple with black background and copper around them and Plexiglass in the front.

They'd been in museum shows all over the world and people got it. People really got what they were about. I get survivor skilled question sometimes. I never quite know what to say. I'm glad I survived. I'm really glad I survived. I don't feel guilty, I miss my friends, but it's not guilt. I'm glad I'm here, I can tell their stories.

WASHINGTON: We want to thank Daniel for sharing his story of love and loss with SNAP. We found out about Daniel by way of the remarkable documentary, "We Were Here." We're going to have a link to the film at snapjudgment.org. That piece was produced by Anna Sussman with sound design by Renzo Gorrio.

It's happened, it's in the big dance, yeah. But don't let the magic get away. Full episodes, movies, pictures, stuff available right now at snapjudgment.org. Can't wait? Find it on the iTunes, on the SoundClouds, Twitter, Stitcher, Facebook. Now just because you're doing the "Making it Work" episode doesn't mean that you should arrive at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in anything less than appropriate business attire. Making it work without clothing is not an acceptable option and I apologize for any distress my unannounced, butt naked visit may have caused last Thursday.

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