'Often, I dialog with newly diagnosed people, encouraging them to stay optimistic and not so much to worry about the future, as I have been positive for more than 35 years.'

Half a Lifetime with HIV
Story & Recording by Frank Gulli

My name is Frank. I am a 70-year-old gay man who has survived and thrived during the AIDS pandemic since 1985. That’s 50 percent of my life.

I was living in the Castro area of San Francisco, enjoying the sexual liberation wave, when signs of GRID started to emerge. I was completely blind-sided and taken aback by the severity and speed of the HIV spread. One by one, my close friends got sick, and quickly and suddenly disappeared from the face of the planet.

During the years of 1985 through 2000, I lost more than one hundred of my friends. Pictures of parties with these people are stored away to avoid the pain of that time.

When I first moved to San Francisco, I had a group of friends who migrated there from Boston. Russell was the first to get sick. None of us knew how to handle this. I visited him almost every day.  When he got sicker and sicker, he wasted away to just skin and bones.  He looked like a skeleton.

When Russell passed, we had a huge church service. When the casket left the church for the cemetery, I fell to the ground and cried uncontrollably. I was never so scared in my life.

Frank, another friend, was the class clown. He was an excellent cook and bon vivant. When he started getting sick, he developed dementia and started acting weirdly and saying some crazy stuff. Again, we didn’t know how to deal with this. We watched him deteriorate until his death.

It was the beginning of the end for me. After Frank passed, my other close friends got sick and passed, one by one. My social circle was getting smaller and smaller.

During this period, I never got sick. I took every possibility of medications and treatments to combat the disease. My first drug was AZT, the most poisonous drug I’ve ever taken in my life. It left me weak, anemic, nauseous and lethargic. I thought I would rather be dead than endure this. The side effects of diarrhea and bloating limited my ability to socialize and I was never able to travel too far from home.

In 2000, I moved to LA to leave behind those terrible memories. When I arrived in LA, I got connected to AIDS Healthcare Foundation, where I was able to get advanced care solutions to help combat the disease. I started a three-regimen cocktail that kept my HIV stabilized with no drug side effects. I was able to maintain an extremely high T-cell count and, as far as I know, I was never diagnosed with a detectable viral load.

I was able to resume a normal life, working, traveling and socializing. I am still today keeping this triple regimen, with the hope of doing a bi-monthly injection to continue my good health.

My asymptomatic status gave me a new look on life, and I made new friends and joined many HIV
support groups.  AHF referred me to the organization Being Alive! for therapy sessions, so I could better deal with the mental and emotional pressures of HIV. Being Alive! provided me with a stable social system where I could meet other HIV-positive folks and make friends.

I also connected with an organization that was an offshoot of Shanti Project called Life Group, which provided workshops, retreats and socialization and how-to’s, as well as an environment to meet people. Life Group provided group and one-on-one counseling as well.

I have never been so happy.

I am currently a member of HIVE, HIV Elders who are 50 plus and HIV-Positive. Our goal is to enjoy and celebrate our long-term survival. We support and comfort each other while teaching important lessons about our history. We play online games like Bingo and Trivial Pursuit; go on outings to the zoo, the movies, Starbucks for chats; and walk around various sites in Los Angeles. We have workshops and lectures and often engage in group counseling. I have about 10 or more friends that I am still very close with as a result of this group.

I also belong to AIDS Healthcare Foundation, APLA Health, the LGBT Center, APAIT, and Project Angel Food. These organizations are for people of all ages. Often, I dialog with newly diagnosed people, encouraging them to stay optimistic and not so much to worry about the future, as I have been positive for more than 35 years. When I see my friends and hang out together, I get very motivated to socialize more. On many occasions, I have given advice on HIV medications and support on having a healthy life intimately and socially.

Being HIV-positive is no longer a curse, and I try to convince everyone I come in contact with to stay focused, happy and healthy. I am very proud to be a contributor to the AIDS Monument project. It is my intention to be the last man standing.

Live long and thrive,

Captain Frank