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May 25, 2020

Following an HIV-positive diagnosis during the onset of the AIDS epidemic, Faulk contemplated giving up his medical career before devoting himself to the care of AIDS patients. The BookLife review of My Epidemic called it “an insider’s cultural history of the insular middle-class, urban gay community taking care of itself through a devastating crisis.”

What prompted you to write your memoir now?

Covid-19 is a shared trauma, experienced worldwide, whose impact will be felt for generations to come. But eventually the memories will be lost. During the worst years of the AIDS epidemic, I always assumed that the number of our dead would mean the world would never be the same—that it should never be the same. But as will happen with Covid-19, what we went through in the HIV pandemic is fading from our collective memory. For many years I thought I had nothing to say unless I could help manage sorrow, calm horror, or allay physical pain, but I’ve learned otherwise. These stories document the pride and hope, sacrifice and courage of those with HIV and their caregivers. This undertaking is to ensure that this period of history isn’t forgotten.

As the events of your memoir happened decades ago, how do you make sure you are telling “the truth,” or how do you refresh your memories when writing?

I believe it is more important to convey feelings than to insist on specific dialogue or events; there were instances in which I just relived the emotions. At the time, I occasionally took notes about my most memorable patients and their exact words. But, as I mention in my introduction, I certainly combine some events, people, dialogue, and circumstances. Although a remark or detail may be forgotten, these were powerful events, and my book is faithful to the spirit of the times and people. If you had ever attended a “goodbye” party in which the guest of honor commits doctor-assisted suicide, you would remember. The details would be at your fingertips.

How do you imagine readers at this moment will connect to My Epidemic?

In this time of great upheaval, I believe there are many issues that AIDS and Covid-19 have in common—such as the impact of physical and psychological distancing, the importance of understanding the susceptible population, the fault lines in society, and the hazards of behavior. My book has a lot to say about dealing with the dying and the loss that ensues. Almost everyone, sooner or later, is going to face the death of a loved one. How do you best use the time you have, even the last conversation, to achieve resolution? One of the most well-known phenomena of Covid-19 is that patients who are dying can’t be with the people they love—contact can be made only through glass or a device. In discussing the inaccessibility of physical presence and the lack of time available for goodbyes, My Epidemic emphasizes the ultimate cruelty of Covid-19. We can’t spend the last few moments with our loved ones; they must die alone.

Looking back, if you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?

With time, I’ve learned what most people know: that having a support person or group to help register losses and process turmoil can help one continue to do immensely difficult work. It is only with age that I’ve learned that we exercise our humanity by telling and listening to our individual histories and that in so doing we give others solace and hope. I would put into words what I knew only by amorphous intuition: that the one-on-one connection that these memories relate can give relief where there is no remedy—healing where medications and treatment can’t reach.

Do you see yourself continuing to write?

Yes, maybe in the distant future. It took me more than 25 years of reflection, however, to write about the AIDS epidemic. Eventually I can see myself writing in more detail about the Covid-19 epidemic and what we can learn from it. But I don’t see myself ever writing fiction—it would be nonfiction or nothing at all.

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