Ted Zepeda tells us the story of a remarkable young man named Jaime and his journey to participating in AIDS/LifeCycle.
"I'm participating in this year's AIDS/LifeCycle
because both my parents died of AIDS when I was a boy," said Jaime
McElmon, his face rosy from the ride on Day Three of the seven-day,
545-mile AIDS/LifeCycle (ALC) fundraising ride that benefits the
HIV/AIDS services of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los
Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. At 29, Jaime's entire life has been
lived in the shadow of the now 30-year-old pandemic.
"My parents were homeless drug addicts in Massachusetts when I was an infant and they were dead by the time I was five," he said wearily, sitting in the massive empty ALC dining tent after a dinner service for 3,000 riders. "I don't remember much about them - I was too little."
Jaime wasn't told much about his parents' death from AIDS-complications in 1988. Jamie was not infected with HIV and was cared for by his grandmother until she died (her name, "Marnie," is tattooed on his arm) and then was adopted by a family with children.
Jaime only learned about how his parents lived and, ultimately, died - when he was in his mid-20s. "I was angry when I learned about my parents," said Jaime. "I was angry for a long time."
Jaime moved to San Diego in 2008 to work as a nurse and met Bradley, who is also his ALC riding partner. "I had heard about the AIDS LifeCycle ride for many years but this being the 10th anniversary motivated me to join. The time was right to forgive my parents and this ride was my way to do it."
Jaime's friends and family supported him with his ALC fundraising and he used FaceBook to reach out for additional support. His FaceBook profile described his parents' story. "One of my mother's high school girlfriends contacted me on FaceBook and told me so much about my mother and how she was as a girl in Ipswich, Massachusetts. She told me she had always wondered how my mom died so young and that she knows my mom would be proud of my participation in the AIDS/LifeCycle."
For Jaime, who had never heard anything good about his parents, this FaceBook connection was transformative. "But," he added, "something else happened on the ride - something really amazing."
Jaime's face suddenly lights up as he describes the ride: "When I was riding today I became acutely aware of the silent camaraderie of the riders. We're all together but we're riding single file and alone with our thoughts. It became clear to me today that with these 3,000 people I've never met, who are all riding for the same cause, I can be completely myself. I don't have to explain myself, or fear being judged or have to be ashamed. No one has mentioned this profound silence before and I have found it truly inspiring. I see now that I no longer need this ride to forgive my parents - there's nothing to forgive - I'm doing this ride now to honor my parents and to thank them for the life they gave me."
"Thank you AIDS/LifeCyle!"
(Jamie on left with his mother and partner Bradley)