How do surviving near-death experiences change you? What would you do if your car malfunctions on a highway while traveling 55 miles per hour and you try as hard as you can to keep the car steady on the road. You feel the car pulling to the right, and you turn left and no matter what you do, you ultimately lose control of the car, hit a guard rail and crash through a “Trump/Pence: Make America Great Again” billboard and your car rolls three times stopping upside down. You get out of the car without a scratch not even knowing how you got out.
© Vincenzo Aiosa
Then what? How does this change the trajectory of your life? Or what if you survive being sexually abused at age fourteen by a summer camp dramatics counsellor twice your age who tells you lies and says he loves you then leaves you with strange men for some cigarette money?
Frank Jump at sixteen in 1976 © Frank H. Jump
Or what if you find out at age 26 that for the last two years you have had HIV in a period time almost a decade before antivirals were developed. What do you do with that information? How does this knowledge inform your decisions on short-term and long-term goals. Do all goals fall by the wayside or do you become urgently driven to survive- and not just settle for a mediocre survival but a transformative one that transforms not just your life but the lives of others around you.
Eleven years later at an ACT UP demo at Memorial Sloan Kettering © Jon Nalley
I’m speaking from my experiences and the experiences of others. These events have happened to me and those for whom I care deeply. Ponder this: what if you survive a war in which you were on the brink of starvation only to become physically abused by your father and sexually abused by a neighbor. Your only escape is to marry a man you don’t love – you blow up the dikes and create an ocean separating you from the flood of memories of your past and continuing mental hardship.
Amsterdam 1958, Willy (center) with (from the left) her Mom, Harold Jump, her father and his mother. © Frank H. Jump
My mother did this and made a life for herself for the most part on her terms. Willy navigated a post-WWII late fifties American social landscape with a post-WWII Amsterdam sensibility. She was a stranger in a provincial but quickly evolving culture that valued traditional families, excessive consumerism and strict adherence to gender roles.
Christmas 1966 © Frank H. Jump
This all became her new reality a little over a decade after her father would forage through local gardens for tulip bulbs to bring home for dinner. Tulip bulb soup. Or going out with her mother to search for food in the farmland outside Amsterdam. Willy’s mother Johanna Maria would leave her in a safe house, an earthen-like structure with a grass roof that looked like pasture from above – disguised from German or Allied planes aerial sorties. Willy sat waiting anxiously, sometimes until dusk for her mother to return sometimes with just four frozen carrots crusted with clay and a half rotten onion. While walking back to their stowed bicycle constantly scanning the sky and the horizon for troop movement, a horse quietly followed them, my mother walking slower behind her mother with her precious carrot behind her back unaware of the hungry mare’s intentions until she felt its hot equine breath on her hand. These stories came to Willy after years of suppression, often after smoking a doobie, but almost always during our visits back to Amsterdam, the sounds and smells of the city conjuring and coaxing these deep seated neural seed stores.
Early selfie with disposable camera in Amsterdam with my mother during the Gay Games in 1996 © Frank H. Jump