I spent part of the day Thursday taking some photographs at Toronto’s AIDS Memorial. (More, certainly with a better overview, will follow leading up to Dec. 1.) The Memorial’s very existence still rubs some people the wrong way, particularly those who only seem to be able to see it as some heretical comparison to war cenotaphs. Click on the photo of the plaque, twice should make it legible, to view its stated mission.
Sure war has been used to describe HIV/AIDS metaphorically but I count myself among those who try to avoid the comparisons. Yet they persist, particularly as I think about having survived so long when so many of my friends died before antiretrovirals took hold here. Activist Larry Kramer writes of a modern-day holocaust and delights in offending if it makes people think.
Friends. Indeed many were. Others, though, were mere acquaintances sharing a life-changing, horrible experience.
I remember Ed. We would see each other at support group meetings on Friday evenings and then go to the late, great, gay Toronto dance institution “The Barn”. We were always among the early arrivals, giving us plenty of room to dance. Ed might slip a fan from his back pocket for dramatic effect. Not that he needed any more accessories. Ed had more rings in his ears (and goodness knows where else) than I could count. His beautifully shaped head glistened through little or no hair. The only sign of wrinkles was the array of laugh lines which lit up his face as we bathed in the moment and the music and the heat.
As the evening wore on Ed would leave, not one for crowds, and I would remain all too content to be paradoxically alone in the oxygen-deprived sardine can.
Ed’s name is on the memorial. He died in 1992. Eleven years my senior he succumbed at the age of 44, which I passed three years ago. In many ways he seemed so much younger than that.
The Toronto AIDS Memorial stands in a park known for its communal dog running, early in the morning and again at supper time. In the heart of the downtown the shade of the park also provides cover for drug deals, even while many urban living-hardened neighbours just enjoy the quiet of a park bench or the rhythmic flow of the fountain – which occasionally is turned into a bubble bath by pranksters. At night the park has been known to be a place of convenience for men with nocturnal urges. Many of those named on the Memorial would, I am sure, delight in the irony.