Leaving Unit 503 upright


I am surrounded by boxes, both packed and empty. This week I am changing units within my housing co-op, moving house for the first time since 1992.

When I re-located to this building 23 years ago I thought, with good reason, that my death was imminent; that I would be here a short time before being discreetly carried out, feet-first, in a black bag – as had been the case for several other friends with AIDS before and since.

Diane Frankling Co-operative Homes, formerly Bleecker Street Co-op, has historically given priority for its rent-geared-to-income units to people living with HIV/AIDS, persons with mental illness (I am, therefore, dually qualified) and women escaping abusive relationships.

Just one floor up and across the hall, dominant morning sun will be replaced by the afternoon’s; plants will need to be re-positioned accordingly. Rather than a view of Cabbagetown roof-tops I will look on to another apartment building and, to my left, a partial but exciting view of Toronto’s impressive skyline.

While I have purged a lot of stuff, and packed quite a bit more, the move just one floor up has me in a sense of suspended animation. Clothes remain on hangers because, well, they can be carried upstairs just like that. It’s the same with my plants.

What I can only pack figuratively are 23 years of memories from here – the early house parties, the cats which I have loved (Sujata is only beginning to suspect we’re up to something), the recovery from my 2003 crash (John Kerry, I so relate to your broken femur!), and the guests and uninvited who have plopped down on the dump-bound sofa.

The weight of these years is affecting me emotionally, positively and poignantly, but it is a marker of the new era of HIV/AIDS that I am leaving Unit 503 walking upright.

Lunch


I planned dessert first today after seeing Wanda’s Pie in the Sky picture on Facebook this morning.

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I walked over to Kensington Market on a near-empty stomach and plopped myself down on the patio at Caplansky’s Delicatessen on College Street:

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I was impressed with the way the water was delivered:

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Either I was hungry or the portions aren’t as big as they are in Montreal because I had no trouble finishing this smoked meat on rye with French fries:

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Then it was down the street and through the market to Wanda’s Pie in the Sky for my little slice of pumpkin cheesecake:

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I guess you could say I had a full tank for the walk home.

I’m Thinking, “This is Going to Hurt!”: On ‘How Not to Deal with Grief’


From my friend Betty Ann on her Facebook page:

“This article deeply moved me…as I suspect it will for any of you who have been impacted by the kind of grief associated with multiple loss, deaths due to overdose and or HIV/AIDS. Rather than just clicking on “like”, can you write a few sentences in a comment? Maybe just something about how this article landed with you? Guess I’m lookin for a little peer support here…”

I know there are many stories related to this piece which could be written. Don’t be afraid to jog my memory or ask a question.

I URGE you to click on the following link and read:

Guest Post – How Not to Deal with Grief

Remember those days when we couldn’t decide how to go to a funeral and make sure a dying friend was okay?  Open casket versus closed? Cremation versus traditional burial?  Would it be okay to go a little over the top in church?  Someone else is sick?  I thought he’d killed himself.

“…those days…come screaming back out of nowhere. I don’t live with it; it lives in me. It is a part of me and makes me what I am. That does not mean I want it. I am not alone in this. And I am not alone in finding that loss accumulates and is sticky and hangs together like lumps of tar and sticks and sand on the beach after a storm.”

“…these thoughts, the ones of dead friends and loved ones, are in the heap in the back corner. They lurk behind the door with a skull and crossbones saying; “Fuck Off, Asshole,” in 72 pica. Then in smaller type: “You know who and what’s in here, so why don’t you just walk the fuck away?” And every so often I walk through that door for whatever reason and it takes days to recover.”

“People died around you. Repeatedly. Let me emphasize: Repeatedly. There were no protease inhibitors. No Truveda. Just blind hope, determination, anger, solidarity, organizing, guesswork and gambling on whether to take a drug or wait for the big one that will work — and die waiting. This was not a time of long-term sustainability.”

“I am not perfect. But I have found some happiness in my life, not by achieving resolution, but by acquiring wounds, then healing some and developing scar tissue that will always be there, and by just keeping going.”

My laptop feels too small for what I want to write. I need a full-sized keyboard to spread out my fingers as on the keyboard of a grand pipe organ. I know the feeling of not wanting to go through personal items and photographs of friends lost. But I also know it’s an irresistible tug sometimes. I more often than not know what it means just to still be here when I could have, should have been dead, with only analogies of Vegas or God’s perverse selection process as explanation. I reject both.

I know that “just keeping going” has taken a lot of courage for many people, so why not me, too? I accept that there have been times when it seemed much simpler to die than to just keep going. I’ve even wished I would have died long before now. But there are new things to work on, new struggles to wage, even while bearing all the scars of having nearly shit myself to death.

My neighbourhood’s horror


Not to cast a pall over my birthday today, which I’ve already kept low-key-to-dull, but I wanted to share this item from the Toronto Star which summarizes what has transpired in my Cabbagetown neighbourhood since Tuesday morning.

I awoke to the sound of two distinct, non-verbal screams. Now I’m on the fifth floor and at the opposite end of a lane which intersects with the driveway near the corner of Winchester and Ontario Streets. It was on that driveway that Nighisti Semret met her tragic and senseless fate.

If you live in the area, please look again at our security video embedded in the Star’s story. It’s the biggest clue that police have released thus far.

Also, keep your ears peeled for ways you could help the family if Ms. Semret. I understand the Delta Chelsea Hotel, her employer, as well as members of the Eritrean community in Toronto, might be fundraising.

Cathedral Bluffs, Scarborough (Toronto), sunrise, June 27


Hopped up on sugar and caffeine early this morning I had the bright idea of seeing if I could get to the Scarborough Bluffs in time for some sunrise photos.  I won’t disclose how I got there other than to say that it involved the kindness of neither stranger nor friend!

I’ll let the pictures speak as to how well I walked!  I note that Mother Nature has made very critical, unfortunate structural changes to the Abbey since I first saw it about forty years ago (another ice age intervened, I grant you!)

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Nine years older nine years later


It’s been so long I had to look up what SARS stood for (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).

That was part of the underlying score as I spent five weeks in two hospitals starting nine years ago early this morning.

Why was I laid up?

Well an item from Montréal in this morning’s news brought it all back, except that I wasn’t in an argument when I was hit.

Some of the details I remember quite clearly, as I recalled in my story, but the twenty-four-to-forty-eight hours following my mishap have been wiped from my memory – calling my friend Karen, Karen calling my Mom, Mom calling me. I had perked up a little by the time my sisters and Craig called. My down-and-out time was spent in surgery and recovering from it – repairing my right femur and radius by “internal fixation” one at a time, mind you, but under the same anesthetic (these x-rays are roughly what mine looked like when all was done.)

From the moment the first fire-truck arrived until my last day at the rehab hospital on June 6 SARS, and the necessary but de-humanizing preventive measures against it, was a constant fact of life in Toronto. The TV movie made about it wasn’t far off the mark at all.

So nine years later, there’s been a lot of water under the bridge, but I still see the places on my leg and arm where the incisions were made and on days when my body aches those two spots tend to lead off.

Once upon a time living to see 2003 seemed an unrealistic dream, and that spring was quite a nightmare, but I remember lying on my hospital bed “bargaining” to hopefully walk again, use a cane for the rest of my life even, and, while I thought I had to do so for some time, that is no longer the case.

This mishap was the catalyst for a lot of therapy – and not just of the physical variety.  I became familiar with the idea that significant trauma can re-awaken (or rouse for the first time) past trauma.  I’ve done a lot of work in nine years, if I do say so myself.

So there’s my shot of gratitude for the day!