Submitted to Aless.ca today
I find the anticipation, whatever the outcome, of World AIDS Day quietly overwhelming.
“Not much,” I replied to a friend asking what plans I had last night. I might as well have had dental freezing in my brain, such was the unacknowledged numbness.
When I think of World AIDS Day I think of, as a blur, the forty or, I’m sure, more friends and fellow travelers who died of AIDS long before, and some since, the chance to survive with complex medications existed.
It is such a blur that I do not wish to single any one out.
Nearly six years ago, a blogger friend in California reminded me of something I do not mention much about my family, and then it’s usually “someone else in whose footsteps I was following”. I always respected my brother’s own, non-blog, ways of carrying himself in public.
Let’s just say there was this guy I write about more than anyone else (me) with an older brother who, like me, is gay and has been living with HIV/AIDS since the 1980s. Both are openly loved and accepted by family, close and extended, and many friends.
When I “came out” to my parents in 1981 it was not a complete surprise when they revealed that my older brother had also come out to them a few years earlier. One of the reasons I had not been in on that, however, was the fact that I – at that time – was test-driving ways of suppressing my homosexuality, to the point where I joined a right-of-Baptist, left-of-Pentecostal church for awhile. The test-drive, as evidenced in my subsequent writings, ended in a high-speed crash into a spiritual wall. My internal emotional injuries were very serious.
After I came out to our parents my brother wrote me a letter (in those days before email and long before Facebook), another letter I wish I had kept. In addition to lending support and understanding, I recall the note offering some wise advice about the difficulties inherent in living out one’s sexual orientation in a gay ‘community’ which, at times, can seem like a very cruel world. (Rufus Wainwright, a favourite, profoundly captures this in his song “Poses”.)
To say that Craig and I became closer, after I had withdrawn from my ‘doth-protest-too-much’ stance against homosexuality, would be an understatement. However, to this day, I regret any actions that separated us during those times. The relationship thankfully evolved to being much more comfortable over the years.
I learned in confidence, in the mid 1980s, that Craig had been infected with HIV – news which Craig later shared with other family members.
With all of that background, I vividly recall having a picnic lunch, a few years later, with my Mom and Dad during a brief vacation I had taken deliberately to disclose my HIV-positive status to them.
This being 1990, my medicine bag only had AZT in it and yet it seemed like the heaviest thing in my back-pack that day. Knowing that I would need to take that capsule before the picnic party had returned to Mom and Dad’s home I now only recall these key moments of the conversation.
Kenn: “When Craig told you he was HIV-positive the best information he had, at that time, was that I was negative.”
Mom (sighing deeply): “Oh, don’t tell me…”
That was in the summer of 1990, a little more than a year after routine blood-work had first shown tell-all “counts” in reverse, certainly abnormal, proportions. (Those blood samples, from the spring of 1989, were later tested specifically for HIV and were found to be positive.)
That picnic seems like a lifetime ago. My parents and siblings gradually integrated this overwhelming information and were very accepting as I shared my story publicly, even via television and newspaper media. (One magazine article, originally meant as a simple tribute to my parents’ longstanding involvement in their community, included the traumatic events when my mother barely survived an attack of necrotising fasciitis – ‘flesh-eating disease’ – and how my father suffered a major heart attack as Mom was in the midst of her recuperation at home following more than two months of critical care hospitalization.)
In layer-upon-layer of irony Craig fell in April of 2007 and, tragically, hit his head, suffering irreversible brain damage. He died a few weeks later just days before what would have been his fifty-second birthday. Mourners shook our heads as we thought about Craig having survived twenty or more years of HIV/AIDS, quintuple bypass surgery just a year before, only to have a freak fall end his life so horribly.
I still carry Craig with me and, while we shared an AIDS diagnosis as well as our sexual orientation, he was definitely his own man and I miss him as much today as any other.