Beginning in 1992, when Steve R died, I wrote a newsletter on World AIDS Day every year. While I was still in the corporate world, my employer was gracious enough to provide the resources for me to print and distribute it to our entire company. My newsletter always centered around the annual theme as established by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS. By December of 1995, my friend Jeff C was dead. By December of 1996, my friend John M was in the hospital. I was back in school and no longer working in the corporate world, so I mailed copies of my newsletter to all the people who still wanted to read it. Three days later, John died. By December of 1997, my friend Tim R was dead, and I was hooked up to the Internet from home. Along with newsletter copies I mailed, I was able to begin e-mailing it to a whole new group of contacts. After joining LiveJournal in 2004, I began blogging on World AIDS Day, sometimes printing out copies of what I’d written to include in holiday cards I sent to my late friends’ families, because I wanted them to know I never forget their sons, brothers, uncles… and that any small thing I can ever do to raise awareness is done in those men’s memory to honor them and the friendship each of them shared with me.
My friends could never have envisioned the massive amount of information available to us since the Internet shrank the globe. Resources and facts that it used to take me days to accumulate after calling countless offices and individuals– from the Center for Disease Control to various HIV/AIDS assistance organizations in Houston–can now be pulled up at the touch of a button. Google can give anyone phone numbers and statistics and awareness-raising activities in seconds.
But Google can’t tell you that Steve R loved classical music and chocolate cheesecake and cried in his hospital bed when he saw on the news that Arthur Ashe had AIDS. Google can’t tell you that Jeff C had a fat laugh and loved to throw parties and celebrated Election Night 1992 with glasses of Moët & Chandon champagne shared with Lynne, John M, and me. Google can’t tell you that John M had twinkling eyes, once waved goodbye to me wearing a gold tiara and a white bathrobe, and introduced me to a man who still remains one of my favorite people in the world, my friend James. Google can’t tell you that Tim R loved Christmas and antiques and created a home that I loved so much that many of my favorite things in my own home now show his influence.
Google can’t tell you the worlds of art and music and politics these men opened for me. It can’t tell you of nights when they held one another’s hands, or I held their hands, knowing it might be the last time–and ultimately, there was a last time.
This year’s World AIDS Day theme is “Getting to Zero.” The goal of a world with no new cases of HIV. No more AIDS. And the only way that can be reached is education. Testing. Talking. Awareness. Research. Following through on commitments of money and time. From the largest governments to the smallest committees in cities, towns, and villages throughout the world. To individuals and their stories. Because Google can’t tell your story, or the stories of your friends, or the stories of your AIDS Quilt panels, or the stories of your neighbors, fellow students, fellow worshippers, colleagues. Only you can do that.
Thanks to The University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and Diane Beck at the Ryan White Planning Council, I was able to know about and participate in activities today. Thanks to the World AIDS Campaign, aids.gov, UNAIDS, and (RED)™ I have current information on the pandemic and was encouraged to speak on Twitter, Facebook, and my own blog about AIDS.
Today I wore my red ribbon and Tom wore his red bracelet. And here are some of the other things I did to recognize the day and honor my friends–all with Timothy J Lambert, who embodies all the wonderful friendships and experiences that came after the dark time when I wondered if I’d ever feel joy again. Of course I have, and do, and Steve R, Jeff C, John M, and Tim R wanted that for me–and said so. I thank them for that and a million things that made my life deeper and better.
Roses left on Tim Rose’s grave for each of my four friends.
Pulling back, you can see the red, white, and yellow roses planted by the Rose family on Tim’s grave. And in the background, you can see Timothy J Lambert shooting photos and giving me a few minutes to chat with Tim R. My advice is never stop talking to those you’ve lost. Death can’t mute conversations of the heart.
Later, Tim and I wandered the UH campus until we found this building, which hosted a display of some NAMES Quilt Panels.
Later, we stopped by Starbucks, who’d committed five cents of every handcrafted beverage sold in participating stores in the U.S. and Canada to the Global Fund to help those living with HIV/AIDS in Africa.
And finally, we went to a candlelight observance in Tranquility Park in downtown Houston, where my photos are blurry. But I like them just the same, because:
A stranger patiently waited for me to get this shot.
She’s not alone, as you can see from the shadows on the wall behind her.
That, to me, shows one of the miracles my friends and I learned. When we are brave enough to tell our stories, we find a community willing to listen, to hold our hands, to lift us up.
No one has to be alone in this.