A day can be a lot of things

May 4 is Star Wars Day. Silly!

It’s also The Rhonda’s birthday (to be celebrated at a later date with cake). Fun!

In the neither silly nor fun category, it’s also the day our friend Jeff died in 1995. With resolution, I actually brought the Jeff bin in from the carport to begin purging it. And I did get a full trash bag of stuff to throw away. But I’m nowhere near done and my resolution is fading.

through the years

In the years after Steve died in 1992, I always took a cake to work on his birthday. Sometimes Lynne made the cake, sometimes I did. After I didn’t work there anymore, I still made him a birthday cake, and there have been many different friends who’ve shared his birthday with us, first at The Compound and now at Houndstooth Hall. This year Steve’s birthday fell on Friday–usually Craft Night–but The Brides are in Austin for softball, and Tim is housesitting. So it was only Tom, Debby, Lynne, and me, a nice gathering to celebrate Steve’s life. As happened long ago, Lynne was nice enough to decorate the cake I’d baked. Steve and I met through the bookstore where we were both managers, so I used the book cake pan and the usual Winnie the Pooh characters with a bookish theme. Lynne did a great job–and we all did a stellar job of eating it!

Later, it was a breezy night so we lit tiki torches with some mosquito repellant and enjoyed conversation on the patio. Tim’s dogs stayed inside to keep company with his little foster dog Leo, who’s still recovering from pneumonia. The rest of the pack, along with Lynne’s, wore themselves out playing in the yard. We like to pretend we moved here for the dogs to enjoy a big yard. But honestly…

A Fragile Circle

Sunday I baked the little clay print that was pressed from Margot’s paw. I know I’ll paint it eventually. Yesterday, Tom picked up her ashes, and the card that came with them from Little Friends Pet Memorial had these words from “The Once Again Prince,” by Irving Townsend, from Separate Lifetimes:

We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own live within a fragile circle, easily and often breeched. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan…

Because it’s World AIDS Day, I can’t help but think of the other fragile circles that were formed among those of us who were friends and caregivers of those with HIV and lost to AIDS. Though society may place different values on who we love, our hearts know no such boundaries. We only love. When we lose who we love, our grief likewise knows no boundaries. We only mourn.

I have infinite happy memories of my friends Steve, Jeff, John, Tim, and Pete, but I still miss them, and I’d rather they be here, healthy and alive. Each of them would have loved Margot and mourned her loss with me. But they and my father were early teachers of a truth: I’d rather hurt inside the fragile circle than live outside it and never know what it is to love.

Today, Giving Tuesday, Tom and I contributed to my fundraising campaign for Rescued Pets Movement in our friends’ memory. I’m going to send out a mass email–one of my least favorite things to do–to encourage others to contribute, as well. When my friends were sick and dying against a backdrop of national indifference, I saw again and again what an impact even the smallest act from one compassionate person could have. I also saw the strength my friends drew from their companion animals, who offered love without judgment.

To support an organization that has saved the lives of over ten thousand dogs and cats in two years, giving those animals a chance to be inside the fragile circle with their adopters–I know my lost friends would support a movement that brings more healing and love to our world.

The campaign continues until January 7, 2016 at 1:59:59pm ET , but if RPM raises the most between 12am ET and 11:59:59pm ET today, December 1, they’ll get a $25,000 donation to their cause. You can donate any amount at all to my fundraiser, and if you wish, you can even say in whose memory or honor you’re donating from your own fragile circle.

Thank you.

World AIDS Day 2014

World AIDS Day. December 1.The other day when I was clearing out some boxes from the attic in preparation for our move, I found something I didn’t even remember we had. It’s a pack that was given to Tom to keep personal items in when he was volunteering at the NAMES display in Washington, D.C., in 1996. By that time, we’d lost our friends Steve R and Jeff to AIDS-related illnesses. Within a year, we would also lose John and Tim R.

Pete Martinez, who co-founded the Houston AIDS Quilt NAMES Project in 1988 and was the workshop manager, was part of those days in Washington, where our friend Amy volunteered alongside Tom and me, and made them some of the most memorable of our lives. Pete died in 2001.

We will never forget those lost, and World AIDS Day is one day when the entire community of AIDS and HIV activists, caregivers, and surviving friends and families can join together in remembering them and how far we’ve come since the early days of the pandemic. As well as being a day of remembrance, it’s an opportunity to educate and advocate, and clicking on the above link can provide a lot of good information.

This year’s World AIDS Day theme is Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS-free Generation. That is the hope. That is what we all continue to strive for and the way we look forward. But we will always look back, too, and honor those who inspired science, medicine, government, religion, and society to move toward more tolerant, more compassionate, and more vocal reactions to a health crisis that robbed the world of too much.

I will never forget you, my friends. Thank you for changing my life.

Button Sunday

Happy Pride weekend to those celebrating it across the country. I walked to Houston’s Pride parade last night. Though there’d been rain during the day and I feared the humidity might kill me, there was actually a breeze blowing so it was almost pleasant. I don’t know how we used to endure the heat during midday parades.

Though I haven’t gone to the parade for the last couple of years mostly because of the heat, this year I was more motivated. Tim made me aware that designer Mondo Guerra, “Project Runway” veteran, was the parade’s celebrity grand marshal. As much as I enjoyed Mondo’s creations on PR, I most admire him for his HIV/AIDS awareness advocacy.

I was able to get a good couple of photos. In addition to his bold designs and activism, Mondo (in the red slacks) has quite a collection of eyeglasses. Last night’s frames sparkled.

For Steve R

This week I’ve done a post each in memory of Tim R, John M, Jeff C, and now Steve R. They’re not the only friends and acquaintances Tom and I have lost to AIDS, but these four are the ones who changed our lives.

When I met Steve, he was mourning the loss of his lover–because that’s what he called Don instead of the formal sounding “partner” or clunky “significant other”–in the days before anyone even dreamed “husband” would actually have a legal foundation for same-sex couples in sixteen states (and counting). I never met Don, but I felt like I knew him. When I made an AIDS Memorial Quilt panel for him, I didn’t include his last name, only his initial, out of respect for his family’s privacy. No one in the small rural town where he grew up knew that Don died from complications related to AIDS. His parents had no illusions about who Don was, and they loved him unconditionally. But as his mother explained to Steve, “If the people in our church knew, they would ask us to withdraw our membership there.”

It’s the kind of situation many parents faced–and I suppose still face. The communities from whom they seek the most comfort, because their bonds there are strong, are the ones from whom they keep secrets. (This is not limited to church, but workplaces, social networks, friends and families.) Steve’s parents, who were also from a rural community in a different state, were forthright with their neighbors and fellow worshippers about Steve’s illness and later, his death. People handle things different ways, and I never judged Don’s parents for their decision. I also believe that the several years’ difference between when Don was ill and died and when Steve died were a factor. By the time Steve died in June of 1992, famous people were wearing red ribbons, and the AIDS Memorial Quilt included panels from every state and 28 countries. AIDS was also part of the national political discussion. In October 1992, the entire Quilt was exhibited in Washington, D.C. (Tom and I were volunteers there), and in January 1993, representatives from the NAMES Project were included in President Clinton’s inaugural parade.

After Don died, his mother sent Steve a tasteful set of new bedding–sheets, bedskirt, comforter, shams–because as she said, she worried that sleeping on the sheets where Don had been ill, even though they’d once shared them as a couple, might hurt Steve. She didn’t want him to be lost in grief, but to move forward and find happiness again. I talked to her on the phone several times, and it was clear that her own grief for her lost son was still raw. She felt like she lost another son when Steve died.

We used that bedding for a long time in our guest house, but when Tim made that his home, we packed it away. It’s not the only gift I have from Don’s family to Steve. Once when he was purging things in preparing to move, Steve pulled out a handmade quilt.

“Don’s grandmother made this,” Steve said. “I’d like for someone who would care about it to have it. Do you want it?”

“I’d be honored,” I said.

“Okay, but promise me you won’t let your dogs sleep on it!”

Our dogs Pete and Stevie are long gone, and Margot and Guinness are old girls now. But I never let any of them sleep on Don’s grandmother’s quilt. It’s on the window seat, and they do like to get up there at times, but there are several other quilts on top of it to protect it.

Last night I was thinking about Don, and I wondered… Doesn’t anyone from his hometown ever speculate? Maybe someone has even posted about him online, in a class reunion message board or something. So I googled him, and in doing so, I found his mother’s obituary. She died this past spring–she was eighty-six, outliving her son by twenty-six years.

Steve used to say that when I died, he and Don were going to swing by to pick me up so we could all have a big adventure together in the afterlife. I’d like to think right now, he and Don are making Don’s mother laugh again. She told me once that was a great gift her son possessed.