Tears for those lost

In the 1992 display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, there were over 30,000 panels. Photo by Rob Howard.

by Rob Howard
Associate Editor

Every year on World AIDS Day, I pause and remember the friends that I have lost to HIV/AIDS, and those who continue to live with it. And my mind wanders back to the 1992 display of the full AIDS Memorial Quilt in Washington, D.C. My partner and I traveled there to honor, and mourn, those we had lost.

It was an incredible display. The Quilt covered the full length of the National Mall, the area around the Washington Monument and The Ellipse south of the White House. But massive as it was the true emotional impact was finding the panels of our friends.

There was a panel for Rich. When I worked as a baggage handler he was the only out gay person in my workgroup. He was one of the first people I came out to. A panel for Dean, a friend of my partner. One for Randy, a minister who attended the MCC in Minneapolis with us.

A great panel for Brian Coyle, the Vice-President of the Minneapolis City Council. And one for David Rodale, an online friend who helped me come out in 1984.

Today, there are nearly 6,000 12’ by 12’ panels that make up the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Photo by Rob Howard.

And on World AIDS Day my thoughts go back to dozens of friends, but particularly to Kevin, a friend at work, who sat down with me in his cube one day in the late ‘80s and said, “Rob, I have AIDS.” Kevin was a good looking guy with a sunny disposition. A hard worker, a good friend. I went back to my own cube and wept.

That year as we got to the holiday season, he told me that he and his partner John had been invited to John’s parent’s house for Christmas Dinner. But when they found out Kevin had AIDS, they uninvited him. I said, “I’m sorry to hear that. But here’s what we’re going to do. You and John are coming to our house for Christmas Dinner.”

We had a get dinner and a great visit that year and the next. And then Kevin took a turn for the worse. The last time I saw him the disease had ravaged his body so terribly that he was hardly recognizable. I said goodbye, held his hand and left his home where his parents had come from North Dakota to care for him. He died shortly after that, and I still can’t think of Kevin without shedding  tears. I hope Kevin has a Quilt panel too.

In 1992, there were around 35,000 quilt panels. Today there are more than 49,000, with more than 96,000 names. The 1992 display was the next to the last of the entire quilt. It is so huge that it has become logistically impossible to display all of it. There are probably no places available that it could be done.

The Names Project’s AIDS Memorial Quilt is a great way to remember those we have lost. Each year there are more than 1,000 displays of parts of the Quilt in a variety of venues – all in the hopes of making HIV/AIDS real and immediate and turning statistics into souls.

Each of us knows one, or many, people who are living with HIV/AIDS. We need to continue to advocate for the search for a cure and for a vaccine. We lost a generation of young men to this terrible disease. We can’t wait another generation for an AIDS-Free world.

Copyright 2016 The Gayly – December 2, 2016 @ 8 a.m.