Why I’m Cooking Red to Remember…
Thank you, fellow food bloggers, for your loving participation and for cooking red.
I’m going to go out on a long and shaky limb to raise my voice. December is AIDS Awareness Month. I have been hit hard personally by this disease, and I don’t need anyone to make me more aware, but I would like your support in remembering. It is estimated that America has seen more than a half a million deaths from Aids, since the 1980’s, and more than 1 million may be living with Aids as I write this. The statistics world wide are more staggering. And, while the “dying” part has slowed down, the suffering has not.
You can read my story or skip to the bottom and participate. It’s not an easy story to read, and I have a bit of anxiety taking my apolitical beautiful food blog that is about joy, love and eating, and taking it in this direction. But once I got the idea, my mind wouldn’t shut it down.
If you have ever read my “about” page, there is a dedication at the bottom. My brother and my cousin died of Aids a year apart, and they were the people I was the closest in the world to. We grew up together and my entire childhood and early adulthood in woven in memories of James and Sam, the two men who helped to define me and were the single largest advocates of my well being. Only my husband can match what they meant to me.
The death toll for people I knew personally didn’t end there. During that same time period, my neighbor that shared the other half of our penthouse apartments died. A client I was counseling died. I remember telling him that when it gets close to the end, to call for my brother. Perhaps this wasn’t appropriate, but I had lost my mind for a while, and I lost a lot of what was “appropriate.” During this time, I was counseling a couple who had adopted a daughter born to a prostitute. She lived for 12 years and then she died. My hairdresser died. My landlord’s boyfriend died. My beautiful friend, Steven gave me an antique french sideboard after his boyfriend died that has traveled with me from California to Nashville.
I remember making friends with a gal at a therapy workshop and she was grieving because her brother died of Aids. I thought “oh dear God, please don’t let that happen to me. But two years later, both my cousin and my brother were dead. Just like that. This darkness didn’t hit like a sunny afternoon that sees twilight, then dusk, then darkness. It was so quick and cold as if the sun just disappeared, and all the lights went out.
And for a while it felt like it would never be warm and sunny again. And, it is many years later, and even the sunniest day will always have a bit of a chill for me. Jeff Goins published a short part of my story on his blog here, as he was preparing to write his book, Wrecked.
Losing someone you love to AIDS, is not something you get over. You get through it, but you never get over it. You always remember. But, you remember alone. Even today, when I mention my brother’s death to a new friend, they don’t understand, and they feel sad for my loss, but they could never know what it was like. My brother lost his job, his car, his home, and health and finally his life. He lost his hope, and he knew he was going to die. He never lost me. I was there with him until his last breath, and I will never ever forget those last thirty days.
When someone is dying, they go in and out of lucidity, so you slowly lose them. I remember, the day I couldn’t get him back. It was the worst day of my life, even worse than the day he actually died. I remember his last words. The hospice nurse was lecturing me on what I might have to do to turn him and he “woke up” for just a second and said, “she’s strong.”
That was the last words he said. “She’s strong.” And, I am, but I am not hard. I am soft and I remember everything. The story is very complicated. No other family member came. I wasn’t married and I only had the friends who weren’t afraid to come to my house. Jill, my friend from graduate school flew in from Michigan to spend the last week with me, as he lay in a hospital bed in the living room. That was extreme compassion. Paula, brought a lawyer to help get papers signed. She drove 30 miles each way every day with groceries. Daniel drove me from cemetery to cemetery until I was satisfied that we found an ocean view in Palos Verdes. My boss, Neil, gave me carte blanche time off. And, the group of women I was counseling in a metal hospital gave me a card of sympathy. Other people turned away from me, and wouldn’t come to the viewing or funeral. Some told me not to cry. One girl said, why don’t you tell your brother how angry you are at him for getting this disease.” I was not angry, except maybe at her for saying that.
When my brother received his diagnosis, it was not the gentle “HIV positive, let’s order a med cocktail.” It was full blown AIDS and there was nothing to be done. We called my cousin, Sam who told me he had AIDS and not a lot of time left. He had moved to San Francisco, but abruptly turned back to Newport Beach when he saw the signs of kaposi’s sarcoma in the rear view mirror of his car as he was driving. I never got that day out of my head, thinking what he must have felt when he looked in the mirror to see that first mark of purple. It couldn’t be possible that in one week, I was told my family was going to die.
And, there I was in the season of my life that was supposed to be the best, just finishing my third year in graduate school and I had done so well. The story gets even more gruesome, as one thing piled on top of the next. My cousin died within four months. And my brother died 13 months after that, on the same day my father was having open heart surgery. Only, I didn’t know that because our parents weren’t there. The story has so many side stories and I could get entwined in them. But, that’s not what I want to do.
I simply want to remember.
And, I want you to have the full permission to remember too. And, I want to raise awareness that AIDS is real, and it has affected a lot of lives and hearts and there are many people like me who are forever grieving that sudden loss.
There is a lot of work to be done, and I’m not the person doing that, but I can ask you to remember with me, maybe even share your story. I know that many of you have your own stories.