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Aids Memorial Day - Memories Of Daniel

by Frank Raaphorst in Nightlife & Reports , 13 juli 2007


Next month it’s AIDS Memorial Day, the day we think of all the people who died of AIDS. An annual moment of reflection, a moment of hope. Hope indeed, because we have achieved a lot since we first discovered HIV, the virus which causes AIDS. There’s an extra reason this year to remember all those we have lost. Because it’s been twenty-five years that the disease has been in our country. I would like to share one of my memories with you. The memory of a friend of mine I lost to AIDS.

Texas, 1997. I’m with friends in a boiling hot little garden in Dallas. The little plants we put in the ground only a few days ago, look sad and limp already. No surprise in this heat - but we bought them anyway. Because Daniel had always loved them so much, and loved to look at them in this garden. Daniel did have green fingers.
The struggling flowers remind me of the young men I see at the hospice of the San Antonio AIDS Foundation. They spend their last days there and lie alone in a darkened little room. Surrounded by their last possessions they listen to some music or watch TV. They can hardly walk and most have been abandoned by their friends and relatives. The few medical staff and a large group of volunteers can do nothing but watch with a washcloth in hand.

I’m sitting in the little garden with five other adult men, each of us with a needle and thread. We talk about the new treatments that everyone is hearing of. Are they for real? Would we get them as well? Could it be true that all those hopelessly ill people can get better again? Can they really be cured?
I can say “yes” to some of those questions now. Back in San Antonia and after my return in Holland I’ve seen the small miracle happen. But my relief has a sharp edge. Daniel died a year ago after all. Exhausted from fighting and completely emaciated. The medication came too late for Daniel.

I had met him two years before through a mutual friend, right after I started my work in Texas. He lived in that same house we were later doing our needlework in. He’d been living in that little house for ten years already with the love of his life, Bill. Two men, living together - in Texas - is only possible within certain boundaries, so they lived in the Oaklawn district amongst a large community of gay men. Surrounded by a state full of ignorance and hatred. Another governor had replaced the generally loved and respected governor Ann Richards: George W. Bush.
Daniel and Bill were two of the nicest people I’d ever met. It’s because of those two that I have good memories of Texas at all. I’d like to share one of my memories here with you, a month before AIDS Memorial Day 2007. My memory of the Daniel’s funeral.

Daniel had gotten too ill to fight any longer; the doctors didn’t have anything left to try. In the morning I heard from Bill that Daniel had died that night. “Please come to Dallas,” he cried. “The family doesn’t even let me be with him anymore”.
Because that was the Texas of George Bush. Fortunately Daniel had arranged shortly before his death that Bill could stay living in his house. The family was ready to claim his other possessions. I took the first plane to Dallas I could get.

Here I was at Daniel’s casket next to Bill. After a lot of hassle we’re allowed to have a look. I hardly recognize my friend and his family’s eyes are stabbing us in the back. Bill is crying softly, it’s the last time he’ll ever see Daniel. When they close the coffin we have to wait outside, because that’s “private.” That moment is just for his next of kin, not for the man who’s been feeding him up to his last moments, who’s washed him and who held his hand when he finally let go.


It’s a cheap cemetery. A little hill along a highway with cars roaring past. Planes fly over lowly. The grass around the grave looks lifeless, the air is trembling with heat.

Bill and I are thankful for the two chairs they managed to spare for us. In the back. I hold Bill’s hand in mine. Nobody speaks. We wait.

This is the moment Bill has been dreading the worst. The catholic priest will say the last words and he will bless the copper cross on top of the coffin. That cross is traditionally given to the spouse of the deceased, and when there’s no spouse, it goes to the mother.

It will be the last humiliation Bill will have to endure, just before the coffin with his dead friend will be lowered into the ground.

But things are different this time. Daniel’s coffin has two little crosses on top. The priest first blesses them and takes them, first to the back of the room, where he hands Bill, who’s overcome with emotion, the first cross and puts his hand on his shoulder. The second cross is for Daniel’s mother, and that’s it.

With this story in mind we were sitting in Daniel’s beloved little garden that day, doing our needlework. We were making a quilt as a memorial to Daniel, which had to be finished the next day at AIDS Memorial Day 1997. Whilst talking we stitched and patched Daniel’s life together to a rich tapestry of stories.
We also spoke about that one courageous priest in Dallas, who had without words confirmed that God recognizes the love between two men. That it is good and that the voice of Rome is not the only one he hears. Not according to that Texan priest.

And that, my dear Daniel, is your most precious gift to me. Even in utter despair, there’s light and hope. I will never forget you.

Voorburg, 2nd of May, 2007



 







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