Arthur, Remembered

Today we have a special post from Peace Tree contributing author, Lori Hahn.
Lori remembers her friend Arthur, a friend lost to AIDS.

National HIV/AIDS Awareness Day was yesterday. I’ve seen some pretty eloquent blogs on the topic and felt a little inadequate to post anything particularly insightful. Every single person afflicted has a story. Today, that would make over 40 million stories. But, I just want to tell you about one.

Arthur was a long, lithe, sexy, beautiful, graceful Black man about my age. He was witty, bright, sardonic, seductive, charming, and though he could occasionally be a Miss Thang, he was mostly just kind. I met him in the last two years of his life. He had been infected very early in the epidemic, probably during his travels with the theater company he sang and danced in—he never really knew for sure. When I first got to Omaha, he was at “the bar” (read: social hub for almost all Omaha over-30 queers). That night I decided I needed to get out in my new town and meet people—always a difficult thing for me to do. In Omaha, “the bar” was really the only way to meet kindred spirits, other than the MCC church. He made me feel most welcome and introduced me to a person who later became very important in my life and in my development as a human being. He had an incredible number of friends in the community whom he was happy to share.

We’d meet there, on the odd occasion, and talk. Once in a while, we’d dance slow and crazy to Al Green. The last time I spoke to him, he sat at the bar and asked me to join him. Slowly, he told me about the man with whom he’d been on a date. Arthur, who was always joking and laughing, looked so incredibly sad as he told me that as much as he’d like to see the man again, and be held—just be held, comforted and loved, he knew he wouldn’t see him again in his current state, which was quickly deteriorating for some unexplained reason. I listened and hoped I provided some comfort to him that night before I hugged him best wishes until our next meeting. We both promised to call. He grabbed my hand and squeezed tightly.

I moved that month to California, missing Arthur along the way with all the things needing to be done. I kept tabs on his condition through the friends who were caring for him. In April, I returned for my household goods. I was told I needed to go to the hospice to see Arthur that night, as he wasn’t expected to live many more hours. I did not recognize the man before me, his body ravaged by his illness and his mind no longer coherent. But, that night, I joined four friends to hold Arthur’s hands, rub his now stick-like arms, massage his feet, and run a damp and cool washcloth across his forehead. We talked to him; fairly certain he was no longer capable of hearing our words, hoping he’d understand our touch. Finally, his family arrived. We each took turns kissing him goodbye and left. On the way out, I took his mother aside and told her what Arthur had meant to me. She was polite, nothing more. Arthur died two hours later.

The funeral was held a few days later. It was a spiritual African-American service, but there was something not quite right in the air, according to the reports I received after my return to California. All of his friends—his nearly 200 Gay and Lesbian friends—sat on one side of the church and streamed out the door—his family and their friends sat on the other. The pastor addressed his comments to the family’s side of the church as he explained that Arthur, who had been lost, was inexplicably “found” before his death, renouncing his gay lifestyle and all that led him to his final day. He admonished the “friend” side to see the error of their ways and get right with God. At the end of the service, there was no mingling of the two camps. No opportunity for his family to hear of Arthur’s impact on the lives of others in the many years he was not close to them. No opportunity for the sides to come together to celebrate his life nor mourn his passing, which may have provided comfort to both sides. Two hundred people walked away shaking their heads, wondering if his family had known Arthur at all.

Arthur’s friends raised the money to pay the cost of burying Arthur and providing him with a memorial stone. Arthur’s friends cleaned out his apartment and made sure his final wishes were honored regarding the disposition of his trinkets and baubles that meant so much to him. Arthur’s friends did not judge him, they loved him. The God I know did too.

Arthur will be remembered for how he lived, how he loved, and how he danced to Al Green.

Visit Lori at her blog Hahn at Home

peace y'all


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