The AIDS Memorial

The AIDS Memorial on Instagram is a beautiful, valuable, and growing collection of stories of those loved and lost to the epidemic. It is self-described as such:

Preserving the Legacy of the AIDS Epidemic.

Stories of Love, Loss & Remembrance.

Silence Equals Death.

I was honored to contribute my father’s story below to the Memorial on April 3, 2017, edited slightly here:

My father in Morro Bay, CA, 1940

My closeted father was born in 1918. He’d long been living a double life in San Francisco when the first signs of the epidemic emerged. He never contracted AIDS. But I remember the day he first spoke to me about a strange disease afflicting his gay brothers. 

It was the early 1980s and my dad was working in the Financial District. Since I was one of the few people he’d come out to, I became the keeper of his stories, including this one during that particularly cruel time in America.

My dad wasn’t always closeted. In his early twenties, he lived openly in Pasadena while attending college. But an LAPD anti-gay sting operation and arrest in 1940 sent him back into the closet forever, and to WWII and my mother and the four of us kids. 

We were in the garden of the family home on the Peninsula, away from open windows, when he described the purple spots on the back of someone he knew named Bill. The next month a few more exhibited the same symptoms. Then it snowballed.

“They’re calling it ‘the gay cancer,’ honey,” he said. I stared wide-eyed at him, at my gay father talking about a gay cancer afflicting his gay friends. 

By the mid-1980s, when it was clear there would be no federal assistance for the sufferers, Dad volunteered to be an “AIDS Buddy” with the Shanti Project.

“There’s nothing I can do but hold their hands,” he told me. “There’s no cure.”

Many of the ailing young men had arrived in San Francisco from other parts of the country, from communities and families who’d rejected them. I recall the confusion I felt at the seeming incongruence of my father’s heartbreaking stories and the look of deep peace and love on his face as he described his visits.

It didn’t make sense to me, though eventually I’d come to see that he’d found a calling of sorts. After the shame of spending a lifetime in the closet, he could now give his heart openly to the dying gay men, many of whom had been discarded, some all alone.

My father would live to be 90, outliving almost an entire generation of gay men younger than himself. I’d like to think that those whose hands he held in their final hours felt his unconditional love and kindness for them, and perhaps glimpsed the gift they gave him, the gift of being himself in those darkest of days.

————–

OUT Magazine published an article about the AIDS Memorial on 2/2/2017, titled, The Creator of Instagram’s AIDS Memorial On How Donald Trump Needs a History Lesson.

————

Read more in Laura Hall’s My Dad’s Closet: A daughter’s memoir, coming soon to a bookstore near you. Laura and her husband live in San Francisco. You can find Laura on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Clarice L Griffith says:

    Laura,
    You brought out the loss and gut wrenching experiences so many of us lived through. There were 2-3 or more funerals weekly. I was an active member of MCCV. We made quilt pieces for the Aids Quilt in WA, so no one would forget. I taught membership classes at MCCV. One day I went though pictures as I prepared for class. We had lost 2/3 of our church. It was a large church, but so many young lives gone… It was a very sad time, and still touches my heart as I remember those who have gone beyond. Thank you for your blog. You do capture exactly what your Dad experienced, and God bless him for hold hands and helping. They were unloved and unwanted by many families at the end. Yet, many families took care of their kids and loved them til the end. What courage they displayed to the world!

    • Laura Hall says:

      Thank you for all you did during those terrible early years, Clarice. You saw it up close. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to lose 2/3 of your church members. It was hard enough for me just to hear the stories secondhand from my father. You witnessed courage, something that was palpable even to me during those early years, as if it was in the air, that courage and dignity on display by the shunned of society. I saw stricken men walk up and down Castro Street, seemingly using every ounce of strength just to be with their community. It felt like a movie to me, like it couldn’t possibly be real. Thank you for contributing here, Clarice. xo

Speak Your Mind

*