The Time I Found My Uncle’s Panel in the AIDS Quilt

It happened at work, while I was putting together a LGBT Books book display, and it was on the eve of my 26th birthday. That night, while searching for LGBT images for the book display, I found something I have been looking for, for some time now: my Uncle’s panel in the AIDS quilt.
My Uncle Joe passed away in the early nineties. He passed away from complications related to being HIV-positive, and living with full blown AIDS. By complications I mean pneumonia, and cancer.
My Uncle Joe has always been a sort of guardian angel of mine. Despite the fact that I was very young when he passed away, I feel like I have grown to know who he is as a man as I have grown to become one. And after every finding I feel like I am so very similar to him.
My father I think has always seen this, and because of these similarities has done what can to foster my relationship with my deceased uncle. For one thing, my father made me watch various interviews my uncle gave while living with the disease that later killed him. Additionally, my father gave me a book of my uncle’s manuscripts. And in it were letter between him and presumably a lover of his. I have read them all, a few times over.
My uncle was a political active writer. He wrote poems, mostly, and was open about his life in them. He was also open about his life in the interviews I watched.
Finding his panel in the AIDS quilt was a beautiful find. My father had never seen it until I found it, nor had I. I just knew it existed, and upon stumbling on it, and even though I was at work in the library, I started tearing up. Then I started full blown crying.
Though I didn’t know my uncle very much,  I have grown to know him, and in learning about him, I have grown to love him, as not only my uncle, but a beautiful role-model for me, as a gay man, who happens to write and is politically active.
(The photo above is my Uncle’s panel — it’s the third one down on the left. Little facts I learned while researching this: over 90K people have contributed to the AIDS quilt, each panel is 3 feet by 6 feet [the size of an average coffin] and is supposed to honor those who died from the disease and did not get a funeral. Additionally, it is the world’s largest piece of public art — I am thankful my guardian angel was able to give me this beautiful birthday gift.)

 

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