Victoria Noe

Award-winning Author, Speaker, Activist

Remembering Friends: “Creativity and Crisis” - Day 1

I arrived in Washington, DC late Thursday afternoon, behind schedule. But I still managed to take a cursory tour of the National Mall, where the Smithsonian Folkways Festival is in full swing.

It’s no cooler here than anywhere else in the US right now, but the triple-digit heat didn’t stop people from strolling the Mall, although I assume the crowd was smaller than anticipated.

One of three themes in the Festival is “Creativity and Crisis”, the arts community response to the AIDS epidemic. Tomorrow I’ll be attending a number of performances and presentations by artists from around the world, and will report on it here

I went to one of the tents to check the list of names. Because of the size of the quilt now – 48,000 panels with over 91,000 names – it’s impossible to display the entire quilt. I got there just before volunteers began to fold up the panels for the day.

Twice I was asked to come in tomorrow morning to help unfold. I probably will do that, either tomorrow or Saturday before I leave.

I walked around the panels a bit, marveling at the detail and care taken to create them. I read the messages, some funny, some profound, all grieving.

And despite my initial disappointment, I was grateful none of the names I was looking for were on display.

I honestly wasn’t sure how I’d react seeing those panels, some of which I’d seen 20 years ago. It’s not that I thought the volunteers there couldn’t handle seeing me cry; I’m sure many people visiting the quilt cry. I wasn’t sure I could handle me crying.

So I listened respectfully to the volunteers who explained about the panels, even though I probably knew as much as they did. I didn’t jump in and say “well, you know, back in ’89…”

In some ways, I’m here against my will. The AIDS epidemic, and the friends I lost, are part of my history, my life. I tried to ignore it for years, thinking I could put it away and not have to think about it ever again, but I was wrong.

As long as I have friends who are HIV+, as long as I have friends – gay and straight – who are at risk of infection, as long as there is no cure for AIDS, I can’t ignore it. I can’t stay silent. As we learned in the 80’s, silence really does equal death.

Instead I’m forcing myself to relive that time in my life, and consider what it all means now. Tomorrow I hope to find some answers, and to show the incredible ways friends remember friends.