2015 worldsAIDSday

World AIDS Day Commemoration

December 1, 2015
Helen Day Arts Center
Time 6:30pm - Free


Three video works by John R. Killacky

**Attendees should be aware that these films feature some nudity.

In 1989, artists first banded together to create World AIDS Day to mourn and serve as a national call to action in response to losses from the AIDS pandemic.

On the 26th anniversary of this event, Helen Day Art Center joins the commemoration with 8,000 other national and international arts museums, galleries, and centers, AIDS service organizations, libraries, and schools.

John Killacky, executive director of the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington will screen three of his AIDS-related short films from the 1990s. These elegiac works have been screened worldwide and are in several museum and library collections.

Following the screening and discussion, audiences are invited to share in a remembrance circle of all those lost to AIDS in their lives.

Nathan Suter
Executive Director
Helen Day Art Center
90 Pond Street
PO Box 411
Stowe, VT 05672

Texts from the voice over narratives:

Unforgiven Fire (1993)

Late night phone calls still frighten me. Years ago, my neighbor, Charlie, would call in the middle of the night, screaming through his dementia for help—begging us to get him out of the hospital, away from his real and imagined demons. I wouldn’t answer the phone; I could only listen to his voice coming through the answering machine. Silent and paralyzed with fear, I thought there was nothing I could do. I never did visit him in that hospital. I was too ashamed, and he never came home again.

I remember holding Peter, trying to warm his shivering body—hoping that somehow I could heal him, even for a short while so that he would sleep. Both of us were drenched in his night sweats. He kept apologizing as he cried. I wept, too, but my tears were filled with rage. Earlier that day, we had spent hour waiting in lines, filling out forms that enabled him to get medications. He had no health insurance, and each stop demanded that he be present to sign the proper forms. So, he sat exhausted and consumed by his fevers, while I held his place in line. Months later, I dreamt of him and called, only to speak to his daddy. Peter had died that morning in Michael’s arms, as his mama urged him to go on.

I called my friend, Lee, at home to see how he was feeling. I had just returned from an extended business trip and wanted to reestablish contact. His sister answered the phone, thanked me for calling, and asked if I wanted to share something with those gathered in the apartment for his memorial service. Selfishly, I felt cheated that I wouldn’t have any private closure with him. Weeks afterward, I called his disconnected number, hoping we could talk one last time. Months later, I called his phone number again, explaining to the newly connected household how special my friend Lee had been.

When the call came ending Kevin’s deathwatch, I was relieved. Three weeks prior, the doctor’s had stopped his feeding, upped the morphine, and said he would go in 48 hours. But they didn’t know the Kevin I did. We were lovers a decade ago: we trained together, made love together, and dreamt our dreams together. Upon hearing the news, I thought at least I wouldn’t have to call the hospital anymore. In his last month, with the morphine obliterating all feeling, I would call and be continually told his condition was “satisfactory, SATISFACTORY, (satisfactory), satisfactory.”

Most recently, I cried with my friend, Margie, over the death of her brother, Christopher. Margie told me of crawling into Christopher’s deathbed to hold him. As his spirit began to leave, instead of releasing, his body contracted (as only a dancer could) and tightly embraced her. She held on, knowing that he was going, leaving her with the unfinished legacies of all those prematurely lost. He had chosen to die peacefully with great clarity, letting Margie know that his work was now done, but hers and ours only begun.

They’re all gone now – 96 of my angels. For all too many of them, I didn’t get to say good-bye. I wanted to. I still need to somehow resolve the forlorn reality of their death. The impact of the grief and the mourning of each new loss remains as intense as the first. Oftentimes, late at night, it is hard for me to breathe, as I cry for all the devastation among us. Heroes, all of them, so needlessly lost. I am truly blessed to have been touched by them all – to have been loved by angels.

(For all us that have gone before
and for those that remain,
may there be passionate,
unforgiven fire.)

Stolen Shadows (1995)

Years ago outside of Odessa Texas, I came upon a desolate graveyard with no entry gate, no large tombstones, not even any shrubbery – only small marble plaques implanted in closely cropped grass.

I began to wander among the rows of graves and discovered Baby Jessica next to Baby Jonathan who was alongside of Baby Thomas. I wondered why they had been buried together in the barren outskirts of town instead of in their family plots next to the church on Main Street.

I was reminded of those babies recently when I was in New York and went to a movie. Afterwards, I walked from the theater on the Upper East Side to Greenwich Village where I was staying. It was a Sunday morning and the streets were empty.

I passed 62nd and 2nd where I used to live with Bill. Not too long ago I had been listening to his concerns about his plummeting T-cell counts.

Further down on Lexington Avenue, I passed the apartment where Gary and his lover had lived. Gary left that apartment and moved to Florida after his partner died.

Just across the street was Christopher’s apartment where Stephanie was now staying. I can still recall reminiscing with her, listening to how much she missed him.

Crossing over to the West Side, I ambled into Chelsea. About a mile north was Manhattan Plaza. Kevin moved there after Don died. I wonder who lives there now, now that Kevin is gone.

On 24th and 9th I passed Vito’s apartment where I often stopped on my way home for the latest gossip from the Hollywood closet. How angry he’d be, if he were still alive, on how little has changed.

A few blocks further downtown and I was in the Village. Here, on every block, I looked up and saw shadows of those taken from me far too soon. Images of my lost ones surrounded me. Overwhelmed, stunned, and numb with grief, I tried hard to hold on to some of my stolen shadows.
* * *

I remember waiting, waiting with Henry through the night. Some months before, Henry had asked me if I could love him unconditionally. I said I would be there for him, to do whatever he wanted. Henry asked me to assist him in his suicide.

We began to research and developed a plan. Not long afterward, Henry was ready, so I came over and we prepared the concoction. Once mixed, Henry began to eat the substance that he so desperately hoped would bring him to a somber peaceful end.

Within moments Henry fell into a light sleep as I waited beside him. All of the research had told us that the process might linger on for hours. I was prepared to wait, wait for Henry to let go. Hours later Henry’s breathing had not slowed or deepened beyond the belabored rasping with which I had become so familiar. I began to worry about what to do next if Henry’s body was not going to let go. The Hemlock Society suggested to keep a plastic bag nearby, but I was not willing to consider this option.

Henry roused momentarily with a start, “It’s not working. Please, please help me.” In his stupor he reached over, took off his ring, and passed it along to me as he slipped back into an unconscious state. I gently force fed more of the prepared mixture and continued to wait.

Eventually, Henry’s breathing became less labored and evolved into a slower more irregular rhythm. Around 1 a.m., Henry died as he wished – wrapped in a deep sleep.

* * *

In your ashen face, I see the face of all those gone before. As your shallow breathing slows and your eyes begin to glaze over, I climb into bed and wait with you. I try to keep you warm to no effect. I lie on top of you, trying to give you my breath and my heat. Your muscles give up control and fluids pass. I wash your body with warm water. I don’t want you to get cold. I comb your hair, change the sheets, arrange your arms in repose, tuck in the covers, and wait.

I sit across the room and wonder who you are now. Where have you gone? Will you miss me? Already I’m missing you desperately. In the end there was nothing to say. You couldn’t talk anymore, but your gaze held firm. In our last hours, all I had left were your eyes and now they’re clouded over.

Your mama and daddy told me they were glad we had each other. But I don’t have you anymore and as I sit here I don’t want to call them with the news. Then you’ll be theirs – their son, their family, with their grief, and I’ll just be your “special” friend who’s left behind. Relatives will gather to commemorate and mourn – sharing stories of a somebody I never knew. My tales will be listened to and our life together will evaporate.

So I sit here and wait, not wanting to let go of you. I want my grief to be ours alone. I’ll pick up the phone and call. “It’s time now,” I’ll say, “We need to say good-bye.” When I’m asked how you died, I’ll answer, “He just isn’t here anymore…he’s gone on into the shadows.”

Walking With The Dead (1996)

In 1979 friends began to get sick with lingering flus, night sweats, and ongoing fatigue. We all thought another shot of penicillin would take care of it. Now years later, morning coffee has me scanning the obituaries, locating my lost ones, remembering all those I’ve outlived, needing to tell their stories.

I felt prepared for some deaths as a result of grappling with failing health over the course of the illness. Others took me by surprise, time and geography made communication infrequent. Still others I discovered in passing conversation with friends who assumed I had already known. Their grieving resolved, mine now only begun.

Whenever the seasons change, the carnage seems to escalate. This past winter seemed quiet until I read three obituaries on the same day, adding them to my list of 119 and counting.

I hold on to my dead. They have become the elements in my reality. I hear Celie’s fluid-filled lungs gurgling as her family healed itself, gathered around her wasted trangendered body. Her quick, shallow breaths are wind in my universe.

Peter’s night sweats become water. Entwined in fevers, chills, sweat, piss, shit, tears, cum, and spit; I kissed his cracked lips and held him forever that night.

My fire resides in Bill’s fever-ridden body on the ice mattress. It was too early on to name the disease, so he wasted away, an anomaly for the medical students to ponder. I’d nap with him on the frozen bed: “No, I’m not cold, I’m with my friend.”

David’s ashes are my earth. Defiled at death, his family cremated him before an autopsy could reveal how his lesion-filled organs could have functioned for so long. I smear his ashes, warrior-like on my body, as I rage into the night.

I hold on to all of them. My dead: they are my mandala. Telling their unfinished stories affirms my own life. I walk among them and live.


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