Thursday, June 28, 2012

The AIDS quilt and my family

Yesterday my sister went to the Mall in Washington DC to see if she could find my brother's panel.
My brother died of AIDS in 1992 (hard to believe it has been nearly 20 years). He was 30.
AIDS was not a fashionable illness then, anything but. People I knew told me that I would never have to speak of him and that I shouldn't tell my children about him. (I declined to take their advice btw) It was before various celebrities became involved and started championing it. It was before Tom Hanks was in Philadelaphia.Before Freddie Mercury died.  Before many things.
Eric was the first person really to listen to my stories  and always knew that I would become a writer.  He believed in my ability long before I had the courage to write my stories down.
I don't speak about him often as it is an old wound and private. Like any relationship, we had ups and downs but he was my older brother and I loved him.  Besides they don't tattoo things like that on your forehead and I hated seeing pity in people's eyes or having to explain or... Plus I know he would want me to live my life to the full and in order to do that you do have to put your past behind you. You have to live in the moment.
I have not seen the panel as it was done by friends of my brother.   My mother adores sewing. It is something she has always done but she felt these friends needed to make the panel more.She knew that my sister, her and me would carry Eric in our hearts. (My father died shortly before my brother found out he was ill).
My brother's panel is not out on the Mall  but will be displayed somewhere in Washington later this summer. The quilt is way too big to be displayed all in one place any more. The last time was 1996. I know my sister will find it and honour our brother.
My sister was interviewed about the quilt by National Public Radio for All Things Considered. When I listened, I started crying. You can listen here. It takes a couple of minutes. I am very pleased and proud that my sister consented to be interviewed.
It is good that there is a quilt and people can look at it and see the toll and very real human cost of this disease. They can also see that people who died of this terrible disease were more than just names but living beings with interests and families and friends who loved them.
If you happen to see the AIDS quilt panel 3602, that is my brother Eric Phifer's -- just know that he was loved. He had huge potential and it was very much a life cut short. Which is all you can really say about most of the victims of AIDS.


Aimee Duffy said...

Michelle, this post brought tears to my eyes. I couldn't imagine losing my brother, that must have been horrible. I'll bet he's very proud of you now and all your achievements wherever he is x

Michelle Styles said...

Aimee Thank you for the thought. It is v kind of you.

Sharon Kendrick said...

Michelle, I also had tears in my eyes when I listened to your sister's moving testimony. I had no idea that 94,000 men had died from this illness. I am so sorry for your loss and think that Eric's life must have been blessed by having such a loving family.

Michelle Styles said...

Sharon --
I had a chat with my sister at the weekend. She had had a long conversation with one of the organisers when she was trying to find Eric's quilt. They are still getting one or two quilts a day arriving. There is a huge increase in the Afro-American community. (When my brother was ill, it was mainly thought to be a white middle class disease. )And unfortunately many of the quilts are one name quilts because the person was in the closet or worse some of the family are ashamed.
The man who read the names out before my sister added his partner's name who had died a few days before. Kate said that seeing the vast number of quilts laid out really brought it home to her how many have died of this dreadful disease.