15 September 2012

Remembering David

It's always hard to put into words what we feel about the death a family member, of a friend, even of an acquaintance. Not being a believer (not having any imaginary friends?), I don't take refuge in notions of "better places" or reuniting with lost love ones. I prefer to focus on the things I remember, little incomplete snippets of a life lived that brought shared pleasure or maybe a little learning.

David McCombs died recently. He wasn't my really close friend and he lived in another city, but I'm going to miss him, fondly remember some shared history, and regret the last visit we didn't have because he wasn't feeling up to it at the time.

David was a gay man living with HIV and Hepatitis C. When he lived in Montréal, he was a member of AIDS Community Care Montréal, of which I had the privilege of being the Executive Director for a time. This is where I met David. Volunteering for the ACCM Buyers' Club, participating in a number of the organization's activities, and finally getting involved in representing the organization in various ways, including at the Canadian AIDS Society AGM and Forum and at the International AIDS conference when it was held in Toronto.

We had some shared moments at those events, as we went out for breakfast a few times in Ottawa at the CAS events (our choice of "guilty pleasure" — so as not to have to say it out loud [McDonald's] — or somewhere we could admit to having gone). We were roommates in the dorm space provided at the Toronto conference…way out on Finch East…and even invented a line of fashion items for people with bodies misshapen by lipodystrophy (dazzling elements designed to draw attention away from the unwanted lumps and bumps).We never made them, just laughed about how clever we were to have thought of them.

You might say that we shared a sense of humour, too. I remember David searching high and low for a copy of Diseased Pariah News in order to scan a faux ad for his presentation to the HIV/AIDS course at Concordia University. Yes, it was the ad for AIDS Barbie and her Dream Hospice. Because there's really nothing better to laugh at than your own predicament, and in the face of what could sometimes be horror, laughing was really the best response.

The other good response is what David was doing at the Concordia class: sharing his experiences. He did it there in that ephemeral way that speaking to a group tends to be, the traces left only in the minds of those present. But he also did it by talking about his experiences on a blog that you can visit here. I'm going to keep it linked in my blogroll, and fully intend to go back and read and watch David talking about the things he was doing and the things that frustrated him.

The last time I saw David I happened to be in Toronto for a meeting, so I arranged to leave a little later than usual and went to brunch with him. He was in Casey House at the time, after a rather severe acting out of his liver, which upset the balance of his HIV treatment as well (or was caused by it!). We had our brunch and we went for a walk to visit his apartment before returning to Casey House. We sat on the porch there gabbing and laughing and undressing the construction workers across the street with our eyes (okay, and our words, too). We were there for so long that the staff came out a couple of times to make sure everyone was okay. It was a nice meeting.

The next time I was there I had managed to get tickets for The Normal Heart at the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and was looking forward to sharing that experience with David, too. Alas, he wasn't feeling up to it that day, so I didn't get to share that with him.

And while it was not in person, we shared a lot of things on Facebook. A few months ago, I saw something that made me think immediately of him and I tried to share it with a mention of him so that he would see it pop up. I couldn't find him, like he had vanished from Facebook altogether. I timidly asked his sister if he was okay or if he might have defriended me (surely not!). The reply was that he had closed his Facebook account, saying that no one would miss him if he wasn't there.

It was wrong then (and corrected), and it's certainly wrong now. Too bad we have no way to correct this new absence.

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