“Who’s that?” we asked each other at our first meeting of a Montréal chapter of Queer Nation, too many years ago to count. We both resolved, Peter and I, to know this guy who was being all handsome and articulate in the circle of chairs. Our motivations might have been shallow, even suspect, but our decision to know this guy, to know you, Doug McColeman, was one of the best decisions either of us has made in our lives.
That summer would be the beginning of a long involvement with each other that gave us a whole lot of experiences, most of them very positive, that made you, Doug, an indispensable part of life for us. Demonstrations against the police raid on the Sexgarage party, distributing “Queer is Cool” leaflets outside Montréal high schools, living to the fullest that lifestyle we were so fiercely defending. We did that together and sometimes we did it in parallel, apart. We looked out for each other, we shared the good and the bad.
I remember sitting across a table from you, Doug, in a café late at night when you decided that you could trust me enough to disclose your HIV status to me. I was so honoured, and so afraid when were about to set off for your parents’ summer place that you might catch my awful cold with serious consequences. I needn’t have worried, because you had long before that learned how to keep living with your HIV and to keep living well.
That trust and that excellent example of how to deal led me to reach out to you for help when I found myself in the emergency with my own diagnosis of HIV and pneumonia. You brought me home through the cold in a taxi and rushed right back out to get the antibiotics they had prescribed. Short of breath, I really didn’t think I had the strength to fight and survive, but you were there to offer me that piece of wisdom that I cite without end: we make the efforts to get past the problems we are having today for the pleasure that we will have tomorrow. You saved me from myself there.
And then you gave me opportunities, like thinking of me when you won that trip for two to Australia at your work Christmas party. I would never have had the chance to go there to see my sister and her family if you had not offered me that opportunity. I still haven’t made it back, so all of my images of there are because of your generosity.
And we had some crazy adventures together. Carrying building materials blocks and blocks in the heat to try out our skills with power tools, constructing the world’s flimsiest fence across your back yard to give you privacy from a neighbour who had become undesirable. Good thing we had a bit to drink, or our insistence that we were butch — like lesbians! — handling those power tools would not have survived our little screams when the skill saw caught on something and bucked in our hands.
I can remember going to see you in that same apartment in the depths of winter, only to find that you had decided that you wanted to wear shorts that day, and had cranked the heat up to summery levels. And when I think of antics like that, I see that smile of yours, and I hear that laugh. And somehow I’m no longer shaking my head in disbelief because I am smiling and laughing with you, no matter how outrageous the antics.
You took your place, too, in the HIV/AIDS movement, volunteering, working and volunteering some more, and building more friendships and solidarity along the way. It won’t be a surprise to anyone who knows you to find out that you were involved in yet more organizations with broad or local reach of which we weren’t all aware. Sometimes, when we worked together, you recognized that you had a tendency to be a “loose cannon” (that makes me mirror that smile of yours again), but you also always brought a perspective that needed to be heard and taken into account, as aggravating as that might sometimes be for the primly “responsible” among us (yeah, I know I’m in there).
And two of my favourite lines, classic examples of gallows humour, come from you. The time we were in a café and a scammer came in selling red ribbons. You looked up at her and said “No thanks, I already have AIDS” (she ran for the door). And in the lead-up to the AIDS Walk, when someone mistakenly called it the AIDS Run and you replied “We have AIDS. We don’t run, we walk.” I still giggle at both of those.
And through it all, the antics and the hijinks, the wildness and sometimes the excesses, I can’t think of a single time when I thought you had done something mean or malicious. That just wasn’t your way. You knew how to push people’s buttons, for sure, but you also seemed to know when to stop pushing them. You knew when to reach out and show your love and support, when to protect your friends from themselves and when to leave us alone for a bit.
Over the last days, as your health has deteriorated and we all thought we were losing you imminently, we have all cried. We have all also marvelled at your fight and at your unpredictability in dying as much as in living. I was expecting up until the end that you would bounce back to your old self and mock us for our crying and our gravity. But you didn’t.
You’ve left a hole in our lives — you’ve left a hole in my life. Luckily, I have learned from you to fill that hole with the memories of all of those times that put a smile back on my face, thinking of you, Doug. If I might paraphrase your wisdom, I will cry, I will dry my tears, and I will work to fill the hole you have left with yet more happy memories of you, every day.
Thank you for all of it.
I love you.
Doug's family and his conjoint Jacques have asked for donations in his memory to the Maison d'Hérelle. You can do that online through Québec's AIDS Walk, Ça Marche, here.