The NAMES AIDS Quilt and The Dark Tower

Until about three days ago I had never heard of the NAMES AIDS Quilt, never even consciously realized that there was an AIDS epidemic really.  I mean I was born in ’87 so that was a bit before my time, but I was reading an article by Kergan Edwards-Stout on the Huffington Post and when he mentioned this quilt, I mean I got goosebumps.  I get goosebumps now just thinking and writing about it.

I’ve quoted that bit that blew me away, but you can read the entire article here:

“Several years ago, there was an article in the L.A. Times which I still find haunting — perhaps because I so identify with it. The story was about the NAMES AIDS quilt and how it now lays largely in a warehouse in Atlanta, gathering dust. And yet there is a woman there who tends the quilt, who has been there since that first day in San Francisco with Cleve Jones. She works endlessly, patching and mending panels as they are returned from exhibits. She plays dance music to “her boys” as she works, often alone late at night, and wonders why people have forgotten.”

Powerful stuff right?  But I don’t know if this bit would have struck such a special chord if I hadn’t read Stephen King’s Dark Tower books once a year for the past five years.  I’ve started on my sixth go round and I’m on Book Three right now, following Roland and his ka-tet through the wastelands (the drawers to those who walk the path of the beam) to that terrible train, Blaine.

The hero of the books is the gunslinger, Roland Deschain of Gilead that was, a sort of cowboy knight-errant on a quest to save the Dark Tower, the lynchpin of all universes.  He’s the last of his kind, his brothers-in-arms are dust in the wind since the Good Man destroyed Gilead, the final bastion of civilization. They fought and died for the Tower, Alain, Cuthbert, Jamie, even Susan Delgado in Mejis on the Clean Sea, though she never knew it. Still Roland soldiers on, but he remembers them all. He keeps each one of them in his heart, and if he reaches the Tower, reaches the blood-red fields of Can’-Ka No Rey? He will recite their names at the foot of that terrible basalt monolith before he climbs to the room at the top to meet… God? Gan? No one?

This woman that Kergan mentioned, she reminds me of Roland.  I could see her so vividly and I can see her now. It’s dark and it’s dusty and it’s late. She sits at her sewing machine carefully reattaching pieces of cloth to the quilt, mending those that have been damaged during transport. Each piece she holds tenderly, as though the sanctity of the memory contained within the threads might be somehow tainted if she’s too rough. She looks sad; she is grieving. She is always grieving, yet beneath the sorrow she feels hope, and most of all she feels love. She feels the love of those that remain, of those that honor the lost, burned into every fibre of the fabric. She feels proud, not only of her duty, but that the quilt travels this country, a living, breathing, growing monument to the fallen and a reminder to those who try not to remember and pretend not to see.

She is the protector of a people gone to the clearing at the end of the path, a steward to a terrible time that should never be forgot, a mother to untold thousands, a keeper of a secret history, and she reminds me of Roland. Ever since I read that little article I’ve wanted to see the quilt. I’ve visited Hiroshima, seen the innumerable paper cranes at the Childrens’ Peace Monument. It was a sobering, humbling, and unforgettable experience and I think seeing the quilt would be something like that. I could pay my respects.

I know she probably isn’t real, maybe never was, but that doesn’t change the way that Kergan’s words affected me. He created a fictional character in my head, as I hope to have done in yours. It doesn’t matter that she might never have been real, or that the quilt hasn’t been forgotten, at least not in the time of this writing. What’s wild is that this text may never have meant much to me unless I had read the Dark Tower and had travelled so many wheels with Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, Oy, and all the rest. Can fiction make things more real? That’s not a question I can answer, but what I do know is that the synthesis of these two writings created something incredible in my mind, something I hope to have communicated to you in some small way.

Long days and pleasant nights.

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