AIDS and my Best Friend from High School

As I was cooking dinner tonight, I put on some music. It is not often that I am alone in the house and feel like I can blast music. I was going along until ‘Leather and Lace’ by Stevie Nicks and Don Henley came on. I was immediately transported back to being about 15 or 16 and sitting in Andy O’Connor’s bedroom listening to this song over and over again.

I had met Andy at the Alternative High School I attended. I lived in a group home one street over from him. A friendship developed very quickly and we soon became inseparable. We would sit in his bedroom and blast music until his mother nearly had a coronary. Andy did not have a very good relationship with his parents. He had just returned home after announcing he was gay and moving in with his gay lover Steve at 15 years old. Somehow they convinced him to come back home and finish high school. Regardless, Andy and Steve had broken up.

Andy’s house was always a minefield. His mother was quite moody and a little difficult to deal with. But when we could we listen to music. Andy introduced me to the B-52s and a campy song called ‘Jet-Boy, Jet-Girl.’ We rode the bus to school together and hung out in the ‘smoking’[1] room together. We did a lot of things we shouldn’t have done and he introduced me to a much harsher reality of what drugs can do to people. We also did crazy-ass fun things like tubing down the Bow River in the summer in Calgary.

During the time we were close the first few cases of AIDS had come to light. We talked about it a lot and Andy had decided that he would always use condoms when having sex. I remember how scared we were about this new disease that just seemed to target gay men. We didn’t understand it nor did we know what to believe. All we really understood was that getting the virus was a death sentence.

Our friendship went the way many high school relationships do. He had moved to Ontario and was living with someone and I did Katimavik and lived in Toronto for a couple of years. We kept in touch after a fashion but only because I maintained the contact. Then I started my BA at the University of Calgary. Then Andy came back to Calgary.

When I finally got to see him again he was a much paler version of himself. Andy had AIDS. Andy had a really virulent strain of the virus that attacked his brain. He began to lose cognitive function and he became very difficult to be with. I tried nonetheless. I would take food over to him and sit with him.

Andy died the day I graduated from the University of Calgary. I was devastated. His family opted not to have a funeral. Many families did this in the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. They never said what he died from but those of us who knew him knew the truth.

Now when I hear ‘Leather and Lace,’ I have really good memories of Andy and I singing along to the parts. We could both sort of sing so it never sounded bad. It was always just one more time…


[1] This was an entranceway between two sets of doors at the school. What is bizarre is that we were even allowed to smoke there!

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Published in: on August 21, 2011 at 5:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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