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There is Something That I Have to Tell You

It is something that I don’t like to talk about.

If you know me in person you know I prefer fun, happy topics. I love irony. I like to make you laugh. I’m a musical comedian, for goodness sakes. We’re calling Dog Opera a “comedy” by Constance Congdon because it is very, very funny, but there is also a touch of drama and some very heartbreaking, poignant moments. It’s a dramedy, if you will. There is, however, something else you should know.

Aside from telling the story of a gay male and his straight best friend and their separate failed dating lives in NYC, Dog Opera also tackles the AIDS epidemic. ‘Congdon wrote this play to reflect the time when AIDS was considered the plague, a death sentence, an utterly terrifying shock to our world. We have come a long way, but spreading awareness and educating people is still a top priority, right here in our country. I still find Dog Opera’s message to be strong, relevant, and timely.

Personally, it hits close to home for me…and this is what I have to tell you. This is one of the (secret?) reasons I am pouring my blood sweat and tears into Producing and Starring in this production. Why keep secrets, though? You know I am nothing but honest in this blog, so here goes.

I lost my Uncle Kurt to AIDS on July 7th, 1987. Right smack dab in the middle of the crisis, when there was no treatment. He was my Mothers’ youngest brother and he passed at the ripe age of 21. I was just a small, blonde-ish 7 year old girl, happy and full of energy and he was cool and fun and loved me, so, so much. He was also incredibly handsome, see?

He looks a LOT like my Grandmother, and she was (and perhaps never really got over being) devastated.  No one really knew what to say to my brother and I to explain what he passed from, we were so young, it was still so new and everything was confusing. My Grandmother could barely speak the words herself. The family told us it was cancer, later on when I hit my “wise” pre-teen years my Mother explained to us that it was AIDS. I had began to learn what cancer was and wanted to know what kind he had, wanted to know specifics, like teens do. It was a difficult topic of conversation in my family, to say the least. I remember her sitting my brother and I on the couch in the living room and having this conversation. I remember the sun coming through the windows. I remember all of this so clearly, a bright picture in my mind. I’ve never told my Mother how much I appreciated her telling me the truth. My Mother has always been a crafty person and loved her brother with all her heart. She has one of the original squares in the AIDS Quilt. Here is a photo of her square for my Uncle Kurt:

Do you see the “We Love You?” The music notes are there because he was a masterful pianist. I wish I had a clip of his music to share with you here. It was so beautiful. I am sure there is not a day that goes by that my Mother or Grandparents don’t think of him. My last memories of him are oddly vivid. I hope it’s OK if I share them with you. This is harder than I thought it would be. Bear with me.

In his remaining days, my Grandparents chose to care for my Uncle at home. He rested in a room they made “his room” in the downstairs of their house, because he could not go up the stairs. I imagine he was home because there is nothing the hospitals could do anyway, and they wanted to be close to him. The last time I saw him, my Mother took me over to the door to his room because he wanted to see me and I wanted to see my Uncle. We opened the door slowly and I poked my little blonde-ish head in. He was laying flat on his back, and he was incredibly thin and fraile. He lifted his head a bit and smiled at me, told me it was OK to come in. I painfully remember the skin lesions all over his body. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen those, but you don’t forget them. The way he looked was so shockingly different from how he looked when he was healthy that it scared my 7 year old self. I went to him but I was too afraid to hug him.

Many years later, I laid awake in bed one night thinking about him and could not sleep. I ran down the stairs and bawled my eyes out to my parents about how I “never got to say good bye” and feeling bad that I didn’t hug him when I had the chance. They told me that it was OK, that he always knew I loved him and I was just a little girl. That night, he came to me in a dream. He was smiling, healthy, happy. We embraced. Message delivered.

Now my 30-something self is doing a play that also deals with the topic of AIDS, and that is obviously no accident. I’ve told everyone how I wanted to produce and star in this play because it is funny, the role is so right for me, the characters are so great, I love the playwright…etc, etc. But the truth that you now know is that it’s much more than that. This play is a journey for me, in a very special way.

We have a very limited run November 1st – 4th at The Little Times Square Theatre in NYC. I hope you’ll support this production and come see it, now that you know everything…the last step is to join in on the experience with me, my co-producer/co-star Jason and our dazzling cast & crew. I hope you will.

Click Here for Tickets or Call (212) 868-4444 and press 1 to purchase by phone.

For AIDS info, awareness days, and more click here.

Comments welcome.

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12 responses »

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for pouring your everything into this production. And thank you most of all for being my friend.

    Reply
  2. You are brave and amazing. I know that the show will be fabulous because you and Jason are fabulous. Break a leg!

    Reply
  3. Wow Dar – I had no idea, but can ABSOLUTELY understand.

    I’m not sure that you recall my close tie with my Uncle Jim (also my mom’s baby brother, and more like a second father to me) all through college. He tested positive and was diagnosed in 1985 as soon as the first HIV test became available. But just recently, a blood sample from the original MHC chapter of CT (Men’s Health Crisis) taken in 1978 shows he was full blown with the AIDS virus long before his diagnosis.

    This epidemic has touched, changed, and taken so many lives. My uncle has introduced me and my family to so many people, many who are gone now, who have made huge impacts on who I am – Only through education, conversation and compassion can we hope to end not only the disease, but the associated stigmas, for future generations. I applaud you for being a part of the conversation.

    I am lucky enough to still have my uncle – We lost his husband, Michael, in 1993 – yet somehow, alllll these years later, and long after his time should have run out, Uncle Jim carries on. Every day is a challenge and many are not as good as they once were, but he takes every opportunity to educate and comfort those who are fighting this illness, and their families. He is so proud of young people, like you and like Jason, who help spread the message, and tell the tale of those who have gone before – people like his husband Michael, and like your Uncle Kurt, who I have no doubt is beyond proud of you, and whose spirit is by your side for every breath of this wild and beautiful adventure.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this story, and allowing us to go on this journey with you.
    So proud of you.
    Xo

    Reply
    • Wow Lauren, isn’t it amazing how many years we’ve spent in each other’s lives and how there are still so many things left unsaid and undiscussed. Thank you so much for your brilliant comment and also for sharing YOUR story. I am so grateful that you still have Uncle Jim although I am sorry for his loss of Michael. I am sure your family has been through and is still going through so much and I wish them, you, and Uncle Jim all the well wishes in the world! xoxo

      Reply
  4. Beautiful and touching. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Painful as it may be, it is also uplifting. Your uncle would be proud. The world is a better place because of people like you, my beautiful friend!

    Reply
  5. Thank you for sharing your self with us and for sharing your life and dreams with Jason. I love you also.

    Reply

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