I’ve been in a long-term relationship with AIDS. It started when my brother Loyd Tittle called to tell me he had the virus. It was during the holidays.
Everything changed. In those days saying you had AIDS often meant you were coming out at the same time you told folks were going to die. Our family was never the same. My mother was broken. Some of her brothers and sisters stopped talking to her. I remember, Mom dismantled the Christmas tree and never had another.
Yep, AIDS moved in and took up permanent space in my life. My head. My heart. I moved to West Hollywood to take care of my brother. He gave me so many more gifts than I gave him. Loyd made me laugh. He gave me hope. He asked questions about what it would be like on the other side. I would tell him it was a place more beautiful than you could imagine. Just before he died, Loyd opened his eyes and said, ‘Sis, I’ve seen it. It’s so beautiful.’
Loyd was 42 when he passed away. We were supposed to grow old eating Fudgsicles together. After he died, I took over his business, Capitol Drugs — an AIDS specialty pharmacy. Between my family, friends, employees and customers I lost more than 400 people to AIDS.
Amidst all the loss there were moments of great grace. When West Hollywood looked like a war zone, when there were young people everywhere in wheelchairs, on crutches, or stumbling down the street pulling IV poles; ordinary people stepped up and became extraordinary heroes fighting for those too ravaged to fight for themselves. People organized to feed and house each other, get new drugs approved and create real change. I witnessed over and over the strength and majesty of the human spirit in young people just wanting to live another day. I will never forget the people we lost, the fights we fought or the grace that came out of so much pain.
That is why I am passionate about the AIDS monument we are creating in West Hollywood. The monument will celebrate the heroes whose shoulders we all stand on today; the individuals and organizations that went to battle for us all. The monument will inform and provide access to educational tools that already exist for this and future generations, sparking conversations that can change — and even save — lives in a time when HIV infection rates are on the rise in many communities, including among African Americans and gay men. The monument will also commemorate the nearly 700,000 people we lost to AIDS in the United States alone. Technology will allow us to share photos and tell the stories of our lovers, brothers, sisters, sons, fathers, mothers, and friends.
Artist renderings of the AIDS Monument
The physical monument will be in West Hollywood Park on land donated by the city. Our hope is that people everywhere will feel welcomed, celebrated and able to memorialize those they lost while learning about the individuals and institutions that brought about change in the fight against HIV/AIDS. World-class artists vied to design the monument that will be in place in 2017. The winning design includes places to heal, and interactive storytelling technology that allows people from all over the globe to make the monument their own. Local and national leaders are involved. You can be too.
If I could talk to my brother about the monument today, (we’d share a Fudgsicle, of course) I would tell him that for the last 20 years I’ve been listening to what the people we lost have been trying to tell us.
They don’t want to be forgotten. They want us to continue the fight.
The monument does that and more.
My long-term relationship with AIDS continues as we create this monument that educates while celebrating and commemorating who we were and who we will become together. It feels like another gift from my brother. It’s so beautiful. I am grateful.
Learn more about the AIDS memorial and see the winning design at www.aidsmonument.org.
Ruth Tittle is the CEO of Capitol Drugs and a board member on the Foundation for an AIDS Monument in West Hollywood.