Saturday, December 01, 2001


atlhough the death of george harrison has taken everyone's attention -- certainly mine -- we must remember that today is world aids day. i'm going to write today about a friend and co-worker of mine who died of aids nearly 10 years ago. it's a complicated story. . .it's not really so much about me as about a dog. . .

ian ken louden was born in junction city, kansas, a rough-edged mean army town, best known as the home of fort riley. i met him when we worked together at tax analysts, a non-profit tax publisher in washington dc in the late 1980s. by that time he had finished law school and had been writing for accounting and legal trade papers for some time. he was just barely 40. i was much younger -- tax analysts was my first real job after school, and at that time i was working as a proofreader, marking up stuff that would go on to the lexis-nexis online service.

ken started as a reporter but quickly rose to become a senior editor, and i eventually worked under him as a junior editor. he and i did not have much in common, except that we were both from kansas. he was a conservative republican -- albeit gay -- while i remain a life-long democrat. he wore khakis and cashmere while at that time i ran about in black leather mini-skirts. he loved jessye norman, while i listened to they might be giants. and while i must say that i do appreciate opera, he certainly disdained most popular music.

our jobs were very frantic and deadline-oriented. plus, the organization was at that time a confused mess. everyone was always angry and stressed out. still, when things got really tense on a deadline, ken could make everyone laugh. he had a terrifically quick mind, and could on the spot create satirical lyrics based on show tunes that would skewer whatever situation was driving us all mad. he would sing his ditty in a clear, pleasant voice while doing a sly and mocking soft-shoe.

ken and i never got along well. as i said, we had little in common, and our jobs put us at odds with each other. i never really liked the job, per se, or the other people there. they didn't really like me either. several times he told me i should really look for another job; but to spite him, i never really did. i wanted to make him fire me, but for some reason, he never did. thus, in some weird way, we grew to respect each other.

ken had a beautiful house in alexandria, virginia, small but perfectly decorated, filled with lovely art, thousands of discs of classical music, and his 17-year-old spoiled daschund, louie. soon ken fell so ill he could no longer care for louie, and it somehow fell to myself and my then-boyfriend to care for the dog. no one else wanted louie, who was almost as sick as ken was. louie couldn't walk well, had to be carried up stairs, demanded to sit in the best chairs -- which he had to be lifted into -- stole from the table when you didn't give into his obnoxious begging, and somehow managed to always get his way.

what was odd was that louie was still quite charming and you soon forgave him every single one of his terrible habits. over time, you found yourself acceding to his every whim. however, my then-boyfriend and i sort of fell in love with louie. we carrried him about with us everywhere: to work, the virginia countryside, just everywhere. we were actually probably more in love with louie than each other.

ken worsened progressively and died about a year and a half after his diagnosis. before he died, he and his partner converted to catholicism. my boyfriend and i took louie to the church. ken moved into a hospice, where we were able to bring to louie to see him several times a week. he adored louie and it was very clear that he missed the dog greatly. when louie was sitting on the bed with ken, gazing at him with total affection -- only then was it possible to see louie as a sweet friendly companion instead of a demanding, impatient diva. i soon understood that louie also suffered from the separation. it was then that i began to meet ken's friends and gain an appreciation for what a wide circle of people he knew, and how much they all loved him.

ken and i sort of began a rapprochement. but before we could really "make up," ken's health went down hill quickly and we could no longer visit him. one morning, before dawn, we awoke to hear louie howling. we ran downstairs, but didn't know what was wrong. we got the phone call about an hour later: ken had died at just about that time.

my then-boyfriend took louie to the wake. louie wandered around sadly, seemed strangely disoriented. he didn't want to eat anything, didn't steal any food from anyone, didn't demand to be the center of attention. clearly he was grieving.

louie himself died two days later in his sleep. we had louie cremated and the next day offered his ashes to ken's partner to bury in ken's garden. he refused -- it turned out that ken's partner was the only person who had never really like louie, had always found him too difficult. so we kept louie ourselves on the bookcase.

later we found that ken had left us some things in thanks for taking care of louie. he kindly gave me five or six boxes of poetry books; he left my then-boyfriend some beautiful pictures from his large collection of local dc artists. losing ken was hard -- and strange. were we friends or not? i can't say clearly; i don't think we ever liked each other. but there i was weeping for him and his dog. . .at that time, grief for louie was what was keeping my relationship with my then-boyfriend together. i was a living mourner in a dog mausoleum.

my then-boyfriend was inconsolable; he grew very depressed and despondent. i decided that i would get him another daschund to console him. in the end, we had two daschunds. but a shared love for a dead dog can't keep you together, and eventually i came to move to new york. . .

today is world aids day. at a time when it still sometimes seems that aids has become a manageable illness, when we see that powerful treatments have enabled many people with aids and hiv to live among us in an almost-normal fashion, it's easy to forget that aids is still a scourge. and it's easy to forget about the suffering that happened before.

here in new york, the rate of new aids cases is not declining, but only levelling off. and in other cities they are rising. the majority of new cases are minorities, particularly women. in other countries we have to remember that aids can still be an instant death sentence, leading to shame and ostracism. again, it is a burden that falls heavily upon women. some countries are just now admitting they have an aids crisis; others are just learning its dimensions.

this autumn has been a difficult time for us all. one tragedy after another; there doesn't seem to be any abating of this sorrow. september 11, anthrax, the plane crash in queens, george harrison. . .but despite these events we should stop to remember that the old problems of the twin-towers world have not gone away. everyone has given some money to charity this year; at the new year, i urge everyone to give something to the aids-related charity of your choice.



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