About Kenneth… The lovely, charismatic dancer.

Sometimes I write about something that has come before me, and so it is with this story about the dancer. I found a note about meeting Kenneth.

At times I have to refer to the past and my private life, and here is some of that.

My mother´s family emigrated to the US and Canada around 1950. My mother did not go with them, because she had gotten married and was expecting me.

From an early age I wanted to be an actress, and I got in to Drama school when I was 17, and spent 3 years there. But I was really out of place, so in 1975, at the age of 24, I decided to leave the theater and follow in my relatives footsteps, and go to the US, to California.

On my last evening in Stockholm, I ran in to two dancers that I had not seen for several years, and one of them was Kenneth.

I met Kenneth when I was a teenager, taking classes at the Ballet Academy in Stockholm. He was a very charismatic man with a cheeky smile, that I think was attractive to both men and women, although I was not aware of things like that, as I was still a child.

I did not see him for many years, but I heard that he lived in Israel, and danced for a ballet company there.  I also heard that he had had an accident, where he fell off the stage.

When I started preparing this work, here in Sweden, I sent out letters to people with HIV, and to volunteers, through two different organisations working with HIV/AIDS, RFSL, a LGBT organisation, and Noaks Ark.

One day I received a phone call. It was Kenneth, and I was really surprised, because he had never called me before.  He was very upset, and told me in a stern teacher´s voice to stop this at once. What kind of nonsense was this! What did I think I was doing!

I don´t remember what I answered, I was kind of dazed. By this time I knew he was gay, and I thought it might be at least interesting to him.

Some years passed, and then I was told he had AIDS, but that he, even though he was a patient in an AIDS Ward, refused to acknowledge that he had the virus. He refused almost all visits, he only accepted a male friend and a female dancer. His old mentor from Israel, Lia Schubert, had to leave. He would not let her in, and when she sent flowers to him, he sent them straight back. It was probably because she had said that he didn´t have to be ashamed about having AIDS. Which he denied he had.

In 1990 I gave birth to my son, and on his first birthday I went to the hospital to show the staff that he was o k – he had been born two month early.  I was very close to the AIDS Ward, and decided to dare to visit Kenneth, and show him my son.  He actually let us come in, and I sat on a chair with my son in my arms.

Kenneth then told me he had AIDS, (I did not ask about it, he volunteered that information), and that he had probably contracted the virus from a blood transfusion after his accident, or maybe it was something he ate, or… it could be anything, but he didn´t mention sex.

He seemed to be hiding a bit under his sheet, looking at us with big eyes, and suddenly he started singing an old fashioned song, about a little sick girl in a hospital bed, wasting away from something that was wrong in her chest.

We said goodbye, and not long after that I heard that he had died. His two friends that had gone home over night,  were called to the hospital in the morning, but then they were stopped because he had just died. So they took their time and ate breakfast.

When they arrived he was still warm, and his friend said that it was the last warmth they received from him, and that they loved him.

Kenneth didn´t want a funeral, no obituary, nothing.

The dancer brought his ashes to Tel Aviv, and early one morning she walked out in the water, and spread his ashes. It was very still, she said, but suddenly a wave came and took the ashes away.

I found the note about my last evening in Stockholm, tonight, and I thought I would start with Kenneth, the talented charismatic dancer, even though he didn´t think I should do this.

An extra note about that.

Lia Schubert, who had lived many years in Stockholm, let me take classes for free in her school, when I was a child.

Many years later when she heard that I was working on a book about Survivors from the Concentration Camps, she had the exact same reaction as Kenneth had to my work on HIV/AIDS.

I am grateful I was strong enough to not listen to any of these strong personalities. I wrote my book about the Holocaust and the Survivors, and it was also published in Poland. My papers are at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.



















There are few who talk about them…

Dear friends,

as a writer, and a lay person I have interviewed and followed a number of people with HIV, both in Sweden and in San Francisco, and I have also followed partners, family members, volunteers and staff at hospitals, and places like Coming Home Hospice, Names Project and SHANTI in San Francisco. 

The title To be a witness comes from an interview I made with a volunteer in San Francisco, Gary Shepard. He said he was there to witness the suffering of his client, because if no one saw it, it was meaningless.

I had to add the word really, To really be a witness, to avoid songs and Christian links with testimonies of faith on the Internet, but I don´t mind; To really be a witness is good, to really see, to really hear. 

I have published a book in Swedish, called There are few who talk about them, meaning the people that died of AIDS related illnesses, or sometimes trough suicide, during those years. It was a very silent epidemic in Sweden, and now one rarely hears about the people that passed away. 

This work started at a graveyard in Stockholm, in 1986, and I will write a bit about what happened in Sweden, but this blog is mainly about what I saw and heard in San Francisco, and Oakland, from 1987 until today. 

You are welcome to follow me on my journey, as I look back. 

Pia-Kristina Garde