The un-dead

Published 06, Oct, 2015

Steven Hobé tells the story of his life with HIV. Part three sees him, freshly diagnosed, on Toronto’s Church Street observing Halloween and realizing at this surreal moment he’s reached a turning point

The un-dead

I’ve never been a huge fan of Halloween. It doesn’t even exist in England where I grew up. They are a little more blood thirsty in nature, celebrating Bonfire Night every November 5th, to commemorate the date that Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the houses of parliament during the reign of James I. 

It was a yearly event that our school would spend a day stuffing clothes full of straw to make the effigy of a man, Mr. Fawkes; then, in the evening, build a huge bonfire, on which they placed and burnt the man alive, or at least the symbol of the man. Families would gather to watch, awed by the crackling of straw and the incineration of the blasphemer. 

Anyway, I live in Toronto – so Halloween it is. 

This year, given the day’s activities, I didn’t much feel like moping around at home. So my friend and I, after having a couple of glasses of wine (much needed), headed to Church Street in the village, to view the festivities. 

I think you will agree there is great irony in my trip to the underworld that evening. I had experienced a whole range of emotions in the past nine hours – the strongest being remorse and regret for what I had done, and what might have been. 

My first conclusion when I found out about the HIV was the inevitable – I was going to die. Never let it be said that I don’t operate in extremes. 

So, to observe Halloween from a safe distance – where the living masquerade as the dead, flirting with idealistic notions of the afterlife – seemed appropriate. 

When we arrived, Church Street was already a buzz with activity. The road had been blocked off, allowing the un-dead, as well as an array of other colourful characters, to roam freely up and down, marvelling at each other’s costumes – the more outlandish the better. 

The highlight for me is always seeing the many variations of men dressed as nuns. Some on rollerblades, others in stiletto heels; but they all seem to be competing for who has the biggest cross dangling around their neck. 

One might even claim that the cross has almost become phallic in gesture, “Look, mine is bigger than yours and it’s made of wood!” But, then again, maybe I’m just reading too much into it. 

My friend and I picked a restaurant that we could have a bite, and sit by the window to quietly observe. I think my mind was on overload, because though I knew I was there in body, not so much in the soul department. I felt disconnected from the world around me, as though my sense of reality was shifting; certainly the surreal nature of Church Street wasn’t helping. 

But to be honest, this sense that I had fallen into a void, a gap in consciousness, felt oddly comforting. 

For tonight, at this very moment, I allowed myself the latitude to stop thinking, stop rationalizing, stop trying to solve the unsolvable puzzle that was to be my life course – there would be plenty of time for that after today.     

The night eventually came to an end, as all do, and so too did the first day of the rest of my life. 

To be continued . . .