I am so ashamed to report that until I read VanessaLeigh‘s post today, I had no idea…
I lost three family members to AIDS. My Uncle Joe died in his 40’s. He was a handsome, brilliant professional actor and singer who never did make it to the big time. He never had the time. Also, in those days, he “passed”…but not enough… God what a guy magnet he was! I remember he visited my husband and I when we lived in Italy and we practically had to barricade the doors to protect him! Ok, I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the idea. He was also one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, my mother’s dearest friend, wild, witty, best known for his role as one of the original four cabaret singers in Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. When he died, they had a tribute to him that I will never forget at The Village Gate in Manhattan, where the show ran for years. I was so proud to be his niece. I was always a bit in awe of him and so I loved him from afar. Uncle Joe, I pray that you’re alive and well and living in Paradise with my father and yours.
Lenny and Joe, my own age and my cousins on the other side of the family, will be harder to write about, because I loved them more. They were my age and we grew up together. They started drugs at the age of twelve which ultimately led to them dying of AIDS, also in their 40’s. Lenny was the proverbial chick magnet. He was a swaggering, gorgeous, macho early Sly Stallone look alike. He was bitingly sarcastic (anyone who reads my blog knows I hate sarcasm) but I could read him…I knew him…I saw his facade…his emptiness and no clear sense of his own identity. The same emptiness drove his identical twin brother. Joe was the less aggressive one. A goofier sense of humor. A one girl kind of guy. Rough around the edges, both of them. Street smart but no interest in academics, ever. Their twinship, rather then feed a closeness, seemed to drain both of them of their psychological life’s blood. Almost as if there weren’t enough for both of them. God I miss them. My roots. We were the first three kids in a huge Italian extended family. We all lived together in a 3 family house until I was about 6. There was a built in pool which of course needed adult supervision in order for us to jump in. So we would start the garden hose and put drops of water on our foreheads in order to get someone to take pity on our overheated bodies. On Christmas Eve we listened in awe as reindeer and bells clattered across the roof of our house, courtesy of our ingenious uncles.
I started life with two older “brothers”, and now they’re both gone. There but for the grace of God went I.
Lenny and Joe, I will always, always miss you. I will always be grateful for the love and the roots and the FUN we had as kids, before the drugs and the plague took you. And I will ALWAYS associate the magic of Christmas with you, and remember the sound of those bells on the roof.
Most of all, I pray that, like my Uncle Joe, you’re in Paradise with my father and yours.
And so, my friends….who would you like to memorialize here?