As Time Goes By
Milestones mark life for us. Whether joyous or sad, these markers imprint our lives in a permanent way. They cause us to take inventory on life, measuring, in a sense, and reflecting on both that moment as well as what has happened since it took place.
When recalling a happy one, I tend to get a feeling of pleasure that is almost indescribable. It’s a series of visceral sensations that take place like toppling dominoes. First, I get the feeling, as cliché as it may sound, like my heart has skipped a beat, or has fluttered which is then followed by a sigh and then by a sense of exhilaration.
Take for example, the moment that Elly was born. I recall the dimmed lights in the room, watching Greg help deliver her with the midwife, and the burst of emotion that everyone in the room shared as she came into the world. Then moments later, as I held that seven pound crying bundle in my arms, her tiny hand gripping my finger, I thought "Oh my goodness. I’m a daddy. And it feels even more incredible than I expected it would." Whenever I think back to that time, I flash back to those emotions. That wave of excitement and pride and pure joy washes over me as if I was right back in that time.
I also clearly remember the day I first met Betty. Taking her from the "breeder" in Lynn- this morbidly obese woman pushing a metal lawn chair to its limits on her front sidewalk. (I think she misunderstood the term breeder to include anyone whose dog got pregnant. But I let it slide because she still gave me the best pup ever.) As she puffed away on her Marlboro Light 100, Betty desperately tried to knock over the Big Gulp under her chair. I’m not sure what I loved about Betty first - her feistiness, her love for frolicking, or her white-speckled muzzle and adorable caramel-colored bum. But whatever it was, I knew she was the pup for me. I can recall her trembling as I took her from her litter. Her whimpering on my lap on the ride home saddened me but soon after she settled into my arms and let me snuggle her. I looked at her and said "You are going to enrich my life. And I promise to give you a good life." And she has definitely made my life better. I can only hope that the feeling is mutual. And I suspect it is. Nearly thirteen years later, through all the grey fur, I can still see that seven pound puppy when I look in her almond-shaped eyes.
And of course, I’d be remiss to not mention my wedding day as one of the best days of my life. Standing on the altar, holding Greg’s hands just teeming with happiness. There we were, surrounded by our friends and family, sharing vows with each other that would bind us together. I thought I would just burst with excitement. Not only was I marrying the man that I love, but I also got to hear the same words straight couples have heard for years, "By the power invested in me, through the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I now pronounce you married." I still get a chill thinking back to what those words mean and how important they are to validating our family. And by validation, I don’t mean what it means to us privately, but how it makes us a family to the broader community. And whenever I glance down at that band on my finger, I remember that day as if it were yesterday. And I can totally remember the glow on my handsome groom’s face.
But just as there are the joyful milestones, there must also be the sad ones; the ones that make the heart feel heavy. Those that make us sigh and feel a little short of breath, but not in the way their positive counterparts do. And though they don’t bring the pleasure of the happy type, they are still important nonetheless. They become a part of our being, shaping who we are in some way.
A few weeks back marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the passing of my friend Roni. Roni was my best friend Lenny’s older brother. Through Lenny, Roni had become a cherished friend to me, too. Roni was seven years older than us and his life was cut short in its prime by a drunk driver at twenty-six years old. As the days leading up to the anniversary of his passing approached, the memories of the pain of that time all came back to me.
Though he and I had never implicitly spoke of it, Roni too was gay. Besides my friend, he was my hair stylist. I would go to his salon and he would cut and highlight my hair (Sign number 927.53 that young Joey was a budding homo-ling. A teenage boy who gets his hair highlighted in a salon shouldn’t even have to come out officially.) As he’d do my hair, we would giggle about all sorts of things. I always felt safe when I was with Roni because I could be "me." We chatted about pop culture and all the latest trends. We enjoyed shopping trips to Copley Place. And once we even sat on the lawn at Boston Common to listen to Liza Minelli sing back in the days of Concerts on the Common. So though we never "officially" spoke of our gaiety, we didn’t really need to. Our actions spoke louder than words.
When Roni died, besides a friend, I lost a role model. The only gay person that I knew at the time had been taken from me. A person in whom I knew I could confide, the one who I was sure would understand and not judge me. And it was at a time when I really needed him. Had Roni been alive, I would have had someone to talk with about these feelings that I had. I would have had someone, who with first-hand experience, could tell me, "it will be ok." And though I did find those gay friends, those new role models, it was not until many years later. When I finally came out, eight years after Roni’s passing, I chose his birthday to be the day that I told Lenny. Knowing how much Roni meant to him, I thought it would be a way to honor his memory. We talked about Roni a lot that night. And again, I missed his presence.
Even though it’s been twenty-five years, I think of Roni often. I can still feel his presence on many different occasions. It happens at different times. Sometimes I think of him when I’m grooming. Usually my sidekick Elly is next to me on her stepstool, wanting to put on her "moistulizer" too. To appease her, I let her put on her Baby Kiehl’s lotion while I do my skincare regimen. Sometimes, for whatever reason, my eye cream accidentally tumbles out of the medicine cabinet and into the sink. Whenever it does, I immediately think of Roni. I hear his voice saying "Don’t forget the eye cream, you silly gosling! You’re not getting any younger, girl." ("Silly gosling" was my fun play on silly goose. It never ceased to make Roni laugh.) I dutifully put it on and smile, quietly thanking him for continuing to be a guardian of my vanity from the heavens.
Other times, I wish he was really here, in person. Like when I think of all the laughs we would have had talking about Liza marrying that big homo David Guest, as he’d cut my hair, having to stop periodically for laughing too much to bring scissors to my head. I wish we could watch ’Funny Girl’ for the bazillionth time or sip cocktails on my couch watching the Red Carpet arrivals on Oscar night, doing our very own rendition of Joan River’s show, but maybe even funnier. "Meryl, you’re brilliant. We love you. But what is up with that dress? What was Mood having a closeout sale on gold lamé?"
But most of all, I really wish that Roni could have met Greg, Betty and Elly. I wish he could see how happy they make me. I can imagine him smiling with tears in his eyes at Greg and my wedding. I can picture him holding Elly as a baby and cooing at her. And I can totally hear his laughter whenever she tells me that "Me want to look like a hot mess!" as I beg her to let me brush her hair. But it’s just not the same as him being here. As I reflect on this particular milestone, I think of all the things that have changed. In my life. In the world. And I once again, wish you were here, Roni. I miss you today just as much as I did twenty-five years ago. And as something that we only learn through the passage of time, I know that I’ll continue to take a piece of you with me through the next twenty-five, too. I love you, my friend.