Moments after I got my driver’s license a convergence of events left me home alone for a couple of days. I immediately did what anyone would: I stole my parents car, drove on the Garden State Parkway for the first time, drove in a city (Elizabeth, NJ) for the first time and kissed a gay guy (second kiss, first of a string of gay guys). It would be cool if this was poetic license but it isn’t.
[There had been a parental clash the prior year with this particular boy. We were going to go out dancing, and the music started at 9PM. My father intercepted us in our fluorescent orange kitchen and asked where did we think we were going at this hour. We did leave the house together but returned shortly thereafter, he ‘didn’t like being treated like that.’ This was before the “he’s just not that into you” book and film, which clearly, I should have been reading.]
I wasn’t sure if I was driving to a date or not, so I got all dolled up just in case. Black baby-doll dancing shoes, a black, unevenly hemmed skirt (not unlike today’s “handkerchief” hems). This was pre-goth, but had you looked at my pale skin and generous application of black eyeliner, you’d have never known.
Since I didn’t really know how to drive until ten years later, (and even that statement sparks debate), how I got there and parked remains a mystery. My shoes rang loudly on each rusty metal stair up three flights on what was little more than a fire-escape. Danny was waiting at the open doorway, in black pants, white shirt and skinny black tie. I had dressed appropriately!
The pasta was already boiling on the single hot plate. It would be moved aside so the sauce could be warmed. There was no colander, and the whole thing tasted like ketchup on spaghettios. Fortunately, like an all-you-can-eat buffet, food quality was not the main draw of this gig.
It had been more than a year since we stood in the bright kitchen of my parent’s house and I thought the statute of limitations had run out, but no. I brought it up and the subject was quickly dropped. Lack of humor should have been clue number two, but again, no.
He kept his instrument in the adjoining room, in all its big beautiful glory, attached to the bed with a giant chain, each link the rough equivalent of a small dumbbell. For a moment I questioned my safety in this neighborhood, but when I heard the first glissandi of the harp I realized it was the music he made, particularly on the oboe and now this, that attracted me to him. This was a good thing, because an ill-attempt at a kiss did not go well.
A year later he would have a featured role in the play “The Sound of Music.” I would try-out for the pit band and be rejected. This particular pit had two instructors and a professional stand in, but this would not assuage me! It was too late to get IN the play, because I had put all my eggs in the pit band basket.
His mom would die of a brain aneurysm two weeks before the play, and he would still don his German Soldier uniform and make all three performances. The drama teachers said “you don’t have to do this.” He wanted to do it, and taught us what “the show must go on” really means.
Not too many years later I would meet his father when I attempted to buy a dirty-water dog from his cart near my house. I remembered him from band concerts, and he did some magic tricks for my little daughters involving disappearing matches. It was here, standing outside on the melting Jersey black-top, that I learned that Danny had died of HIV related complications. His cremains rest in a local cemetery, along with those of his cat.
I asked his dad about his younger brother, also in the band with us, also a musical prodigy, to learn that he had moved to France for a time, and succumbed to “liver problems” just the prior year. He also said something like “you know, the lifestyle” but I was never completely sure of what lifestyle he meant. There are so many ways to destroy a liver.
When we were juniors in high school, before any of this happened, Danny had asked me to the prom, along with another gal. The three of us would go ‘as friends’ was the idea, but my parents forbid it. It would be the second time missing a threesome turned out to be a good thing.