In my youth I was often told, usually by men, that I talked too much, so it was a relief to finally meet a guy who talked more. He was the son of a Chicano boxer from Texas retired to Pinebrook, New Jersey, the hometown of my future brother-in-law, The Carpenter. Growing up, they called him Bean—because he was Mexican, I reminded my sister the other day. Oh, boys will be boys: first tree houses and mischief, then girls and cigarettes, next roofing jobs and heroin. When we lived in the fifth-floor walkup on West Sixteenth Street, he’d show up at the door with his terrible complexion and boundless enthusiasm, sometimes with dope, sometimes sick, sometimes with his huge, silent friend Chris, sometimes with a matchbook on which he had written a phone number to buy a car, or drawn a diagram of how to grow opium poppies on the windowsill.
Remember how we all loved him despite his being somewhat unloveable? my sister said. I do. Having met him at what was probably the low point of my life, the infamous 1982, I was eager for nonjudgmental companionship, and was particularly transfixed by the way he concentrated on retracting the syringe when helping me shoot up. Together we watched my blood unfurl like fireworks in the clear liquid. I followed him around for a month or so, until he shrugged me off by shacking up with an old high school girlfriend. I was living far away by the time they all started dying. My sister remembers that on the way to his funeral she and her husband stopped at the SPCA. They adopted a blond lab and named it Bean. This was how we were back then, she sighs, meaning drugs flattened everything. On the other hand, when my son was 16 he named the puppy I gave him for Christmas after his dead father, so maybe they were just young.
Marion Winik is the author of First Comes Love (Random House, 1996) and The Glen Rock Book of the Dead (Counterpoint, 2008.) Her other books are Telling (Random House, 1994); The Lunch-Box Chronicles (Random House, 1998); Rules for the Unruly (Simon and Schuster, 2001); Above Us Only Sky (Seal Press, 2005) and Highs in the Low Fifties: How I Stumbled Through the Joys of Single Living (Globe Pequot Press, 2013). She has also published two books of poetry, Nonstop (Cedar Rock Press, 1981) and Boycrazy (Slough Press, 1986).
Marion’s Bohemian Rhapsody column appears monthly at BaltimoreFishbowl.com, and her essays and articles have been published in The New York Times Magazine, The Sun, The Utne Reader, O, Salon, and Real Simple, among others. Her commentaries for All Things Considered are collected on the npr.org website, and she regularly reviews books for Newsday and Kirkus Review. A professor in the MFA program at the University of Baltimore, Marion was the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Creative Non-Fiction and has been inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters. She has appeared on the Today Show, Politically Incorrectand Oprah.
To learn more, visit marionwinik.com.
This piece appears in The Glen Rock Book of the Dead.