One summer, at a swimming hole in Austin where we were playing backgammon and eating bagels, a couple of cute boys from our home state came up to introduce themselves. One of them, an immigrant Italian barber’s son, would become my brother, and not only because he married my sister seven years later.
He was our Dean Moriarty, irresistible, legendary, bossy and full of ideas. He could build anything, fix anything, and he could talk to dogs. He was the first white person I knew to appreciate hip-hop. He had a union card. He talked like Robert De Niro in Raging Bull. He had scholarships to art schools in Kansas City and New York, and he loved Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. In Texas he spray-painted the name of my first book on a railroad bridge, and when we moved to New York, zoomed around at night printing the shapes of T-shirts on the walls. He and my sister hopped yachts in Florida, sent postcards from his relatives’ town in Italy, shipped home little packages of heroin from Thailand. He was not afraid of needles.
Next to one another, our lives were an object lesson in the class structure of the late twentieth-century East Coast suburb, the Italians versus the Jews. For example, the vast difference in the amount of money and attention devoted to our flat feet, lazy eyes and crooked teeth, our little talents and our educations, largely with the same results. He mocked me for how carefully I divided the phone bill in our communal apartment, which, I had to point out, was furnished entirely through his trash-picking. We used to laugh ourselves sick with our version of Sonny and Cher’s theme song: Well I don’t know if all that’s true, but you got me and baby, I got you. Babe. Doo doo doo doo. Fuck you, babe.
Do you remember when it seemed impossible that people as young and strong as this would lie with their heads shaved and their bones sticking out wearing diapers in St. Vincent’s Hospital? 1993, the year he died, was near the peak of the dying, and by the end of the century about a half million American boys, and a few girls, would die of AIDS. Twenty-five million worldwide now. It-was-his-time-he-is-at-peace-he-is-free-from-pain-at-last. Who wants to hear these things? I’d rather take the whole last few years of his life, the addiction, the sickness, the breakup, crumple them up and hide them like a paper full of mistakes you don’t want anyone to see. I miss him more, not less, as time goes by.
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.