In what could only be described as a New York moment last week I walked by someone I had not seen since I was 20. After getting a flu shot, total anomaly for me, I found myself with no subway back to Grand Central. As the weather has been amazing, comfortable flats on thought I would do something that I just love, walk the 30 blocks. I love walking in the city, it's never dull. I get energy from it. However, Lexington Ave around Bloomies gets bit to crowded for me so around 62 Street I decide to cut to Park.
Listening to my music, feeling great, enjoying every moment and of course seeing everything without missing a beat I walk by a man and a woman talking. I did a double take at the same time he did, he let out a loud "Holy ahhhh" in much higher pitch than I did. It was a friend, one of the first friends I made when I started Hunter College. The year was 1985 and I worked in the Registrar's office, for $3.25 a hour as public colleges paid minimum wage. I worked crazy hours during registration, added bonuses were I worked for and with some incredibly cool people and I never got closed out of a class. I grew up in New York but at the age of 18 I knew no openly gay people. I grew up where gay was often used loosely to describe anything from being sort of dorky to bullying behavior inflicted by boys on those boys who were something less than "macho". Lesbians ...yeah believe we thought only nuns were and maybe the gym teacher. I roll my own eyes but that's the way it was in my neighborhood in Queens.
So imagine my first week, middle of the city, only place I wanted to go to school if I wasn't going to be allowed to go far away (that's another blog) and I meet the self proclaimed 2 gay Jerrys. They were not shy about who they were, they were out and proud. This was Hunter, great school, liberal and leaning more left than the Tower of Pisa. They had a Gay and Lesbian office in plain sight. The 2 Jerrys adopted me, they took me to places in the Village, they taught me to drink tequila and I believe they were responsible for wardrobe evolution and much better make up, as well as some forays into platinum blonde via Astor Place hair cutters.
About December the taller Jerry began getting a lot of colds. Each one seemed to last longer than the last. We had no insurance and student health referred him to the free clinic at St Vincent's since he was an employee and not a student. You used to have to be full time for like a year to get insurance back then, or maybe longer. We were good friends and they swore I was the only straight girl they would ever date, white kind lies I needed. They gave me advice on men, on some risqué things and we smoked and had a great time. Then taller Jerry got pneumonia so back we went with him to St Vincent's. I am not sure if I noticed then but there were a lot of men with pneumonia in that clinic. We had started to hear about AIDS in the news but it was not even AIDS yet, some weird virus, some protests, had nothing to do with us. The 2 Jerry's were older than me, they worked full time at the school in different departments. As they both got insurance taller Jerry started losing weight. We thought cancer, begged him to stop smoking, saw a doctor with him instead of at the clinic. He told us in the back of Be Bop cafe that he had the virus. We didn't know what that meant. We knew what it was doing to him. About 2 months later he was in a ward where you had to wear full cover to see him, people were afraid of him, his family well let's say they acted terribly and most of all we were afraid for him. We visited and he grew thinner, he came home and he went back in. The other Jerry and I never talked to others, there was fear of contagious people,there was fear. We got tested because he made us, 2 weeks of my life where no matter how safe you though you were you sweated until you got the results. There were no cocktails then, this was a deadly disease, this is a deadly disease Magic Johnson is not the norm and even he takes a lot of meds.
I learned from taller Jerry how to be fearless. I learned how to love life because he did and never let it get him to give up hope. He made jokes that maybe he would find his musical talent, he as a terrible singer, when he went blind - the next Ray Charles. He didn't let me grieve for him while he was alive and told me that he loved and loved a lot. I learned to be unafraid of having big emotions. He gave me strength when he had none in his body and tons in souls, to stand up for the rights of people and to grow in so many ways. When he died not many came, his mother sent money but his family didn't come, people were afraid, the other Jerry and I were in pain from the loss.
The other Jerry and I drifted apart somewhat after that. Maybe we just had too much hurt when we were together. I changed jobs and we became acquaintances. Yet on this street, 26 years later there was nothing between us besides laughter, memories, comfort and friendship. He asked me if I was still the fearless girl who yelled at a cop for making an AIDS joke. I am not but I remember her. I still stand up for beliefs but I am more reserved. Hunter was a great place for an education both academic and for a life with meaning and ideals.
We parted and I cannot remember when I felt so good..once again taller Jerry, gone for 26 years gave me a gift, the memory of what he meant to my life and what life I learned to live from him.
He loved Elton ..." Your candle blew out long before your legend ever did" I love you Jerry