I learned, from the same long-lost friend who sparked my recent “Letter to a Nun” blog, that one of my very best friends from college, Stu, had died of AIDS…20 years ago!How could that be? How could that possibly be? Stu? Tall, crazy, skinny, incredibly talented, hyperactive redheaded Stu, dead? For 20 years??
I met Stu when I entered what was then Northern Illinois State Teacher’s College in September of 1952. He, Zane, and I were all interested in theater, and soon became friends. (Isn’t it odd that even today I hesitate to mention last names out of concern for opening closet doors?) We were something of the Three Musketeers, though Stu and Zane were far more outgoing than I. Not having to even attempt to hide the fact that we were gay when we were together was exhilarating.
During the break between our Freshman and Sophomore years, we agreed to meet in New York City for three days. I got my first direct evidence that my dad knew of my sexual orientation when, after an argument over the money for the trip being better spent in other ways, Dad finally said, in exasperation, “All right, go to New York with your queer boyfriends.”
One weekend at school, Stu got hold of a makeup kit from the drama department and he and Zane decided they were going to give me a makeover. I wasn’t happy about it, but went along. They wouldn’t let me see their work until they were done, and when they finally gave me a mirror, I saw an eyelinered, rouged, lipsticked drag queen. I fainted. Literally.
Stu was, as I’ve said, multi-talented. One time he designed costumes he, Zane, and I were to wear for Halloween (Zane was to be the sun, I the moon, and Stu the stars). They were beautiful. But like everything else Stu started, they were never completed. He was the poster boy for A.D.D. before the condition had a name. He would start one project, then drop it after 20 minutes to go on to another, which would be dropped in the same amount of time.
He was totally impulsive. At one point, while I was on my two-year break from school for the Navy, he decided there was a play opening in London that he absolutely had to see. He somehow scraped together enough money for a plane ticket to London…but not enough for a ticket back…and took off. I still can’t remember how he got back, but he did.
Our friendship was interrupted for the four years it took me to do my two year military service and to finish my last two years of school. When I graduated and planned to move to Chicago, Stu and I agreed to get an apartment together, which we did…six blocks and on the same side of the street as the building in which I am now living after my return to Chicago following a 38 year absence.
Stu could easily have starred in a play about Ichabod Crane, whom he strongly resembled. With his red hair and gangly frame, and his flamboyant style, it didn’t take much for perfect strangers to determine his sexual orientation. People would stare at him, and it would hurt him deeply, and he would react by becoming even more outrageous. If they wanted queer, he’d give them queer.
I got on his nerves (I can’t imagine how that could possibly happen, but it did). One night I asked him five separate times what time he wanted dinner. Finally, he snapped. I don’t remember what he said, but he never spoke to me again, and he moved out of the apartment within a week.
Several years later, I turned on the TV and caught him on a game show…a little older, but the same old Stu. It hurt.
True friends come along very seldom in life, and I always thought of Stu, even in the years after we parted ways, as one of the best friends I’ve ever had, and I was so very sorry to have lost that friendship. That it can now never be rekindled fills me with a renewed sense of loss.
Here’s to you, Stu.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com: