Adam and I met 18 years ago during a brisk and stinging winter morning. It sounds like a cliché, I know, but it’s actually true. I was standing on a near-empty underground subway platform at Church Avenue waiting for the F train, when, from the corner of my eye I noticed a young man (who vaguely resembled a young, handsome male version of Sandra Bernhard) bopping and sing-whispering aloud to Guns N Roses, with a pair of drumsticks protruding out of his back pocket. I don’t recall who initiated the conversation, or what our first words were, but I remember, after giving him the thumbs up for his pseudo-public performance, he smiled, took his headphones off and we started speaking. Soon subsequently, he and I were at my apartment – Guns N Roses was his favorite band, Axl Rose his favorite singer, and he was in awe of my massive CD collection that I ‘acquired’ while at my recent past tenure at Tower Records. As a fellow music lover he was enthralled spelunking the thousands of titles (especially those G ‘n R imports!) packed in my small one room apartment.
The above photo was taken on March 9, 1994 in that Bensonhurst, Brooklyn apartment on Bay Ridge Parkway and 17th avenue not too many months after we met. Unemployed at the time, living off my (ahem) “savings” from Tower, we spent limitless days lounging about. We kept each other company through that cold winter, lunching on microwavable hamburgers and diet Coke from the corner deli up the block on 18th avenue, traipsing through the snow to Manhattan to check out new CD releases from the copious import stores that saturated the East Village. We strolled to Bay Ridge in the springtime and sat along the water, people watching, dreaming. We excitedly talked of buying bikes so we could pedal to the Verrazano Bridge to enjoy the exercise and the view. I told him about my friend, Kenny, who took his life many years ago by leaping, and how the bridge has become, for me, a sort of sanctuary for contemplation, even amidst the clamor of the traffic above. I loved teaching him everything I knew about music, movies, life, politics, and I loved him, soul deep. Through this all, at some point between seasons, the eventual had happened.
But…how was I to know? Age never really mattered to me, up to some point (his age was definitely something I never pursued – my range was always a +10/-5 year circumference). But the age he told me he was upon our meeting – and appeared to be, in all his emotional and personable fortitude – was not what the truth was. But…? There was more than a decade difference between us, and he was too young, a teenager still. I was confused after I found out the truth – and angry (for a little while) – but…if it was beautiful, then how could it have been wrong? (It wasn’t.)
I never thought Adam was gay, despite our relationship – I knew he had been with other men, usually older, but he spoke so often about girls that I figured any same-sex dalliances were merely that of the heightened hormones of a horny teenager. He told me he was bisexual, and I accepted that, knowing even then that ours was a temporary sexuality – and one that was merely an extension of friendship rather than a torrid romance. I loved him, but I was never in love with him.
I started working shortly thereafter at Merlite Industries, a costume jewelry catalog company based in Chelsea, and our times together grew more fleeting, though we made our efforts to see each other whenever able. But it was purely platonically; once I started working, the sexual relationship had evaporated, as I knew it would and should. Over the next year or two, we saw each other as often as we could – even after I moved in with a roommate to a larger apartment not too far away from my previous one and sporadically beyond that.
Sadly, as time progressed, Adam had virtually disappeared. Our visits were more and more infrequent, our phone calls halted completely (it didn’t help that he no longer had one). The last time I had spoken to him, he was living with an older woman and her two children. He sounded happy, despite their age difference (funny, huh?), and I was happy for him. He was 18 at that time, I surmise. As I hugged him goodbye, I kissed his cheek and said, “I miss you, man!” He replied, almost bittersweetly, “I know. Me too.” We paused a little longer mid-embrace, and then he walked out the door, heading home. If I had only known…
Despite the years-long hiatus, I’ve often searched for Adam. I had no phone number for he had no phone; his previous address left no forwarding one. When I finally purchased a computer in 2000-2001, I began, in vain, my quest. I spelunked Yahoo and AOL chat rooms, on Guns N Roses fan message boards. With the advent of “social media,” I would peruse Friendster and MySpace then later Facebook and Google, all grasping onto the hope that Adam took to this new form of technology.
But the reason he was intangible breaks my heart, still.
In May of 2011, like an epiphany, I remembered Adam had an older sister – he talked of her fondly years before and I loved that her name was “Starr”. So I looked up Starr on Facebook on a hopeful whim and there she was! I eagerly wrote:
Hi Starr – forgive my intrusion but I was wondering if you were related to Adam Forgetta. He’s an old friend of mine from back in the 1990s and we’ve lost contact over the years. I know “Adam” is a common name, so let me describe my friend Adam – he was about 5’9 – reddish curly hair, a HUGE Guns N Roses fan (big music fan in general). He’d be in his early 30s now, as I knew him when he was a teenager. If Adam is indeed a relative of yours, can you please let him know that his old friend from Bensonhurst Jeffrey (the music man with 8,000 CDs) has been looking for him for a few years…and if he is indeed a relative, please let me know and I will give you my number so you can give it to Adam. If Adam is not related to you, please let me know as well. Thanx for your time…I hope to hear back from you soon. ~jeffrey
She replied with the worst words I never wanted to – or expected to – hear:
I’m his sister and he passed away in 2004. U can call me at xxxxxx
I momentarily froze. My hands quivered and I sobbed uncontrollably. Through the tremors, I responded:
I can’t talk…I’m in tears…I will call, but I can’t now…too emotional…how did he pass…?
Ur going make me cry! I loved my brother very much. He died from HIV and cancer and he left a set of twins behind, a boy and girl. They’re 9 years old now…
Oh my…I am so sorry for your loss…I didn’t mean to make you cry. I loved your brother…he was special to me and when we lost contact a piece of my heart left…I still have photos of him from a few parties I threw…Oh, Adam!!! I am weeping so hard… I’ve looked for him for years…I wish I never lost touch…oh, sweet, sweet Adam!
I called Starr after I composed myself and we spoke – and through our tears she told me the tale of her brother’s later life, of the woman who had given him HIV, his twins he loved so much, the AIDS-related cancer he had finally succumbed to. How it was 7 years since he died and how she misses her brother beyond comprehensive words and how she longs to embrace her twin niece and nephew, Adam’s children. She told me of the tattoo she had made in her brother’s honor so he would forever be with her. She told me if Googled his name, I would find his death notice. I have Googled his name in the past, and always came up with nothing. After we hung up, I did so again. And there, like a serrated blade, it was. So I wept again.
I know it’s a cliché to say it, but there really aren’t words to convey the prodigious size of the hole in my heart. I had prayed to a god I don’t believe in that the aforementioned hiatus would be just that…that I would find my long-ago lost, itinerant child…that I would embrace him and feel that breathtaking hug of his, and to again smell his hair while doing so (which he always thought was weird, and we’d laugh); that, speaking of laughs, we would have a few good ones at the expense of his favorite singer’s eccentricity (though there’s no doubt Adam’s love for Axl would not have waned). I had always expected that I would see him, rocking down the street, air-drumming with those drumsticks he was rarely – if ever – without (they were his security blanket, his constant thread to his reality. And you wouldn’t recognize it instantly, but he’s twirling those beaters in the photo above). I anticipated the ensuing day I would hear the tales of his happy life, perhaps of a wife and kids, or a partner or husband. I fervently awaited the tales of how he had filled the missing years that separated our tangibility, but not our brotherhood or bond.
I just assumed that, given time…he would just…be here.
But, these are now evaporated aspirations, jolting evanescences, discarded dreams. Oh, if only I had tried much harder…used any resources at my disposal, extended my searches. I never should have allowed those expanses that life jettisons at us to allow him to slip away. If I tried more powerfully, perchance he would still be here.
Maybe, if we remained tangible, I could have, at the very least, held his hand when he left us.
I recently dreamt of Adam, almost a year after receiving the news, and one of a myriad of dreams he’s haunted for years and years. These dreams were always surreal, unexplainable, but commonly; they very rarely altered – they were of Adam and I doing what we’ve always done as friends, as if time were not merely a ghost. This time was different, though. I remember reaching out, imploring to him, “Don’t go…stay, Adam…” And he smiled that goofy, glorious grin, enveloped me in his arms and said, “I love you man. Always have, always will…”
Drenched in tears, with the sunlight bathing my face, I woke up smiling.
I don’t believe that dreams are anything other than our subconscious minds working overtime to get us through the night. But…that embrace…maybe, just maybe.
So, Adam, here’s to you on your 34th birthday. You are forever tattooed on my heart, and will always reside within the storehouse of my soul, for as long as I shall live…and beyond.
On your grave, I will lie, it’s the closest I will get to touching you again. I will kiss the dirt, make love to the stone…I will always remember you…
Especially during those cold November rains.