(I wrote this in 2012 for Adam’s 34th birthday, upon discovering that he had died a few years prior, never having the chance to say goodbye. I’ve removed older post when reconfiguring MyNewBoyfriend, but decided to continue with these, for Adam…)
Adam Forgetta 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 “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 Joseph, 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. The holidays swiftly came and went, and we enjoyed visiting the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, with the hopes that the imminent New Year would bring forth happiness. I loved teaching him everything I knew about music, movies, life, politics, and I loved him, soul deep.
Through this all, and right after his birthday the following year, the eventual had happened.
Age never really mattered to me, up to some point (his actual 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 (20) – and appeared to be, in all his emotional and personable fortitude – was not what the truth was; there was more than a decade difference between us, I knew, and though he was younger, I did not think he was a teenager still. I was confused after I found out the truth – and angry (for a little while) – but I was thankful, too, that, when the eventual actually occurred, he was of legal age in New York. But it didn’t distill my uncomfortability with it, and that part of our friendship was instantly halted. It didn’t matter to either of us – after all, we weren’t “a couple” – we were friends who, after spending a year as such, extended the boundaries; out of love, out of brotherhood, out of boredom too. And…if it was beautiful, then how could it have been wrong? (It really 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. Before I knew his real age, he told me he was bisexual, and I accepted that, knowing even then that ours was a temporary sexuality – and one that was merely that extension of friendship rather than a torrid romance. I loved him, but I was never in love with him. And vice versa.
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. 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 I 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 dreamed 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 ) ( 35th) ( 36th) ( 37th) ( 38th) ( 39th) ( 40th) 41st 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…
I recently reached out to Starr again and asked if she had any other photos, but most were long gone. She sent me the only two she had – of Adam and his son, Adam Jr., from 2001, and a childhood Christmas photo with Adam grinning with the heart of the holidays. Hindsight can make one despondent at times, but I wish I had known to take more photos of us. Selfies, digital cameras, iPhones – all pipe dreams from SciFi films. We lived life sans the technology.
The other one is a photo I found in my archives of a New Year’s Eve party, with Adam on the far right looking bemused at my party antics.
Moments frozen in time…etched in our memories, eternal.
Dear Jeffrey… was Adam’s adopted mom. My husband was Santa Claus. Thank you for writing such a beautiful tribute to him. I miss him everyday. He was my red headed canary. My husband and I loved him very much. We were with him at the end of his life. We got the chance to say goodbye….
Oh, Karen – that brings me joy knowing he was surrounded by love as he left this plane of existence. I don’t live in regrets – takes too much rent-free space in ones head – but if I do have ONE regret, it’s not trying harder to find him.
Thank you for leaving this message. It actually brought tears to my eyes. Even though, as I wrote, it’s been years since I’ve seen him, I still miss my friend. Thank you, and your husband, for loving him. And maybe, one day, you can tell me more stories of Adam, and his last few years.
Thank you for A most beautiful and touching story. Since 2000, I made a resolution to find a former schoolmate of mine but have been unsuccesful, but your story gives me hope. I only hope that it would not be too late. He was 14 and I was 12 when we went to the same boarding school. I share your heartache. Thnks, man.
Thanks for the kind words, Reuben. I really hope you find your friend. Whether he has passed on, or still among us, it’s the knowing that will heal your heart.
And please, keep me posted on your search.
Jeffrey: Thanks again. I feel this rush of hope. With your blessing I would like to post an excerpt from my upcoming book in the hopes that my former schoolmate may accidentally fall upon your website as I did. If he reads this, he will know, even as I have omitted his name (for his privacy until such day we can release with his blessing).
**Excerpt: Once Again From the Top! * Copyright 2020 Reuben Tom Kee**
My parents enrolled me to join my brother as a fulltime boarder at St. Stephen’s College, Hong Kong – an all-boys college of repute, and the bastion for expatriate overseas students. It ranked along with Diocesan College as the two most prestigious schools for boys. The main differences were of religion and the students’ background. St. Stephen’s was Anglican, and Diocesan was Catholic and the choice for local boys.
It was here that, with the help of a 14-year old that I would come to experience the joy of the longings of sensual desire and come to terms with the firsthand fulfillment of the knee-bending machinations of subliminal love.
The most poignant and enduring recollection of this period is the friendship of a Cambodian housemate, T-H, who awoke in me unrealized emotions, and the memory of which has followed me ever since. His hair was almost shoulder length and he had a glistening glow to his complexion. He would look at me and flash his angelic smile, all the while looking intensely at me with his piercing black eyes. He was almost two years older going on age fourteen, and he introduced me to the sarong, the manner of dress of his native land. He would parade around with only the sarong (in different colors each day) tightly bound around his waist and showing off his lithesome frame, strong bare chest, and slim waist. He made me think of the Prince Chulalongkorn in my favourite story, The King and I.
It was with him that my heart first beat with longings hitherto unknown. It developed into a bond that would manifest itself into an inherent sensuality. His kind demeanour caught my unguarded innocence. On one of the rare weekends that I remained at the boarding house, T-H came over to my room and because my other three roommates had gone to visit their relatives or families, he invited me to spend the night in the empty bed of Steven. The closeness of our bodies made for intense sensations, and we tested each other with brushing our hands in intimate places. That night was one that had me drenched in the sweat of intense sensuality. He would plant frequent gentle kisses to my forehead and we both hardly slept, only intermittently dozing off.
We were so spent that next morning we overslept. We were greeted by harsh knocking on our window by the housemaster of North House, Mr. Lam, and had to get dressed and rush out to the daily morning P.T. (Physical Training) session. Over fifteen fellow housemates were all lined up waiting for us. Later, all our immediate floor mates were silent. I quietly wondered why no one bothered to wake us. Perhaps they were all flustered in seeing us and imagining what T.H and I had done.
**Excerpt: Once Again From the Top! *Copyright 2020 Reuben Tom Kee**