This past Friday was the birthday mass for my dearly departed friend Roger. To give you an idea of who Roger was he can be described as that friend you want to strangle constantly. As a matter of fact sometimes you even have your arms outstretched to do so, ready to ring his neck at the first opportune moment. However he says something to make you laugh and that’s when your arms go limp. Then you are so busy laughing that you forget you wanted to strangle him. Despite the fact his decisions for the most part were bad and that he operated with an anti-logic that both boggled my mind and fascinated me, I couldn’t help but love the guy. To give you an idea of what he was like to deal with, he was like Ratso Rizzo from Midnight Cowboy except Cuban, a little queenier and always decked out in designer labels. And for some reason, the universe bequeathed the ubiquitous task of looking after him to yours truly.
The mass was arranged by Roger’s friend and Godson (House of Revlon) Jesse. I went back and fourth as to whether or not to go. Truth be told, I missed Roger. The fact I missed him really didn’t hit until January where my work schedule slowed and I was up one night unable to sleep. Roger’s favorite activity was calling me at two in the morning to tell me about all the bad things he did during the week or telling me every bad thing that he had ever done in his life period. Somehow, by the luck of the draw, I was chosen as his Pandora. When you have a career as a drug addict and drug dealer there are a lot of sins one must confess, and Roger have a bevy. Being one of the best storytellers I have ever encountered, Roger had an anti-talent of finding misadventures of anonymous sexual encounters wherever he went. Nevermind this behavior caused him to be in the mess he was. Roger didn’t care. And sometimes, while I wanted to kill him most of the time, there was something you had to love about a guy who started a story with, “I needed to use my Uncle’s computer and he wasn’t home. So I was in a jam because you see, it had been a while since I had broken into someone’s house….”
Then there were the times he would call me because he was having nightmares. His HIV meds and psych meds didn’t always mix and as a result he got these dreams more horrific than any closet monster imaginable. When Roger couldn’t sleep I was always the first one on his call chain. While I could have ignored the call and probably should have most of the time somehow I couldn’t. While he annoyed the hell out of me and was as ornery as one could imagine, somehow I always had a soft spot for the dude. Some of it could have been my Catholic upbringing where guilt and helping others in need are first and foremost. Then of course there was the fact the man never ceased to be entertaining even though he was rotten most of the damn time. But deep down I think it was because there was so much of me in him and vice versa and we connected on the level of being kindred spirits. Once Roger and I agreed that we liked Madonna, married men, and mayhem in no particular order. However, I grew out of two out of three and Roger never quite did.
Then of course sometimes when he warmed up with the nightmare story Roger would share one of the boneheaded schemes he cooked up for the week. Usually this involved suing someone because after a car accident settlement he discovered the legal system could be quite lucrative if used correctly. Often times the task fell to me to put a stop to this tomfoolery giving some clerk somewhere less of a headache and saving the head of some judge from exploding. Maybe I earned heaven points, but somehow Roger was one of my besties. Granted, I couldn’t let him stay in my house for too long otherwise he would redecorate, renovate, eat all my food and possibly get me evicted. Sure, he was the asshole friend but he was my asshole friend, very much a part of me and my world making it the unique place it was.
The thing keeping me away from the church was the impending sense of guilt. Towards the end of Roger’s life I almost took him in. However Roger was not giving up the lifestyle anytime soon and I had a strong feeling despite what he claimed that he was not in a hurry to give up the drugs either. During that time I was making it my business to stop dating guys below me and to stop making shit decisions. However, Roger didn’t seem to want to end the party. Instead he would call me after he had yet another anonymous encounter with a man in a public restroom. However, it wasn’t funny anymore. Now it was sick because these guys would physically try to hurt Roger whether they were trying to rob him or stab him. Not to mention he was getting kicked out of virtually every place he lived because he butted heads with everyone from family members to those who serve people on public assistance. This was more than just a hot mess, this was a complete disaster. I knew I was losing my friend to drugs and addiction and he was never coming back. Cutting him out was the first time I experienced heartbreak. Suddenly every guy who ever hurt me seemed so superficial and all the tears expended over them seemed stupid. Now I had a friend who’s continual refusal to listen to doctors, therapists, twelve step sponsors, and whomever else was killing him. Kicking himself while he was down, I knew he was going to kill me long before I rescued him so I was forced to say goodbye. Then two weeks later he was dead. I was so caught up in my own little world I didn’t realize he was gone until I found out they buried him.
When I got to the church I loaded up on coffee in order to wake myself up and to keep my eyes from leaking. I couldn’t help but think that it would have been his thirty fifth birthday had he lived. Only a year earlier I was visiting him in the hospital where he sent me on an errand to get pizza. Of course he wasn’t allowed to have this because of his medical issues. However it never stopped him. So Roger ate the illegal pizza slice and when the doctor, who was quite nice looking came in and noticed his levels shot up. As the plate from the illicit pizza slice sat in the trash can after the doctor left Roger noticed I had a homicidal look in my eyes. Innocently, like a kitten begging for yarn, he said, “What, how else was I supposed to get dream boat to talk to me?”
Two days after that particular hospital stay, the one where Roger’s family came and he fearlessly sent them all on errands of some sort whether it was food or getting him a foot scrubber from Bed, Bath and Beyond he was discharged. Immediately there was a text on my cell from the man himself expressing his desire to see Avatar. I met him outside the Gay and Lesbian Center where he recognized a few people from one of his drug meetings and informed me, “We better get out of here. Some of these bitches are missing more teeth than ever.”
On our way to the theatre, which was in Chelsea, Roger gave me his famous ten cent tour. On our walk he regaled me with the dirt on all the porn store owners. I knew which owner went to meetings with him, which owner had a partner in recovery, and which owner still owed Roger a drug debt. Then as we passed Roger said hello to a few faces that he knew and introduced me flaunting me as arm candy of sorts which was good for the macho side he possessed despite being so completely a queen they should have given him a tiara. While completely gay my buddy always let me know that he had been with one and a half women, therefore when push came to shove he could please me, and if I were to jump on his lap he wouldn’t completely resist me. I didn’t want to know what the half was. The thing with Roger was if you asked, you most certainly would get an answer that you probably didn’t want so in this case ignorance was most definitely bliss. When the people were out of earshot Roger told me who was crazy when they tweaked out, who liked what drug when he sold to them, who had worked as a high priced escort, and who was either working as a gay porn star or was now retired. Not to mention those that avoided him knew Roger had the nasty on them because he told me which people were into whips, chains and leather. Not to mention one guy in particular was eager to avoid Roger as he gave him the ever knowing steely glance. As we passed Roger whispered, “He’s a snitch. Snitched a bunch of people to get probation. I did my time like a man.” Roger had indeed. He did his time, didn’t snitch, but hated prison. He informed me it was because he had been the most popular boy on the tier only to ultimately be rejected by his cellie. Most people hate prison for obvious reasons. But this was Roger, anti-logic, anti-talent, and loving every minute of it.
Roger finished the tour by pointing out the Kinko’s that he once sold drugs in before the police were getting wise to his actions. I asked where he went next, curious, because it seemed that he had done a lot of business in this neighborhood. That’s when he told me he had started doing his business at the Starbucks two blocks down. Being Roger and me being his Pandora, he pointed out a store he had once shoplifted from. Roger defended his actions saying that as a businessman aka drug dealer he never stole, however the items were on sale so it didn’t count.
Coming into the church I saw his Godson Jesse who quickly moved over to make room for me. Very quickly we bonded because somehow, the universe had too given him the task of looking after this errant creature. Jesse and I laughed about Roger’s misadventures and his ability to somehow just clusterfuck in a way that was entertaining but unfortunately also a pain in the ass if you had to deal with it. Jesse also told me that he knew Roger when he was good, before the drugs had come into his world pulling him into a dark side.
I had seen some of that good in my friend who often assumed a role like a big brother from time to time having me call him when I got home, lecturing me on my horrid choices of men (although Roger’s choices were often much worse) to giving me grief everytime I did something dumb. One time Roger got angry at me because of people I was hanging out with and things I was saying. He said to me, “See how sick I am. You don’t want this.” While I thought Roger was out to lunch ninety eight percent of the time he was more on point then people knew. Not to mention Roger’s job was to babysit his little step nephew who was eighteen months old and cute as a button. Sometimes when Roger called with one of his nightmares I would ask how the little man was doing. Roger would talk about the child whom he nicknamed Pumpkin. One of the few times I instances that I saw Roger both calm and happy, he told me stories of this kid escaping from his high chair or learning how to talk. When Pumpkin learned the phrase, “I love you” he was quick to say it to Roger. Not to mention he was always texting me photos of the child in his Halloween get up, opening Christmas presents or hunting for Easter eggs. Despite the fact Roger could be quite rotten, Jesse and I both knew that side of him, the side that came out when no one was looking.
Meeting Jesse was nice because for once I could put a face with one of the names in Roger’s many yarns about his days as a ball walker. As the mass started another one of Roger’s friends wandered in. Gary, who knew Roger from back in the day, had worked with him ironically when my friend was an HIV counselor at Callen-Lourde. On a break and in between field work assignments, Gary figured he would say a few prayers for his misguided but fabulous friend so he could have a peaceful stay in the afterlife.
After the mass ended there were more Roger stories. These were more of the misadventures, more of the bad decisions, and more of the chaos that had become the life of a promising individual. Instead of laughing however, I realized how sad it was. Roger wasn’t stupid, he was bright. Sometimes I think that was a large part of the problem. I think had he been dumb he would have been better able to deal and less willing to lash out. In these stories Roger stole and did a bunch of other horrid things. Knowing my friend and seeing how hard he fought to get recovery even though it never came, I know in my heart it wasn’t him. It was the disease of addiction that made him a thief and a person no one could trust. Roger was always too afraid to do the work to get recovery. That’s why he did the designer labels, the faulty stomach stapling surgery, and got the botox. He had to work on the outsides because the insides were too much to bear. Sure, crystal meth gave my friend wings but it took away the sky.
As we left the church I decided I wasn’t going to cry. It was a mute point plus Roger wouldn’t have wanted tears. In addition my mascara was not waterproof and Roger being Roger would have said to me, “Why didn’t you wear waterproof mascara, you knew you would be mourning.” At that moment I realized in his death Roger had given me a new life. Since his passing I made it my business to give up men who were bad for me as well as bad decisions, something my friend could never quite do. It’s not that he wouldn’t get it, he couldn’t get it. I also have been pressing harder and harder making more headway than ever in my career. I remember when he lived Roger was always proud of me and would brag to people that he knew me when he saw me on TV. In my heart, I know if he were here he would be proud of me.
I also remember a promise I made to Roger as he was dying in the hospital. I came to see him because he called me as usual. Everytime he was laid up he asked for me and got belligerent whenever I didn’t come. He said to me, as I looked ratty as ever, “Stop looking broke and poor when you see me. If you want to look broke and poor, don’t come see me at all.” When I informed him I was broke and poor Roger snapped, “That may be but no one has to know.” Meanwhile this was coming from a man who had a Gucci bag and was clad in designer labels despite being homeless. Sure, his priorities were misplaced but it was some of the best advice I ever received and now I always am bedazzled, styled, and strut whenever I leave the house. While he had some interesting views sometimes perhaps the old boy did know a thing or two.
I also realized that Roger was in heaven or being well taken care of wherever he is. Sure he could be bad to the bone but the boy had a few rough breaks. As a kid his father had gotten murdered in front of him and that was the tip of the iceberg. Plus he was sick, not evil. And many times the people who dealt with the wrath of Roger were sneaks who cheated everyone and played games and this time they tangled with the wrong person. Roger never looked like much but if he didn’t like you one thing was for sure, you were done. Much like Ratso Rizzo, if he liked you it was decided you were friends forever and you couldn’t get rid of him no matter how hard you tried. All and all, Jesse, Gary and I probably loved him because if anything, Roger was unflinchingly real to the point where we all wished he would lie. That’s when he would say, “Why would I do that? I am such a jerkoff I would probably screw it up.”
Going about my day in Manhattan I was met with a falling out with a friend who showed his darkside. Being hard to reason with this particular individual took cheap shots at me about a very troubled time in my life. His words were like acid in a wound and were so harsh I cried when I got home. Thinking of the times in my life I wanted to erase I just wanted to pull the switch to rid myself of the ladder part of 2003, all of 2006, spring of 2007, summer of 2008, all of 2009……but the truth is, we can’t go back. We can only go forward. More than anything at that moment I wished Roger would pop up with one of his sayings to make me laugh because they were always good.
That’s when out of no where one popped into my head. Roger once said, “People are in your past for a reason. Most of the time they are right where you left them doing the same things and even wearing the same bad clothes.” Not only did it become easier to wash my hands of this idiot ex friend but now I was laughing harder than ever.
As a moonbeam shot through my window, perhaps Roger from heaven, I don’t know but it sounds good on paper, I knew my friend was having a good birthday. I also knew it wasn’t over. I would see him again one day. Odds are he would be saying something or doing something and my arms would be stretched out ready to choke him. Then he would make me laugh and I would realize how much I really did miss that jackass.
So to Roger, wherever you are, I will never forget you as long as I live and before I know it I will meet you again. Until that time comes, don’t cause too much trouble, because I had a feeling they put you in heaven because hell couldn’t handle you. When the time comes that we meet again, save me a seat in the back so we can talk about people. When the day comes that we meet again, in the words of Boyz II Men it will be, “one sweet day.”