In Memory of Jeff
March 2, 2017
Some folks lives roll easy. Others lives are like the highest rollercoasters, living as if every moment must be grasped, constantly throwing caution to the wind. Jeff was the latter.
His life taught me freedom and constraint, to stay in the moment, and stop being afraid. One of the most important lessons he taught me, I learned from watching him slowly pass away. His words, his encouragement, his faith all helped me understand life in a bittersweet way.
I met Jeff through a mutual friend while I was studying music at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Jeff was studying music at nearby Pitt University. During our sophomore year of school, all three of us decided to move off campus into a nearby borough of Pittsburgh. It was during these times I began to understand the difference between play and volitional demise.
While in college, I had one best friend and Jeff. Everyone else was just, kind of, outsiders, really. The three of us became so close that after college we moved to NYC together to pursue a career in the theater, which seemed to be the Mecca for most actors, singers, and dancers in college.
Most of the male theater crowd in those days was gay. In fact, being straight was a bit of an anomaly. This was true more with the dancers who sang, rather than with any other sub sect of the theater community. Jeff considered himself a singer who danced. He looked the part. He was tall, blonde, and thin enough for the wind to knock him over.
One day Jeffrey asked me to accompany him at an audition. He needed me to play the piano. While in the audition, I had the privilege of watching Jeffrey do the dance section of the audition. All that I can say is, “Bravo for an outrageous effort to show that you have absolutely no real dance skill, but you are more ballsy than anyone I ever knew.”
While I was getting show offers, Jeff began to move into the business world in NYC, mostly to satisfy his need to have his own apartment in the Lower Bowery and probably to satisfy his need for expensive drugs. He began to play faster and more furiously, it seemed, as his financial situation got better. He ended up working in banking.
Sometimes I would plan to meet him at a bar in the Village for a drink. Often, he simply wouldn’t show. His story the next day went something like this: “As I was walking to the bar, I saw this hot guy riding a bike. I asked him for a ride. He stopped and took me for the ride of my life.”
“Why do you have a black eye, then?” I’d ask curiously.
“Didn’t I tell you he was straight?” he would say wryly. “
This wasn’t the first time Jeffrey had been physically hurt during one of his cautionary trysts. One day he was trying to buy some pot. A lone guy asked to meet in the woods off of the roadside in Pittsburgh. The guy turned out to be a mugger. He robbed Jeffrey, stabbed him, and left him for dead in the woods.
Jeffrey describes the entire evening as if it were the best lesson of his life. After he found the strength to crawl to the roadside, he flagged down a driver who drove him to a hospital. Half dead when he arrived, he assured us that he saw God through it all.
Funny thing is, I believed him. Jeffrey lived his life like I wished I could, but I was glad I didn’t. He taught me to live life more freely than I had, but to realize that every deed has its dues to be paid, whether in money, sickness, or pain.
Jeffrey died during the AIDS epidemic in New York when no one wanted to help—not the government, not the healthcare workers, not even those who supported gay rights.
We were alone.
Jeffrey was alone, except for a few of his friends who weren’t afraid to be in his isolated room as he withered away and passed so quietly, so frail. It was as if he simply floated back to that place of meeting God, when he was attacked in the woods.
Today is a day to remember his courage, his crazy life, his funny and passionate friendship, and his way of making everyone a friend, even those who never deserved his trust. It’s also a day to remember that actions have consequence, but love covers it all.
Here’s to you, Jeffrey! Thank you for teaching me more about myself than any other friend in those days. Thank you for letting me hold you in the final hours and for sharing your deepest fears and secrets with me. I will always admire your courage!
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