Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Swiss-Cheese Heart

It’s strange how some people can enter our lives for a relatively brief period, but stay in our minds and hearts for the rest of our lives?

I met Stu and Zane when I entered what was then Northern Illinois State Teacher's College in September of 1952. We 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. This was a time when homosexuality was classified as a mental illness, and there were no such thing as “gay rights.” Not having to even attempt to hide the fact that we were gay when we were alone 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 eye-linered, rouged, lipsticked drag queen. I fainted. Literally.

Stu was a poster child for A.D.D. before the condition had a name. He was truly multi-talented, but while he was always starting starting some new project, he would drop it after 20 minutes to go on to another, which would be dropped in the same amount of time. Our sophomore year 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 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.

Living with Stu was on one hand a continuation of our college relationship, but without the shelters and fairly accepting nature of college life. 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. 

When, a few years ago, I re-established contact with a college friend and asked if he had any idea how I might reach Stu to perhaps rekindle our friendship, I learned he had died of AIDS 20 years before...20 years! How could that be? How could that possibly be? Stu? Tall, crazy, skinny, incredibly talented, hyper-active red-headed Stu, dead? For 20 years??

True friends come along very seldom in life, and even in the years after we parted ways, I always thought of Stu as one of the best friends I've ever had. To have lost that friendship hurt, but to know I could never get it back left yet another Swiss-cheese hole in my heart.

Here's to you, Stu.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (

1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

Unresolved moments in life. They do haunt us a bit. I have a couple myself and I believe they may end similarly to yours one day.

It's sad that he's been gone 20 years and you had to find out that way. Am sure he regretted it, too. Then again, maybe he's the ghost who moves things on you. =)