Last week I sent a personal message to a group of friends that had been friends with my high school boyfriend that committed suicide in 1985.
The message included a photo I had found during our packing up, of Leo and me in a photo booth at Newberry's, taken in 1983. I check in with this small group around this time of year, because it feels important to me to share the remembrance of someone so special to me, someone I cannot bear to have forgotten.
In the photo we are both smiling, wide and goofy, the way people in photo booth photos smile.
I know that it is summer, because I am wearing a madras print blouse I purchased at the Brass Plum in summer. It was a purple plaid, and had a matching skirt that was unflattering and homely. It was cotton, and required a great deal of ironing to look even halfway decent. Leo is wearing a madras shirt too, but his is vintage, and we purchased it together on an excursion to the Goodwill bins. It is a cotton poly mix and requires no ironing, which makes sense, because boys don't iron. That is what I said about that shirt, at the time, which seems foolish now. At the time I didn't know that my friendship would be rather short, or I would have been more clever.
I first met Leo at the city bus stop when I was 14, introduced by a friend that I hoped would be a boyfriend, but never was. We spent a great deal of time together, and he had a huge influence on me. Everything from my taste in music to my decision to cut off my hair and move to a more edgy look, to sparking an awareness of politic and social justice issues. We rode the bus often, went to music shows, smoked a great many cigarettes and drank a lot of coffee.
Leo had a family that was so different from mine, that they seemed to come from another country. His mother was a painter, his father a philosophy professor and his older sister exuded coolness from the pores of her porcelain skin. The first time I met his family, I was scandalized by their messy, book cluttered house, the cat in the kitchen, and unmatched furniture. We walked through the massive garden, and his father handed me a stalk of celery, which I realized, after taking a large bit, was actually fennel, which I had never seen before.
My own home was neat and tidy with small groupings of modest, but matching furniture.
I fell madly in love with the notion of a bohemian life, a life of abstraction and color and textures, chipped china and splattered tomato sauce.
After Leo died, I remained close to his mother.
We exchanged letters regularly over the years.
When my son was one she gave me a beautiful painting she had made for Leo as a child. She spent Thanksgiving and sometimes Christmas dinner with us. She sent my children beautiful cards and precious gifts. Two years ago when my husband was going through cancer I didn't send an invitation to holiday dinner. I felt overwhelmed and tired. This year I phoned, but her number, a number I had been calling for 32 years was disconnected. I didn't follow up- time just got away from me, it just passed.
When I sent that message, I got a message back from one of the boys, saying "my sister told me that Leo's sister died."
The two older sisters went to school together.
High school news, even old news has a way of spreading.
So for a week or so J and I have been playing detective.
He would report back to me, I would report back to him, the tiny snippets we uncovered.
Yesterday I cracked. I sent a message to Leo's father asking, and he replied that it was true.
The older sister had passed away, by "her own hand", last week, and that Leo's mother had been moved to assisted living.
I didn't know her well.
She was five years older, chic, beautiful.
She had a white leather jacket and high cheekbones.
In 1982 when I met her she called me "Glamourpuss" and thought I was vapid.
She took photographs and smoked. She was punkrock and tough. She had blue, blue eyes and an exotic name. When Leo died she enlarged the photo booth photo and mailed it to me. I thought that she was kind.
She was beloved by her mother.
She was someone's child, and now she's gone.