“You brought the Sunshine”!
That’s what my brother John said to me when I arrived here in San Francisco for my vacation on March 14th, 1983. Little did I know the year 1983, was to be one of those pivotal years in anyone’s life that produce’s life-altering changes.
John picked me up at San Francisco International Airport. He told me that I missed weeks of rain and clouds and floods. While that sounded difficult, the first months of 1983 were quite a challenge in my life for other reasons. New York had typical cold winter weather and snow too, but it was aggravated by poor health problems I was experiencing at the time. It started early in January with a laryngitis that turned into a nasty flu that took about 3 weeks to heal. My friend Steve was experiencing something similar, and we both felt pretty much back to normal the last weekend in January.
I met Steve five years earlier in the St. Marks Baths where we both worked. He was 5’11 with milk white skin, jet black hair, blue eyes, thin and lots of fun. He was my best friend girlfriend. He left North Carolina years before and had become Manhattan; fashionable, well groomed, and party reveler, not to mention taking in lots of drugs and sex.
Steve seemed to get me to do things as he was a reveler. In 1978 when he asked me if I would join him for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, he was surprised that I knew nothing about it. That changed and we went together and had a blast. He turned me on to Star Wars after I told him that I missed seeing it in 1977. We went for a double feature; Star Wars and the new sequel The Empire Strikes back. I was excited and about both movies and fell in love with Mark Hamill. It was also powerful to watch Steve repeat the dialogue as if he wrote it. We had many encounters in the same vein over the years.
That January I had tickets for the Joan Rivers party at Studio 54. She was celebrating her debut at Carnegie Hall. It would be on February 2nd that we went and danced and celebrated Joan Rivers. Neither of us had gone dancing in a while, so it was a great pleasure to do it at Studio 54. After-all it had been our haunt in the 70’s.
However just a few days later my flu came back and then turned into bronchitis. I was having a bad time breathing and sleeping. It seemed to last through early March. I was also diagnosed with Amebiasis, and that caused enough grief.
As for my friend Steve, he was feeling weak and losing weight. He had a rather bad drug experience that made him challenge his addiction, which consisted of LSD, MDA, speed, and hot sex. He told me that he had a guy come over for sex and instead he shit all over his own bed. It was uncontrollable. He called me very frantic and embarrassed. It was time for rehab. Steve began group therapy that was suggested by his doctor.
So on March 14th, I took a vacation and came to San Francisco. I found myself loving the city and all of its hills. It had much warmer weather. I really felt that I could “fit in.”. My brother took me to a party of his co-workers. I was surprised that he had gay friends. They encouraged me to give San Francisco a try. It sounded fresh and new.
So I had much to think of when I got back to New York. At that time The Thorn Birds was on TV with my favorite star Barbara Stanwyck. I went to Steve’s to watch it with him. He made a cake since it was his birthday. He looked awful, having lost a lot of weight. I was frightened about it since there was so much illness in the gay community, never mind fears I had about AIDS. He went to see a gay doctor that was familiar with the crisis and he told Steve that he did not have it and that his weight loss was stress related due to his withdrawal from addiction. So we accepted that and enjoyed the cake and movie.
Since my return from San Francisco, I found myself still loving my vacation and I did get carried away and dressed for San Francisco not for New York. My bronchitis came back with a vengeance. By Easter Sunday, April 3rd, I thought I was dying, with high fever, chest compression, constant coughing etc. It was terrible. Steve and I would only speak on the phone since he was also not well.
But I braved through and did get better. In fact by Friday, May 13th, the River Club had a Black Party. Steve and I had not seen each other in weeks and we got dressed up in our leather and went. He looked terrible and told me that he could not ride his bike any longer. He was reluctant to dance and he left me on the dance floor. I found him in the bathroom, splashing cold water on his face. He wasn’t breathing right either. I took him home and we lied down on his bed and I hugged him and stayed until he fell asleep. That Sunday he was well enough for brunch so we did that. As usual he had a lot of complaints about everything and he wanted me to stay close to him. I needed to get to work and I refused. He stormed off. Steve always needed time to chill. So I let him storm.
Around this time I was involved with a fellow for a short lived romance. We did a couple of weekend trips to his country house, but we never got close enough to be lovers. I did try to contact Steve several times but he was not at home. Finally on June 3, I called his boss and she told me that he had pneumonia and that I should go see him at St Vincent’s Hospital.
When I got there I saw two people in the waiting room. An older man that looked like Steve and a heavy set blonde woman that I did not know. A nurse was explaining the hopelessness of “this disease” and she said we are doing all we can for Steve. I felt weird and did not want to accept what she was saying. After all he was told by an informed doctor that it was not AIDS. It was bizarre and a little too surreal. So I just stayed there and waited. I assumed that the older man was his father.
Then a little while later, the nurse came into the waiting room and announced that he was dead. I really could not believe it; this can’t be happening. I was floored. Sadly it was true. Steve had died.
What flashed back was all the great times we experienced together at the movies, in clubs and bars, Fire Island etc. He was 36 and the first person I knew very well that died of this awful disease that was attacking our lives. It was all too much.
But now I needed to talk to these people in the waiting room. They were crying. I felt terrible. What if they feel I arrived too late, would they reject me?
I hesitated a little but mustered the courage to introduce myself. I said “my name is Richard Marino and I knew your son.” His father grabbed me and hugged me passionately. I have heard so much about you from Steve, his father said. He really liked you and appreciated your friendship. The blonde woman introduced herself as Steve’s coworker Vanessa. I vaguely had heard about her. She was Slavic looking, about 5’5 with sparkling blue eyes. She too said I am so glad to meet you. As I said before it was so strange. All I can think of was all the good times. The song “Young Turks” by Rod Stewart, flashed through my mind, one of Steve’s favorites.
By this time I had been thinking a lot about moving to San Francisco. I was done with my job and I had been to most clubs and party’s and I felt I needed a more compact version of New York. I became restless and tired of the dynamics of the city and all of the bustling and noise. I really had no one else that I was close to in New York since Steve had been it. Plus there is nothing like the city by the bay. I was 30 years old and needed the change.
The Saturday before I moved here, Vanessa gave me a going away party. I hardly knew anyone there but it was sweet and thoughtful. There was a genuine feel to it, these people hardly knew me but for Steve’s connection, and maybe that’s why it was so special. “Young hearts be free tonight” as Rod Stewart sang.
I moved to San Francisco on August 1st, 1983. It was a beautiful sunny day. I had missed a week of cool damp foggy weather. My brother picked me up at SFO and once again said:
You brought the Sunshine.
Richard Marino is member of a memorist writing group called the Gray Gay Writers.