Sunday, June 26, 2011


Fledging Artist, Gay Activist, Promiscuous Dreamer,
Heroin Addict, O.D. at 24

It is hard to believe that Timothy has been dead nearly four decades. His striking presence remains vivid in memory. Like Rebel Owen, I met Timothy via personal ad he ran in the defunct counter-culture weekly East Village Other. Before the Internet (Hehe!), a way to make connections was placing print classifieds and only certain alternative publications took gay ones--this was pre-Stonewall. He described himself as 19, a college student, artistically inclined, and looking for friends and/or lovers. I had just moved to the East Village starting my Junior year and responded. A few days later he called.

We had our first meeting in my East Second Street walk-up. He was tall, slim, with pleasant facial features, sparkling green eyes, freckles all over and an unruly shock of coarse red hair—classic Irish looks. He was very verbal and very intense. As we got acquainted I discovered he was sixteen, not nineteen and still in high school. Nevertheless we became fast friends, and soon he insisted we become lovers.

I respected his crush on me though I hardly shared the infatuation. He started to visit regularly and began writing poems to me and creating art and sculptures that he gave as gifts. He was a very talented artist in several mediums and I was charmed and impressed. I assumed one day he would fulfill his promise and be hugely successful.

Timothy grew up in Queens, in a large very conservative Irish-Catholic family. His father was extremely strict and Timothy was the only son, the youngest child, growing up with several older sisters. He was always having problems with his father for staying out late, not going to classes, skipping church, and just generally not being a good Catholic boy. They had no use for his artistic aspirations and saw it as a detriment. There was no way he could tell his father about his sexual orientation.

We remained friends though the contact was not as intense as in the first year. Timothy was very sexual and incessantly cruised subway bathrooms and public parks. Though he had an enormous uncircumcised penis he preferred being the passive partner. He was primarily attracted to men of color. After graduation from high school he enrolled in Parsons School of Design.

I clicked with a musician and joined him on an extended trip to San Francisco. When we parted I arranged for him and Timothy to meet; they had a brief affair. Timothy called to tell me first. I was amused. I knew it would never work so it never bothered me. Eventually Timothy met a man, a bus driver on the 14th Street cross-town line, and they became live-in lovers. Ironically, years earlier Timothy had given me a surreal painting dominated by a dark-skinned man with a green bus driving across his open chest. It now seems prophetic: the lover eventually died of a heart condition.

Timothy dropped out of Parsons. The relationship ended. To support himself he took retail sales jobs. He moved to a small studio across from the Kips Bay highrises and was soon receiving overtures from men who could see into his bedroom through the un-curtained windows. The attention amused him and he began purposely walking around in states of undress. Some made offers he couldn’t refuse. I had no idea he had become addicted to heroin.

I left the East Village and moved to the Upper West Side. By then we had fallen out of contact. One day I got a call from Marie, one of his female friends whom he had introduced to me when we first met. She told me that some months earlier Timothy had died of an overdose and long buried. I was sad I had missed the last days of his life, and my first thought was what became of his art.

I called the family home and spoke to one of his sisters. She filled in the details of his passing and when I asked what the family planned to do with his sculptures, paintings and poems, she told me that the father had destroyed it all. He blamed the artistic inclinations as the cause of his son’s destruction. I was shocked and angry but there was little I could do.

I dedicated my first novel A Brother’s Touch ( to Timothy though I only used his initials out of respect for the family’s feelings. I did send one of his sisters a copy but never heard back from her. When the book was reissued, I changed the dedication to include his full name.

Sometime after learning of the overdose, I was looking through flyers on a bulletin board at the newly opened Gay Center in the West Village when I spotted a protest announcement illustrated with a picture of Timothy, prominent among participants in one of the first gay pride marches. I immediately took it and put it with the art, writings and pictures I kept in a small archive dedicated to his memory.

I always wonder if drugs had not intervened so fatally, if Timothy would have realized the precocious promise he showed so young. It will always be an open consideration. I cherish the pieces of art I retain to this day, including a ceramic rose he made me for Valentine's Day.

Even if he survived the scourge of dope addiction, most likely he would not survive the Plague to come!

Timothy would be approaching his 60th birthday in the coming year.

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