Beginnings and Endings… a tribute to friendship

To every beautiful beginning, there will come an end.

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I have spent a lot of time thinking about the way things in my life have ended lately. I noticed a pattern that most of my “endings” lacked the beauty of their beginning. I want to do more to make things end on my terms but I am not sure how to do that.

It was the summer going into 9th Grade when my parents told my sister the only way she could go to this “HIGH SCHOOL PARTY” on 76th Street was if she brought me along. I was just about 13 years old and I had no business being at an epic party at Fran’s house, but there I was. It was my first real high school party and I wanted to look cool. I rocked a fresh white tee from “Gap”, Calvin Klein Jeans and Burgundy Doc Martins. My hair a dark red cut in a sharp angle bob right to my chin.

We head uptown, my sister walks in with me. I could tell she wasn’t interested in having me tail her all night so she did something that I could never repay her for… She walked me over to a guy, a complete stranger to me. This guy, with a Polo Hat resting crooked on his head, a Polo Shirt collar up with an RL Polo Sweater three sizes too big hanging over his oversized Ralph Lauren jeans – looked so cool. He was something out of a movie. My sister hands me off to him with orders, “Joe, this is Dee-Dee… She’s my little sister. WATCH HER! Make sure she doesn’t drink or do anything stupid, I’ll be right back” and she walks away.

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He could tell I was mortified, “little sister”, could she be any more obnoxious? So there I stood, in the doorway of this massive house. This Joe kid didn’t seem to mind having me there, he made small talk, I tell him I am about to start High School and I could actually see him light up. I think that was the moment he decided I was going to be his project.

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So, he drags me around this giant house and one by one he introduces me to his friends. He pretty much knew everyone at the party and everyone knew him.

“Yo! This is my homegirl Dee”, as if he had known me my entire life was repeated with each new person. In a matter of minutes, I went from the “weird girl in the doorway” to “Joe’s homegirl, Dee”.

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Tray & Joe 
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Always dressed fresh…

Then, it happened… pounding out of the speakers, “M. E. T. H. O. D.  MAN, M. E. T. H. O. D.  MAN, M. E. T. H. O. D.  MAN… Hey, you, get off my cloud, You don’t know me and you don’t know my style” the entire house shook from teenagers jumping and rapping along to the hottest song of the summer. At this point, I’m apparently part of the “crew” so someone hands me the biggest bottle of “beer” I had ever seen in my life. I’m not proud, but I partake in the drinking of my first 40 oz,. My high school experience started right then and there.

An hour or so later Tracey finds me, I am in the mix of everything and everyone. One thing was certain, I had met someone who I would be friends with FOREVER. He was the best “babysitter” and totally covers for me, telling her I was “finneee” and then before she drags me away he says “we gotta get you some fly gear for school, page me” and that was that. 

I’m going to say it… He was my ticket in with the “cool kids” and I am not embarrassed because if you know me, you know that he was my pass. Joe was almost 3 years older than me, but in “life”, he might as well have been 30 years older. He knew so much about music, art, fashion and “the scene”.

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The people I met along the way…

In the first year we knew one another I am sure we clocked well over 100 hours a week on the phone. He was the only person I could talk to for hours and never run out of things to say. We agreed we were going to switch it up, change our style and start getting out of NB more. From the Flagship RL to Salvation Army, I was there.

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Transition from Lo-Life to Thrifting

We were from the exact same place “North Bergen”, but you’d never know it. It was like two totally different worlds collided when we were together. We were an unlikely duo and that just made our friendship more fascinating to us both. I would bring him to my family functions, all of us caucasian people sitting around playing board games listening to the B-52’s on an old restored Jukebox, him a Cuban kid from uptown just laughing at our ways. When it got late, we’d change and go to the Limelight, me just 14 or 15 years old. I would dance with club kids and drag queens until the sun came up the next morning.

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His spot on the couch.
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Junior & Joe

There was a point in time where he would tell me to meet him at “The Tunnel” at 12am. For those who don’t know, I am talking about the Peter Gatien nightclub. Lines wrapped around his huge old warehouse on 26th Street, people in the freezing cold on the Westside Highway praying they wouldn’t get turned away at the door “just because” after hours of waiting. Some nights people paid over $100 door charges. There I would be, waiting at the rope, only to spot his blue hair. The hair that he made me “Manic Panic” the night before. I’d grab his arm with my blue hands stained from my chore, Joe and Junior were always together there. Junior would be towering over us in his platforms and we’d walk right through the long hallway into the club. It was surreal. An entire world I would never have known without him. Then, we’d get back to my house because it was just a 5-minute drive. Mom would feed us while shaking her head. They’d fall asleep on the couch, Joey with the blue hair, Junior with the pink and my dad, watching tv somewhere on the recliner. Another unlikely group, but he had the power of bringing people together.

Of course, crazy nights calmed down. We grew up and got real jobs that required us to go to bed at a reasonable hour. The club life was behind us, but we stayed a unit. We had a standing weekly dinner date at “The Outback” on Thursday’s in Edgewater, where we would talk about my current boyfriend and his life, and work. We’d reminisce about the good old days, Victor, our friend, was the hook-up. He made sure we always ate well. Our significant others would have to deal with our annoying friendship, but it was just who we were. Since the day we met, he took care of me like a little sister.

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Vic, Joe and tray 

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When I became a mother, our meetings turned into calls and text messages. We didn’t get together enough but I would mail him pictures of the baby and always made sure he knew I was still there.

I will never forget walking down the aisle to marry my husband and seeing him there smiling. He knew all about the good times and the bad times, our ups and downs. So many times he talked me off the edge when I was “done” and I thank GOD that Joe was as honest and raw with me as he was, because I stuck it out and it was worth it. I think it brought him a lot of joy seeing that we got through it all and we decided to officially get married. My daughter grew up knowing him as Uncle Joe. As for his family, I fell in love with them. Eventually, he had a daughter of his own, I adore her and her beautiful mother…

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We would get together for birthdays and on special occasions, it never seemed to be often enough though.

In August of 2018 he had given Chloe the best 17th Birthday, Invited her and her friends to his restaurant in NYC. He even arranged for them to stay in a huge luxurious suite for the night so I wouldn’t have to worry about them coming back to NJ. They loved it.

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Chloe at Calle Ocho turning 17

So, when I was traveling that October to Florida, I invited him. I felt like this was a great way to repay him for his generosity and love. Plus, I hadn’t had a chance to catch up with him in forever. It was settled, we were headed to DISNEY! Just the two of us. Yes, it might sound weird but for us it wasn’t. In the weeks leading up to our trip, we would text about our plans to literally do nothing but relax poolside and catch up on each other’s lives.

Just days before we were to leave, he called and backed out. He was vague, but there was something happening in his personal life that he had to handle. I understood, having an entire life of my own I know how these things can happen. I went solo and made the best of it.

This friendship, 25 years in the making, seemed like something that I could always rely on. For as long as I could remember, he was there for me.

Until he wasn’t.

Just 2 weeks later I wake up to a call that changes everything. There is nothing you can do to brace yourself for that impact. I was heartbroken.

I can’t explain the beauty of a friendship like ours that was entirely platonic, deep and connected. I can only hope that you have a friend that you can say the same about.

The beauty of the beginning didn’t match the gut-wrenching emptiness of the ending.

Lesson learned.

I created a vision board just a few weeks later and I have words pasted all over my board like “Love, Make Memories, Connect, Experience, Embrace Today, Cherish The Moment”. These are all things that I decided I was going to REALLY make happen. No longer would I wait to hear from someone I wanted to speak to, I call and text – even if I am the one who always reaches out first, I do it. I put my ego aside. When I am invited out, I go. When I get a chance to travel, I take it. I won’t lie, there is a little mania involved too. I can’t seem to sit still and I get nervous when I am not keeping busy because “what if time runs out” and I realize this is not a healthy thought process.

Can endings be beautiful? That’s the question I ask and if so, please tell me how.

I am ok with detachment, that is a word that I learned studying Buddhism and it was a great lesson.

Everything that begins, ends.

Every sunrise has a sunset.

Every life has a death.

These are infinite truths, there is nothing with infinite life, so I can accept that. I can see the beauty in the sunrise and even more so, the beauty in the sunset. Aside from that, I can’t think of a damn thing that is as beautiful and bountiful in the end.

What I am beginning to contemplate (and I could be wrong) but lesser talked about “middle” is where the BEAUTY is found. That’s where the love really lies, where the effort is actually made and the endurance is tested. It has to be somewhere in the middle when the brightness dims but there is still light to be found, which makes everything worth it…

“Love, Make Memories, Connect, Experience, Embrace Today, Cherish The Moment”, these are all things I can do in the thick of this life, my friendships, relationships and time. I want to remember the middle, like the story I told above, the beauty wasn’t so much in the beginning and it definitely was not in the end, the beauty I so desperately seek is right in the middle.

As this year came and went so fast, I was able to really appreciate the impact he had on my life. The friends I made because of him and the experiences I had because of him. Joe was a constant in my life, in the middle.

If you are someone I call a friend, I promise you, I WILL BE STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU.

With love ALWAYS. Your homegirl, Dee.