There is no love like chaste, pre-adolescent love. We were a boy and a girl, different yet the same, playing and rambling without the pressures of sexual attraction, or inklings of sexual orientation.
That was me and Wilfredo. He was my sidekick; I was his.
We were a visual feast of contrasts. He had a slight build, mahogany skin, high cheekbones and sparkling brown eyes. My white skin was dotted with freckles, and my mop of barely-combed brown hair fell over blue eyes. We were a team-- the granddaughter of Irish immigrants and the son of Ecuadorian immigrants, raised in a city of newcomers.
He was quick-witted, clever. He schooled me in his passions: Planet of the Apes, James Bond. He shared his Mad Magazines with me on the steps of our Bronx apartment building. And he drew his own versions of Spy versus Spy, his feathery fingers deft and nimble. I was a word girl who aced spelling tests and dashed off compositions without breaking a sweat. His doodles and sketches dazzled me; he thought in pictures.
Two adventurers, we rode bikes in tight circles around our courtyard, in bigger loops around our building on Morris Avenue. There were boundaries I wasn’t allowed to cross while he reported back from the wilds of Lehman College, across Jerome Avenue. Wilfredo had seen an animal’s semi-decayed skull among the weeds of a construction site there. He gleefully relayed every gory detail of his find as I plugged my fingers in my ears, jumped up and down, begged him to stop. We both laughed. I believe the word “maggots” was used.
We were both middle children, sandwiched between very competent older siblings and very cute younger ones. Although he was born in the States, he had a way of talking that let me know his parents mostly spoke Spanish at home. He called me “Marry.” I can still hear it.
When we were in sixth grade, we hatched a plan, and my mother approved it. Wilfredo’s mother pierced my ears in their kitchen, with an ice cube as anesthesia. True to form, Wilfredo winced, groaned, and made mock horrified faces in the background. I laughed as his mother chuckled and elbowed him away.
I moved away in the fall of seventh grade, when the city was crumbling around us, when the Bronx was burning and some guy named Willie was found dead of an overdose in the stairwell of our building. My family moved up North, not far from Bear Mountain. I missed Wilfredo and our easy friendship. There was no one like him in my new school, my new town. Shortly after, his family moved to Elizabeth, New Jersey.
We wrote letters. Not a lot. But we kept our connection alive through high school. I made plans to go to college to study communications. But Wilfredo was special, an artist. He got into Parsons School of Design. He’d send me letters, sketches. An intricate and tiny watercolor of John Lennon. An elaborate abstract pencil sketch. On break during our first year of college we made plans to meet in the city at the fountains by Lincoln Center.
He was beautiful in his black leather jacket, pointy black boots, and punkish fashion. On a sunny January day, we rambled all over the Village, and he took me to his favorite haunts—St. Mark’s Place, Trash and Vaudeville, Fiorucci. I don’t know whether I had any inkling he was gay; I assumed that later, in hindsight. It was 1980 -- my gay sensibilities were non-existent and it would be years before I came tumbling out of the closet myself.
I lost touch with Wilfredo sometime in my transient twenties, after graduating from college, moving through a series of apartments and roommates and jobs and graduate school. But every October, I would get an itch. What about Wilfredo? Last I remembered, he was working for the design company Manuel Canovas. His birthday, October 12, needled me every year. Where was he?
Armed with an increasing array of technology and social media, each October I would search: Google, Facebook, “people search” websites, LinkedIn, a Parsons connection. No luck. I imagined our reunion conversation, talking about our parents, siblings, partners, my daughter, his art.
Finally a friend who came of age in the AIDS years suggested I research death notices. I recoiled at the idea.
But I worked up to it. And last October, I found my sidekick in the Social Security Death Master File, a site that chilled me. Yes, it was him. Wilfredo, born 12 October 1960…Died 15 December 1994.
I sat at my kitchen table, longing for that beautiful boy who was my friend. He was 34 when he died. He passed from the earth on a specific day, and I did not know. I wonder if it was the Plague Years that claimed him. I have one picture of the two of us, beaming in the sunlight at Lincoln Center. I carry a reminder of his family on my body, with my pierced ears. And I hold the indelible memory of a boy and a girl, circling the troubled Bronx on our bikes, laughing.
Mary E. Cronin writes from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where she lives with her wife and daughter; she teaches at Cape Cod Community College. Her work has appeared in the Cape Cod Times, the Cambridge Chronicle, and WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR station. She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she writes poetry and fiction for children.