When I was a kid, I hung out in the library stacks, and in the dance studio when the library was closed. In high school I spent a lot of time in the auditorium rehearsing for plays, and in a classroom putting the newspaper together. If you were doing the same things in a suburb of Detroit during the 1960s, or a suburb of Philadelphia in the early 1970s, we might know each other.
My mother was my inspiration. She was a defector from Brooklyn—when people actually defected from Brooklyn—fleeing the shackles of her immigrant past at a 100-meter pace worthy of the Olympics for the big world and its treasure trove of literature, dance, film, fashion, and music: life itself.
Which, ironically, is the very description of Brooklyn today.
It was a different time.
One night, some twenty years later, I was a struggling performer a few years shy of thirty in a lower Manhattan bar not all that far from Brooklyn, tentatively approaching a red-headed man who was my blind date—and stumbling upon the man of my dreams. Smart, attractive, stylish, and best of all, the consummate listener, this was, according to the high school friend who set us up, “John, a journalist who just moved from L.A. Wanna meet him?”
How often do we stumble upon the man of our dreams on a blind date—or, for that matter, a Tinder hookup?
Dear reader, I married him, this John, and in short order we had two beautiful babies. But then this divine man got sick, and quickly died of a disease that, for a very long time, I couldn’t name.
Which is why my book is called Now Everyone Will Know: because now I can name John’s disease, without flinching. And that’s because it is a different time. A very different time.
After John died in 1991, I embarked on a career as the director of publicity and marketing at some publishing companies, putting me in the position of telling a lot of other people’s stories, be they in picture books, mass market young adult series books, oversized art books, books on knitting your dog a scarf—you name the story, I told it.
When not working, I kept busy raising my kids with my partner, Dave, caring for and then saying “goodbye” to my parents, and helping my brother face some challenges. I also ran half-marathons and marathons, and discussed books (again, other people’s stories) every month with some terrific women in my book club.
In other words, I had a life. A full one. Well, just about.
What was keeping it from being full was the gaping maw of my own untold story. Of my unspoken narrative. Of my hidden past, that included my marriage to my once very real, very lovely, very much alive husband, who since 1991, has remained unspoken. Unmentionable. Unmemorialized.
My life changed, as it does for so many of us, when my two kids left home. Then, as they graduated from college, I was surprised to hear each of them call out for this ghost, their father, who’d died when my oldest was three and my youngest just nine months old—too young to even know him. And it struck me: it’s not a different time, it is the time—time to open the door on the secret we’d kept about John and his disease.
It was time to tell my story.
I began by singing about it, or rather, by taking a cabaret class at a Manhattan Y and singing so many sad songs about my late husband that a classmate, Magee, questioned my lugubrious repertory. It turned out that she’d gone to the same college as John and remembered him. She then connected me to another college classmate and good friend of John’s, Mike, who, in a very real way made the memory of John begin to come alive again.
The singing class led to shows in a few New York City clubs with the John Colianni Trio, where I could fully explore my loss as well as delight again in expressing myself onstage. I then began writing about my husband, our marriage, and his illness—first for myself, then in an article for Time.com entitled, “My Invisible Life as an AIDS Widow,” and, finally, in this book.
Maya Angelou famously said, “There is no greater agony then bearing an untold story.”
This, then, is mine. Said at last.