I wish I could remember exactly the first time I laid eyes on Richard.
He was (at that time) the most beautiful creature I had ever seen in my entire 17 years of life, I remember that much. He had the most exquisitely delicate facial features, like a mythological fairy. Like the fairy on the necklace he wore constantly, or the countless fairy doodles he drew in his notebook.
My memories of my high school years are muddy, colored with anger and fear and a lot of teenage angst. I lied a lot during that time of my life, and it’s hard for my aging brain to discern between what is true and what is a figment of my imagination. I weep sometimes for the things I have experienced, but cannot remember.
I do remember Richard sharing a dressing room with Jenny and I during a show in my senior year, as he was not “like all the other boys”. I clearly remember him saying “something has to be done with your hair, darling, It’s a greek tragedy.”
I clearly remember choir trips, I remember him braiding my hair for a performance of something. I remember him riding in the back of my convertible Rabbit with the top down and No Doubt blasting from the stereo speakers; I have a really clear mental picture of seeing him in my rearview mirror, with his head thrown back in the sunshine and this beautiful smile on his face. I also remember his face when he saw me in my prom dress, he teared up and said “Oh, someone finally tamed that hair of yours.”
He helped with my dance shoes and always checked my seams on my stockings. He made sure I didn’t glue my eyes open (or shut) while trying to apply false eyelashes. He wrote us countless notes, drew beautiful drawings for us, sang us the most stunning songs. He was a most excellent judge of character, and once he liked you, that was it. (He didn’t like most people.)
We knew he was gay before we understood exactly what gay was. We knew who he was and adored him because of it.
I recall the stunning letters he sent me when I went away to college; I am so sad that they have been lost somewhere in the boxes of my life. He would draw these elaborate things in the margins and his letters were always beautiful, telling me about his day but also trying to remind me that I was worthy and to never doubt my abilities. It was almost like he could tell that I was a mess, so far from home and everything I knew.
I never responded to any of his letters. I never knew what to say, and back in my one year of college, I was trying to get boys to pay attention to me. His letters were little windows back into home, and I wanted to get away from home.
I lost touch with Richard shortly after my dramatic flame out from college.
A few years later, I had tiny Wolfgang with me in a stroller and ran into him at the mall. I would like to say it was like no time had passed, but I was incredibly self-absorbed at that time and barely recognized him. He had grown at least another 4 inches in height and his face had become more angular, with cheekbones that you could slice yourself on.
He took my new offspring in stride, though it was kind of obvious he did not care for children and did not know what to do with them. He showed up at my house a few days later to visit with Wolfgang, thought I think secretly he was really there to visit me. He brought an enormous stuffed cheetah that was bigger than the kid. (That cheetah was a beloved part of our family for years.)
Richard kept in touch for a bit after that, usually texting me on my text pager (we were really cool in 2001). Then one day, he stopped responding.
We went our separate ways and lived entire lives for ten years.
I cannot remember how got back in touch. On Facebook one day, he saw I had run my first half marathon in Disneyland and my best friend Angela was pushing me in a wheelchair. He met me at the Little Mermaid ride in Disneyland California Adventure and we took some pictures and hugged and chatted. He patted my hair and said “haven’t quite figured out what to do with this yet?”
He always couched emotional moments with just a little bit of snark.
We texted back and forth for the next few years, and met up at Disneyland quite a few times. On one memorable day I spent with him, my bestie Kyle and our friends Delane and Alex, I remember him looking over at me and smiling. When I asked him why, he pushed a piece of hair out of my face and smiled at me, and said “I just want to remember how beautiful you are when you are truly happy. And you are so beautiful.”
Then Richard got sick.
I don’t remember the exact timeline, because I was in the midst of my own personal crisis but I do remember his official diagnosis came on Valentine’s Day. He went through chemo and radiation, as well as several lengthy stays in the hospital. I watched his struggles through Facebook, as I didn’t know what else to do, because I am terrible. I didn’t know if I was a good enough friend to intrude during such a battle, and I didn’t know how to help.
I never saw him again. My last message to him was “seen”, but went unanswered. “Hi darling. I just wanted to let you know that I adore you.”
Kyle texted me one night two months ago, just before midnight: “You should call me or Delane when you wake up.” I called him immediately (at 1am when I saw the message), already knowing, deep down, what this was about.
Richard left us mere mortals behind on February 1st, 2019.
I got my hair cut the day after he died and I cried almost the entire time. My poor hairdresser Ashley. It was an appointment I had booked for some time, and had been wanting this haircut for years. As the long hanks of my hair fell to the floor, I sobbed. I scared most of the people in the salon with my bawling but when I looked in the mirror as Ashley curled the last of my hair, I heard Richard clearly say “Oh thank god. You finally figured out what to do with that hair.”
I FaceTimed Kyle as I stood in the corner of the salon and cried.
We celebrated Richard’s life a few weekends ago, and I got to spend time with Kyle while we remembered our friend. He held my hand and brushed the hair out of my face and we laughed at some of the ridiculous things Richard had brought into our lives, like eating lemons with salt and subtle bling and that eyebrow raise he could do, that could deflate even the biggest ego. He had this way of boosting your mojo or laying you low and either way, you knew what a gift he was to this world.
I auditioned for my first show in 20 years last week, because of Richard. I wanted to leave the second I got there. I was outgunned by amazingly talented women and I was terrified. I texted my boyfriend to tell him I was leaving, and he was kind and understanding. He tried to talk me down, but I think he realized that going along with my chicken behavior wasn’t going to satisfy me.
Then (major kudos to him), he pulled out the big guns: “Would Richard want you to leave?”
So I stayed. I sucked and I didn’t get a part, but I thought I caught a glimpse of Richard out in the audience and I definitely heard him laugh when I delivered my monologue.
It still doesn’t feel real. I still think that if I message him on Facebook or text him, that he will respond. I feel like next time I go to Disneyland, I will have to call him and tell him it’s time for drinking Zombies at whatever has replaced the Cove Bar. I can’t find my rose gold ears, and I have looked everywhere; I wouldn’t want to wear them anyway because he wore them far better than I did.
I will always miss him. I sometimes hear him laugh, especially when I’m trying to apply fake lashes (which I do more often, because I would give anything to hear him laugh). I definitely heard him yell at me when I was trying to dress for his memorial, and I’m pretty sure I can hear him say “yep, that’s right” when I’ve got my hair and makeup all done.
Goodbye, friend. I am a better person for knowing you…we all are.