Another January 20th

This January 20 has been such a remarkable, restorative day as America may yet redeem itself once more. This January 20 has been, for me, a day of profound relief, joy, and gratitude.

Yet this is only the second most important January 20th of my life. The most important was in 1958, and I didn’t even know that until two decades hence, for it was in 1978 that I met Bob Corsico, the first — and greatest — love of my life, and January 20, 1958, was his birthday. Let me share this story with you.

— — — — — —

1997. I am lying by the pool at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Palm Springs, California. It is twilight, and the sun is setting behind the San Jacinto Mountains. A beautiful swarthy man emerges from the pool in a blue Speedo. I do not recognize him at first because he is silhouetted in the glare of the setting sun. But as he comes closer, I realize that it is Bob Corsico. I have not seen him for a very long time, and I am very confused. As he approaches me, I ask, “What are you doing here?” He lies down on the chaise lounge next to me and says, “I just wanted to spend sunset with you”…

I knew that this was a dream. Bob and I had been lovers, each other’s first real lover. We had met in Omaha at Creighton University, and we were amazed when we found out that we had both grown up on Long Island, me in Hicksville and him in Syosset, less than three miles from one another. Like we were meant to be together. Like Kismet.

After graduation, we moved back to New York and lived together in the City from 1980 to 1984. Even after we split up, even after I had moved to St. Louis, we had remained the best of friends. We visited each other a couple of times a year, and we talked in the phone at least once a week, usually after the most recent new episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, me to marvel at the cool special effects and Gene Roddenberry’s bright vision of humanity’s future, him to nitpick about inconsistencies of character and plot. For us, it worked.

Bob was diagnosed with AIDS in 1992. Despite the lack of effective treatments in those days, he did pretty well for a good long while. He and I went to Palm Springs for a vacation in May 1994, about six months before he was scheduled to go into the hospital the week of Thanksgiving. I was in New York for the holiday so I bought a book for him to read in the hospital, The Nitpicker’s Guide for Next Generation Trekkers about all the stuff they got wrong on Star Trek: TNG. He loved it.

Three days later, he died…

Bob and I sit by the pool, and we talk, watching the setting sun. Slowly, I become aware of a telephone ringing, not here but in the real world. I want to stay, to savor this moment, but I feel myself being pulled away, out of the dream, and I cannot resist it…

I woke up, and I picked up the phone, but I heard a click. Whoever had called had given up and had just hung up. I was really pissed.

But then I did something I’ve never been able to do before or since. I decided I wanted to go back to the dream…

And there is Bob waiting for me. This time we are in a restaurant, Rossino’s, an Italian restaurant in the basement of an apartment building in St. Louis’s Central West End. We sit at a small table with a red-checked tablecloth and a candle with wax dripping down the sides of the chianti bottle it rests in.

I ask him, “So what is it like?” Bob looks at me and smiles and says, “It’s nice. I’m not in pain anymore… And I can see everything.” We talk of many things, we laugh, we reminisce, but eventually Bob says that it is time for him to leave.

Since this restaurant is in a basement, beyond its front door are stairs that ascend to the street with a red Exit sign hanging above it. The symbolism — even in the dream — is not lost on me.

Bob turns and stops before we get to the stairs. “No,” he says, “not you. Not yet. Just me.”

“Okay,” I say. I hug him. He feels cold. For some reason, though, I say, “You feel warm.” And as those words escape my lips, I feel a soft warm glow radiating from his body.

“I know,” he whispers into my ear, “I love you.” He kisses my cheek and says, “I am always with you.” He turns, walks up the stairs, and is gone…

I woke up, feeling incredibly peaceful, not knowing what all this meant, wondering if it could in any way be real. But I did know one thing: I wanted to know who the hell had called me in the middle of that dream!

So I got up and walked to the next room where my caller ID was. This was 1997 so I had one caller ID box patched into my landline that gave numbers but no names. It had a number I didn’t recognize that came for the 516 area code — Long Island. I didn’t immediately recognize it, and I thought it might have been one of my brothers so I just called it. The phone rang three times. An answering machine picked up. A woman’s recorded voice said, “Hello, you’ve reached the Corsicos. We’re not here so leave us a message.”

It was Bob’s mother; she’d been calling from Syosset, Long Island, as she did once a year or so, just to say hello.

— — — — — — —

Bob would be 63 years old today. 63. I can scarcely imagine it. As you can see from this photo, I have changed a lot. And Bob? Who knows? Whatever might have changed, I know that his smile and his heart would have remained constant. You can see his smile. As for his heart, well, I carry that within me still so you will have to take my word for it.

Of course, since in so many ways Bob taught me how to love — and came to me across time and space over twenty years ago to assure me that love never dies — I do feel that, whatever generosity of spirit I may have, flows from him. So if you know me, perhaps you know the wonder that is Bob’s heart.

So thank you, Bob, for dwelling within me and for helping me to be a better man than I ever imagined. As long as I have memory, I will honor you each January 20th for all my days…

Pediatrician, Educator, Singer, Writer, Advocate, Actor, Improviser. Views are my own, not those of any institution where I’m employed.

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