Dear Frank, This essay is an act of love. It is also a testament to the gratitude of having spent ten years of friendship with you; and to the anger and pain caused by not being able to grow old together. You, the newyorican raised in so many places in the city and perhaps also sometimes in the islands of the illusory enchantments. Me, the jibaro wannabe raised in the mountains and the sugar cane plantation towns of the same island we both claimed as the link that connected us through history, ethnicity and language. You spoke English as your first language. I spoke/speak Spanish. We both spoke bilingually.
Who raised you was never clear to me: your grandmother, your aunt, your mother. I guess you were like so many children that are brought up according to the needs of the adults; your needs were secondary. From one adult to another, from one neighborhood to another were the guiding rearing practices that shaped your sense of place. I do not remember how many places you lived in during the ten years we spent as friends. There is not one address that I remember or would connect you to. The clearest one is the hospital in Queens where I saw you dying slowly and painfully during the beginning years of the plague. You were among the first ones to be diagnosed with AIDS. As a matter of fact the doctors knew there was an epidemic but were not certain as to what it was or how it was transmitted.
Your wide and strong musculature could have been the body of a gymnast but your walk and mannerisms were androgynous enough to reveal your true sexuality. The physical beauty, open and wide smile, big black eyes attracted many handsome men, and some became your lovers, but it was Tito the one you always loved. To wear curly hair, loosely combed was your trade mark; with a few curls always out of place as if to show your careless attitude and sense of fashion. It was a fashionable sense of taste that served as preamble to what later on became known as ghetto chic. This collage made fashionable by the hip hop crowd came about during the late nineties but two decades earlier you were setting the trend. Mixing caps, bandanas with Italian designer pants or wearing expensive shoes with torn jeans was not uncommon for you. One memory stands: I was to meet you in Plaza de Colon in San Juan, but before seeing you with your shorts, bandana, cut off t-shirt and sandals I saw the look in the faces of the people passing by. And some of them were looks of desire.
We met at a disco on 68th and Broadway, the old Escuelita before it was moved further downtown. There were many discos and many nights out throughout the seventies: Flamingo, The Round Table, The Top but our preferred one was The Apartment in the South Bronx. Its crowd, mostly Puerto Ricans made serious dancing the tour de force. No lines of men following the same steps would have been found dancing there. At The Apartment there was some cruising also but people went there to dance and danced we did. When dancing, Puerto Ricans usually engage in some kind of communication with their moving bodies, a particular language is created between the two dancers, just like a bomba dancer is expected to do, and talk we did. We talked with our hands, hips, shoulders and face. When it came to raising eyebrows, Andrea de Palma - the Mexican actress, could have not competed with you. Up and down they went as you dance your body away.