He was not my first lover.
He was the sixth boy I chose; I was fourteen and he was sixteen, our birthdays just days apart. And his name was not Pablo; Pablo Radical was just his nickname among our people.
But he was my first great love, if obsession and passion and desire and adventure and addiction and then at last a tired lazy friendship exactly like family is something as simple as a great love. We were together on and off from 1981 to 1990, so the longest relationship of my life before my husband.
I met him at Stuyvesant Park, in January of 1981, shortly after I decided to become a drug addict in lieu of killing myself.
I had just turned fourteen, and pretty much stopped going into the school building.
I was a freshman at Stuyvesant, and he was a sophomore. He was part of the last generation of Stuyvesant Freaks, the younger cohort, and hung around with five other guys with long dark hair and longboards.
I hung out in the park or in East 15th St. doorways all day, smoking pot and taking speed and acid, waiting for different groups of Freaks to come out and get high with me.
Me and Gix at Abington Square, “The Disillusioned Duo”.
Gix was there too, my careless guide into the community.
She never went into the building either, because she had dropped out or been drop-kicked out the year before. But she came to the school every day, like me, dealing a little, hanging out.
At first it seemed like the six boys of the Skateboard Crew, as they were called, were just a blur of lanky hips and rangy shoulders in long military surplus coats, their dark hair lifting in the cold winter wind.
But I parsed Pablo out quickly, because I had been waiting for him my whole life.
Aragon. Strider. Tristan.
And of course Paul Atriedes (Gix gave me her copy of Dune in 1982.) Decades later, on the other side of the continent, I would see the man who became my third husband walking through SOMA from his tech job, in his long wool coat, with his long dark hair flying, and know the same certainty. This is my man.
There is an archetype that for me is irresistible.
This drawing of Pablo from 1981 is the Ur-image of my youth, the image of pure longing.
The way that I wanted beautiful boys when I was young (and right into my fifties, lol) was a poetic and devouring hunger. I wanted Pablo as if I was the panther sculpture crouched above the East Drive in Central Park. The skateboard crew called that strip “Highway” and they would meet there and longboard at dawn, overseen by “Still Hunt”.
Pablo wasn’t an easy boy to get with, though. He was very, very busy, between school, record-collecting and his… business.
I kept busy myself the spring and summer I was fourteen, methodically seducing Pablo’s skateboard crew friends. I am a collector by nature. And it seemed like a good way to get closer to him.
As I spent time around these boys, I started to try to draw them.
Still Hunt, photographed by Jay Singer.
One afterschool afternoon the skateboard crew came over to my place.
Not for the gangbang I would have preferred, but to listen to Pink Floyd! I was bored as hell with this, foolishly smoked lots of weed and got horribly paranoid and incoherent and drew.
I believe this scrawl of Pablo’s face and the notes around it represent the first time I ever tried to look at someone and draw their portrait. I had drawn life models, at the Art Students League as a child, but for the first time I was trying to draw a person. I wanted to capture his beauty.
Soon after one of the skateboard crew became my first real lover, Teo, one of the truly good people I hurt when I was young.
Another was Quin, who photographed me naked and dancing to the Grateful Dead with a rose in my teeth and hung the pictures in the hall at Art and Design where he went to school.
There were others, boys and girls deeply desired and fondly loved, and the boys who harmed me badly. I wanted to have everyone.
Pancakes made by my mom, with B., who became Gix’s first husband. Of three.
I was a reckless whirlwind of newfound power, hunting, dancing in my Abington Square bedroom to The Who.
Gix, Gilly, had her own bed in my bedroom, and was there most of the time. That Fall, as the weather turned cooler, Pablo hung out with us, as did a boy named B. One school night we all started making out with each other. “Switch!” Gix said, and we swapped around. But it was clear which pockets the balls would land in.
I finally got with Pablo, and made him mine. He made me his. We were committed like a felony, in the late autumn days and cold nights.
He lived just two blocks away, and his mom got mad when he stayed overnight with me on school nights. We would say goodnight on the corner of 8th Avenue and 12th St., if he had a test the next day. You could smell woodsmoke from the fireplaces of the old townhouses nearby. One chilly dusk we kissed goodnight and then as I stepped back he reached out and grabbed me and pulled me into his greatcoat, wrapped me in his arms and held me. “Mine!”, he used to say. I was fourteen.
It may seem unimaginable, that a fourteen year old girl could routinely spend the night with her sixteen year old boyfriend, today. But 1981 was the year Endless Love, with Brooke Shields, came out. Not to mention the era of Blue Lagoon, Times Square, Rich Kids, A Little Romance… Passionate teenage lovers were not only normalized, they were trendy, if you can believe.
Pablo’s mother hated me, for reasons I wasn’t clear on. Maybe Endless Love! And he was fighting with her like I had fought with my father, until my mom and I moved into our own place in the Village six months earlier. The solution seemed obvious to us.
Pablo came to live with me and my mom in our tiny West Village apartment not long after my fifteenth birthday.
He brought a duffle bag of comic books, including the Byrne/Claremont X-Men run (which he later sold to me for 20 bucks to buy smack, and I later sold to a comic store for 10 bucks to buy smack) and the Frank Miller Daredevils.
He also brought a very fancy and complicated stereo and lots of Pink Floyd records, and some equipment for the business that paid for this stuff. Scales, and baggies. The picture above shows us in our bed, with all those comic books and paraphernalia under it.
I still have his teenage photos, including from before we met.
He brought them to me after one of his runs to his mom’s. His almost entirely absentee father had taken him to China in 1980, where he skateboarded on the Great Wall and met Buddhist monks.
I made little drawings of him in my many sketchbooks.
I was beginning my life’s work of trying to see someone and truly convey how they are beautiful to me. Or ugly, as in the last drawing, made after a particularly gnarly and combative acid trip!
A sketchbook drawing from the early days of that winter, when I still thought it was fine that we were adding some narcotics to our psychedelics.
There was an awkward incident where Pablo decided to sell fresh psilocybin, and we put it in the vegetable drawer. We told my mom what it was, of course, but her boss at Frank Management happened to mention he had been really enjoying doing mushrooms. And it was Friday night. So we went out, and she didn’t weigh the dose, and when we came home she was tripping balls, as the kids say. I had Valium to bring her down. But the worst part was that Pablo wanted her to pay for the mushrooms!
Below, us in the kitchen/living room/Mom’s bedroom of that tiny studio apartment, with my best friend Skenney and my little brother, who would soon move to Rye with my remarrying father. If I look sedated, it’s because I was.
That winter was amazing, terrible, ferocious, devastating.
To live with your love when you are at the peak of youth and passion is incredible. Our mouths, our bodies, fit together like nothing else in my life ever has. We fought terribly from the very beginning.
Cigarettes and apples at Abington Square, around February 1982.
Also we played scrabble, and we sat on Gix’s bed with her and shared around pints of the new Häagen-Daz flavor, chocolate with chocolate chip, read Doonesbury, and had really nice domestic contentment, sometimes. We played music constantly, Syd Barrett and the Dead. I objected to the later Pink Floyd.
But I took more and more drugs, and he had more and more rages.
I got excessive with the bottles of Valium we had been getting fake scrips for. In February and March 1982, weeks passed with no memory of most days at all.
He had explosions, destroyed things, punched walls, punched himself in the face. On Valentines he threw the raspberry creams he’d bought me at Li-Lac (my favorite) at me.
On April 12, 1982 we took the train towards Nassau Coliseum to see the Dead, but had to come home because I had a raging fever and was terribly sick.
Honeymoon cystitis, as they called it then.
Soon after we rented a boat at the lake in Central Park, on the first Spring-like day, and he rowed us around. I undid my shirt and bra and lay back in the thin sun, waving at the people who stared as we passed under a bridge. Afterwards we were starving and broke, and dug up change around our bedroom to go to Mamoun’s and eat falafel with baba ganoush.
I began this fantasy future picture of him that Winter.
I imagined him as an aging acid maker mad scientist in painters’ pants, isolated in a tower room, with my Mucha-ish silhouette – a ghost, or present? – at the doorway. It is a companion piece to the vision of Gix and I in our fifties I did at the same time.
But more bittersweet. I was already doubting we’d make it.
Sadly, I abandoned this excellent future vision drawing when I became frustrated with the watercolors and the skin on his face became irretrievably darkened. So many unfinished drawings from this period! How poignant that I finally started to color my drawings again in the last few years.
When Pablo cut his throat with a razor blade in front of us, my mom called the cops and he was taken to Bellevue. Spring of 1982.
There was a pound of hash he’d just bought under my bed as the cops crowded into my bedroom. Did I mention he was a drug dealer? And good at it and super into it in a like special interests yuppie 80s way, with really fancy scales and obsession about profit margins? It is thanks to this period of my life that I had no trouble converting to grams and kilos when I moved to Europe.
I stopped going to school again when Pablo went into Bellevue, because I had read about soldiers getting compassionate leave in the James Herriot books and I thought I deserved compassionate leave. We broke up that summer, for a while.
But we were back together and he was living with me and my mom at the flat where I grew up on 20th St. by ’83.
Pablo made my brother, with us above, uncomfortable until they were both adults. By ’83 Pablo was a serious Deadhead and off on tour a lot, and that added a whole new level of stress.
Pablo with my mom at 20th St., 1983.
There is no doubt Pablo and I were bad for each other. We were so bad for each other that our relationship hurt other people too. I made choices that hurt other people a lot. I broke up with my really good boyfriend for Pablo twice. In the 80s this kind of relationship would be called co-dependent; in the 90s addictive.
Nowadays it would be called a trauma bond.
The drawing above was made in 1983 when I thought we’d finally broken up for good. Ha!
Many more short-lived reunions as lovers, copping-buddy junkie betrayals, terrifying HIV tests, and long years of sibling rivalry lay ahead. The best description I have found is in Charlie Jane‘s book The City in the Middle of the Night: Anchor Banter. We were each other’s jinx.
There was violence between us.
I hit him and he hit me, and worse. We pledged to marry at least three times; I had and wore engagement rings twice. I still have the star ruby he gave me at sixteen. But ultimately our canny, savvy addict natures spared us that catastrophe, at least.
One early summer morning in 1983 we were fighting, and he said maybe we should see other people; that very day I went up the chain and slept with his connec, a real dis in dealer culture. Uh, actually I slept with all three guys above him in the chain that year. From then on, I had continuous boyfriends who weren’t him, but somehow they just accepted Pablo as a fixture in my life, something immovable.
We didn’t start doing heroin together, but somehow we were both doing it by summer ’83. For my eighteenth birthday, in ’85, he gave me a PDR, with a pressed rose marking the page for methadone. We knew where we were headed.
I have no words for what crack and smoking base did to the people I loved in the 80s.
But as it turned out, nearly everyone in the US now knows what kind of transformation hard drugs can wreak on a person. Thanks to the Sacklers.
At one point Pablo was staying in the tiniest room at the Jane West.
Just a single bed and a hotplate. I made this wash drawing of us in that little room in sobriety. By the late 80s we were talking a lot about going to treatment just to get away from the hell of being a junky for a month.
Sitting on the subway platform in Williamsburg at dawn after copping, dangling our legs, joking about needing a vacation from being a junky.
Another drawing from sobriety, an unfinished East 2nd st. “where’s Waldo” drawing of us. He liked to sit on mailboxes.
At 22 I got sober and moved to St. Paul Minnesota, first to a halfway house and then to a basement apartment that was the first place I had of my own.
My mom, who was a better mother to him much of his youth than his own, helped organize a bus for Pablo to join me in St. Paul.
Treatment on demand was 100% free for anyone who’d been in St. Paul 24 hours, back then. He took a ten hour bus ride and we picked him up at the Greyhound station, and then he came back to my basement apartment to kick methadone for a hellish, terrifying week.
I watched over him as I had often in New York, the dark hair damp along his perfect cheekbones. His nose had been broken a couple times in junkie violence, but he was still beautiful. The drawing below was made during those long days and nights.
When he could walk again, we went to the social services office downtown to get him treatment.
It was a summer dawn, and I cannot describe the hope and gratitude I felt that he might be spared too.
But getting sober was not as easy for him as it was for me.
The treatment he got wasn’t as comfortable as mine had been. His St. Paul life has been more complex, more challenging. It was lovely in the beginning, though.
We were not exactly together, but we were paired, bonded, sometimes lovers and still so young.
He became great friends with my friend Tom, who like us was a Central Park person.
They played endless games of chess at Dunn Bros coffee shop, where I wound up working.
Pablo somehow became a line cook at the St. Paul recovery diner, the Day By Day.
He didn’t know how to cook, but we were like cockroaches, us New York junkies; we were ridiculously adaptable and so.hard.to.kill. Pablo could learn anything.
This is us at my mom’s first place in St. Paul (she moved there to join us) during Thanksgiving 1989. With my friend Greg, my brother, and Anita.
He went back to school, and we were both back in school, and we feuded and talked and hung out like siblings.
He lived with my mom for years, in her St. Paul basement.
He’d learned construction in New York, and helped with the sheetrocking. Above, Thanksgiving 1991, I think. I had other boyfriends, many apartments, my career as a courtroom artist began, I finished college, in the early 90s in St. Paul.
Above and below, 1990, at Thanksgiving.
So many Thanksgivings, Christmases, both our January birthdays together.
His beauty was like a magic trick to me; I never got tired of it.
Even when I finally, finally knew, one day in 1990 when we were about to go to bed, that I just could not sleep with him anymore, I loved to look at him. I said that day, “I changed my mind,” and he said, ok. Doubtless he thought it was just one time, not the last time.
Did I mention he has green eyes?
Jade green. And his skin was tawny and silken, and his dark hair shone.
These drawings were made at a downtown St. Paul coffee shop that was popular with sober kids.
It was called The Bad Habit. Little on the nose.
Pablo was a young man of rangy shoulders and slim hips.
Exactly like the man I married in 2014, my third husband.
Benzedrine, his best friend from the Skateboard Crew, and also my beloved friend, came to visit us in St. Paul in ’92.
I had had an affair with Benzedrine while Pablo was in Bellevue.
I was such an engine of harm at fifteen!
The two of them coped with this, in fact sat down and talked about it in Abington Square while I waited in the apartment, and remained complicated, complex friends.
Pablo and Benzedrine were competitive about everything, for decades.
I drew them shooting pool at a St. Paul pool hall.
They were also fond of playing poker, all the skateboard crew had been.
Eventually I decided I had to get married, and I knew I couldn’t marry Pablo.
I moved in with the man who became my first husband, into a really pleasant St. Paul apartment. In 1994 I realized my dream and my first professional comic book job, Star Trek TNG #62 from DC, was published. I gave a party. That’s when the picture above is from.
Pablo was one of the ushers at my first wedding, in 1995.
As my mother and I entered the church vestibule, I saw Pablo. I was shaken to the core. “I was supposed to marry him!” I whispered to my mother. She looked at me, shocked. “It’s all right, it’s all right,” I muttered.
When my new husband and I left for the hotel that night, I cried hysterically for hours, and I guess Pablo was one of the reasons. He was using again then, high at my wedding; I didn’t know til later.
When I divorced my first husband a year later Pablo and I talked on the phone like always, laughing in our terrible cynical way.
We lost touch when I moved to California in 1997, as we had once dreamed of doing together. I married again, a dark-haired boy with green eyes, and divorced again. Pablo and I were last in touch through facebook in the teens, before my third husband and I left California in 2015. He was playing poker professionally as a side hustle, still living in St. Paul.
“I never married,” he said, though he wasn’t yet fifty.
In late midlife I came to terms with the release from the driving force of passion.
Freedom from the obsession with male beauty. I still love to look at my husband, who looks so much like Pablo, and I still find his beauty miraculous. But I am long past wanting to hunt or hurt or collect male beauty, long past believing love or desire or passion can fix me. Long past West Village kisses in the November cold. Still…
I have said a prayer for Pablo every night for the last 34 years.
Most of these drawings had never been photographed; until now, no record of them existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.
I am incredibly grateful to my Patreon Patrons, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.