Tag Archives: new york in the 80s

Love story archives: Pablo Radical.

Story of me and Paul by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum July 1989He 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.

Story of me and Paul by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum July 1989 detail 1I 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.

Paul with longboard by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum 1981At 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.Paul skateboarding by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum 1981

This drawing of Pablo from 1981 is the Ur-image of my youth, the image of pure longing.

Skateboarders in sketchbook spring 81 by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel KetchumThe 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, a bronze sculpture of a crouching panther that overlooks Central Park's East Drive, photographed by Jay Singer.

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.

first ever drawing of Paul early summer 1981 whole page Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesSoon 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.

earliest drawings of Paul 1981 into 1982 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesI 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!

Paul in sketchbook winter 82 by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel KetchumA 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.

Self Portrait with P at the Jane West in 1987 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes Fall1991At 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.

East 2nd st wheres waldo drawing by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum 1991

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.

Story of me and Paul by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum July 1989 detail 3 editWhen 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.

Paul and Tom playing chess at Dunn Bros 1990 by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel KetchumHe 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.

Paul at Moms place Thanksgiving 1990 by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel KetchumHe 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.

Paul June 9 1990 by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum 3Did I mention he has green eyes?

Jade green. And his skin was tawny and silken, and his dark hair shone.

Paul June 9 1990 Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum edThese 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.

Paul June 9 1990 by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum 2Pablo was a young man of rangy shoulders and slim hips.

Exactly like the man I married in 2014, my third husband.

Ben and P playing pool St Paul 1992 by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum

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.

Sketchbook 1992 Ben and Paul by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum.

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.

Sketchbook 1992 Ben and Paul long shot by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbe

I drew them shooting pool at a St. Paul pool hall.

They were also fond of playing poker, all the skateboard crew had been.

Paul and Rachel in St Paul 1993Eventually 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.

Golden rose, the color of the dream I had.

Golden rose was the color by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum 1990 Golden rose, the color of the dream I had
Not too long ago
Misty blue and lilac too
A never to grow old.

– jimi hendrix, One Rainy Wish, 1967

Robert Johnston Sawyer photographed by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum in East Hampton July 1986 porch

Robert Johnston Sawyer photographed by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum in Montauk July 1986

When someone gifted dies young, the loss reverberates through a lifetime.

Berlin, 2016: It’s 30 years this month, but in this city of graffiti and skateboarders I dream of him constantly, and the grief still kicks like a mule. The history of my life broke open at that point. I go weeks without thinking of my first husband, but I think of Rob every day. Robert Johnston, who was intending to change his name back to his mother’s, Sawyer.

So to me he was Rob Sawyer, my great love at nineteen. He was twenty.

Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum and Robert Johnston Sawyer atCrosby St May or June 1986His talent, his love for his family, his sadness.

I remember his artist mother, just returned from a trip to Paris with her third husband, bringing him bandes dessinées, all of us gathered in their Crosby St. loft around her. I am older now than she was then, unimaginably, and I hope will be as third time lucky.

Robert Johnston Sawyer on swing in Montauk July 1986

I once showed a picture of him to a Millennial friend. “Wow, he was a classic 80’s bad boy!” she said.

Huh, I said. I mean, he rode a motorcycle and wore a leather jacket and he was an art criminal- but I never once thought of him as a bad boy. I always thought of him as pure goodness, the boy who was so much better and truer and kinder than I deserved.

Robert Johnston Sawyer photographed by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum on Bleecker St 1986 skatingAlso, compared to some of my other boyfriends, with the drug dealing and guns?

Rob’s life by when we got together of making art, going to art school, spending time with his family, hanging and drinking with his downtown friends and skateboarding seemed relatively low-key. He was in Fine Art at SUNY Purchase, painting delicious ice-cream pastel still-lifes, and taking photographs too. He had taken some experimental drugs at school, and that worried me, but who hadn’t?

Robert Johnston Sawyer photographed by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum in West Village May 1986Of course there were dark days when I first met him, when I was fourteen and he was fifteen.

He was a serious graffiti writer, not just getting up, but an artist who had keys to the 6 Yards. He had spent much of the years from fourteen to eighteen out all night, his messenger bag rattling with cans, creating full-car t-to-b burner pieces of extraordinary beauty. His sister Cecile, who I loved deeply, took me in when I ran away the first time, at fourteen. That was when I met him, at the Crosby St. loft in the Winter of 1981. His bedroom was completely covered in graffiti, a gallery of color.

His tag was “Scribe”, which is objectively brilliant.

Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum photographed by Robert Johnston Sawyer in Tribeca May 1986 beersOne night we had blue margaritas at a restaurant on 8th Avenue.

We came home drunk. We were always drunk, unless we were drunk and high. He was the first boyfriend I had who was just always down to get as drunk as me, ALL THE TIME. We lay in bed talking for hours, as we did sometimes. I would ask him questions about being a boy, like “Have you ever been in a fight? What did it feel like to you?”

Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum photographed by Robert Johnston Sawyer at SohoZat May 1986 Betsey turquoiseThat night he told the story of his friend who had touched the third rail, back in his writing days.

He told me about how when they found his friend’s body the rats had been eating it. He was crying and I remember the heat in his cheeks, the way it felt to hold him to me, like it was yesterday. He hadn’t had anybody to share things like that with, as close as he was to his family. It was a terrible night, being open to his pain like that, but it was beautiful too.

Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum photographed by Robert Johnston Sawyer on Bleecker St. May 1986 Betsey turquoise in ivyPeople we knew were always dying in those days.

One time we were standing outside the office of my Upper East Side gynecologist, after I’d taken a pregnancy test. “If you’re pregnant, I’ll marry you and we’ll have the baby”, he said lovingly. “If I’m pregnant, I’ll have an abortion!”, I said, shocked and outraged at his presumption over my body and my choices. He was the son and brother of women who’d gotten pregnant and married very young and cherished the children who resulted; I was the daughter of a woman who’d had two illegal abortions, then later fought to have two carefully planned children despite her husband’s resistance.

I didn’t know, that July morning, that I was late because I was doing so much more heroin than I ever had.

Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum photographed by Robert Johnston Sawyer at Crosby St. May 1986 Betsey turquoise window“Any old time is a good time to stop drinking the suttee-flavored Kool-Aid of survivor’s guilt.”

I recently found that written on a scrap of the Oakland Tribune Food section from 2007. I must have believed it when I wrote it; why have I made so little progress since then? He would not have wanted me to marinate in this corrosive fluid; he fucking LOVED me.

Practicing his signature for returning to his mother’s name.

And, he LOVED ME. He wrote it on my bed, which was all tagged up, too.

Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum photographed by Robert Johnston Sawyer on Bleecker St. May 1986 Betsey turquoise in tubeHe loved to photograph me.

He was always bringing me little gifts. He slept with me at the apartment I shared with my mom on 20th St. every night, but he would go home to Crosby St. for an afternoon to pick up clothes and hug his sisters. He’d stop in the Village on the way back to buy a cigarette lighter with an Alphonse Mucha print on it or a pair of huge baroque shell earrings from a street vendor.

Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum photographed by Robert Johnston Sawyer in Tribeca June 1986 Betsey lilacsWe fought and made up; we fought fiercely, like siblings.

I woke up slowly, in the air-conditioned chill of my tiny bedroom, his arms snug around me as always, his long body spooned behind me as always. Reached for glasses, cigarettes, turned in his arms to nuzzle his cheek, downy with soft golden beard. We talked of the usual for a little bit, the catch-up of what I’d missed in the blacked-out parts of the night.

Then a shock came through me like a blade, as he said, “You hit me last night.” “What??! Why?” “You said you loved me and I said I didn’t believe you.” I was overwhelmed with remorse, and more, fear that it was true. I desperately reassured him. “I know,” he said, “I know.” “I was just drunk.”

Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum photographed by Robert Johnston Sawyer in Tribeca May 1986 Betsey rosesReading comics together was our great joy.

We would go to the comic store every Thursday and come back with our stacks.

The new Swamp Thing, Vol. 2 #52,  was the first thing we read from the Thursday pile.

Shoulder to shoulder at the dining room table, “Now? now?” to turn the page.

Abby and Alec were in New York. 

It was so intense we could hardly breathe. My mom laughed at us.

The July issue of Swamp Thing was called “Natural Consequences”.

Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum photographed by Robert Johnston Sawyer in East Hampton July 1986 rosesHe always put his skateboard in our fireplace, at an angle.

He wore the same sneakers Kyle Reese wears in Terminator. He liked The Three Stooges. He had read “Ulysses”. We hung out with my ex Tom, who had been my boyfriend before Rob, and Stefan, who had been my boyfriend before Tom. I called Tom “Babe” and Stef “Honey” and Rob “Angel”; all three of them were “Sweetheart” when I needed someone to pass me an ashtray.

In mid July we went to his family’s cottage in Montauk and had a dream weekend getaway of bondage nights, photoshoot and fried clam days. We went to Tom’s birthday party at his family’s house in Connecticut; Rob and I made love on the lawn under the stars and I got 45 chigger bites on my right leg alone.

We went to see “Labyrinth” at the theater in East Hampton with Stefan and then hung out in the graveyard drinking.

Rob’s remains were interred there just a few months later, under a stone with his tag. His mother is amazing. She also has a tattoo of his tag; it was still illegal in the city in those days, but I referred her to Mike Bakaty, the father of one of my high school lovers.

We would go uptown to score smack, then hustle over to Riverside Park to watch the sunset.

I would make omelets for breakfast. We drank Becks, constantly. We listened to T-Rex all the time.

Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum photographed by Robert Johnston Sawyer in Montauk July 1986 roses outsideWe got yelled at in Manic Panic cause he was buying me bustiers and he came in the dressing room to look.

He loved my Betsey Johnson dresses, my garters and stockings and four-inch vintage heels. He put ice cubes in his beer when it wasn’t cold enough – and it was always hot, that summer in New York. He was going to summer school at the New York Studio School; I was going to summer school at Parsons.

At summer school I reconnected with my oldest friend, Victoria, and Rob and Victoria and I became a pack, a family unit, for the last weeks of his life.

Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum photographed by Robert Johnston Sawyer at 20th St. June 1986 fireplaceWe went to Rye, and he met my father.

Rob could drive, and my mom let us use her car whenever we wanted. Rob was the only partner I ever took to meet my father. On the way there we pulled over to the side of the road to try and get a YIELD sign to go over my bed, but the bolts were rusted shut.

My father gave us a handful of cash, and we went to Rye Playland, and rode on every ride, and the rollercoaster twice. All the time in the world.

We went everywhere together, did everything together, for less than 90 days and nights.

Anything I needed to do, he went with me. And I helped him through getting his wisdom teeth out! He protected me, and I have never been protected again, or allowed protection.

Suz and Ian tribeca summer 1986 by Rob SawyerComics were the center of our exhilaration, and of my ambition.

He supported me like no one else ever has. He drove me to the airport for San Diego Comic Con on July 31, after a July of incredible adventures. He was a person of loyalty and bravery, and to love someone like me took nerves of steel. It didn’t help that I’d slept with Rob’s best friend (above, reading the new John Byrne Superman) right before Rob, or that I was also really close to Chris Claremont.

Robert Johnston Sawyer photographed by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum in Montauk July 1986 lawnIt seems impossible that someone so full of love and talent and kindness and anger could go from the world in one night.

But he did, the weekend I was in San Diego for Comic Con. My friend Sheepdog had introduced Rob to crack, and Rob bought a personal stash of heroin for “while you’re away”, and he overdosed on a hot summer night at his family loft on Crosby St.

Suzanne Forbes With Cecile Sawyer Rooftop 1986 by Victoria Aronoff

Suzanne Forbes With Cecile Sawyer Rooftop August 1986 by Victoria Aronoff

In August Alec was dead too.

Rob’s sister Cecile and I were photographed by Victoria on our roof in Chelsea, sad goths in humidity.

Rob’s mother put together a beautiful show of his art in the East Village, but I was too messed up to go.

I had been attacked in San Diego, and the events happening simultaneously created a nest of trauma that I couldn’t understand for thirty years.

All his friends blamed me for his death, with reason, as I was the person who gave him heroin for the first time. He had asked others, but I was the one who did it with him.

His mother and Cile were kind to me, and I am forever grateful. Their kindness absolutely saved my life.

In September Abby returned home to her empty house, as I had returned to my empty bedroom, and we grieved together.

These violent delights have violent ends

And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,

Which, as they kiss, consume.

I wrote the draft of this post in July 2016, when the poison eggs of my 1986 PTSD finally hatched.

It was a spring and summer of terrible pain and grief, and then it stretched into years of finally feeling what happened in the first days of August 1986. The Kavanaugh hearings were the last straw, and I started EMDR therapy with a gentle and loving Berlin trauma therapist. It helped so much.

I began unbinding my grief for my loss, his family’s loss, and the world’s loss of this beautiful boy.

It has not ended. It is part of the fabric of who I am, today, in a gentler way than it was the last thirty-plus years. He is never forgotten, always in my heart.

I put his tag in the first comic I ever drew.

As well as in several later ones, and in the most detailed painting I ever made.

The painting at the top was made in 1990, when I made several paintings to try and process Rob’s death. It has T-Rex lyrics written all over it in silver Pentel ink, which has proved remarkably archival. Much like this love.

This painting had never been photographed; most of the photos have never been published online. Until now, no online record of them existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.

I am so grateful to my Patrons on Patreon, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.