I think 2018 for me started in 1998. It was the year that changed my life forever. I was then in Eugene, Oregon in my last year of college. Right now, I am in a coffee shop in Soho, London; a city that was home for eleven years. Today I live on the edge of livery stables in Cornwall, a long way from the street I grew up on in The Bronx, and the many streets I would call “home” during the last twenty years.
My mother died in the early part of 1998 and with her so did my sense of "home."Her death also brought up unresolved/ repressed feelings I had about my dad’s death. He died of HIV in 1986. I started to mourn them both at the same time and it consumed me. My little sister relocated to Florida with my older sister and her husband. The relationship between me and my older sister deteriorated. She would not live to see the end of 1999 adding to an already dark period in our lives. 1998 began a period of wandering both physically and mentally that led me down some nice places and not so nice places, I met some friendly faces and some not so friendly faces. I showed kindness at times and other times contempt.
I graduated from the University of Oregon on time with the help of a close knit group of friends who I am forever indebted to, and some mandatory grief counselling. It was my mother’s wish for me to graduate from college. The least I could do was make sure I did that, even if she wasn’t physically there to see it.
I travelled to Europe for the first time, a continent that would later become home (unbeknownst to me at the time). I technically met my husband David for the first time in London although it would be just under two years later before we would speak properly and get together. That would happen in New York though, not London. In that time between our first meeting and eventual coupling, I would break up with my then long term boyfriend, although we had both checked out of that relationship some time before we called it quits. I would start another relationship in which a friendship that still lasts today was born from, though not without its own twists and turns.
It would be the last time I would physically see many of my university friends for no other reason that life took us all in other directions. It is one of the reasons that I find it difficult to give up social media. Though sadly, some of those I will never see again because they are no longer with us. Their candle extinguished from this world too soon but their light still shining in my memory.
I would also start writing my first novel which would get rejected and I would then spend eight years not writing because I felt that rejection so deep in my soul that it was not the words that were rejected but me. Something that it would take me years to come to terms with and that I am glad I did because without confronting that demon, I wouldn't be writing this today.
I started my first job in publishing with a desire to learn the business because that would make me a better writer. Feel free to laugh at that.
Fast forward twenty years to 2018.
It has been a year of incredible personal loss and medical emergencies in our family amidst the backdrop of a country in chaos and a world on the brink of disaster. Again, I found myself questioning the necessity of life taken too soon and what the fucking point of it is. One thing that helped me though was honouring my father’s memory by creating a fund in his name to aid the Terrence Higgins Trust. A fund which we can build on that will help them promote HIV education, awareness and advocacy. Removing the stigma of HIV is a cause very dear to my heart. I honoured my mother by choosing to raise funds for The Albert Kennedy Trust for my birthday and ending the fundraiser on her birthday. It was my way of saying thank you for accepting me when I came out at 15, for not kicking me out of the house and for protecting me. I am grateful for that as I know so many others haven’t been so fortunate and that is why the work the The Albert Kennedy Trust does is so vital. In terms of the other losses, they are too raw to go into further detail right now. Maybe 2019?
I found myself bed ridden for weeks with a flu which would leave me physically weak for months. Friendships faltered and with it a new sense of understanding what my own needs were from friendship and also what I was able to give and no longer give. A similar thing happened in 1998. The death of my mother made me go from “life of the party” to something darker hidden behind a facade of “everything is fine.”
I threw myself into a self publishing contest whilst in a period of grief and mourning and unleashed Lu's Outing: a novella onto the world. With it came appreciation, a fan base and a bit of money. Lu's Outing was a baptism of fire into the world of self publishing and promotion. It made me fall back on experience gained in my publishing days. I repressed many of those days and with it experience, because I was spent emotionally and physically when I left publishing. I wasn't just spent, I was demoralised. By reopening that door, I found myself realising how much I learned, what I could put to use and what I still needed to learn. I channelled my negative emotions into a positive venture. I think that is called growth.
Lu's Outing also threw my writing plan into chaos. The reception of it was humbling and I not only realised I still had more to say but that those characters still had more adventures to go on. I am nearly finished with the first draft of the second book and have enough material for a third. It meant putting my other projects on hold like my collection of short stories Tangled, which spawned Lu’s Outing. Sometimes that is what life throws at you though. Twenty years ago before my mother died, I had a temporary visa to go to Canada after graduation. My life would be very different now if I had gone. What is that saying about God and making a plan? What I have to remember though with my other projects is that they will have more life in them when I return to them. Time is a writer’s greatest tool when it comes to editing in my opinion.
In just over a week, David and I will celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. The anniversary is of our wedding in New York, the city we got together in. New York legalised same sex marriage before the UK. It marked a new path for us after a difficult period for us and some time apart. Boy, life is different from the chaos that was my life in 1998.
I have spent the last few days walking around London. It’s something I love to do more and more with each visit because I no longer live in a city and I am a born and bred urbanite. I love taking in the sounds, the sights and life around me. I have walked down streets and seen the ghosts of my former self, yet they don't haunt me as they once did. They are reminders of how far I have travelled. I have caught up with friends who have seen me through my worst and now at my best, or at least as the person I am now.
The city has changed and grown but so have I. I had to smile when my iPhone played Saint Etienne's London Belongs to Me. I was walking through Leicester Square; a name I couldn't pronounce in 1998 and one I only knew from another Saint Etienne song, He's on the Phone. I remember when I thought that London did belong to me and I belonged to it. But if I am honest, we never belonged to one another but did become a part of one another. London lives within me as does all the places I have lived in the last twenty years.
It took twenty years for the boy I was to find another home and it was only when I learned it wasn't that home wasn’t a place. Home is where my husband and my girls are, and although they have been in Cornwall the last few days whilst I have been here in London, they have been with me as they always are.
I wrote this piece a few years ago when I turned 40. The inspiration came from the few photographs I have of my father, John Daniel Lugo, Sr. On this World AIDS Day 2018, I remember him and the millions who have died from this illness that does not discriminate
All my life I have been told we look alike. That I am the spitting image of you. That we were one and the same. When I was three I had the same wispy dark blonde hair that you had at that age. I saw it in a photo grandma had of you on the sideboard in her dining room. In the photo, your eyes were wide and exploratory. It looked as if you were seeing beyond the camera, the future perhaps.
When I was eight I saw a photo of you at the same age and it stuck with me. Your eyes were different now. They had a sense of a fate already accepted. Auntie Patty told me that when you were seven, you had a dream you would die before your time. After that, something changed in you. Your eyes were dark pools of knowledge that perfectly complimented your now brown hair. My hair colour changed too. My eyes were different now too. They had been since you looked into them as the ambulance pulled away. It was good bye not see you later.
When I was thirteen I saw a photo of you. Grandpa told me we were the same ages in that one as he ruffled my hair in that way that made me tense up. I could see the similarities in our eyes. You had long eyelashes that probably made your sisters jealous. All the girls at school were jealous of mine so I could relate. Your Romanesque nose seemed smaller than mine but I could see what Grandpa meant. You smiled more than I did.
When I was eighteen just before graduation, Mom walked in and looked at me in a way she hadn't before. She leaned against the door frame and said “It's like seeing a ghost. You look more like him every day." I smiled because I didn't know if that was a good thing or not. I had seen a photo of you at 18 and you wore your hair like you were Carlos Santana. My hair was frosted and combed to the side. I couldn't see past that.
When I was twenty three I looked at your wedding photo as I unpacked them from a box. You were the same age as me then. In the corner I noticed my stroller for the first time. I remember feeling guilty that my parents had waited to give me a name. I saw your choices as my burden. You were smiling from ear to ear as if that moment was the summit of your happiness. I knew then that I was born out of love and that conventions mattered very little to you. I knew then that sometimes it was okay to put the milk in before the cereal.
When I was twenty eight I framed a photo of you and me side by side both the same age, twenty eight. I wanted to see if it was still true what they said. Our eyes were similar. Both of us with dark pools of experience looking back at the camera. Your smile still outshone mine but the way our cheeks lifted was almost identical. My skin colour only slightly darker than yours, easily explained by a sun tan. Your hair was slightly longer than mine and you wore a bandanna on your forehead for some reason. My hair was short and manageable. Our similarities were more important than our differences.
On my thirty third birthday, Auntie Patty was at my surprise birthday party. She took one look at me and put her hands on her face. "You look so much like him!" She smiled. I smiled back. I had learned to smile when people commented on how similar we both looked. You were handsome and loved. This meant I was both those things too, right? But there are no photos of you at thirty three. How could I still look like you?
I'm older than you now, nearly forty. My skin is smooth. My eyes are dark with introspection. When I smile my youth is a trick of the light. The crow’s feet and worn hands always give away my real age. The photo of you at three now hangs on the wall in my office at home. All my friends ask if that was me as a child. I used to wonder what you were looking at in that picture. Perhaps you knew then that one day I would be mistaken for you.
This year, I set up a fund in his name for the Terence Higgins Trust. It is open year round for donations and will go to ensure that we continue to fight for a cure and eradicate the ignorance and stigma attached to this disease.
John Lugo-Trebble considers this more of a space to engage personal reflections and memories with connections to music and film.