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Starting Point

Will I recognize Alix the next time?


The news came as an impersonal phone call.

“Hello,” the voice said. “I have been asked to call Alix's clients to tell them that there has been a family tragedy, and he will not be available until further notice.”

“What happened?” I stammered, having been to my hairdresser's salon only two days before.

“Both of Alix's parents were killed in an accident yesterday,” the detached voice said. “That's about all I know. My boss is one of his friends, and she asked me to cancel his appointments.”

I thanked her and hung up, my mind in a whirl. It had never struck me as unusual that I, a long-married grandmother, and Alix, a gay young man the age of my own children, had become close friends, but I think now that it was. It was easy for me to take in stride the fact that he was a drag queen, that he performed in shows, entertained at parties, danced in bars. I think it surprised my grown children a little that something so foreign to my experience made no difference at all.

Alix was born in Korea, from a relationship his mother had with an American GI. He hadn't known his father, and, according to friends, it bothered him. But what bothered him most was that his mother's religious convictions caused her to fear for his salvation.

It hit me suddenly that this disagreement between them had not been resolved, and now that his mother was dead it never would be. I knew Alix had dealt with depression -- serious depression -- as well as alcohol abuse. Once, even though he said he hadn't wanted to die, just to stop feeling for a while, he had imbibed a good deal of alcohol and then slit his wrists. One of his dogs started barking loud enough to rouse him, and, realizing what he had done, he called 911.

I wondered what this terrible crisis would do. So I left a comforting message on his answering machine and wrote him a letter.

By the time the letter arrived -- even by the time he would have checked his phone messages -- Alix was dead. The note, found by the empty pill bottle, said he was sorry but he wanted to be with his mother.

Alix liked to talk with me about faith. Now and then he said, “I think I could be a Catholic,” and each time I wanted to pursue it with him but came up short as I tried to think of a church community where he would be welcome.

During this past Lent he had asked me, “What do you have to do to be a Catholic?” and I explained the doctrine of the Real Presence. “I could believe that,” he said. I resolved to find a catechumenate program for both of us this fall.

I never heard him say an unkind word to or about anyone. I know that each time I left his salon I not only looked better, I felt better. Most of his clients would say the same.

I could see that Alix was never satisfied with himself, that he was searching for something or someone. He kept changing himself, having his nose reshaped, his lips augmented, an eyebrow pierced. “Alix,” I said more than once, “it is you people see and like. You are fine just the way you are.”

But now I think I missed the big message. I think it was God Alix was looking for, and maybe -- just maybe -- I could have helped Alix find him.

I am not feeling guilty about Alix's death, although I hope he has found the peace he was looking for. I believe that once a person has decided, there is little anyone can do. But my world has a big empty space in it where Alix was. I am thinking of another Alix who might be out there, seeking connection, approval, hope. Will I recognize him? Will I be more forthcoming about the things that make life so dear for me?

Closer to home, will I remember to reassure those who may be depending upon me for reassurance that they are good, important and dear? Maybe I will remember Alix, who would have looked to a stranger like a self-assured young professional but must have really been just a lonely little boy who needed love and acceptance so much that he pursued his mother into eternity to find it.

Janelle Lazzo is a freelance writer living in Roeland Park, Kan. She may be reached at janellelaz@aol.com

National Catholic Reporter, August 27, 1999