February 14, 2013

Photographs and Memories: Stephan


Wheat Field with Poppies and a Lark, Vincent Van Gogh
Image with quote and painting ©2013 JerseyLils2Cents  
Have you ever known someone who can walk into a room and just own it? That aptly describes my friend, Stephan. We shared a non-romantic yet special Valentine’s Day together many years ago. Before I write about that day, let me tell you a bit about my friend.  

A little over 20 years ago, I met Stephan at a spiritual teaching center in the East County area of San Diego, California, during the time when I was on a spiritual quest. We hit it off right away. Both of us had moved to California from the East Coast. I was from New Jersey, he was from neighboring Pennsylvania. Stephan was a gifted artist whose paintings were as vivid and alive as his personality. We shared a love of Impressionist period artists, especially Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet.

After knowing Stephan for a few months, I mentioned that I was looking for a new roommate. My last roommate had just left after nearly burning down the apartment when she forgot about a pan left on a lit stove while otherwise preoccupied in her room with her boyfriend. Just two weeks prior to that unfortunate incident, she had left the shower running, using up all the hot water and adding to the water bill, again while otherwise preoccupied in her room with her boyfriend. Well, she was nice but an airhead, and it was my apartment to begin with, so she left. Stephan needed a new place and we became roommates. Turned out, Stephan was the best roommate I ever had. Neat, considerate, not only cleaned his own room but helped clean the rest of the apartment too, and paid his share of the rent on time. Plus, he cooked. The ideal roommate! 

With Stephan in San Diego many years ago 
Before you think perhaps we may have gotten together romantically since we hit it off so well, that never happened. It never could. Stephan was gay, proudly gay, sometimes flamboyantly gay, and I loved him. He was energetic, artistic, sensitive, tall, and good looking. My girlfriends would sigh over how a hunk like that could be so unavailable. And don’t think for one moment that a few of them didn’t flirt and try to change his persuasion lol! He took it all good-naturedly, although somewhat warily. He wished people would understand that being gay is not a lifestyle choice, it is who you are. Stephan told me that from the time he was a young boy, he knew he was different. Even his choice of toys differed from the other boys. He didn’t care about trucks; he’d rather play dress up in his mother’s clothes. At the age when the other boys became interested in girls, he found his attraction was to boys instead. Moving to California to start a new life, he slightly changed the spelling of his name from Stephen to Stephan, and felt freer in the more progressive environment of California. I completely understood. For an entirely different reason, I had moved to California to start a new life away from my past.

Not only was Stephan a talented artist, he also had a marvelous sense of design. One day when I came home from work, he had redecorated the living room, rearranging my mismatched flea market furniture finds into a “conversational corner,” painting the plain, wooden crates I used for book shelves, and putting out pretty glass vases with big, brightly-colored handmade paper flowers from Mexico. Wow, that’s my living room? I was amazed and pleased. The guy could really class up a place!

Now, about the Valentine’s Day we shared. Neither of us had dates. He called me at work and said, how about dinner, I’ll cook something for us and get a bottle of wine. Sounded great! Stopping at See’s Candies on the way home, I picked out a delicious assortment of chocolates that would go perfectly with red wine. It was a nice, relaxing evening. Since there was no romance involved, there was no pressure, just good food, wine, and conversation. He surprised me with a lovely Valentine’s gift, a yellow rose, and a colorful red hair clip. I still keep that hair clip in my jewelry box.



We were roommates for less than a year. Stephan moved in with a new boyfriend. Over the next couple of years, we gradually lost touch when I no longer attended meetings at the spiritual center where we had met. Eventually, I met my husband and moved 600 miles away to Northern California.

In 1995, I heard from friends in San Diego that Stephan was ill. Within a few months and before I had a chance to see him again, my friends called to say that Stephan had died from complications of HIV. I was very saddened. He was such a vivacious soul, a brilliant flame so full of life, and now that flame would be no more. Stephan Yancoskie passed away July 14, 1995. The following year, my husband and I moved from California to the East Coast. 

I believe people cross our paths in life for a reason. Some just stand out as special in our lives. 

Classical music inspired Stephan when he was creating art. The French composer Claude Debussy was one of his favorites, especially Debussy’s lovely, haunting piano solo, “Clair de Lune,” which means “moonlight” in French. 

Stephan, my friend, wherever you are in the universe, I am raising a glass of wine for you and listening to "Clair de Lune." Thank you for sharing your love of art with me, thank you for tips on design, thank you for the smiles we shared all those years ago. As life continues beyond in another time and place, may our paths cross again, my friend.
    

  ©2013 JerseyLils2Cents

42 comments:

  1. What a wonderful, heart warming post Jersey.. And.. I'm all teary eyed.. Stephan was a gift, as well as being gifted. As the mom of a gay son this post really touched me. I raise my glass to you and to Stephan.. Happy Valentine's Day.. <3

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    1. Thanks so much Mimi!! I am very touched by your comment and I know you can truly understand. You are so right, Stephan was a gift and I was blessed to have had him in my life. I learned so much from him and about much more than art. When I raise a glass of wine for Stephan, I will raise one for you and for your son! Happy Valentine’s Day. :)

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  2. You post brought tears in my eyes. What a wonderful friend he was to you. I wish I were roommate with both of you, it would be lots of fun! RIP your dear friend, and Happy Valentine's Day JerseyLil!

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    1. Yun Yi, writing this post brought tears to my eyes too. Thank you! Stephan was a wonderful friend and I’m sorry I lost touch with him after I married and moved away. You would have been an excellent third roommate back then. I know you would have really enjoyed his company. You both share a love and appreciation for art and poetry, and he could talk about that for hours. What fun that would have been! Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too.

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  3. Madilyn, I love the photo of you and Stephan-that free and relaxed look I always associate with a bygone era. I assume, perhaps incorrectly, that Stephan was victim to the early days of the AIDS epidemic. My wife and I also lost many dear, beautiful friends that way. It was a very sad time. But how wonderful to have had the experience of knowing him even for that short time and to remember your bright days together and the ways in which he helped transform your life.

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    1. Marty, thank you. I know what you mean about looking back at old photos and seeing the free, relaxed look of bygone days. That period of my life was a happier one. Although I didn’t get a chance to talk to Stephan before he passed away, I believe you are right, he likely contracted AIDS in the early days of the epidemic. From what I heard from friends, the man he moved in with after he no longer lived with me contracted AIDS and died before Stephan. Reminded me of that excellent movie with Tom Hanks, "Philadelphia." So very sad especially because having HIV is no longer a death sentence, but it was then. I am sorry for the beautiful friends you lost too. Having known Stephan positively enriched my life and I’ll always remember him.

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  4. I remember you telling me about Stephan. What a nice way to remember him. He's looking down and smiling JerseyLil. You did good! Almost didn't recognize you in that picture!

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    1. CrazyMama, thank you for remembering! I appreciate that so much. Yes, I think Stephan would smile if he saw what I wrote. You almost didn’t recognize me in that photo because it was taken over 20 years ago, before I needed glasses and wore bangs lol! I’m so glad I have that one photo of us. I kept it all these years along with the red hair clip.

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  5. I've got tears in my eyes, listening to the beautiful Debussy piece and looking at your picture. What an amazing friendship you two shared. I would have loved to known the two of you back then...I think we would've been good friends. It's painful to think about how many wonderful people we've lost to AIDS, especially now that people are living normal lives with HIV. Stephan closely resembles a dear friend of mine, my old boyfriend who lives in Venice Beach, CA. It's really uncanny. What a beautiful man he was!

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    1. Kris, thank you so much. I love that you listened to Clair de Lune while reading the post. I was listening while writing it and the memories brought tears to my eyes. It was an amazing friendship, and you often don’t realize how amazing a friendship can be until it’s viewed from the perspective of time. Yes, all three of us would have been great friends back then and you would have loved Stephan. You are both gifted artists with an appreciation for Van Gogh, and you would have had wonderful conversations about art and life in general. How he loved a good conversation! I just know he’d have a blog right now. It’s very sad and painful that so many bright lives were lost to HIV, especially since people can now lead normal lives.

      How interesting that Stephan closely resembles your old boyfriend from Venice Beach. When I lived in CA, I went to Venice Beach a few times although I never went with Stephan. That is uncanny though. Yes, Stephan was a beautiful man, thank you!

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  6. Jersey, What are you talking about...of course you're gonna be with him again! He's in heaven, smiling at your lovely post. Happy Valentine's Day.

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    1. What a beautiful thought, CrazyMama, thank you! Happy Valentine’s Day to you too.

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  7. A wonderful recollection of a special person & a special time. A heartfelt essay. & of course, still having the red hairclip. Wow, every reminder is precious.

    I always find it amazing the stuff we forget; but a friendship & affinity like that - No way!

    Cheers, ic

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    1. Thank you, Ian, I appreciate your lovely and insightful comment. Stephan was a special person and it was a special time. The red hair clip Stephan gave on Valentine’s Day all those years ago was the genesis for this post about him. I kept it all these years and wear it now and then, always reminded of him. Yes, every reminder is precious. That photo of us, the hair clip, and one sketch he gave me years ago that I was not able to readily find for this post (I still have stuff in boxes from various moves) are all I have to remember him, and I feel lucky to that that much. Good friendships really do last forever! Cheers to you too, and thanks for stopping by my blog. Hope you’ll come by again.

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  8. Wonderful post, We always neglect true friends but here what you have told to us, its absolutely fantastic.

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    1. Thank you, I really appreciate your comment. Yes, sometimes we take friendships for granted and looking back in time, we can see how much true friends have meant to us. Thanks for coming by my blog and please stop by again.

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  9. The power is in the now. Now we can connect, now we can love and now we can be friends with each other. What a lovely post.

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    1. Angelika, thank you for your wonderful comment, and thank you for stopping by my blog. I just joined your blog, your photography is beautiful!

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  10. A beautiful and well fitting post for such a wonderful friend. He was in your life for such a short time but he left an everlasting loving mark on you. He left you with a lovely memory JerseyLil. I enjoyed listening to the music too, made me feel all goowee inside.
    Lovely picture too, you both looked so beautiful, those were the days, I say. In those days HIV was quite new, and nobody really knew how to deal with, so many died this way. Nowadays things have changed, and although AIDs can still kill, it's not like it use to be, as many survive and live long lives with medication and care.
    I'm so glad you've still got that red hair-clip, it must be good to just feel it in your hand at times. Lovely Post jerseyLil.

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    1. Thank you so much, Rum-Punch Drunk. Although Stephan was not in my life for a long time, he left an everlasting impression indeed. I think it was the way he approached life with such joy and enthusiasm! Makes it all the more heartbreaking that his life was cut short by an illness that is now no longer a death sentence. I am delighted that you enjoyed listening to Clair de Lune! Thank you for your lovely comment on the photo. Those were the days! Yes, that red clip will always be precious to me.

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  11. Beautiful quote and landscape, and your story is inspiring. Thanks for sharing it.

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    1. Hi Julia. What a lovely comment, thank you! I sincerely appreciate it.

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  12. Van Gogh will always remain my favorite.

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    1. Ana, Van Gogh will always remain my favorite too! Thanks for stopping by again.

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  13. You already know what I'm about to say yet I'm gonna say it, a beautiful post, I read it with pleasure, it doesn't happen a lot to read such beautiful posts so thank you for that. It saddens me that such amazing people like him had to leave this world. Yet I'm happy you had the chance to know him. Simply wow.

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    1. Gabriel, your comment means a lot to me, thank you! It saddens me as well that amazing people like Stephan have to leave this world too soon. I am so appreciative that I had the chance to know him because my life is so much richer for that experience. It's one of my best memories from the past.

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  14. Beautiful post Madilyn. It is a great way to celebrate their life, through the blog. For now, he came alive again and is known to people from all over the world.

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    1. Thank you Neil. You are so right, a blog is a wonderful way to celebrate a life. The Stephan I knew all those years ago came alive once again through my post and yes, people from all over the world could get to know him. Oh, he would have loved that!

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  15. Nice opening picture. I like the wisdom and the painting.

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    1. Thanks Angelika. I really appreciate that!

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  16. Your words... they are so touching! Friendship is very important! I miss my friends now, and it's not so easy to find the new ones, living in another country. We need to keep the warm flame of friendship... It's so bad to lose lovely people... Take care, dear! ♥

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    1. Eva, I appreciate that so much. Yes, friendships are very important. I truly understand what it’s like to move away and miss your friends. That has happened to me more than once. For you, it may be more difficult because you have moved to another country. You will always have my friendship here! Thanks for stopping by again.

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  17. I was so afraid you were going to say that Stephen died of HIV. I"m sorry you lost your dear friend, Lil. He sounded like an amazing friend and person. I lost a dear friend to AIDS too and it's so sad. This piece is a wonderful tribute to Stephen.

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    1. Thanks Linda. Stephan was an amazing friend and that’s why I still remember him all these years later. I am sorry you lost a dear friend to AIDS too, very sad. When I saw the red hair clip he had given me and thought of him, I knew I had to write this post.

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  18. Beautifully captures a deeply-felt, all-too-short friendship, a very poignant post Madilyn.
    Great picture of you too.

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    1. Thank you so much, Dale, I sincerely appreciate that! I am glad I still have that photo and the hair clip, special memories that will never be forgotten.

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  19. Stephen was my uncle...this is beautiful and wonderful to read!

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    1. Stephen was your uncle? Wow, how amazing that you found my blog piece about him, and I am truly honored that you found it beautiful and wonderful. He was a dear friend to me. Please write to me via the email on this page (click-on About Me where my photo is at top right), I’d love to hear from you. My name is Madilyn, and I knew your Uncle Stephen when I lived in the El Cajon/San Diego area. Thank you so much for your comment!

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  20. Such a sweet, and refreshing remembrance! You made Stephan come alive in those words. I felt sad it was so brief for you, and life was briefer for that great spirit. May his soul rest in peace.

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    1. Umashankar, thank you so much for those beautiful words!

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  21. Stephan was a unique dear Soul. Glad I got to know Him. Thank you for putting this up Madeline and reminding me ..about a bunch of the qualities that made me endeared to Him for awhile. quite a special relationship ..on the positive side ..and I like being reminded about it. Great Picture too. Boy, memories of a Friend. You guys both look rather amazing, just like I remember. B. Anthony

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    1. Hi B. Anthony. What a wonderful comment, thank you! I’m so glad you came by my blog and read my post about our friend Stephan. Thanks about the photo too and yes, you were friends with both of us during the time that photo was taken, good times. Times were up and down back then but I like remembering the positive too. I cherish all the memories!

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