Regan Comstock, Chicago 1996
[This is written purely from memory, for one of my dearest friends from my days in Chicago. Some of the details may be a bit off. But this is how I will always remember it. And I don't really think she'd mind.]
I was walking down Halsted Street, I don’t remember with whom. We stopped at a stoop near Roscoe’s and said Hi to a tall, skinny thing with long, wild black hair and a raspy voice.
“What’s up, Spic?” she asked, barely looking up over her sunglasses while digging in her purse. “What’s up, dude,” I replied. She smirked. Then added, “California , ick. But I love Spics. They have nice dicks. In New York…” she trailed off, still rummaging.
I don’t remember the rest, but as we walked away, my friend said, “Sorry, she’s a bitch. She lived in New York in the 70′s, became a junky and got sick, came back to Chicago. She’s got the best pills but she hates everyone and she will probably never die.” A favorite target of hers was fellow transsexual, artist Greer Lankton. It was a bloody, epic battle that played itself out mostly in Regan’s head. Greer just giggled.
Over the next year, we’d run into each other at parties. She liked that I was a Gemini – “they get dualities” – and that my moon was in Leo – “We’re egotists, but we’re loyal.”
Around 1995, I started coming to her apartment after work a few times a week. It was covered with photos of her once-fabulous life. “Don’t forget the six pack of Coke and the Marlboro Reds”, she said when she called me at the office to make sure I was still coming. She would cook a small dinner, share a few pills and then we’d listen to music or watch TV or a movie. She turned me on (again) to Marianne Faithfull – “before ‘Broken English’”. “Why’d Ya Do It” was her favorite – “because she had cobwebs up her fanny!” we’d shriek, high on Oxycontin.
Once while we were watching “Babe” the talking pig movie, she started crying. “He misses his mommy.” She later confessed her mom had died early, and her family disowned her shortly after. I was rubbing her back at the time, which had burns on her shoulder blades, like Icarian wings. I would have asked how she got them, but with her you never really knew what was the truth.
One night on Good Friday, after dinner and dessert, she blurted out, “I love Easter. The idea of leaving your body, and being reborn divine…” Like a good Irish Catholic, she couldn’t shake the notion that drama was the way to enlightenment. Occasionally, we’d get into fights over this – and the fact that she was also a Republican. “Reagan was the best president we ever had,” she was fond of saying. “Easter and Reagan – what kind of self-hating shit is that?” I’d protest. We also argued because I knew she was not always taking her meds. Loving Regan was an exercise; all the tearing and scarring hurt but ultimately built muscle.
One day I came over and she had a broken front tooth. For someone who was fond of telling everyone she was immortalized by Francesco Scavullo, it was not an easy deformity to bear. As with all her stories, it was never clear what really happened. But when you’re known for stumbling around the streets insulting people, it’s to be expected. “Girl, you’re a little past your prime to be getting into fights with strangers,” I’d chide. “Fuck that, nobody fucks with me – even you, Mary” she warned.
In 1996, at one of our last dinners I remember together, I announced “I’m moving to New York.” After a short pause, she said, “Good. Maybe you’ll finally make it big or something. New York likes cute freaks. It was the only place I ever felt at home.” Then she handed me a simple silver ring that only fit on my wedding finger and autographed an old head shot. The message was deliberately generic – “For my dear friend.” It was her way of putting distance between us before I did.
“I’m sorry, but Chicago is smothering me. Are you gonna be OK?” I said, remembering how much turning 40 and having about as many T-cells had fucked with her head.
“Are you kidding?” she muttered.
“You can visit. And, I’ll be back,” I promised.
For a while, she did call. One of her last voicemails was, “Did you hear? Greer died.” I had heard, in an uncanny way – a New York Times page got stuck on my feet on 23rd St; it was Nan Goldin’s tribute/obit to Greer. She also sent a series of vintage insect-themed postcards, “Can’t wait to see you soon!” one of the last ones exclaimed.
A few weeks later around Easter, I was at work when my pager started buzzing. It buzzed twice, both numbers were from Chicago. “Fuck,” I thought, not wanting to call back, fearing the worst. After a few minutes, I got it together and called back. My friend on the phone in deep grief stuttered, “It’s Regan, she’s dead. She’s fucking gone.” I think it snowed that afternoon as I drove from Jersey back to Manhattan.
Apparently, she popped too many dolls, fell back in a chair, cracked her head on the floor, and bled out. When they found her, her cat “Monkey Lover, Now Wife” – a Flame-point Siamese like my “Güero” – had blood on its paws. It was officially an accident. I remember sitting at that table so many times, watching her, her neck rolling and her head bobbing back and forth in a pharmaceutical haze, rhapsodizing on reincarnation.
I came back to Chicago for her funeral, wearing the ring. Most of her family who was there and the priest referred to her as Brian throughout most of the service. I wanted to say something, but I was too broken up and messed up to make a scene at a cemetery. I think when a couple of our friends spoke they did call her “she” and “Regan.” Her alcoholic sister kept saying, “We used to joke – I got the blue eyes in the family and he got the hair and the flawless skin and the bone structure and…” “Everything but the love,” I thought.
In early 2001, I felt an urge to adopt a cat from the New York ASPCA. “Give me the most damaged one you got,” I requested, thinking of Regan. They showed me a hissing, skittish Calico runt named “Ophelia.” “Are you sure?” the vet asked. “Yes, she’s the one,” I said, “That’s Monkey,” rechristening her on sight.
A few nights after that, we were having a party at our storefront loft in Alphabet City. One of our New York friends was looking at some snapshots on the wall. “Is that fucking Regan?!” she shrieked incredulously. “She stole some money from me for drugs years ago….”
I smiled. “Yeah, that’s her.”