Regan Comstock, Chicago 1996
Chicago, early 1994
I was walking down Halsted Street, I don’t remember with whom. We stopped at a stoop near Roscoe’s Tavern 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. Remarking on my “accent” she said, “California, ick. But I love spics. They have nice dicks. In New York…” she trailed off, still rummaging, mumbling.
I don’t remember the rest, but as we walked away, my friend said, “Sorry, she’s just like that. She’s got the best pills but she hates everyone and she will probably never die.” So far, she had survived downtown New York in the late 1970s/early 1980s, heroin and cocaine addiction, HIV, and winters in Chicago. I could see her going on forever. 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. Greer had also moved back to Chicago from New York after her heyday there, and now spent most of her time making dolls out of recycled parts in her genie bottle apartment.
Throughout the year, I’d run into Regan 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.” She also liked that I didn’t harass her for pills. “I’m not a Pez dispenser,” she’d complain about everyone who saw her as just that, usually after she handed them a couple of dolls.
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 would listen to music or watch TV or a movie. She got me into Marianne Faithfull again – “before Broken English. “Why’d Ya Do It” was her favorite – “because she had cobwebs up her fanny!” we’d shriek and cackle.
Once while we were watching “Babe” the talking pig movie, she started crying. “He misses his mommy,” she said. She later confessed her mom had died early, and her family disowned her shortly after that. I was rubbing her back at the time, which had burns on her shoulder blades, like Icarian wings. I asked how she got them, but I don’t even remember what she said, because with Regan, facts weren’t really important.
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 this?” 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, and was in The Eyes of Laura Mars, 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 no surprise. “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. I hadn’t been Mary in so long, I forgot she was talking to me.
In late 1996, at one of our last dinners together, while we were browsing Sotheby’s Jackie Kennedy Estate auction catalog (“I waited for you to open it,” she said), I announced “I’m moving to New York.” After a short pause, she said, “Good. Maybe you’ll finally become something. You should grow your hair long. 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, we stayed in touch over the phone and she’d send post cards (mostly vintage and insect-themed) – “Can’t wait to see you soon!” one of them exclaimed. On one of her last voicemails she said, “Did you hear? Greer died.” I had heard about it, in an uncanny way – a New York Times page got stuck on my feet on 23rd St on a windy night; it was a tribute to Greer. That year, there was also a Nan Goldin exhibit at the Whitney, so Nan’s photos of Greer were all over the subway and the city. “Good for her,” Regan said, maybe mellowed by Greer’s passing and anticipating her own death.
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 remember it snowing that afternoon as I drove from Jersey back to Manhattan, thinking “It’s spring, why’s it snowing?”
Apparently, Regan had popped too many pills, 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 his paws. 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. Officially, her death was an accident. But, deep down, I felt she was chasing resurrection. “Well, at least now she and Greer can keep each other company,” we joked.
I came back to Chicago for her funeral, wearing the ring. Most of her family and the priest referred to her as Brian throughout most of the service. I wanted to say something, but I was too broken up to make a scene. I think when a couple of our friends eulogized her they did call her “she” and “Regan.” Her 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 you want this one?” they asked. “Yes, she’s the one,” I said, “That’s ‘Monkey’.”
A few nights later, 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.”