Tag Archives: Lower East Side

A Birthday, an Anniversary, and a Book Sale

Today would be David’s (the man about whom I wrote Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days) 66th birthday.  Although his life was very often something close to hell–perhaps something that he sometimes wished he’d never been born into (I don’t know that for certain, of course; he always struck me as remarkably optimistic, in spite of things)–I feel that his birth is also something that I should always celebrate in some way.  David changed the course of my life for the better, and permanently.  I sometimes wonder what I would have been like if I’d never met him; it’s not a pretty thought.

The following is an excerpt from the book about his birthday in 1989, six months before he passed on, and my realization a year later that it was approaching again, and that he was gone:

“I found an entry from 16 October 1989 that mentions his birthday.  Part of it got wet at some point and the ink ran, so some of it is illegible, but what I can put together of it says:

In six days it’ll be David’s birthday…short year ago that (I took him out) for lunch and he told me…about his life.  (We were supposed to) go see (the building’s owner) about his apartment, but it was pouring rain and (we didn’t think he should) stay out in it so I bought him an umbrella and he walked me to the PATH station.  I kissed him on the cheek and wished him happy birthday and he looked surprised, as I guess he should have been.  Then I went home and he went back up to the Marion Hotel.

Autumn’s got me thinking about him, too.  And the fact that I actually did get TB from him.  It’s stupid, but I almost like the idea that I caught something from him.  Any bond…

Today is also the first anniversary of Holding Breath‘s publication (no coincidence there), so this seems like a good time to put the Kindle version of the book on sale for a few days.  So, from today (21 October 2013) through Wednesday the 23rd, the price will be reduced from $3.99 to .99.  Once again, here’s the link to the book’s Amazon page (where you can also read the reviews):


Here’s a description of the book:

In 1988, recently out of a graduate Creative Writing program in New York City, Nancy Bevilaqua was an aspiring poet in need of a job. She answered a newspaper ad seeking caseworkers for people with AIDS, and, much to her surprise, got the job. She shouldn’t have been surprised; in 1988 AIDS was an epidemic completely out of anyone’s control beyond some toxic and ineffective treatments, and fear and misunderstanding of the disease were rampant. Very few people wanted to be in contact with people who’d been infected with HIV.

A year later, a 41-year-old heroin addict named David was assigned to her as a client. Something about him drew her to him, and in very little time the boundary between “client” and “caseworker” dissolved, and she fell in love with him. For the next eight months she lived with him in his Lower East Side apartment, caring for him and waiting with him for the inevitable end.

Before succumbing to the disease, David asked Nancy to write a book about him. Twenty-two years later, after going through an unexpected and very painful period of something she learned was called “disenfranchised grief”, she finally published Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, which is a loving account of her eight months with David, and the grief she’d had to hide for so long.

Mambo Sun, 14th and A, Fall of 1989

It’s about 4 p.m. on a warm fall afternoon in Manhattan, in 1989.  I’ve just visited my last client of the day at his apartment in Stuyvesant Town, the apartment complex across 20th Street from Peter Cooper Village, where I’d lived as a child.  I’m free for the rest of the afternoon, and all night, and I have no plans to go home to my own apartment in Hoboken, because I’m falling in love with David, and I don’t want to be anywhere other than his studio apartment on Suffolk Street, where I’ve recently started spending most of my nights, against anyone’s better judgement but my own.

So instead of walking up 14th Street to First Avenue to catch a bus across town, I cross the street and start south on Avenue A, toward David’s place.  The afternoon light is orange and gold on the sidewalks and windows and storefronts, and I smell the East river, and pizza and Dominican food and bus exhaust and cigarette smoke. I have my Walkman on as I head downtown through the East Village, and I’m scared to death of what I’ve been doing with David and at the same time incredibly happy because I will be spending another night with him.

And my Walkman is playing the album Electric Warrior, by T. Rex. Whenever I hear the song “Mambo Sun,” that afternoon, and that intersection, and the way everything looked and smelled and felt, and the fear and joy of realizing that I was falling in love with a man who had AIDS and who was also my client, and that no one would ever be able to understand why I would take such a risk, all come back to me.  It’s a memory I never want to lose.

Here’s the song:


Film Trivia

Most of the interior shots for the indie film Pieces of April (which stars Katie Holmes, who is just so pretty, and also quite a good actress) were filmed in David’s old building on Suffolk Street several years after the period during which Holding Breath takes place.  (The filmmakers managed to find an even seedier-looking building for the exterior shots, although I don’t know why they bothered.)  Watching the film the first time, I was just about falling out of my chair, looking to see if I would get a glimpse of the door to David’s apartment one more time.  I didn’t, but the hallway hadn’t changed at all, and I was glad of that (the current tenants may feel differently).

In the book, I also mention that the building was up the street from what was at the time a lesbian bar called Meow Mix.  Kevin Smith’s film Chasing Amy (one of Ben Affleck’s first) was shot there; my husband, Lorenzo, worked as the still photographer and I was an extra. In one scene you can see me and my best friend from childhood, Claudia Koeze, as part of an audience of women rapturously watching Joey Lauren Adams singing onstage (we must have been excellent actresses, as Ms. Adams was one of the rudest and most arrogant women I’ve ever come across in “real life”, and rapture–sapphic or not–was definitely not what I would have been feeling while watching her perform).  At the end of the film, in the scene at the comic-book convention, Lorenzo strides through in a momentary close-up.  It was strange to be involved in the surreal process of making a low-budget film, just doors down from the place where, a few short years earlier, I’d spent possibly the most surreal (yet very real) and intense eight months of my life.

The Lower East Side is a small world, cinematically speaking.

An afterthought: I don’t like to trash people, particularly people about whom I know next-to-nothing, so as far as Joey Lauren Adams is concerned I should say that at the time she was very young, and probably–as most people would be–a little carried away with herself and the idea that she was the star of a film, and maybe stressed out by the whole ridiculous process of making a movie.  She may otherwise be a very nice person, and may also have matured over the years (I was no doubt quite different at the time too).

More on the Subject of “Breath”–“Diamonds and Rust”

Joan Baez’s song “Diamonds and Rust” is on the playlist for Holding Breath for many reasons (one of them simply being that it’s a ridiculously beautiful song), but I was thinking about it again last night when I realized that I’d left out the “Holding Breath” chapter in the first edition of my memoir (see previous post).  Whenever I hear the lines about “snow in your hair,” and the mingling of breath in the cold air, I see a picture in my mind of walking through the Lower East Side with David on a snowy winter day, holding his hand, perhaps as we’re on our way back to his apartment from the little Dominican restaurant on Essex street, or from picking up our Christmas tree.

Here’s the song:


Dancing Barefoot

I think I kind of fell in love with Patti Smith during my freshman year at Reed College.  I listened to her album Horses over and over; it was a revelation to me–an 18-year-old poet newly on her own, trying to find the things that felt right to her (that process became considerably easier once I got to Reed).  Patti felt right.  I had an oversized man’s blazer-type jacket (which I often wore over my long hippie dresses, or with a big button-down white shirt) on which I pinned a little horse–just like Patti on Mapplethorpe’s cover for the album.  I was a little obsessed, but hey–I was 18.  I still love Patti.

I included her song “Dancing Barefoot” on my playlist for Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, because something in the song’s lyrics reminds me of my regrets about my days with David, and of something I learned from those regrets, years later.

In spite of the fact that I risked my job by more-or-less moving into David’s little Lower East Side apartment with him and trying to care for him until his death eight months later, there were things that I held back–things that I wish I’d done, but didn’t (the kiss that he offered, and that I refused early on in our relationship, is like a “ground zero” for the memoir, and for my own memories).  Yes–he had full-blown AIDS, and people will argue that that was reason enough not to kiss him, but I don’t think it was MY reason (I also knew that I wasn’t going to get HIV through a kiss).  I was just confused, and holding back because of that constant, nagging feeling that I was doing something wrong by being there with him at all.  I will always wish that I had, at the very least, accepted his kiss.  That “holding back” continued in many other ways during those eight months.  These days–in large part because of my realization of what was lost as a result of my fear of “doing the ‘wrong’ thing”–I am somewhat braver, and less beholden to some idea of what people might think (although I’m still a work-in-progress in that regard as well).

As far as I can tell, the song “Dancing Barefoot” is about that blessed letting-go, and that willingness to go with what one feels in her heart, rather than slavishly following “conventional wisdom”, dogma, random “rules” set by people who simply have different ideas about things, prejudices (my own subtle and barely acknowledged ideas about “addicts” at the time played into my dealings with David as well–at least at first).

It’s a truly beautiful song.  Here it is:


(Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days is available at:http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009TV4CE6)

Introducing My Labour of Love

Hi Everyone,

I’ve started this blog as a way to introduce and promote (well, YEAH) my new memoir, Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days.  The book is self-published (but please don’t jump to any conclusions based on that just yet) as an ebook; I hope to have a print version out very soon.

The book is now available on Amazon here:


This is the description listed on the book’s Amazon page:

When they met, David was a 41-year-old heroin addict, homeless and dying of AIDS. The author was a 27-year-old, self-absorbed, bar-hopping would-be poet–and his caseworker. In 1989, in New York City, there was nothing “manageable” about AIDS, and David would have only eight more months to live. Something about him drew her to him until the boundary between “caseworker” and “client” dissolved, and she fell in love with him. Living together in secrecy in his little Lower East Side studio for those final eight months, they hoped for the impossible until it was impossible to hope any more. In the short time they had together–a time that would change them both–they formed a relationship that would, sixteen years later, unexpectedly and with ferocity come back to haunt the author, send her into the full-fledged grief that she had denied herself when David died, and change her life once again.

The book has been a labour of love; it took me 22 years to finish it.  I hope you’ll take a look. 


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