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Russ This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   Carrots. Always a silly joke between my mother and her brother "Russ." The two of them despised carrots and refused to eat them when they were young.

My mother, my Uncle Russ and my Aunt "Lucy" grew up with a difficult life-style, moving from state to state, dealing with their mother's boyfriends and stepfathers. When Russ was in fourth grade, he was sexually abused by one of my grandmother's boyfriends. The man threatened to kill Russ if he told anyone. Russ became confused about his sexual identity. At 17, he was adopted by one of the few respected stepfathers, "Donald J.," a prestigious Admiral Captain of the Lauderdale Yacht Club. Donald J. wrote many letters on Russ's behalf to the President and Congress for him to be admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. Russ entered the Academy when he was 18. He was a straight-A student for a year and the school was delighted with him until they discovered that he was a homosexual. He was asked either to leave with an honorable discharge or be dismissed with a dishonorable discharge. He chose to leave. When Donald J. found out, he was very disappointed and disowned Russ. When my grandmother heard, she replied, "You disown him, you disown me also." Their marriage ended. The divorce was hard for Russ since he felt that it was his fault. He moved to Puerto Rico and then to California.

Russ was always active in music and had a voice that sent chills down your spine or brought a tear to your eyes. When my grandmother was sick with cancer, her one wish was to hear her baby boy sing "Mamma a Rainbow," her favorite song. Russ performed this song on April 26,1988, during a Broadway tour in Puerto Rico as a tribute to her on her birthday. When the videotape was delivered to her doorstep, she viewed it with joy and thanked God for granting her wish. She passed away four days later.

In 1985, Russ became infected with the HIV positive virus, which quickly developed into AIDS. He kept this horrible illness to himself for eight years without telling any family member. Although he was ill, he never stopped doing the thing he loved to do most: sing. He sang with his whole heart and soul and shined in June, 1994 when he performed a solo at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Through every day of his illness, his partner, "Chris," stuck by him to comfort him.

The only people in my family who were aware of Russ's disease in 1993 were my mother and my Aunt Lucy. It was only later that the rest of the family became aware of how ill he was and began to send big boxes of special cards each week.

On October 22, for some odd reason, my mother went out and bought at least 20 pounds of carrots and began to peel, dice, chop and cook carrots all day long, for no particular reason. Suddenly in mid-peel, she dropped the carrots and rushed for the phone to call her beautiful brother.

Russ had passed away 20 minutes before. He had been comfortable and at peace at his home. Russ departed with a smile on his face; was not afraid of where he was going.

It seems rather ironic that my mother had engulfed herself in carrots the day Russ died. It was always their silly little joke from when they were young. Carrots was his way of saying goodbye. c


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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