15 Years Ago Today …

… the World Trade Center was bombed.

At 12:18 p.m., terrorists detonated 1,500 pounds of explosives in a rental van in the parking garage of the World Trade Center, blasting a crater five stories deep and half a football field wide. While the terrorists fled the area after lighting the bomb’s fuse, they left behind six victims, including a pregnant woman, and one thousand injured people.

The National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center will also memorialize those killed in the first attack in 1993. I invite you to join me in supporting the memorial through the the Gardeners for Recovery cobblestone campaign I started:

Gardeners for Recovery recognize the importance of gardens and gardening for individual, community, and global healing and recovery.

Check out the Gardeners for Recovery widget near the top of the sidebar on this blog. There you can get more information, track our progress, or contribute. We’ve already raised $300. I will match the first $500 contributed toward the $1,000 goal: every dollar you contribute is worth two.

Related Posts

Announcing the Gardeners for Recovery Cobblestone Campaign, September 2007
on 9/11
on Ground Zero
on Recovery


The National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center


Update 2008.03.15: Added follow-up post: Coda, Spot.
Update 2008.02.25: Added a rare photo of me and Spot together.

My partner, John, with our cat, Spot, taken two nights ago in an examination room at the vet’s. She died in my arms earlier this evening around 6:30pm.
John & Spot (Black and White)

Spot found me in the garden, in the backyard of my apartment on 5th Street in Park Slope:

A beautiful young black cat found me at the end of my day in the garden. He started going for the container I’d just planted. He was friendly, but when I realized he was licking up some organic fertilizer I’d spilled I realized he/she was starving. (It does smell good, like the original MilkBones [dog biscuits]). So I gave him a bowl of milk. He/She was purring so hard his tail was shaking. Only a white spot on his chest, otherwise black. I named him “Spot”. I’ll look for him tomorrow. If he’s around again, maybe I have a cat.
– Diary entry, November 11, 1993, Veteran’s Day, F Train en route to dinner

I didn’t realize it at the time, but she represented, or embodied, a peak of synchronicity in my life. I was three and a half years into my recovery, and less than eight months sober. In therapy the previous night, I had mentioned that I was thinking about getting a cat, or two. After this first encounter with Spot, I was off to see a dance performance that evening which explored the connections between veterans of war and survivors of sexual violence. The following Monday, I was starting my first session of a gay men’s therapy group.

Spot moved in with me on Saturday. I spoke to Jonathan [my landlord] Friday at work to ask him if it would be okay if I got a cat. Saw Julia [landlady] working in the garden Saturday morning. While we were inspecting and talking, I saw a black form moving behind the fence.

I called out: psss-psss-psss … Spot leapt to the top of the fence (or climbed) and walked along the top directly to me. I took her into my arms and she (female, confirmed) started purring. I left her with Julia while I went inside and prepared the can of food Renah [a work colleague at the time] gave me Friday at work.

Bought everything for her on Saturday. Saturday night discovered she had fleas, so wouldn’t let her sleep with me. Gave her a flea bath, changed bed-sheets and clothes, dusted the rug. She was not happy about the bath, but remarkably cooperative. I came away with no scratches or bites.

Remaining health concern: diarrhea, foul-smelling, and may be caused by her fondness for milk.

Long day today: first session of the group (first for me) is tonight. I won’t get home until after 9pm probably. Spot will freak?!

Need to make up “FOUND” posters for the area, just in case someone’s looking for her.
– Diary entry, November 15, 1993, Monday, Subway, en route to work

Later that evening, around 8:30pm, riding home on the F train:

Home to Spot. Incredible what an emotional anchor she is for me right now. Anchor is not the right word. Alternatives: focus, tether, center … ballast …

I’m not going to put up “Found Cat” signs tonight. I don’t want anyone to answer. I don’t want to give Spot up. She’s just a cat I’ve known for only four or five days. I just want to go home to her …

When John and I began exploring relationship together, Spot adopted him as well. She was a great comfort to him as he dealt with his mother’s terminal illness, and especially after her death. John called her a medicine cat, an apt description.

She found me in the garden, and Spot always wanted to go outside. She often accompanied me when I was out in the garden. Here she is in the backyard of my apartment on 5th Street in Park Slope. This was in May 2002, the last set of photos I took of the garden I was leaving to move with John to our new apartment.
Spot in the garden on 5th Street in Park Slope

Here she is on the deck of our apartment on 6th Street in Park Slope, where John and I first lived together.
Spot the Cat

Here she is in the backyard of our new home two years ago, acting like she owned the place, which, of course, she did. She was skeptical at first, but eventually allowed that she was pleased that we bought her a big, old cat house.
The Backyard

Outside yet again, on the front steps here. I have several shots in this series, trying to get her to look at me. This is the closest I got. Note the tail curl. She wasn’t having it.
Spot on the front steps

This is the earliest photo I have of Spot. This is from 2001, in the 5th Street apartment.
John and Spot

This is a typical posture for her. She spent a lot of time lying on John’s chest, close to his heart, while he was himself prone on the couch or bed.
Spot and JohnSpot and John

Here’s a rare photo of me and Spot together. (Only at John’s insistence.) Rare not only because I’m usually the one behind the camera, but because she wouldn’t often settle down on me. In this photo, she’s wedged into the the nook between me and the sofa cushion. We’re also playing one of our games here. If one of us stopped petting her before she was done, she would reach out with her paw, cup it around the edge of our hand, and pull it back toward her face. I would often respond by “squooshing” her paw, as I’m doing here, and telling her how evil she was. You can see from her face how that upset her.
Spot & Xris

I’ll close with this photo of her. She’s sitting on the floor of my tree house, the second floor back porch on the back of our house. Her tail was the most expressive part of her, and I recognize the little curl at the end of it visible in this photo.
Spot the Cat

You can see more photos of her in my Flickr set of Spot.

She followed me across 15 years of recovery, healing, and growth. She was so much a part of my life, and John’s, and of our life together. We will have other familiars, but none like her. The house is empty without her. I miss her terribly.

I’m open to comments. I especially invite anyone reading this who met or knew her to leave a comment with a memory or reminiscence about her. John and I both will welcome that as a way of memorializing her.

David Joseph Wilcox, 1957-1996

Update 2008.01.23: Added brief history of the Pink Panthers and bibliography of articles from the New York Times.

The jacket I wore while on patrol with the Pink Panthers in 1990 and 1991
Pink Panther Patrol Jacket, 1990-1991

My friend, David Joseph Wilcox, died 12 years ago, on January 22, 1996. He was 38 years old.

I’m actually writing this late at night, early in the morning of January 23. I can’t sleep. I’ve post-dated this to January 22, Dave’s mortiversary. We’ll see if Blogger accepts it. [It did.]

Earlier this evening, I listened to a recording my partner, Blog Widow John, and I made, interviewing each other about our remembrances of Dave. Two years ago, on the 10th anniversary of his death, we went to the StoryCorps booth at the World Trade Center site – Ground Zero – in downtown Manhattan. In particular, we spoke about how Dave’s death brought us closer together.

Dave moved in with John for the last year of his life. For many reason, it was a trying time for John, even apart from Dave’s illness. When Dave died, John reached out to me, as someone who knew both of them for many years, for support. Though we had already known each other for over a decade, that was the beginning of greater intimacy between us than we had ever shared. Our relationship today arose, phoenix-like, out of our shared loss.

When I can figure out how to edit down the full 45 minutes we recorded into more manageable tracks and cohesive segments, I’ll be able to make them available. What follows is the full text of the eulogy I wrote and read at one of Dave’s memorial services. I have a VHS videotape of that which could be transcribed to digital video, but I can hardly be understood in it. I could barely speak.

In Memoriam: David Joseph Wilcox
b. 15 November 1957, d. 22 January 1996

  1. Prologue
  2. Gay Cancer
  3. Scapegoats
  4. Grace
  5. Panthers

1. Prologue

I’ll start with a letter.

There remained to me at least something salvaged from the wreck of last year: a most brilliant man, and … one great in action and counsel … who after numerous proofs of his virtue became very dear to me, and seemed worthy of your friendship as well as mine. … [displaying] loyalty and good fellowship, and that friendship which lies in sharing good and bad fortune and baring the hidden places of the heart in a trusting exchange of secrets. How much he loved you, how much he longed to see you – you whom he could see only with the eyes of imagination. How much he worried about your safety during this shipwreck of the world. I was amazed that a man unknown to him could be so much loved. … And this man (I speak it with many tears, and would speak it with more but my eyes are drained by previous misfortunes and I should save some tears for whatever may befall in the future), this man, I say, was suddenly seized by the pestilence which is now ravaging the world. This was at dusk, after dinner with his friends, and the evening hours that remained he spent talking with us, reminiscing about our friendship and shared concerns. He passed the night in extreme pain, which he endured with an undaunted spirit, and then died suddenly the next morning. None of the now-familiar horrors were abated …

Go, mortals, sweat, pant, toil, range the lands and seas to pile up riches you cannot keep; glory that will not last. The life we lead is a sleep; whatever we do, dreams. Only death breaks the sleep and wakes us from dreaming. I wish I could have woken before this.

– Written by Francesco Petrarch to Louis Heyligen, in May 1349, during the Black Death in Europe.

2. Gay Cancer

I moved to New York, to the East Village, in the winter of 1979. When I met Dave a few years later, maybe 12 years ago [at the time of this writing in 1996], he was a vulture. Actually, I saw him dressed as a vulture in some incomprehensible show at La Mama. I knew the stage manager, and I met Dave after the show at the closing party. First impressions: short, wiry, blue eyes, intelligent. I was in love. But we became friends anyway.

When I moved to New York, I moved into the middle, into the beginning, of an epidemic that would become a pandemic, though I didn’t know it. Nobody knew it. First, it was “gay cancer.” Then it was GRID – Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Disease. Several hundred deaths later, late summer 1982, it became AIDS. Seventeen years of now-familiar horrors, of struggling to reconcile my denial, panic, rage, guilt, helplessness and despair.

September 1991:

I cry, yet I’ve not suffered enough.
Who suffers more, the dying or the living?
I grieve, yet I am not angry enough.
I am too weak, too self-absorbed, too numb.
I am cruel enough to avoid an ex-lover on his deathbed,
yet angered by the deliberate avoidance of another.
I choose ignorance before responsibility,
running from the chance of knowing,
and feeling.

It doesn’t stop.
It doesn’t wait for me to catch up,
to get my life in order,
that I might face loss with strength and conviction.
So far surviving the holocaust of my peers,
I make nothing of my life that would honor their passing.

And it continues … it goes on, and on …

After all that has happened,
it is only the beginning,
always just the beginning,
ever new horrors stand in front of me,
invisibly in the future,
that I might stumble across them.

Still I can ask: why?

3. Scapegoats

Dave and I developed a friendship whose continuity endured despite long absences. We’d not see each other or speak for months, or years. Then he’d call me with a new phone number, or we’d bump into each other at a bar, and pick up where we left off. And that’s what I was looking forward to when, after another long absence, I called him this past December, to see if he’d received my invitation to a holiday party. He said it was good that I called. “I’ve been telling myself, I really should call Chris …” Three months ago, I hadn’t known he’d been sick. I didn’t know he was dying.

One of the ways I’ve responded to AIDS is to read: about viruses, the natural history of disease, historical plagues and epidemics, their human impact … During the Black Death of the 14th century, Christians accused Jews of poisoning wells and rivers. Some Jews “confessed” under torture, or were baptized. The others were tortured, killed, and burned, in fields and open pits, in their synagogues and homes, or in buildings constructed for this special purpose.

While AIDS has its own scapegoats, with so-called leaders of all religions denouncing them, little has changed in 650 years. There is no god who has delivered AIDS to “punish” me, my friends, my lovers, my family of choice, my community. Sex is not a sin, my love is not a disorder. There are no “innocent victims.”

April 1992:

how many voices have you silenced?
whose truth do you fear?

what sends you running for shelter in your god’s shadow,
clinging to the hem of his rotten shrouds,
praying to him for the bad words to stop?

your ignorance is vile

you would see me struck down
silence my voice, my truth
to preserve your fragile ballast of lies

preaching vainly of greater good
you bring greater harm

there isn’t room enough in hell for both of us

you go first

4. Grace

I believe that Dave came to find some faith, or re-discover his faith, in the community of the church where he worked. I want to honor that, but I admit I don’t understand it, and the only comfort it gives me is that Dave’s belief helped him. I don’t believe in a god, or a heaven, or any life after this one. This is it. Dave’s death is final. I’ll never see him again.

October 1994:


I’m not a holy man.
there are no gods.
the dead speak to us
only through their works.

sadness weighs her heavy lids.
though portrayed as another,
she is of this world.
shaped by your hands,
her lifeless face holds your grief.

loss beyond comprehension.
time only to bury, or burn –
the next wave overtakes you.

from your hunger to understand,
you carve icons of your faith.
out of numbing pain,
you create meaning where there is none.

is it such mystery,
that you would know how I felt?

[Note: “She” is a wooden statue I saw at the Cloisters in upper Manhattan. When I wrote the poem, I thought the statue was contemporaneous with the Black Death. In fact, the statue was from the 12th Century, at least 150 years earlier, a dark enough time on its own.]

5. Panthers

The summer of 1990, a series of violent attacks against lesbians and gay men galvanized the community. The Pink Panthers, a street patrol, formed in response. Dave and I were among the founders of the East Village branch of the Panthers. For me, this was the most intimate and satisfying period of our friendship. We strategized, organized, leafleted, trained and patrolled together. Although we joked about having big pink targets on our chests, we knew that when we were on the streets, we placed ourselves in danger. Of all my colleagues and comrades from the Panthers, I felt safest with Dave as my patrol buddy, side-by-side. I trusted him with my life.

No explanation can ever satisfy me. Dave’s death is senseless. His life has meaning. I miss him.

July 1993, after learning about the death of another friend, also named David [David Kirschenbaum]:

what would it mean
even to say goodbye
my words do not grant
another breath

searching for the grief
that must be felt
as I recall other men
other names

if I could let go
lose control
permit my tears
what would it change

it ends, it is final
no room for regrets
no hopes for another chance
it is over

helpless, in the face of death
living is the best revenge

Fight the fascists.
Celebrate life.
Never give up.

Notes on the Pink Panthers

The Pink Panthers operated from 1990 to 1991. After it was successfully sued by MGM for use of the name “Pink Panther”, the group changed its name to OutWatch, but by the end of 1991, the group was already fading. After 1991, it existed largely in name only and its assets were dissolved several years later.

A series of articles in the New York Times summarizes this history:

Streets of Sanctuary Now Harbor Criminals, August 6, 1990
Anti-Gay Attacks Increase And Some Fight Back, September 3, 1990
Gay Organization Sees Upsurge in Violence, October 19, 1990
Pink Panthers Sued by MGM, January 8, 1991
Gay Patrol And MGM In a Battle Over Name, May 27, 1991
Gay Group Can’t Call Itself Pink Panthers, October 5, 1991



David Kirschenbaum’s obituary in the New York Times, July 14, 1993. He was 30 years old.

Garden #2, Park Slope, the 1990s: The Container Garden

Photo of the planting area and several containers and benches at Garden in Park Slope. The view is roughly east-northeast. Note the fences marking the edges of the property, the trellis against the rear fence, the diagonal path leading to it, and the concrete in the foreground. The planting area from the concrete to the fences is only 10′ deep and about 15′ wide. Most of its edge is hidden by plants and containers. You can see the edge of the first stepping stone on the path to the trellis.
Visible in bloom are, left to right, Corydalis lutea (low yellow mounds), Allium (tall purple/pink “space balls”), hybrid Aquilegia (yellow and red), and Iris siberica (deep blue/purple). If you view the full image you can also see the blooms of chives in the strawberry jar, hardy Geranium in front of the tall Allium, and Centaurea montana, to the right of the trough. There are at least two other flowers blooming visible in the photo, but I’m not sure what they were.
Photo taken: May 26, 2002. The garden is 10 years old in this picture. This is one of the last photos I took of this garden before I moved to Garden , also in Park Slope, with my partner.

In 1992, I moved to Park Slope, Brooklyn from the East Village, Manhattan.

How much to say about that move? It was neither easy, nor smooth, for me. For many reasons, it was more about abandoning myself, leaving unhealthy things behind, than feeling that I was moving toward anything new. To really let go, to allow my true self to emerge, I had to leave empty space in me and around me. I could not continue living where I was.

I knew it was important that I have some kind of outdoor space in which to garden, even just a patio. At first, I looked for a new apartment in the East Village. But I couldn’t find anything I could afford on my own, and I had lived alone long enough to know I wasn’t ready to try to share with anyone. Though I rarely travelled out of Manhattan, I decided to start looking in Brooklyn, specifically in Park Slope because I had heard it was a gay-friendly neighborhood (it is).

It was difficult to leave the East Village garden behind. After ten years gardening there, it had become a luxuriant and peaceful oasis. I had learned about the qualities of light and shade, how the shadows fall at different times of the year, the importance of selecting plants by form and foliage before flowers, the rhythms of life in a garden. Though everyone who lived in the building enjoyed it, I knew there was noone who lived there who cared about the garden, or understood it, as I did. My ex-lover had moved out of the city years before. I would have to walk away, knowing that I had created something beautiful, and hoping that someday someone would take my place as its caretaker.

I came to be the first tenant of a young couple who had just bought a brownstone in Park Slope. (Actually, we’re all about the same age; we were all so young then!) My apartment was the ground floor of the building, the garden apartment, with the entrance under the front stairs. Out the back door of the bedroom was a small, attached room, and beyond that, the backyard.

My landlords later told me that one of the things which sold them on me was my response to that outside attached room. Everyone else who saw the apartment suggested “I guess you could use this for storage?” When I saw it, I exclaimed “A potting shed!”

The backyard was at first intimidating. It was an unbroken expanse of battleship-gray concrete extending the width and back to all but the last ten feet of the property. There, on the only exposed ground, were placed (I would not say “planted”) five shrubberies: a juniper, a pine, and five azaleas which bloomed, one week out of the year, a seering magenta. Amidst these was distributed a mulch of pine bark the size of dinner plates.

This tabula rasa was a chance to start another garden from scratch. It had more sun and light than the shady East Village garden, even full sun during the summer. I could grow things I had only dreamed of growing: daylilies, Iris, Allium, and more. There were new challenges, lessons to learn, skills to acquire.

I learned how to garden in containers. I learned what “drought-tolerant” and “constant moisture” really mean. I learned how to make and recycle potting mixes in bulk, cheaply and efficiently. I learned that cedar is not signifcantly more “rot-resistant” than pine when in constant contact with soil, and figured out how to reinforce and preserve wooden containers to get a few more years out of them.

I learned to cope with, adapt to, and celebrate the ecstatic chaos of children in the garden. There was, of course, the idyllic sharing in the beauty of flowers, leaves, and insects. There was also the competing needs of two active boys playing basketball and fragile, ill-placed pottery. The basketball won on more than one occasion. I learned to garden defensively. And there was the afternoon the younger watched me plant and label a shipment of plants. It was not until I was almost done that I realized that, while I had continued, he had carefully removed all the labels from the plants and placed them back. He grasped the significance of what I was doing and emulated me. He had not yet learned to read. The plants gew and thrived, anyway, however anonymously.

I lived and gardened there for ten years until 2002, when my partner and I moved in together at another apartment in Park Slope.

A closer view of the planting area taken two years earlier. The diagonal path is not yet overgrown. In the foreground are some of the afore-mentioned broken pots, used here as decoration along the brick edge.
Photo taken: May 27, 2000

A tableau of plants in five different containers. The container on the left is a cedar planter; the red-leaved plant spilling out of it is a Heuchera. In the foreground is a plain old terracotta “azalea” (3/4 height) pot planed with herbs: sage, rosemary and thyme, I think. Behind that is a hand-thrown Guy Wolff pot planted with a zonal geranium (Pelargonium). The container on the right is a teak planter I had just finished planting; a poppy and a pale-flowered violet are blooming in it. Behind them all Hemerocallis “Hyperion” spills out of a wooden tub planter, hidden in shadow.
I built the teak planter from a kit from Wood Classics, an employee-owned business in Gardiner, New York. The slats are loose; they still have popsicle sticks beween them to maintain even spacing when the container was filled with soil.
Photo taken: July 4, 2001