The Punches: Some words on Giancarlo DiTrapano, on the 1 year anniversary of his death
Gian published me twice in his journal, affectionately known as the Tyrant. The first time I didn’t know him well, but by the second time, we were close. We stayed close until his death. I had a crush on him as we began to get to know each other, and on a cigarette break during some reading in Brooklyn —in, like 2007? — he had fucked a priest in Hell’s Kitchen — I think behind a building. I asked, how was it? He said it was great. That was how I realized we were not on the same team. We both were on team friendship and as our friendship grew, we agreed on so many writers and books — the journals of Cheever was a particular bonding moment. At the beginning of publishing the Tyrant journal, he’d publish the work of dead, unfashionable writers — F Scott Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams.
During the Htmlgiant days, Gian and I became even closer. I blogged under a pseudonym there for some time, and it was sort of our “scene”. In real life, we hung out in his messy (we were team messy then) apartment, where he played piano for me. He played beautifully. Later, he and his long time boyfriend, Chris March, drove me to my house in upstate New York, in a small town called Hale Eddy, and went on long walks along the Delaware River.
He caused some drama. I caused less drama, but I did get let go from Htmlgiant and some feathers got ruffled. After me, Roxane Gay started blogging there. We laughed often and hard about everything. Gian was HILARIOUS. And he didn’t give a fuck about a lot of things writers and publishers are supposed to care about.
That was part of our team motto. We didn’t give a fuck. In fact, an interview I did with Emily Books in 2014 was entitled, ““Have you found a way to not give a fuck?” We’d taken our punches. And we always showed up for each other. It was absolute respect.
When I got the boot from Htmlgiant, there was no need to take sides between Gian and me. Unlike many people, we were not in high school anymore. But during my tenure there, I reviewed Scott McClanahan’s STORIES V!. I think it was his first ever review. Gian went on to publish Scott’s later work. We both loved the work of Flannery O’Connor, Shya Scanlon, Rachel Glaser. When we disagreed on a book or a writer, we’d shit talk like mad and end up laughing until we couldn’t laugh anymore.
Back to the punches. He was my friend through the worst of my life- my father’s suicide, my mother’s horrific slow death, and — honestly the worst of the worst — my husband cheating and lying and leaving me after more than 2 decades. He was not a fair weather friend, nor an ambulance chaser. He was just a friend, which is to me, the most amazing thing a human can be in this short life. He understood the morality of relationships. He understood the morality of following his heart. He knew we were here for only one of God’s deep breaths. He lost his older brother when he was 11 and saw what this did to his mother. Much later, he lost his father. When he lost Chris March, although he had moved onto a new relationship, he suffered terribly. I’m not sure he fully recovered. And that’s OK. I know I haven’t “recovered” from my grief. Here is Hilary Mantel on grief:
“Grief is like fear in the way it gnaws the gut. Your mind is on a short tether, turning round and round. You fear to focus on your grief but cannot concentrate on anything else. You look with incredulity at those going about their ordinary lives. There is a gulf between you and them, as if you had been stranded on an island for lepers…”
Gian and I were lepers.
At the time of Gian’s death, I was writing a story which turned into a novella, for a production company in LA for whom I’d done some work. They asked me to write “an updated version of All About Eve”, with the hopes they’d then hire me to turn into a screenplay. This work was new to me, and he was doing new stuff, too. He was starting DiTrapano, a new press evolving from Tyrant Books. We were excited, but stressed about all the newness.
My novella, called “The Ghoul”, partially took place in Sezze and Rome, where I celebrated a half a century on this planet with him. Gian is a character in it. He read it and loved “Ricardo”. Here is a description of Ricardo from the novella: “He was uniquely slovenly; indeed, he’d worn the same blue, linen shirt every day since they’d arrived.”
Being in Italy with Gian was the best way to celebrate my 50th. We had a blast. We’d eat the figs that he collected from the trees around his home, with cheese made by his neighbor, who would bring it by just to be nice, and prosciutto from another neighbor. It was almost unreal how great the food was. I got to meet his husband, Guiseppe, a brilliant set designer. I spent a bunch of time with his smoking hot nephew, Ben. I sunbathed topless by his pool. I read Sam Pink’s new novel and wrote some. Once, we went out to dinner in town in Sezze and I was eying a strapping Romanian waiter. Gian said, “You can fuck him, but you can’t bring him to my home.” I understood. We communicated well.
I visited Naples — he was talking about moving there, which he eventually did. I spent time in his Goth Catholic themed apartment of treasures in Rome, decorated by Guiseppe. I felt at home in Italy. The electricity would go out for no reason in the city almost every day. The men were gorgeous. Jewelry, one of my many weaknesses, was fantastic, as lovely as it is in Greece. I was struggling with all my losses. He just loved me, despite my grief. He didn’t look away. He knew.
I read once about a woman who lost her 10 year old daughter. She kept her daughter’s voice on the outgoing message on her answering machine for 5, 10 years — I don’t remember. People thought it was “creepy”. People told her to change it. This was, of course, before the internet and cellphones. The writer of this particular detail of grief commented; “but what did they know what she should do?”
I will never delete Gian’s voice from my phone.
I think of all the movie scenes where the grieving person throws out all the clothes of their freshly dead beloved ones, desperately trying to remove the pain by removing the beloved’s objects. Or the grieving parent after a child dies, moving on quickly, remarrying, who starts a new family, while the other parent never does. The other parent sort of dies instead.
There is no right or wrong way. After my father’s suicide, I had a therapist say, “You didn’t handle it well.” Years later, I realize that was a monstrous thing to say. Gian never said that to me.
One of the last phone messages, after he had moved to Naples, and after Chris had died, was about his new press, and my amazing sons.
“Hey what’s up, um, how are you? (Laughs)….Hey dude, give me a call, I want to talk to you about something. Just the short of it. I need somebody on the ground in America. I’m opening up a new press, I’m sort of funding it myself, I’m trying to get some investors, I’ve got all these kick ass books…I just need someone to, like you know, go out and meet the reps, um, like a little mailroom place where they can ship books from the warehouse the merchandise…shit like that.
And I was thinking, what do Paula’s kids do? Aren’t they like smart and are like hard workers or something. like, I could come over and meet them and explain some things, even though they might be going to school or something… I don’t even know why it came to mind.
I don’t know. Anyways, this could be like wild, a like a wild hare or whatever. Something.
Whatever, I miss you. Give me a call. No rush, chill, chill…”
On February 1, he posted the new logo for DiTrapano.
He had so many plans. They would have been good plans.
One of my sons is doing, more or less, what he wanted to hire him to do. He works in publishing, for the small press, Archipelago, where he specializes in the Spanish language titles. How great it would have been if he had been able to know Gian better.
In a piece Gian wrote for Vice, he recounts texting something mean to Amelia Gray, his shame about it, and what happened afterward on a Peter Pan bus, where they both happened to be passengers.
“I was looking out the window at the traffic lights through the rain on the glass and turned to the person sitting next to me. It was Amelia Gray. ‘Can I punch you in the face, Gian?’ she asked.”
Her first punch did not land. So Gian did the following:
“‘Look,’ I said and took her hand, shaped it into a fist, and showed her how to really put your body into a punch. I turned my cheek toward her yet again and she swung, fully connecting this time. Truly solid landing. Ear buzzing, head vibration, sensation of face inflating; all the symptoms of getting clocked were present.
I asked her if she felt better. She said she did. ‘Good,’ I said, and maybe we even hugged.
As Amelia walked back to her seat, I pressed my throbbing cheek against the cold glass and said something like ‘Fucking bring it, dude’ under my breath.”
The last line says everything.
Bring it, people. Bring it for Gian.
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