A sister program took me to NYC to delve into the functions of the financial world. Housed at NYU, I was frequently on the floor of the commodities exchange, watching the clanging of the bell at the NYSE and hearing lectures from prominent members of the financial world. It was here that I met my friend Mark Cambisios from Kidder Peabody.
Mark was responsible for training stockbrokers. His former life as a high school math teacher lent itself to his ease in front of groups and gave him a quick understanding of finances. We became casual business acquaintances and loosely kept in touch after I returned to Villanova.
After the stock market crash of October 1987 - Black Monday, I invited Mark down from New York to give a lecture on why it happened. As a resident assistant, part of my job, besides enforcing underage drinking in the dorm (boo!) was to provide some programs to students. He took the train back home after the lecture and a few drinks with me and a fellow RA who challenged him on various issues in society. Mark's responses were my first clues to more about him than just professionally.
Once I graduated from college, my summer employer offered me a full time position in Washington DC. Shortly thereafter, I got my own apartment on Capital Hill behind the Supreme Court building. I was alone in DC - and definitely lonely. My move was primarily to explore who I really was and to see what these "feelings" are that permeated my thoughts more frequently.
On a Sunday morning in the late fall, Mark gave me a call. He told me a few of his friends had finally convinced him to move from Astoria into Chelsea and that he found a five story walk-up. He sensed I needed to talk and I remember being perplexed when he told me that he knows what I wanted to talk about. Hmmm, a psychic amongst my friends?! Years later I would become familiar with the term 'gaydar'.
After telling Mark I had these "feelings", he reassured me that nothing was wrong and recommended a book entitled "Positively Gay" - one which I still have in my book collection. Over the next couple of years, Mark became an unknowing role model for me. He would tell me graphic details of his encounters and I would cringe at the thought. He called me prude and I embraced the term. We became better friends and he would occasionally come visit me in DC and repeatedly tell me that "DC is ok, but New York is the center of the f'ing Universe!"
I met my first long-term boyfriend not much later and we planned a trip to NYC to see "Angels in America" on Broadway with Mark and his beau. The plays were incredible and we all had a fantastic time. Tony Kushner's work expanded my minimal knowledge of the AIDS crisis and other social and religious issues. I also got to spend time with Mark in person, which didn't happen too frequently.
Mark got his annual happy birthday call from me in January 1994. The laughing and the bantering quickly came to a halt when he said he had something to tell me. Not until then had the AIDS crisis touched me. He assured me that he was in good health, was taking a mix of pills and never felt better.
We continued to to go to NYC to visit and stay with Mark. In the early summer of 1995, he showed some scars from KS lesions that had been removed. My other half at the time was inquisitive as I shyed away and went into the other room. It was hard for me to deal with. Mark was physically a big strong man and incredibly understanding and supportive of me as I took my first steps out of the closet. It was hard seeing this come full circle.
In January of 1996, I spent a couple weeks in Hawaii for work. My bf was now my ex and I was living temporarily in a friend's condo while waiting to make settlement on my first house. The weeks in paradise were amazing and I returned from the long flight to my little condo delighted and exhausted.
Rifling thru the mail that had accumulated, I came across a small envelope hand addressed to me with a return address of Cambisios in Richmond VA. My first thought was that Mark moved down with his parents - or sent me a Christmas card from his visit with them. Tearing it open, I found that it was neither. The note, from Mark's parents, let me know that Mark had passed away over the holidays - and that he loved and valued his friends.
Even as I write this, I'm getting choked up. Back then, I totally lost it. Mark was an amazing man - outspoken, brilliant, handsome and not shy from engaging in controversy. Professionally he was climbing higher and personally, he was helping me along and making me laugh at the silliness of it all.
Mark was the first person that I've ever known that contracted and died of AIDS. Since then I have known more. I think of Mark often - when I watch "Angels in America", when I trash talk like he so frequently did and on World Aids Day. I pour a little of my cosmo on the earth - Here's to you, Mark Cambisios. I wish you were here to share this drink.