Last night I had the opportunity to see the 20th anniversary of the Broadway musical RENT. Tears ran down my cheeks as I watched the character Angel die of AIDS. Memories of my sweet sad goodbye with Garryn, a close friend who had contracted HIV AIDS in the 1990s washed over me as I watched Angel’s lover, Collins, struggle with the loss of his beloved.
I had lived in a commune of sorts on Ironwood Drive in San Jose whom a witty friend had dubbed “The House of Chaos”. I lived with Tyagi and a rotating cast of characters over the course of 9 years from 1990 to our fateful move in 1999. At first, I was hesitant to move in, as I didn’t know Tyagi well and was afraid to trust my intuition. Soon we were in full swing, with weekly house meetings where a self-proclaimed anarchist, John, would accuse me of being “rectilinear” when I complained of food left out on the kitchen counters and mice scuttling across the floors. My housemate Stacy liked to crossdress and would often appear in latex and little else. She/he (we had not yet discussed pronouns in those days) decorated her room with mannequins and a stream of eye-catching textiles, which would inch their way into the living room and hallways.
Four pinball machines and two or three stand up Atari video games lined the walls of the living room, having been brought out by John from Ohio. We had a wall in the kitchen that the landlord had intended to paint dubbed the wailing wall, a graffiti spattered space full of witticisms and original ideas. One such phrase was “Free your ass and your mind will follow”. The House of Chaos saw wild parties with strange confluences of people on the fringe of society including artists, anarchists, scholars, magicians, mystics, paganism, and religious folk, as well as those interested in BDSM. I had a few close friends who were transgender, and many who were gay. I was living in a suburban version of the Bohemia depicted in RENT’s East Village New York City scape.
Walking out of the musical, I felt my heart ache for the life I had lost. With its instability and trauma came excitement and exposure to interesting people and ideas. In many ways my childhood had prepared me for such a life, exposing me to the interesting, Bohemian circles of my parents. Their friends were artists, thinkers, and academics, and I reveled in after dinner talk of the mysteries of life. It was the 1970s by the time I was able to consciously participate in my parents’ circles, and I got a taste of the revolution that had transpired the previous decade. Perhaps little wonder that I long for a deeply stimulating, unconventional life.