It’s strange sometimes the connections that social media can make, and one of the more interesting but also odder ones that happened recently on Facebook was when someone messaged me at random and said, “Hey, are you any relation to (First Name) Bastian who went to (Dead President) High School?”
Well, as a matter-of-fact, that person, let’s call him Will, happened to be my much older half-brother, so I replied that yes, I was, but had to inform this stranger that Will had died way too soon back in 1992.
This was when I found out that the stranger, let’s call him Don, was the son of the people who lived next door to the house my parents bought right after they got married — yeah, people used to be able to do that in L.A. — and I only didn’t recognize the last name because my parents always apparently mispronounced it.
Now here’s the thing I always have to explain about my family, but I’m sure I’ve brought it up here before. Both of my parents were married previously, to people their own age. In fact, to their high school sweethearts, so they were living examples of why that’s a bad idea. Mom very quickly had marriage number one annulled because he was an abusive asshole. Dad endured marriage number one for nearly 18 years despite her being an alcoholic shrew. Well, at least that was the issue once whispered to me by an aunt, my dad’s sister-in-law.
But the point is this: When Dad met Mom, he was the 40-ish professional and she was the 20-something waitress in the diner across from his office. They met because he always came in the same time every day for breakfast. They married, they had me, and then they moved to the West Valley. The end result of all of this was that I’m kind of a generation off on my dad’s side but right in the middle on my mom’s side, just like she was.
So while I technically have three older siblings, they’re all a lot older than I am and I never grew up with any of them that I can remember. Two of them were old enough to be my parents and the third happened to be a lot younger than those two. That’s one half-sister and two-half brothers, although I don’t know whether that counts as three siblings or one-and-a-half.
The one other thing you should know about Will is that, like me, he was gay, although being a generation before me, he was gay at a much less friendly time and yet was never in the closet, at least not with the fam. Growing up, I always knew about him and “Uncle” Larry, they were part of the family, and I understood, even when I was a really little kid, that the two of them had the same kind of relationship my parents did.
Oh… meaning emotional besties who lived together part, not the icky sex part, because I didn’t learn about that until later, obviously. But they came as a set. Will and Larry. Mom and Dad. Same thing.
Still, because he was a gay role model to me, he was the sibling I loved the most and looked up to, not to mention that whenever he was around, we just connected, because he was also a musician, he was funny and creative, and always encouraging. But, because he was already an adult when I fell out of mom and he had moved off on his own, we never really got the opportunity we should have had to connect. I also never got the chance to come out to him, and when he died way too soon, that door shut forever. Hell, I’d barely come out to myself when that happened.
And then, this stranger contacted me on Facebook asking if I was related, and then confessing that he and Will had been best friends in High School, as well as something a bit more, because while this neighbor, Don, explained later that he didn’t even know what “gay” meant or was when he was in high school, he shared that kind of relationship with my bro, if only briefly, and before I was born.
As he explained it in a message to me, “I had no idea I was gay when I knew him. Actually I knew, but didn’t know what to call it. He was kinda my ‘teacher’ about things like that. I will always be indebted to him for helping me. I remember the night in front of a church in Canoga Park where he kinda ‘explained’ things to me, and showed me some things.”
And I have no idea what explaining and showing mean there, but I did get a long narrative recounting some high school adventures of the two and, damn… I discovered a side of my favorite died-too-young half-sibling that made me think, “Okay. Maybe not a role model.” He loved to play hooky from school, which is something I can honestly say that I never did or even contemplated except, of course, for the one time it was sanctioned on Senior Ditch Day in high school, but since it’s the school approving it, it doesn’t count as being truant.
But my god. These two cut school, they shoplifted, they threw spitballs and M&Ms in class, and tormented an English teacher. The only way my older half-bro could have been more different than me was if he’d been straight.
And these were all things that made me think, “Wait. I looked up to this one?” And, as Don told it, Will was clearly the bad influence in this situation. Plus he apparently did not get along with my mom, although she never tipped that off to me, although it is a common issue in step-family relationships.
Then I think about one of the big reasons he wasn’t around when we were adults. While I was still in high school, the somewhat successful salon he’d started suddenly closed, and he and Uncle Larry moved to Vegas. Apparently, they’d decided that not paying taxes (federal, state, or payroll) were a good idea. So, in effect, they played hooky yet again, except with a more serious set of consequences. All along, I’d thought that this had been Larry’s doing, but with this new advice from Don, I realized, “Nope. Probably Will.”
It doesn’t make me love him any less in retrospect. It just makes him more human. And makes me wish even more that we could have been more present in each other’s lives when we had the chance, but at least I’ve found a proxy who was there, and that’s one of the few benefits among the vanishingly small reasons to keep feeding social media.
Photo: First wife, half-sister, Dad; at least “Will” and I inherited his looks. Will moreso. He was a dead-ringer. Me, not quite as much.