Once in a while you meet someone and know that person will be in your life forever. Other times, you have no idea that the person who signs your first paycheck will also be there to carry your heart, decade after decade after decade.
Chris Forillo and I first met in the Summer of 1988, when Marshalls offered me my very first real job. Sure, I’ve managed to earn money before, either via babysitting or giving drum lessons to the kids of Skokie. But walking nearly a mile on Kimbal Avenue and then taking the 250 bus West on Dempster to get to Waukegan Rd. all in order to punch a clock was a big step.
Chris became my boss and while we got along well at the giant schmatte retailer, one specific day, I was terrified. I had scored INXS tickets for the band’s Kick tour and asked for the day off for a family birthday, only to find out that Chris was going to attend the same show. While the probability of running into him, in a sea of thousands, remained low, I still looked over my shoulder between songs. Chris never saw me, but even if he did, as he often reminds me, “Oh, I wouldn’t have cared.”
Two years later, after I graduated from Niles North, my parents drove me to DeKalb, where, for one, brief year I attended Northern Illinois University. While I never felt at home in rural America, for the nine or so months I spent on campus, Chris would often be my companion and my ride between the Des Plaines Wendy’s (also on Dempster) and my dorm. And, as I discovered my independence and first break with the immigrant community in which I was so engrossed, Chris would be there for every first kiss. Whether I had an encounter with the womanizing frat boy or the nerdy, artsy intellectual, every happiness or disappointment led to a phone call or lunch break with Chris.
The best part? Not once did Chris ever judge me. Instead, he offered his continuous and unconditional love.
And, over the next twenty plus years, our relationship has built into an incredible journey of trust, compassion and humor. Today, Chris is the Administrative Director of The Chicago Mosaic School and is also the Operations Manager of the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA), where he combines his business acumen and love of all things lovely.
Chris and I both adore Madonna. Chris has attended every single concert tour that she has ever done. In August, 2001, the night before I left Chicago for grad school, my Sis took me to the Drowned World show. After the incredible performance, the three of us, along with a large group of friends, all gathered outside to talk about the event. It was then that Chris spotted Joan Cusack and I took a photo of the two of them. (A decade later, this was a full circle moment when Anita met Joan and told her the story.)
We asked Chris, who also happens to be gay, about how the gay community views relationships, and what he thinks is the biggest difference between straight and gay people looking for love. Chris’s reply felt oddly familiar:
I think that it is more difficult as the gay dating world is heavily focused on appearance. Gays tend to judge the book by its cover.
Chris came to visit me in Rochester during the two years I lived in upstate New York. He’d also earned his M.B.A. (at DePaul, where I transferred to fro my B.A. from NIU) and knew what tremendous pressure that degree put one through, part or full-time. Again, Chris offered his support and encouragement, all with a dose of his sarcastic, honest and poignant sense of humor.
During that trip, we also drove to Buffalo, and went on a tour of a Frank Lloyd Wright‘s Martin House Complex. Chris is a big history and arts admirer and for many years gave walking architectural tours of Chicago. There’s very little that he doesn’t know about and when he first came to visit me in Cleveland, because I was working long and grueling hours at a corporate job, he quickly assessed the city and its public transportation, discovering things about a place I called home that I was oblivious to until Chris pointed them out to me.
Chris has this amazing curiosity towards life, including dance music, beautiful architecture and travel, both domestic and global.
I have visited 49 of the 50 states. One to go.
Mostly, he is interested in people and that genuine desire to help others has permeated in every facet of his connections with the people he loves.
Lots of personal therapy has given me better insight to my own relationships and attitudes and has been able to help me step back and look at others. Plus, when hasn’t a gay man’s touch been a help? Straight and gay points of view are important to look at the story from different angles.
(This book) can teach people about the ins and outs of relationships. It can be looked at as a study in human behavior concentrating on dating. We all have something to learn about that!
It’s amazing to me that our friendship has brought so many vivid memories and that next year, in 2013, we are planning to celebrate our Silver Anniversary.
All relationships should be this wonderful.