My cousin Chris: a life less ordinary.
Today would have been Chris Pandolfino's 59th birthday: 'Remembering Chris'
Two days after that heinous crime on Locker Street took place – when we were all still trying to digest what had just happened, and it all felt as if we were living a nightmare that at some point we would be woken up from – a friend sent me a promo teaser of Pedro Almodovar´s new short, La Voz Humana. In it, Tilda Swinton, in a voluminous red Balenciaga dome gown emerges from behind a screen and walks onto a sombre, industrial sound stage to sit on a solitary stool. Cut to a close up of her enigmatic face. Pale skin. Hair slightly bedraggled. Fifty-eight seconds of total perfection.
My thumb automatically went for the forward icon, and started to scroll down the list of recent Whatsapp messages looking for Bambi, the moniker my cousin Chris had been bestowed with by our dear friend Simon, one Monday morning after a big night out in London. It was at that moment that the cruel, harsh reality of what had happened hit me. For the first time since receiving the news of the terrible tragedy, I cried like I don´t think I´ve ever cried before.
Under normal circumstances, within seconds of receiving the message, Chris would call and we would discuss all that we saw up to the minutest of detail. There would be squeals of delight, hyperbole and hyperventilation. We would go off on all sorts of tangents, tell and retell tales of adventures past, gossip and often bitch a little. The call could go on for hours, depending on our mood. Sometimes, it would be followed by another call. Alas, the circumstances on that day were not normal. And it breaks my heart into a million pieces to think that they will never be again.
Over the last few weeks, people who didn´t know him have asked me what Chris was like. At first, I found it very difficult to answer. Where do you start from when describing someone who has been there for such a huge part of your life? Someone who – apart from a cousin – has been a brother, a sister, a father, a mother, a mentor, a child, a collaborator, a best friend forever…
I´ve since found the perfect answer: Chris was my Auntie Mame – Patrick Dennis´ unforgettable, rule-breaking character, who takes in her orphaned ten-year old nephew and opens up a world that he would never have dreamt of. It replaces all the anger that I have inside me with a warm, peaceful feeling. And I know he would approve.
Like Auntie Mame, Chris was larger than life – extravagant, eccentric, hugely intelligent, creative, and with the biggest heart you could possibly imagine. There really was never a dull moment. “Fly by the seat of your pants” was his motto, and he did so with ardent fervour. He had an eye and a love of all things beautiful and interesting, and wanted to know everything about everything. All anyone had to do was mention a topic, and he would tell you all there was to know about. If he didn´t know about it, he would learn whatever there was to learn in the shortest time possible. His was the most amazing mind I have ever encountered. Vastly knowledgeable in any subject, authoritative, but always inquisitive, ready to absorb. “You can never know enough,” he once told me. It is possibly the only tenet in life that I have ever adhered to.
From an early age, he set the bar high for us, members of his family. I can still remember when as children we would sit excitedly in front of the sofa where he would set up his puppet shows, which featured – amongst others – a tarted up Barbie doll as a soubrette called Sexy Woozie. He sang solo in the choir at Saint Gregory´s in Sliema, with what he himself described as “the voice of an angel”. (The story of when the choir mistress asked him if he had any relatives who could join the choir, hoping that the angelic voice was a family trait, is now part of Fountain/Pandolfino family lore. Alas neither I, nor his beloved sister, Daniela, who he took with him to join the choir, could sing to save our lives. We were asked to mime instead. That was the beginning and the end of our choir days!). He used words that I´d never heard of. He listened to music that opened up a new world. In my early teens, he suggested I read Proust´s Remembrance of Things Past – which I now feel dreadful about for not having yet done.
There are so many memories, so many stories to tell. A lifetime of “jeweled elephants,” as we refer to stories that are embellished every time they are told (with reference to Armistead Maupin´s Gabriel Noone). For the past weeks, they have been playing in my head like movies. Too many to ever contemplate listing. And too special to ever forget.
At this point, it seems impossible to think how life will be without Chris – and Ivor, who had joined in on the adventure a few years ago, and fitted into our extended family like the proverbial silk glove. It is yet too early to get our heads around it. I miss them both desperately. And will continue to do so for the rest of my life. Life without them will never be the same.