I met Damon Intrabartolo on November 5, 2000. I was twenty-four years old. I had never had a boyfriend. My friend Mark told me he was going to take me to his friend Jon Hartmere’s play, “bare.” Jon was single and Mark thought we would hit it off. We arrived at the Hudson Theater in Los Angeles. I was so busy crying through the show that I didn’t notice that above the actors, a manic young man conducted the band.
After the show, I met Jon Hartmere, and then I was introduced to that manic young conductor. We looked in each other’s eyes and felt an instant connection. We drove the same car. We had the same Kate Bush CD in our cars. Everything was a sign that we knew each other in a past life. The night we met, he spelled my name aloud for minutes, relishing it, as if they were the only words in his alphabet.
He came over to my apartment on our first date: Election night 2000. The first thing he did was analyze my CD collection. He zeroed in on my vast Tori Amos selection. He said he hated Tori Amos for ripping off Kate Bush. When he left, I lit a cigarette. I liked to smoke alone, preferably to a wrenching Tori Amos song, preferably late at night. The phone rang. Damon told me that if we were to date, I must quit smoking. It wasn’t a suggestion. It was a demand. I looked out my large window and saw him parked outside, watching me. I suppose that could’ve been a red flag, but I liked that he had been watching me covertly. It made me feel important and special, which is how Damon always made me feel. I put out the cigarette. It was the last cigarette I would smoke. I went to bed that night thinking that Al Gore was our President, and that Damon and I would be together forever.
As we got to know each other better, he confessed to me that he adored Tori Amos. He didn’t want people to know because he liked to steal chord progressions from her. He played me songs from “bare” and explained me to me the chord progressions of hers that he used. This felt more intimate than sex to me. It felt like he was letting me into his impenetrable musical world. Some of my best memories of Damon are the countless Tori shows we went to together. He would always whisper the song she was about to perform the moment she placed her fingers on the keys, before she played a single note. And he was usually right.
He called me “Baby.” He said it often. Along with “You Pay Now.” And “Lousy” for things he didn’t like. And “Quality” for things he did. And “Crazy” before people’s names. And “Blow jobs are the gay man’s handshake.”
And “I love you.” He said those words too often, like if he didn’t keep repeating them he would forget.
We shared a computer and bought a printer together. On the test page, he typed out “I love Baby” hundreds of times and printed it out for me. I kept it in case I ever forgot.
Damon was irreverent, flamboyant, and manic. He liked to put on a show. But when we were alone, he could be quiet and pensive. He could lie with me for hours doing nothing but holding me, listening to music, or sometimes just shaking my hand. This is the Damon I loved most, maybe because I felt like it was the Damon I didn’t have to share with the rest of the world.
When my roommate moved out, Damon suggested he move in with me. But he had one condition: I had to come out to my parents. This wasn’t a suggestion. It was a demand. Damon didn’t believe in closets. He gave me the strength to come out. He encouraged me to write. He pushed me to live a bigger and better life.
I don’t think I became fully aware of Damon’s dark side until he went to New York to work on “bare.” He didn’t seem well. When we got back home, he started disappearing, sometimes for days. He told me he was in the desert with shamans, and I believed him. Damon would often say he wanted to buy a home together and have children. He liked to fantasize about our wedding at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo. But despite these dreams of the future, he always maintained he would die young. I told him to stop saying that. He said it was a premonition. I said it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Many have offered me condolences for the loss of my friend. I want to tell them that Damon wasn’t my friend. He was my lover, my tormentor, and my inspiration.
He was somebody who lived in so many carefully constructed closets of his own, who inspired me to come out of every one of my own closets. Many of those close to Damon have echoed this sentiment to me: Damon changed everyone he touched, usually for the better.
This is the piece of the Damon puzzle I most want to understand. I feel, in some ways, that Damon gave all the light in him to those he loved and held onto the darkness himself.
There’s a passage written by my favorite author James Baldwin that reminds me of Damon:
“His own loneliness, magnified so many million times, made the night air colder. He remembered to what excesses, into what traps and nightmares, his loneliness had driven him; and he wondered where such a violent emptiness might drive an entire city.”
This is what I think Damon lived with: a violent emptiness. My hope is that in death, we can all come together and make him whole.