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She wore a powder-blue blazer

INSIDE/OUT

I was doing laundry when I got the call from my mother. My

ex-brother-in-law, Gino, was in the hospital, she told me. He wasn’t

expected to make it through the night.

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Before I fully comprehended what Mom was telling me, an image

flashed in my mind of my brother-in-law dancing with my eldest sister

on their wedding day. He was wearing a handsome, well-tailored suit,

and his long black hair spun wildly in the air as he turned my sister

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round and round. When I get married, I thought to my 10-year-old

self, I want to look just like that.

I had known that my brother-in-law was having some medical

problems, but I had no idea he was that sick. Apparently no else did,

either, including him. Then he checked himself into the hospital in

severe pain and was told his liver was failing. He was put on a

waiting list for a transplant. Then his kidneys began to fail, and

other organs followed suit. Three days later, my mother called me.

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“I just got off the phone with your nephew,” she said. My mother’s

voice sounded calm but strained. “He’s taking it real hard. Your

sister’s very upset, too.”

I was actually relieved to hear my sister was upset. She and her

ex-husband had maintained a friendship after they divorced, but in

recent years had hardly spoken to each other over some mysterious

falling out. I was glad to hear she still cared for him, because I

loved this man.

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I arrived at the hospital room to find it filled with family and

friends. I hugged my nephew, whose eyes were red-rimmed, his

expression taut with controlled grief. He had been at his father’s

bedside for three days. I walked over to the yellow, shrunken figure

on the bed, and he looked up at me and managed a smile. “Hi, Davey,”

he said weakly. “It’s good to see you.”

“It’s good to see you, too, Gina,” I said, and took her hand.

Perhaps I should explain. Shortly after my nephew was born, my

sister and my brother-in-law both came out of the closet. Whether

they both had known they were gay when they married, God only knows

-- my sister has never explained what that was all about. They stayed

together for awhile, then separated. As shocking as it was to learn

my sister was a lesbian, I was completely floored when my

brother-in-law announced that he had always believed the fact he was

born a man was a biological mistake. From then on out, he said, he

wanted everyone to address him not as Gino, but as Gina. And the very

next time I saw Gino, the handsome man I once wanted to resemble on

my wedding day was wearing a dress.

I remember processing that information through my young value

system, and what came out was sheer loathing. I hated him. I believed

he was the reason why my sister was now gay, that he had somehow

“turned” her. I’d see my sister show up at family get-togethers with

a woman on her arm, and I despised my brother-in-law.

Soon after my sister divorced, her life began to fall apart. She

turned to drugs, which eventually resulted in her being unable to

hold a job or keep a roof over her head for longer than a couple of

months at a time. She was constantly in trouble with the law. While

my nephew was in her care, he was bounced around from home to home,

was constantly being yanked out of school and seeing whatever

friendships he managed to establish severed as my sister fled from

city to city in search of her elusive self. He became a sullen,

withdrawn, despairing child, well on his way to becoming a sullen,

withdrawn, despairing young man. I feared for him.

But all that began to change when finally he was allowed to live

with his father. For the first time in his life, my nephew was able

to stay in one place long enough to develop a sense of belonging.

Gino was hard-working and devoted to his son; he never let him want

for anything.

But more than that -- Gino began to instill values in Andrew. He

taught him to respect authority, to never take what didn’t belong to

him, to understand that the best things in life didn’t drop out of

the sky but were obtained through hard work and commitment. He taught

him the importance of family. And, of course, he taught him to

respect himself, to be true to himself and to never judge others by

what he saw on the surface, but rather by what was on the inside.

One day I sat down with Andrew and I realized I was talking to a

completely different person. He was relaxed, self-assured, and I

heard him for the first time talk of the future as though it were a

wide-open field upon which he could build anything he set his mind

to. And it was because of this that my hatred for my nephew’s father

grudgingly turned to respect, then to a genuine liking, and finally

to love.

On her deathbed, Gina asked three things of her son. That he would

accept durable power of attorney over her affairs. That he would have

her cremated. And that she be buried as she had lived the latter half

of her life -- as a woman. Then she died.

My family is Catholic, and more conservative than we often admit

to ourselves. But Andrew, the good son, obeyed his father’s dying

wishes to the last.

So it was that at 7:30 a.m. on the day of Gina’s viewing, Andrew

received a call from his father’s uncle. The uncle and Gina’s mother,

both stern Jehovah’s Witnesses, had learned of what was happening,

and the uncle wanted Andrew to know that they thought it was wrong, a

sin against God. Andrew, who had spent five days watching his father

die and the past three making the final arrangements with not a jot

of help from the uncle, said, “You’re upsetting me,” and hung up the

phone. Gina’s uncle and mother got in their car and left for their

home in New Mexico without attending her viewing.

Which was really too bad, because Gina was dressed divinely for

the occasion. She wore a powder-blue blazer and tastefully elegant

white blouse. Her nails were freshly painted, her makeup perfect. A

photograph above the casket showed her as she wanted to be remembered

-- a smiling, beautiful woman full of life.

I arrived with my mother, my sister and her girlfriend. Yvonne

stepped slowly up to the casket, leaned over and whispered something.

Then she crossed herself and walked away. Then my mother and I

stepped up and looked down at Gina. My mother gasped, and whispered,

“Oh, my Lord.”

“It’s what she wanted, Mom,” I said.

“It’s not that,” she said. “It’s just -- I’m not sure, but I think

that’s the blue blazer I loaned her a couple of years ago.”

I couldn’t help but smile. “Well, I don’t think you’re getting it

back, Ma.”

We took our seats in the pews, where my nephew, Andrew, sat with

his 2-year-old son on his lap and his wife by his side. And we all

knelt and prayed that God receive our beloved Regina into the

welcoming arms of heaven.

* DAVID SILVA is the city editor of the Leader’s sister paper, the

News-Press. His column runs Saturdays. Reach him at 637-3231, or by

e-mail at david.silva@latimes.com.


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