Exploring - Never Stop

The Pierrot necklace

Published 08, Feb, 2018
Author // Félix Garmendía

New York guy Félix Garmendía: "Thanks to Pierrot, I am reminded that there is STILL beauty and blessings in my life, here in this wonderful and magical place called New York City."

The Pierrot necklace

When I started studying my undergraduate degree in theater at the University of Puerto Rico, I fell in love with a sad character from 17th century France. I ran into my first “Pierrot,” one day taking a leisurely walk on the historic Old San Juan. Jewelry has always fascinated me, as a child I remember playing with my parent’s rings.

It was a lazy balmy afternoon in 1980, when I decided to take the bus to the historic Old San Juan area. Once there, I went into a very pretty jewelry/ antiques store. It was located near an old chapel called La Capilla del Cristo.  This chapel was built in 1753 and has been a place where generations of Puerto Ricans have gone to pray for miracles.

I was looking around the store when I saw in a glass case, at the back of the store a Pierrot necklace. It looked old, made out of brass and decorated with black glass accents. It caught my attention but my college budget did not include jewelry expenses. I left the store trying to convince myself that the necklace was an unnecessary purchase. On my way home to the student’s dorm, I couldn’t get the necklace out of my mind. It was a beautiful piece of jewelry but there was something about this Pierrot necklace that really was very close to home. The day after, I decided to return to the store and buy the necklace.

The Pierrot necklace became a favorite piece of jewelry to wear. After I bought the necklace, I started collecting Pierrots. By 1981, my first year in college, my dorm room had Pierrots everywhere. The Pierrot necklace, was with me on stage when I worked as an actor in the early 80s and it was on my neck when I had to abruptly stop my then promising acting career due to a severe and chronic Ulcerative Colitis. The necklace remained with me through my years with Ulcerative Colitis. Pierrot accompanied me in all my glory getting applauded after a performance and comforted me when I was struggling with the intense pain of my illness.

After a long and difficult recuperation from my illness, I returned to the University of Puerto Rico and finished my Bachelor of Arts degree in theater education. After finishing my degree, I wanted to remain in San Juan but after searching for a job for a months and months with no luck, I had to return to my hometown of Ponce where I was offered my first job as a drama teacher. I tried to be happy in Ponce but my dreams were bigger than Ponce. I wanted to live in a place where I could be OUT and PROUD of being gay and it was becoming increasingly clear that Puerto Rico was not the best place for that.

In 1988, scared but determined, I left my homeland of Puerto Rico and headed to New York City to pursue my Master’s Degree at the prestigious New York University. The fact that New York University happened to be located in the heart of gay life in New York City pretty much confirmed my decision to go there. Of course, my Pierrot necklace came with me to New York, safely nestled in a wooden box in my desk drawer. Recently, my husband Denis stumbled across the box and handed it to me asking me, “what do you suppose this is?”. I immediately recognized my old, dear and precious artifact of my past. Over 20 years had passed since I had seen or touched it.

I gently lifted it from the box and instantly my heart and mind were flooded with emotion.  It is now 2018. I am still living in Manhattan and the Pierrot necklace resurfaced in a very special moment. These days it’s missing a small stone, it is tarnished and older looking. After all these years, I am still fascinated and comforted by this piece of jewelry. This necklace has been with me through my brightest and darkest moments. Somehow, I feel this special object, which now hangs from my desk lamp, has been a symbol of resilience, strength and perseverance.

My husband decided to clean it today. After he cleaned it he read an engraving on a small tag hanging from the clasp. To my surprise the necklace’s engraved tag read, “Kingston, New York.” My jaw dropped. After decades, I found out that my necklace was made in New York. The same New York that lured and coaxed me to the place where I found myself and became the man I am today. I am so grateful to be reunited with my old friend Pierrot.

Thanks to Pierrot, I am reminded that there are STILL beauty and blessings in my life, here in this wonderful and magical place called New York City.

About the Author

Félix Garmendía

Félix Garmendía

"I was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico in the 60s. Living in Puerto Rico, and growing up there was a bumpy process. I was very aware of my homosexual identity at a very early age, so fighting the stigma was a very intense journey in my native island.

I love art. The Ponce Art Museum was my shelter since I was in high school. As my first job ever, I guided bilingual tours for locals and tourists from all over the world.

In high school, I was introduced to music and theater, after that, I chose to pursue a B.A. in theater at the U.P.R. ( University of Puerto Rico ). Rio Piedras campus.

In college, I discovered many things about myself. My sexual identity became established, my religious beliefs changed dramatically and my awareness of my role in society became the first and biggest challenge of my life. I became a proud gay man, an atheist and an activist. The political climate in Puerto Rico was very far away from recognizing any kind of gay rights so I knew that I needed a community that I could call my own, and be myself. After several years in Puerto Rico, in my twenties, I moved to N.Y.C. to pursue a Master’s Degree in Art Education and Art Criticism at New York University. I decided to stay in Manhattan. Here I found myself. I discovered my passions, causes to fight for, and the strong community that I always dreamed of. I became a passionate man with strong convictions.

After graduation I became a N.Y.C. school teacher. I taught art in the South Bronx, Spanish Harlem and Upper Manhattan for 15 years.

Sometime in my twenties, I was exposed to HIV. I tested HIV-positive and after a serious depression, came out strong and victorious. I became an AIDS activist. My passions in life became the gears that fed energy into my existence.

Very early in my N.Y.C. years, I became a staunch liberal. All my causes were related. I was trying to survive in a world where not everybody cared if I did or not. Politics made clear who cared for me as a human being.

That’s why I’m very vocal about my postings. Not because I want to convince anybody, but I do it for those who, like me, once needed some direction in life. I want to share the "real" me with those friends with similar beliefs or at least respect for my beliefs.

Today, I still live in Manhattan. I’m legally married to my husband Denis Beale and I’m disabled. My life is not easy, I have several health related conditions that are a real challenge these days. This bring me to another one of my causes. From personal experience, I believe in the legalization of cannabis (marijuana). 

I consider myself a loving, compassionate and spiritual person. I have no patience for bigotry, especially the kind of sanctimonious bigotry that wraps itself in prayer and fake compassion.

This is a synopsis of who I am. It would be really helpful to start introducing myself with my favorite warning. Warning: I’m human, far from perfect, passionate about life, the pursue of difficult answers, and the conviction that we are all equal."

Felix has been featured in The Huffington Post’s Queer Voices; see the piece here

You can follow Felix on Facebook here or here, on twitter @PozHeart and also on Instagram, here.

Canadian Positive People Network/Reseau canadienne des personnes seropositives
Canadian Positive People Network/Reseau canadienne des personnes seropositives
GMRC
CATIE
The Village Pharmacy