December 9, 2023 | Rome, Italy


By |2018-03-21T20:03:04+01:00September 20th, 2016|First Person|
Drinks at the Moulin Rouge, perhaps?

hen we were young, I’d always try to catch up to you. But you and our older brother were always faster, stronger and more agile. So, instead, I watched as you ran, rode your bike, swam, played baseball, made friends, and honed your talents.

You developed a quirky sense of humor, passed exams, and won awards. You grew up in front of my eyes. As the youngest of three children, I was destined to play the role of observer.

On this page is a reproduction of a print by French artists Toulouse-Lautrec. I think of you whenever I see it, and not just because my grandmother donated it to the Princeton Art Museum in your memory. We once learned how to ride horses together, and we rode fast, but that’s also not the reason.

I think of you because of the way the artist captures the galloping horse and the intent of the rider — all four of the horse’s hooves are suspended in the air as if suspended in time and space. The two riders propel forward, motivated, eager, hungry for life. They each want to win this particular race. The windmill in the distance seems to be their destination — drinks at the Moulin Rouge, perhaps?

Early in life, Toulouse-Lautrec often drew horses and dogs, but apparently his early interest in animals was revived only later on. This is the only print he ever completed of a racetrack scene. By then, the artist, though only in his mid-30s, was in declining health, in a hospital, with only the rare outing to the Bois de Boulogne and Longchamp tracks to inspire him.

I think of you every day. You were the bond between the three of us. You were kind and so very nerdy, at least at first, with those buckteeth and glasses. Then, as in a fairy tale, you grew into a good-looking, tall, strong, charming young man. You had dreams of working as a public interest lawyer, representing those who couldn’t afford expensive counsel. One day you might have hung up your shingle in a small countryside town. You would have been a great father and husband. Our kids would have played together.

But the fairy tale ended one night in Washington, D.C. in 1987. A teenager murdered you for the money in your wallet. You were on your way to meet a friend. You fought for your life. You were stronger than the boy. But he had a gun and shot you in the back of the head.

The Toulouse-Lautrec print reminds me of you because you, my dear brother, are suspended in time and space. You are here with me while at the same times absent. You are in our dreams and prayers. You will always be on the way to meet a friend; you will always be studying for your law school exams; you will always be the young man with long arms and legs, straight white teeth, a kind manner, and deep laugh. You will always be 22.

We others, meanwhile, continue to run the race of life. Round and round the track of time we go, sometimes with more impulse, often in a dreary routine. Each year has two anniversaries: your birthday and your death. Each year, on those occasions, we talk to each other about you and cry. We move forward, but a part of us has hasn’t moved at all. Today I remember you by writing, tilting at the windmills in the hopes that I can defeat some of the sadness that endures.

About the Author:

Stransky lives Tuscany and wrote the "La Una" column between 2014 and 2017.