I've been trying to find a good picture of my friend, Billy Gillen, to put on the site this week. It hasn't been an easy task. I've been going through a plastic bin full of old pictures. We're talking pre-children here, so I'm sifting through 14+ years of poorly marked photo envelopes.
Why take on this task, you say? Who is Billy G., you may ask? He was a wonderful friend, a great juggler and runner, a self-styled "balloonatic" and he died way too young (35) from stomach cancer.
The reason I started this search was that yesterday marked the 14th anniversary of the first bombing of the World Trade Center. The bombing happened to occur the day after our friend Billy passed away. I can't keep dates in my head well, but the anniversary of events can send me back to a moment in time. The crazy thing is, Billy G. was very connected in my mind to the World Trade Center. He once sneaked into the stairwell to try to break a record for running to the top. My first thought when I saw the bombing was, "Gee, Billy dies and look what happens. The whole world goes crazy."
More than once, Billy G. ran in the NYC marathon while juggling 5 balls. He encouraged my husband and I to street perform, giving us time at his space in front of the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. He would go to dumps in the middle of the night to practice double whip cracking tricks. When he visited for our "apartment warming," he let loose a bag full of helium balloons and made balloon hats for everyone. To coin a phrase used by my friend CarpeBanana, he was a "Geronimo" person. Most of all, he loved children and it's unfortunate he never settled down and had some of his own. He died while I was pregnant with Marina. I truly regret that none of my kids got to know this gifted clown. He was born to make others happy.
To illustrate: When Billy was in the hospital after some cancer treatment, he was being wheeled down a hall and ran into a little boy, also undergoing treatment. In a voice weak and scratchy he said to the boy, "You look like you could use a balloon hat." He proceeded to take out his balloons and with his family's help he pumped them up and twisted them into shape (he didn't have the strength to do this on his own). When it was set on the boy's head, Billy sat back in his wheelchair, his eyes wide and said, "Wow!"
Now I must go find a picture.
Ah ha! Here is Billy G.
Above is my dad modeling one of Billy's creations. You can tell they are kindred spirits.
We love you, Billy. We won't forget you.