Tuesday, July 6, 2010

RIP Giovanni Russo

Obit: Giovanni Russo, 45 - Media News - WWD.com
it is sometimes pathetic how weak and human i am.

i thought saw my friend giovanni russo's name as i turned the page of wwd today. i thought i imagined it: "giovanni russo, 45."

i had to turn the page back and read it three more times before i believed it. "giovanni russo died after a long battle with cancer..." he had three kids. i remember his wife florence, pregnant with their oldest son, alex, while i was pregnant with rara.

for a second, i felt like my head was going to explode.

there, but for the grace of god, go i.

when giovanni first moved to nyc, we worked together feverishly on pitches. he was smart, funny and super-talented. he had a single desk he rented in a modelling agency in a huge warehouse office space. in the following years, i watched him fly past me in his career, perhaps with a slight degree of envy, but mostly with a sense that it was absolutely the right thing to happen because of his clever ability to turn things on their heads. i'd give him words and ideas and he'd come back with incredible visual interpretations that took the work to the next level.

when i saw the obituary, i suddenly remembered walking with him to the elevator of my building, zarina was a toddler then (now she's 5'9") and she ran after him because she liked his tin-tin watch. he looked at her and said, "i'm looking forward to having one of those one of these days." i think he might have shown me a very small picture of florence then. maybe i imagined that and he just told me about her.

today, i made sasha and zarina get dressed and we walked through the searing, surreal heat to his apartment. it's just a few blocks from ours, across a vast, uncovered pedestrian bridge that makes the heat shimmer still more on its metal and concrete frame.

their street is a deserted cobblestone square, cut-off from the rest of tribeca.

the apartment was cool and festive as a summer wedding. lots of people in black but it's nyc and everyone wears black. there is beautifully-catered food. flowers everywhere, lovely cakes, even a surfboard covered with red and white roses. my post-chemo brain doesn't remember what florence looks like so i had to make my way through the guests asking someone to introduce me.

there is a pretty three year-old stealing grapes from a fruit plate. she must be giovanni's youngest child.

florence is blond, french and lovely in a pale pink silk shirt. i open my mouth, "i'm an old friend of giovanni's," but i choke and my voice slips back down my throat. "please, please call me if i can do anything. even if you just want to talk...my daughters can babysit." my eyes filled with tears, i hug her. and i try to step away before i destroy her composure by disintegrating into a pool of emotion.

i wonder if this is what my apartment would have been like. who would have come, of my friends and colleagues? someone keeps saying to us, "please stay and have some lunch, have some cake. there's so much food." she told me her name, but my brain can't retain it. there is so much food. it looks gorgeous. my mouth is so dry i can't imagine swallowing any of it. when i bite into it, it will turn to cardboard.

i'm ashamed that i can't manage to stay or talk to anyone. i should have spoken to his children, to his parents, to his sisters. sasha and zarina wanted to leave.

we walked back home the sun burning like hell on the backs of our arms and legs.

why do some of us stay and some of us go?


  1. Only God can answer this, Ameena. But YOU are still here. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend and colleague.

  2. so sad. I worked with giovanni many times and adored him. Just finding out now, and so upset.