May is Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month. I didn’t know much about cystic fibrosis until I met Bill Fiscaletti, many years ago. He attended the same high school as my husband. The two were introduced through their art teacher and became friends. When I came on the scene a few years later, Bill was a pretty brilliant painter and actively involved with community theater. We’d come to his plays and meet afterward for dinner. When he talked about CF it was mainly to rage about medical funding and why AIDS got all the research money when there were more kids dying from CF. Otherwise, he treated it as a fact of his life. Sometimes he had to go for treatments, sometimes he got sick, and my husband visited him in the hospital. Sure, he coughed, but after a while you just got used to it, waited until he was done, and continued the conversation. Bill was just Bill, not a guy with a disease.
Yet without having known Bill, I might have never written Drawing Breath. Heck, he’s one of the reasons I keep writing fiction. He was one of my heroes, although I never told him. If I had, he probably would have laughed and changed the subject. He believed in doing art, not talking about art, and he didn’t consider himself a hero. Despite having cystic fibrosis and being in pretty rough shape at times, he just went about his business, did his breathing therapy, took his medication, and poured his passion into the activities and people he loved, even though he was already way past his “expiration date.”
We silly humans can put blinders on when looking at people with horrible chronic diseases. As if they’re saints or something. Bill was flawed, like all of us. Human, like all of us. He could have a temper, especially when he sensed he was being humored or pitied. He blew deadlines. He spaced on details, which led to sometimes sad and sometimes comical results. For reasons I could never fathom even though he explained it to me (patiently) dozens of times, he was a big fan of professional boxing and especially Muhammad Ali. But he could also be sweet and thoughtful and kind, often when you least expected it. He never had a real girlfriend, and that made me horribly sad, because he had so much to give and was so infinitely lovable. Maybe that’s also one of the reasons I wrote this book. But muses work in funny ways. As the character of Daniel became less Bill and more Daniel, the love I wanted to give him became more complicated, more demanding, more human.
Drawing Breath is dedicated to Bill, although he’d probably tell me to stop talking about him and get back to work. So I do. I put my head down and write another novel, and another, and another.
I think you did Bill proud.
Thanks! I hope so!
Amen to what Laurie said. Too often we forget to pay tribute to those who make a difference in our lives. Check out my post May 7th on Indies Unlimited for another tribute.
I will, Yvonne! Thanks!
Bill was my uncle on my father’s side, my father is Anthony. Not sure if you met him. I always wanted to meet my uncle Billy, since I am the artist in my family’s generation, and I feel like he would have been my favorite uncle if we had met. I could have learned so much from him. Thank you for writing this.
Katharin, thank you, and it’s so wonderful to hear from you! I may have met your uncle at the funeral, but I’m sorry, I don’t remember. Your Uncle Billy was an incredible person. My husband (also an artist) and I were lucky to know him. It’s great you’re keeping up the tradition.
Maybe you did. Most call him “Tony”, he was the oldest in the family. I’ve been told Uncle Billy was fun-loving and loved playing baseball with my oldest sisters, Andria and Alicia. We probably would have had a lot in common. 🙂
I bet you would have had a lot in common! I know he loved baseball. And was a big Yankees fan. I was just talking with my husband about him and he reminded me that your uncle loved to do goofy things like leave celebrity impressions on our answering machine. I’m also very glad I got to see him on stage. He was a really good actor and got so deep into it that he never coughed during a performance.
I knew Billy when he was here with us. He was, just as you described him, a very kind and normal guy. He was my brother-in law. He was the one guy that would spend time teaching my kids baseball in his moms back yard. We all loved him very much.
I was privileged to have seen a couple of his plays. He was so good at taking on the part that I had to study the actor closely just to find Billy.
I haven’t read your book yet but I’m sure one of my kids will, now.
Thanks for posting! 🙂
I was Bill’s oldest brother Tony. I remember Bill and his best friend Joe Morgan being obsessed with Star Trek and Planet of the Apes. They used to make audio tapes of their adventures and do all the voices themselves. Bill also did EXCELLENT oil paintings of all the Star Trek characters and he also went to Star Trek conventions to sell his artwork there. He also did everyone from Micky Mantle to Jackie Gleason to Muhammed Ali. He even did comission work for the Chicago Bulls during the era of Michael Jordan and did one of him. He was VERY passionate about everything he did. I do miss him and love him.
I did a number of plays with Bill, and he was a great actor. I don’t have a lot of footage of those times, but I have some, posted on youtube at this link…
Joe, thank you so much for posting this. Oh. So wonderful.