you wouldn’t know by looking at me, but unhappiness shielded me from the truth of my decline (and rain made my hair flip up at the ends until i looked like putti in a baroque drawing room.) living in chicago had sapped the golden hues from my hair, my face, my arms, and lost then too was the thin gold leaf of my hairy legs. instead of a halo of gold to shimmer around me when i was standing in the moonlight, now i was pale and drawn with a smudge of burnt sienna in the shadows, the color of a red wine reduction (and everyone else.)
when you get that look from someone that pricks your soul and acts as a light shone on the deep recesses, the nooks and crannies (just like thomas’s english muffins), the far shores (cue the violins — is it violins you hear when your life turns dramatic? i’m not sure that’s true of my life, although i do believe string instruments are involved, but more likely cellos or bass viols) of things you may not even be aware of exist within you, but you know that they know something important when they give you that look. it’s not a side-eye look, no, they look directly at you. in my experience (it’s happened to me twice), their eyes were dark, one black, the other’s brown; their depth a portent of knowledge, and perhaps tinged with confusion and resignation, a rainbow of emotions reflected in a second. i’ve carried that knowledge that they knew who i was before i did deep inside me all these years; one of them is lost to me, the other, when i mentioned it to him, could not recall the moment. but i know he knew then what i could not even put words to just by the look on his face. that then before i admitted to myself what some knew all along. (and conversely, it could be the guilt and weight of my secret lust for them that has been the burden.)
and for a few years then in the fall of 1973 after i said out loud, “i’m gay” (perhaps to no one in particular; friends, surely, but you didn’t need to ask me to know the truth, really) i struggled to find my way among the new rules–were there any you might wonder, and yet it was as complex as that owner’s manual that comes in several languages, none of which you speak.
jimmy made me move into his high-rise apartment building on pine grove after i was robbed at gun-point late in 1974, with its secure entry and anonymity, in contrast to the courtyard building on surf street, where you could gain access so easily and the retributive nature of human beings had scared me so. and suddenly then, there i was in a modern building with a wall of glass that looked west toward the great plains, as smokestacks and water towers set sail for the evening light and that carpet of light at your feet should you be so inclined to walk off the edge of the balcony (thought of it, but didn’t act on it), a shimmering shag carpet of indeterminate depth.
so you see me standing there, misty gaze turned toward the west, photographed by my favorite photographer, the one who had claimed his heterosexuality as inviolate, but who loved me nonetheless–you can see the love in the photographs he took of me (clothed, costumed, or partially nude) during those years we were friends in a big city at the edge of a great lake. (and as happens, turns out he was gay after all–and i wonder what would have been had he been ready when i was. too, he was my first manic-depressive. had i been that aware at the time, i may have been able to…no, i must accept that i could not have saved him. )
you might, by now, have recognized that i’m roaming a bit from one topic to another and that is by design, my life then caromed from one trick to another (sexual liaison for the more delicate among you), never really connecting and of course, the missed opportunities–young men, friends, signalling in their own way a readiness, a willingness to lay down beside me, to hold me, to love me, to make love to me, to wake up beside me, to shower with me, to eat breakfast, make coffee, dress, and make the bed together. and me blind to it all.
john l. sitting on my sofa in his jockey shorts after a night of drinking and carousing in straight bars (his side of the world) legs spread looking at me, we’re talking and smoking pot and kools, drinking more beer and he gets up and crosses the room headed toward the john, but stops at the chair i’m sitting in and takes my chin in his hand and turns my face toward his and just looks at me with a smirk on his face, shakes his head and walks into the bathroom; next thing i hear is him snoring on the bed behind me in the sleeping alcove, passed out. there was no embarrassment the next morning and we continued to see each other without ever saying a word about what might have been. (and it’s true, it may have been nothing, but it’s stuck with me all these years–and truly i can see him today as clearly as if it were then, black hair falling into his blue eyes, that big nose, and those white jockeys so close to my drunken tongue.)
the sexual relationships that did arise were fucked from the start with expectations unmet, questions of behavior unasked (that damned rule book that no one could translate); bruce at the belden-stratford with his unusual living arrangement that i never fully understood and me saying no, but giving in and hating it, that cruel look on his face the one that lays on top of his angelic head shots (an actor–never date an actor.) joey, stealing $100.00 from my wallet after a night of wild sex, but worse than the money was him drinking the last of the milk before he left me asleep on my island of a bed, sheets tied around my thighs and pillows on the floor, the window blinds shot up and the afternoon sun heating the studio like a terrarium.
and in this hothouse of my own creation lay my relationship with jimmy (read “bl_nd ambition“, for a full understanding), and him deciding and declaiming to anyone who would listen, “miss robert is a psychic bitch, mind your shit around her or she’ll read your future.” which. is more than likely true, but only because of my pragmatic understanding of other human’s lives. of course, i was never able to apply that magical ability to my own life. the darkness of my need shielding my eyes from what clearly must have been obvious to any fool on the street.
it’s sounds silly, of course, but really all i wanted was to be loved for who i was and i hadn’t found out who that was yet–so who did i expect to commit to me when i had no idea who that person was or what he may have wanted from a lover. (i had enough friends, ask anyone.) i didn’t want for friends, i wanted the love of one man. who that man was, would be, could be (i call on the conditional subjunctive: what would be if the antecedent were true.)
and t. would say, “poor bobpatrick, so unlucky in love,” and she was right of course, but i kept playing (it is like the lottery: you have to play to win.) as best i could i made the apartment a home, art hung on the walls, plants grew to great excess (swedish ivy potted and sitting in the lamp well of an old floor lamp fixture that i’d picked up at second-hand store, painted gold; it grew so large that the floor lamp all but disappeared), my books lined up along the window sill (i rarely closed the blinds, living my life in this, what did i call it a few paragraphs back, a terrarium, yes it was all that. and to my eyes it seemed to be reasonable bait, but it was not enough at this time in my life when gay men were fucking themselves silly; who would want to settle down when there were sexual opportunities everywhere you looked, downtown, uptown, didn’t matter, it was all boy’s town.
but i could not see that. the armature that i had built to hold the clay of my gay life at that time kept collapsing under the weight of my unhappiness. and like giacometti, i would pare away the clay with my fingers so that only the armature would show, i did not have the brother who would steal into my studio at night and remove my work before i had destroyed it.