Posts Tagged ‘love
this morning when the alarm rang it woke me up in the middle of a dream that i was robert motherwell’s studio assistant/biographer (last night before i fell asleep i had been reading about richard ellman, james joyce’s and oscar wilde’s biographer) and motherwell was finishing one of his monumental black and white paintings and it was all black except for at the very right edge where the black overlapped a block of white that had been painted to look like the edge of a sheet of deckled paper laid over a narrow section of black, and as that was revealed to me, i said, “that bastard.”
i assign no meaning to the above paragraph.
i am a compulsive obituaries reader. today, there was a lengthy paid obit about the life and times of a 94 year-old man. one paragraph, as they are, was devoted to his survivors and those who had predeceased him. those who had gone before were a sister and a son, ronald. then the list of survivors began, it included his second (loving) wife, children from both marriages and their spouses, grandchildren (11) and great-grandchildren (unnamed, but numbered, there were 18), [numerous] nieces, nephews (one named kieron, singled out for some reason), and the coup de grace: peter paul rubens (not his real name), the deceased’s son’s partner (italics mine).
i thought that was sweet, charming, progressive, and a sign, perhaps, that even in death, love is universal.
my partner (left, below) and i have been together for 30 years today.
i can clearly recall the first time i saw you; standing against the wall at the bushes on halsted in your suit, tie undone, its knot playing peek-a-boo with a thatch of dark chest hair. that smile you gave me. then standing between my outstretched legs, did we kiss?
a week later, our first date, seated at the wooden picnic table at the back of halsted street fish market (so much of our lives in chicago took place on halsted they should name it after us — and you and you and you and you, you know who you are–and of course, the ghosts that haunt any love story that started in 1982), my friend joyce, the owner’s wife, sitting with us, her little girl rasp and giggle smoothing over any awkwardness there might have been.
but there wasn’t much, was there? we fell together and in love quite naturally, an “as if it were meant to be” moment if ever there were one. i laugh now at how you received a full body immersion with my friends; ralph and the french deaf theater group just a couple of weeks later — taking over your apartment as you and i discovered just how small my little attic hideaway really was. but it didn’t matter, did it?
i believe we kissed. a lot. (there’s more, of course, but this isn’t that kind of story.) and we may have kissed some more, and held each other, and smoked a cigarette or two (or a pack, who remembers?) we drank wine, beer, cocktails–you a scotch, me a tequila gimlet — there were times when even that seemed unnecessary, the joy of being with each other a completely lovely high all its own.
you taught me about the ‘do-nothing’ vacation, which i took as my birthright, and who knew getting naked on a beach could be so much fun? (what? you’ve never? darling, trust me, you absolutely must do it at least once, somewhere where you can go swimming in warm clear blue water, with white sand, a palm tree leaning from the tradewinds, it is to die for.) but had it not been for you i may have never had that experience.
we bought a house. that golden brick bungalow just north of pratt blvd. and i would walk to the touhy station to take the train downtown in the winter, and it never got tiresome, although i do think that summer’s were worse, that walk a sweat factory, suit, dress shirt soaked through, but i loved our home and our yard, and nicky in his kiddie pool playing with the water squirting out of the hose, and the clematis; oh god, do you remember that strip of earth between the sidewalk and our neighbor’s driveway that we planted with a gazillion bulbs and seasonal perennials that made it the most beautiful one foot wide strip of earth you’d ever seen. crocus, tulips, daisies, asters, and mums. iris, roses, and the vegetable garden, such bounty. just like our love.
our careers took off, you got into the art biz; we had an opportunity to live in paradise–your family came to visit and all of the wonderful friends we made there…and speaking of friends, have we not been lucky? all these years later and we still have so many: cheryl & sophia, bill & ralph, rosie and sister arlene, lenny, barbara, and joe, vicki, patricia & corey, sally and our dear charlotte, charlie & jerry; oh i know i’ll forget someone, so i better stop by saying we love you all, thank you for being a part of our life.
and now, we find ourselves here, warm and dry, loved by billy and joey; each of us with a lot less hair and a few more pounds, but here, together, and that counts for something, doesn’t it? i know it’s not always easy, but we always hang in there, find a way to make it all work.
thirty years. ain’t it grand?
nothing happened. the snail made its way slowly across the sidewalk, ignoring the leaf i had placed in its way, and leaving behind it its silvery trail of slime. there are times in the late afternoon when the sun is just so in the sky that the sidewalks shimmer with snail’s trails, beautiful silvery ribbons of goo with little breaks every few inches where the snail has pulled up and off the sidewalk in order to move itself forward. at night they congregate in a mosh pit of snail love, all one upon the other; if you’re very still you can hear henry rollins and black flag just before he throws himself shirtless off the stage into the arms of his raving fans [although that may be my memory of seeing them perform at the mud club in chicago in 198_, but whatever. --author]
this is how i like to remember my mother, the time when i was most in love with her, when i did not know that i would become a stranger to her in just a couple of years (the pupal stage on the path to adulthood, the destruction of the past in order to become the future–you did know that ‘pupa’ is latin for ‘doll’–confirmation that this time is a special one.) it is the time when boys are closest to their mothers; they’re growing up, but they’re still a child. a balance between one, being a man and the other, a child, that only occurs this one time in their lives and it is the time that i cherish the most.
i’ve always felt that this period coincided with the second flowering of my mother’s beauty, the other time being in her late teens, so long ago that i don’t think she believed it had happened, if she did she would have never admitted it, at least not out loud. she was modest about her beauty, although i would catch her sometimes pushing her hair up off her neck in the way women do when assessing their looks, judging the length of their neck and how it delicately holds their head, just so.
when i remember my mother during these few years before our estrangement (this break did not dim our love for one another, but it did shift the balance of power ever so slightly; i would find her looking at me as if i were an alien, the look accompanied — or perhaps tempered by — a sense of wonder at the mysteries of raising a child and perhaps those teen years are exactly that: your child becomes a stranger living in your house, you, the parent, of course, still love them, but it takes more energy, perhaps even a more thoughtful approach to navigate and guide your charge), i see her tall and thin; i had definite ideas about how she should dress, or what clothes she possessed that were my favorite. she was kind enough to ask my opinion as if it mattered to her.
at this particular moment, she’s wearing what i considered the look that most resembled her character, how i felt about her and what she meant to me at that time. it was a cowgirl/ranch wife-typical-day-on-the-spread-outfit (barbara stanwyck in ‘the big valley’ on tv): white shirt with pearl buttons and french cuffs, with her beautiful navajo turquoise, coral, and silver thunderhead pin positioned just below her throat (the part that men like to kiss and little boys like to lay their heads against. women must like how that feels otherwise why would they advertise its availability so often?) with gabardine slacks, the front pockets cut square, a leather belt with a silver tip, and boots.
she walked differently when she was dressed this way, it was more confident, less feminine, not that she lost her ability to flirt when she wore these clothes, but i know that she felt more on equal footing with men when she did. as her boy-child i had no choice but to admire (perhaps emulate) this change in her character based on what she was wearing; a lesson you might be inclined to store for future use. it is what learning is all about, is it not? the ability to process and consume information for its possible future use, use that comes naturally, sometimes even as a surprise, “how did i know that?” you might even ask yourself ten, twenty years later.
sometimes it was hard for me to share her. clouds would storm my face when someone would get between us, these shadows of emotions flying low over the prairie-colored face of a spoiled child so quickly and so harshly i often lost my breath, my balance, my mind. my mercurial nature embarrassed me, but it seemed, at the time, that it was something i had no control over and perhaps i might not have wanted to have control over it–that lack of control was a knife that i could wield with surgeon-like precision, not that it was premeditated, i don’t believe i would have thought to be that manipulative, but the results usually benefited me in some way, enough to make my tongue hang out in anticipation of the bell, pavlov.
this time and place then; we are at the stratobowl, outside of rapid city. the date tells me that mary is still living with us, but i’m not sure that mary is taking this photograph. it’s not that there weren’t many happy times with mary; we’re often photographed in full-throated laughter, mouths open, teeth showing, the sheen of pleasure sparkling in our eyes during the years she and my mother lived together. as serious as mary was about preparing for life, or what life might throw at you, she also was a prankster, her honking laugh one i still hear (should i stop and listen for it.) but it’s just as likely that it was just me and my mother alone, having asked a stranger to take our picture with our little brownie box camera, a certain freedom allowed in front of someone you may never meet again.
“shall we go for a drive?” my mother would ask after sunday dinner (the one day of the week we had our ‘big’ meal at midday, a habit that her mother and step-father always observed every day of the week, a light supper served later in the evening). and we’d pile into the car and head out into the hills with no destination in mind. oh someone might say, “let’s go out old highway 16 up to the lake and back,” or “we haven’t been down to hermosa lately, let’s go see what’s doing down there.” these excursions a time for talking about school, friends, family, or nothing at all, just a time to be together without having a responsibility to anyone but ourselves. it is the blessing of being an only child of a single parent.
i did not know that i had already used up one third of my time with my mother in 1962. what child at that age considers the future? it is too large to comprehend and the past is too small to bear its weight. it is enough to manage your now; it may be the one time in your life when you are living in the moment. (there is, of course, that nasty thing called “learning the lesson that your actions have consequences” which becomes a more frequent refrain at this point in your life, only because you are beginning to have just the slightest interest in the future as it applies to your comfort. ) and so this moment is now, when a mother and her son shared their love for each other and stopped it forever with a photograph.
i’m one of the lucky ones. i could have said, “i guess i’m one of the lucky ones”, but guessing has nothing to do with it. when a statement is preceded by “i guess” it implies inevitability, resignation, a sense of fait accompli, fate; as if the other party, the one that changed your luck, your hand suddenly full of aces, had nothing to do with your happiness, existence, being. so, no, i was right to not write “i guess” — a qualifier — in front of “i’m one of the lucky ones.
but i am one of the lucky ones. when you read the letter my mother wrote to my father’s sister on the occasion of the birth of her third daughter (nine months my junior), you’ll begin to understand how parents, proud as they are of their accomplishment, still only consider the one outcome: their child will be just like them. there will be no variation from the script, no ad lib, no scat, no flourish, no extra color, you will be just like them. at that young age, they are already defining the roles they naturally assume you’ll play (acting not yet your thing.)
what happens then when, one day–let’s say when you’re five or six, eight or nine, twelve or thirteen–the sudden realization hits them, you are not quite fitting the mold they had prepared themselves for you to fit into? they most likely will set this discovery aside, for who could think such a thing of a young child? they’ll adopt a wait-and-see attitude, their minds racing back to the beginning of your time; what signs did they miss, what roadside attractions did they drive right by with you sitting in the seat next to them? “impossible,” they’ll tell themselves; “this is just a phase,” they’ll reason; “why, there’s just no way that this difference could be true,” they’ll whisper to themselves as they turn their steely-blue gaze in your direction as you sit at the piano practicing your scales.
you, on the other hand, will continue on your way, blithely ignoring the scrutiny suddenly directed at your every move, thought, consideration; you might even think “what’s up with them?” in the most abstract of ways, “parents” you’ll harrumph should you be of an age to harrumph, and shut your bedroom door to read by the open window this one summer, the smell of honeysuckle and the click-clacking of cicadas your balm against the abrasion of their fear (should it manifest itself in the sudden “let’s go hunting!” or “it’s time you learned how to change the oil in the car!” or “you’ll need to dig 50 post holes for the new fence we’re putting up [around your life] the backyard.”)
i was one of the lucky ones. for, in spite of every attempt to ‘make me a normal boy’ — all of which failed, btw — my difference was never a topic of discussion between my mother and i. regardless of the drama of being a gay child in a straight world and there is a lot of drama, i knew i was loved and that made all the difference. parents are you listening? it’s such a simple idea, you’ll be surprised you hadn’t thought of it sooner. i never felt i had to ‘come out’ to my mother and i never said the words, “i’m gay” to her. and for her part in this existential little stage play (so much waiting, so little arriving), she never asked, she never pushed, well, okay, maybe once or twice she might have said, “do you have a special girl?” or “i’d like to have grandchildren one day”, but it was always done with such a light touch of amusement, that i never considered it a disappointment to her when i replied, “no, i’m lucky just to have you.”
Würzburg, 16 Nov.
Dear June & 1,2,3,4.
It’s early in the morning. & I must go to commissary so will dash this off so I can mail it. We were so glad to hear you finally had a big baby girl. Of course, we were all for a boy, but girls are so sweet & nice. Butchie is sweet, but he’s so masculine. Right now he’s feeling pretty sorry for himself–he has a terrible cold–it’s loose–thank Heaven–but his nose runs & I know he feels miserable. He has 5 teeth & is trying to get more & of course that makes him fussy. He is so big he’s a handful to care for. I’m going to call the Dr. & see if he wants to see him or if there is something I can do more for him here at home.
Got a lovely big package from Mom the other day. All the little packages are wrapped so pretty & look so Christmasy. Seems like I can’t get the spirit until her package comes, but she sends it so early it’s an awful strain to have those mysterious packages around so long & not be able to peek.
Lee finally got home from school — he was gone 5 weeks & only home once in that time. It seemed like years. He is going back for advanced training but I’m praying today that he can’t go ’till January. ‘Today is the day he’ll find out for sure. He left me the car today so I can finish my shopping & get my packages off. I know 15th was supposed to be the deadline, but I never can quite make it. Surely hope you don’t feel you have to dash around & work yourself into a fit to send us a box–after all you’ve just had a new baby & if you just send Best Wishes we’ll understand & be perfectly happy. We’re not putting out much this year–even one baby is added expense–don’t know what we’d do with 3.
My little guy just messed his pants so had better stop & get him cleaned up & my house looks like a cyclone struck it–it always does on Mon. morn.
We have a parakeet who chirps loud & long & Robert Lee sits 10 minutes at a time & shakes his head at him. It’s funny.
Love to you all–send pictures & data–name, etc.
Evelyn & family.
they were smiling at me, so close i thought i could reach out and touch them. their love emanating from their smiles in visible waves of air (a distortion of my psyche); i ached for it to be true, although i knew that it was only a dream and that they were long gone from my life and this reality. i like it when they come to visit, but i always wonder what they want when they do. what can it mean when they seem so alive, but i know that they are dead?
sir gawain and his pursuit of the green knight came to my consciousness without warning or prompting, they were just there last night at around 9:17 pm pst. it wasn’t an unpleasant visit, even though it has been more than 4_ years (yes, that is a 4 in front of that underscore, it is there because memory is like that) since i had met them. all things camelot were the rage, we were all reading t.h. white’s “the once and future king.” why i do not know. i liked gawain, his honor, his fears, his duplicity, and his redemption. its alliterative verse underscoring (in a john williams movie score kind-of-way) the valor and the grandeur of the court of arthur. did my thoughts of gawain prompt the visit this morning, just before waking, of my smiling, lovely friends? i do not know, but today i believe i will let them accompany me, their love my knight-in-shining-armor.
p.s. my interview at artist career training is up.
if, as freud believes, that only in our minds can the past and the present coexist, that there is no true forgetting, that every experience leaves a discoverable trace, that every memory of another person is partly a self-portrait (shredded as it may be by time, trauma, love), then this is how i want to remember my father: smelling of gasoline, cut grass and the sweat of a humid summer afternoon in springfield; happy, proud, and with a loving smile, maybe even a little goofy as he is, having conquered the lawn, his army-booted foot atop the spoils of the grass wars, triumphant, a souvenir of his prowess, skill, masculinity. (even the lawnmower is in on the fantasy, grinning as it is with its grill of metal teeth from rubber-tired ear to rubber-tired ear.)
this memory is wish-fulfillment at its worst and an outright lie at its best. the few memories of my father that i have been able to dredge up from my childhood that are not based on photographs or what other people have told me over the years (at least the few years when i was interested enough to ask about him) are pleasing, warm, loving. but there is always the undercurrent of anger, abandonment, violence (supplied as it is by the adults refusal to discuss his goodness, the goodness that you can see for yourself in the photo. it is the image of man who loves someone, is it not? as a child, life is not seen in the grays that adults do, it is always black & white, good or bad.)
would his nurturing, such as it might have been, changed my nature? it’s not easy to imagine the difference his presence in my life may have had on the person that i am or that i was. i have to believe that there would have been friction as my nature exerted itself even as my desire to emulate him smothered my instincts, my sense of identity, my not being his idea of what a son should be.
his father loved me. as gentle a soul, as patient as job, generous, understanding, complicit in the life of the grandchildren around him, and from the photographic memories left for me to divine, the same with his own son. why then, i have to ask, was my own father’s influence denied me? what about him went wrong? and here, now, it comes to mind: could my mother have been wrong? although that seems doubtful based on the reports from the field…particularly after his return from vietnam…but even before then, he exhibited a dark side — discussed here — that seems to indicate she was not.
of course, it’s all “what if?” what if we had had a relationship, in spite of the divorce? what if summers had been spent with dad? what if he had sent me a card congratulating me on good grades or some other achievement? what if we had gone fishing, hunting or he had taught me car maintenance/repair (although mary was a fine substitute for some of these steps on the ladder to manhood)?
is it my failure as a writer that i cannot even imagine how his influence may have affected my life? men were such foreign objects to me when i was growing up (inclusive of uncles and grandfathers, they were all too removed, either emotionally or geographically to have had any measurable impact) that trying to fathom their contribution to the life learning education of a child seems too fantastical to consider. i look now at friends and co-workers who are fathers and i can clearly see the what and the how, the character stamp, the moral guidance, the humor, the sadness, the triumph and the failure of their influence on their children. (some more successful than others, some got it right sooner, no need to practice on the first child and succeed with second where they failed with the first.)
and then there’s this: i know no father of a gay child. how easy would it be to accept that difference as a man, a father? does having a gay child kill your dreams of a legacy, a future, a future where you exist as part of another human being? your quest for immortality snuffed out by a chromosome. oh yes, i know you’re reading this, you liberals, you enlightened ones, and thinking, “it would matter not, hetero- or homo-sexual, i would love them equally the same.” but i challenge you to dig deep and not find that little bit of regret that is hanging around like a cough that you just can’t squelch. (“ahem,” he interjected.)
i would never have looked as eager to be camping with a bunch of strange boys as my father does in this photo. my social awkwardness with heterosexual men at that age (let’s say he’s 12 or 13) was a disability and immediately hung a big fat sign around my neck that read, “not like you”.
oh, i know you’re out there, the gay boys and men who fit as naturally into the hetero world as if there were no difference (or you’ve convinced yourself that you do), but there are many of us who never felt that way growing up. adult life experience does change you, obviously. i do believe i can hold my own in a group of straight men, but i still lack the knowledge of the secret handshake, the code words, the key that opens the door to “hey buddy, wassup?” said in all earnestness, care and brotherly love.
the disappointment then. there is plenty of it. i never called him ‘dad’. if i called him anything as a child, it was probably some derivative of poppa. the only opportunity that i had to address him as an adult, we settled on lee, his christian name and that only came haltingly from my lips; i avoided calling him by name, if i needed his attention i waited until he was looking at me. we spoke hardly at all, the uncomfortableness of being in each other’s company a shroud, a winding sheet. he tried then, during that short period of time, to exert his influence over me, but i ignored it and did as i pleased without a comment from him. and then i left and he left and we left it at that.
it makes me cry. i don’t feel cheated, i’m not angry, i received a huge gift of love from my mother, my grandmothers, from mary and from my mother’s last husband, roy. i am not advocating for the traditional family; i think children can be raised to be loving, caring, contributing members of society by single mothers, fathers, gay couples and any other permutation of ‘family’ as long as there is love in their hearts, but i do feel the loss of the “what if i’d had a dad?” for good or for bad, however it may have played out.