I never asked her why she went to work as a telephone operator in Carlsbad, New Mexico.  It was the end of the Great Depression and she may have been between marriage #1 and marriage #2 or it could have been that she hadn’t even been married yet.  A young woman raised on the prairie out for an adventure is all that matters.  From what I could gather from her recollections (actually, only once, a recollection then) the high point was when she took a call from the actress Shelley Winters (Hollywood calling), “she was so nice,” she said.  Almost as an afterthought, she bought a few pieces of Navajo silver and turquoise jewelry, the Thunderhead pin in the photo and a silver floral bracelet and ring set with turquoise.  As a present just before I went off to college, she gave me the bracelet and the ring.

What I wanted and what I got. Tommy was everything I wanted in a boyfriend if only I could have articulated it better at the time–in fact if only I had had the words then.  He was a blond surfer dude before there were blond surfer dudes.  Tommy’s perfection (thick hairy chest and shoulder length blond curls, icy blue eyes, aquiline nose, perfect calves, and a pale white ass—the ass surreptitiously observed through the mist and steam of the dormitory’s communal showers—the chest on display whenever the mood struck him–he knew he had the power to seduce) conspired to keep my tongue knotted and the sound of my blood rushing from heart to toes drowning out anything he might be saying to me.

He was a show-off (bastard) anyway and he’d throw an arm over my shoulder at the most awkward of times, say when we were standing with only a towel around our waists in front of the dormitory bath’s mirrors shaving, brushing our teeth; he’d lean in and say something dirty about his latest conquest and I’d blush, stutter, and choke out a weak conspiratorial laugh–like I knew what he meant, thrilled that he would take me into his confidence while we were naked (nearly).   For all the same reasons I carried around with me, you will not be surprised to know that women fell all over him in the hope that he’d flash that Colgate smile at them (you could dine out on his smile alone for days — and for nights alone in your room under the covers.)

I gave him the turquoise bracelet.  What I thought it would gain me, I could only hope, imagine, and despair.  It changed not a thing, except that I could watch him wear it on his golden-haired wrist, his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows the better to show off his muscled forearms (a weakness of mine ever since) and know that I had given it to him and perhaps he’d catch me watching him and he’d shoot me a sly grin, like he knew my secret.   And then he’d slide down the hall with a girlfriend or group of friends off to a better party where there would be more dope and more people for him to thrill with his presence.  Yeah, he was a head turner.

A couple of years later, after my life changed so dramatically (the Goodman School, Chicago, coming out) I heard from a Minnesota friend that when Tommy found out I was gay, he’d said, “fucking faggot.”  She said he seemed to take some pleasure in cursing my name, which made me think that I got closer to him than I could have ever imagined at the time.  I hope he still has the turquoise bracelet and that when he looks at it, me with my goofy, embarrassed grin and lanky body wrapped in a towel pops unbidden into his mind’s eye, and in that fleeting second he wonders what might have been.


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© Robert Patrick, and Cultivar, 2008-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, photographs and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Patrick and Cultivar with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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