Shame and Regret: The Sting of Social Stigma

First posted in August 2012 Shame And Regret: The Sting of Social Stigma has more of a wallop five years later than four years earlier. We as a race must get something out of persecuting the disenfranchised and marginalized friends, family’s, lovers, idols, and heroes. Maybe we ought to look inside ourselves and find that kernel of fear. Then erase it. And then get back to being compassionate brothers and sisters.

 

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Why are we ashamed by what we do?  We do what we choose to do because we stand to gain something.  Yes, some people are forced, say at gun point, to compromise; some are coerced through drugs and alcohol; and yes, some actions are purely altruistic (ashamed of philanthropy?).  It’s my opinion that consciously withholding or denying or lying about our actions is caused by fear.  Not a generic fear, but a two-tier fear.  The first tier-fear: judgement by others is beyond your control; but the second tier-fear: consequence sits squarely in your lap, and which, by the way, you’d already equated as a potential cost of your unprecedented action.  We all know this simple truth: We have absolutely no control over the actions of others.  That said, we can remove the first tier-fear: judgement by others; we now find ourselves staring down the steely barrel of culpability: we encountered a situation, measured consequence against benefit, and toed the line or stepped across it.  So shame and regret were considered well before we pandered to our hunger, thirst, or warm body (emphasis on warm).

The best possible precursor to a mental illness diagnosis was, until 1973 its own mental illness: homosexuality.  Coming out as a gay man taught me the valuable lesson that there will be people who can’t distinguish between my sexual orientation (which places me in a specific group) and who I am (in general terms) as a fellow human being.  Having learned that lesson years ago I was well prepared to face similar discrimination based upon my mental orientation, i.e. mental illness, e.g. bipolar disorder.  And yet, what is there to be ashamed and regretful about?  Don’t carry the burden of Shame or wear the shackles of Regret; never apologize to anyone irritated by what you have, especially if what you have is a medically recognized disease.

Recently I conducted a thoroughly non-scientific giddy-up poll which asked: What diseases do you think you’d be ashamed to admit having?

Answers?  Anal warts, vaginal herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea. . .what?  Anal warts? Venereal diseases? According to our non-scientific poll of middle-aged men and women, they said that carrying a sexually transmitted disease is the only other human affliction besides mental illness that they would be ashamed of having and which also carries with it a damning social stigma.  STD’s are the result of risky and unsafe sexual activities engaged in by choice. Does mental illness really belong in their company? Really?

Shame and Regret are burdens that those who choose to remain ignorant and judgmental should shoulder.

Not me.  Not you.  And certainly not the neighbor, best friend, Richard Dreyfuss rdreyfuss2
parishioner, bowling buddy, Ryan Phillippe, phillippeprom date, recipient of the first kiss, Girl Scout, Teddy Roosevelt (yes, really), Girl Scout Leader, Sinéad O’Conner, full back,  Metta World Peace ,
mettapeace offensive line coach, movie star, Burgess Meredith, Opera Star, Ronald Braunstein, famous orchestra conductor, infamous commuter train conductor or any one of the other 25% of our world’s population. How about the other 75% of the world’s population loosen the reins of their prejudice.

My Moral Corruption

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“How you said what you said was simply enchanting,” were the first words he ever said to me.

“I was awake, I was always awake,” were the last words.

And between these two bookends were almost thirty years of an on-again/off-again relationship which redefined the term love affair, and which did very little to boost my self-confidence.  Instead this. . .entanglement. . .often followed a beachpalsdreadfully antagonistic and well-rehearsed sequence of deplorable behavior: Vanish, spot, affirm, invite, tempt, yield, pity, agony, masquerade, endure, discredit, and pluck.   And each incarnation ripped yet another piece of moral character from me until sometime in the early nineties I concluded that we were no more to each other than a dealer and an addict, and he was always, always willing to deal, not out of compassion for me, but to satisfy some dark hunger, a craving, maybe a need.

Like anonymous chunks of an ice shelf, we broke apart and drifted away from each boy-in-bushother.  I finding love and partnership and success in Chicago.  He and his art landed in New York.  It wasn’t his drawings they placed atop acrylic pedestals.  For dollar bills he ignored their probing fingers; for five’s he forgot their foraging.  We never discussed the activities associated with higher denominations but he emphasized they were few and far between (“even for someone that looks like me!”), a thinly veiled plea for adoration of which I ignored and which subsequently produced a stifling silence as though the bridge between us had been washed away by indifference.

He enjoyed a modicum of success with a small band of go-go-boys that played the voyeuristic circuit of Greenwich bars, and infrequently out-of-town gigs took them to South Beach, Atlanta and, of course, Chicago.  But by that time his mother had passed, his baby brother didn’t want to farm, and his father sold all three hundred acres, outbuildings, and the triple-generation farmhouse and moved into town,  So when he was in Chicago it was all business; most of it public, but private parties were viceprisonerhands down the most lucrative (and dangerous).  His last trip to Chicago was a bona fide performance, secretly cast by the Chicago Vice Squad who raided the place and arrested the lot and charged them with indecency (the cheek dividing string of his g-string was 0.25″ too narrow to entirely cover his anus).  I was called and took clothes and cash and bailed him out of jail.  As the sun started to peek above Lake Michigan we were driving north on Lake Shore Drive when he said, “You know, I think it’s time to hang up the g-string.”

“Really?” I asked in disbelief, knowing (from years of personal experience) that posing whether still or sparkling was his only talent.

Staring out the window he replied, “Yup!  Problem is. . .”  Here it comes, I thought.  “Problem is, the cops kept it as evidence!”

There’s Cold and then there’s Cold!

THERE’S COLD . . .

001-pondsCold cream, the cold shoulder, cold as ice, having a cold, Cold War, stone-cold dead, cold sores, knocked-out cold, cold (sexual disinterest), cold feet, cold turkey, cold water man (a Scot that doesn’t drink alcohol), cold cuts, cold storage, catch a cold, “…has a cold…” (politician, diplomat, or executive is fired), cold air, quit cold (die suddenly), cold fish, cold snap, cold as a cucumber, “blood runs cold” (profound apathy for others), cold blood, cold storage, cold cereal, cold sweat, cold front, cold comfort, “cold hands, warm heart” (lovey-dovey idiom), “cold, hard cash” (nothing’ but greenbacks003-coldone (US currency printed in green on one side starting in 1862; aka “Legal Tender”)), “feed a cold and starve a fever” (axiom first used in 1574 as a remedy for fever), “a cold one” (euphemism describing an ice-cold beer), “… she’s a cold one (or, cold tart)”, (disparaging expression used by a refuted suitor when describing a woman disinterested in his unmannerly advances), “cold as a witches bosom [sic]” (vague expression of “cold” in varying contexts), cold, hard facts (1. Empirical Data generally used in the sciences for unquestionable facts; 2. My mother’s off-handed remark whenever I 004-coldduck1was dumped by a girl (implying “. . . silly boy, you’ll never get a girl so face the facts . . .”)), cold case (police investigation which remains unsolvable after exhausting every lead), cold plate (recipes served cold), cold duck (originally invented in Detroit in 1937 and was based on a German legend. The recipe calls for one part Mosel wine, one part Rhine wine with one part of Champagne,002-coldshwr2 seasoned with lemons and balm mint.), knocked cold, leave out in the cold, out cold (unconscious, intoxicated, sound asleep), stop cold, take a cold shower (an often futile attempt to quell the hormones associated with lust). 

AND THEN THERE’S COLD . . .

004-below01“Cold enough for you?” I kept an eye on my thermometer all yesterday. The temperature remained steady at -13º F which coincidently is the precise temperature of ice cream. I’ve lived in the Northern Hemisphere all my life, so I’m very familiar with the winter season: days are shorter, sun remains low on the horizon, a cloudy and snowy day is likely to be warmer than a clear day (clouds capture heat and the sun’s too low on the horizon to radiate warmth added by clear skies which allows ground heat to rise upwards), all dogs love snow, we all wish for a “White Christmas.”

006-lifebelow0“If you don’t cover your ears and nose they’ll be the first to freeze, next will be your fingers and your toes,” At -13º F frostbite can begin immediately to susceptible parts of the body such as: tip or whole nose, ear lobes, fingers, and toes.  Common warning signs include: progressing numbness and a loss of sensitivity to touch. The affected area will also tingle or feel as if it is burning. As the condition worsens, the pain begins to fade or eventually disappear. Frostnip (which I experienced only yesterday on my right hand)) is a superficial freezing of the outer layer of the skin which turns white as blood circulation decreases, then stings, and becomes quite painful. Frostnip can occur during vigorous outdoor activity and you may not be aware of it until you stop exercising. 

001-sledding2“Come in from the cold!” was a chorus sung ritually during winter by my aunt that babysat for us. She knew what was coming when I refused to wear the childish, insulated, and nylon snow pants. So she kept vigil at the window which overlooked the school yard for that first warning sign of a child wearing cotton pants and sliding and falling into drifts of snow. I never noticed that my wet pants quickly yielded to the cold. Suddenly my bottom half was encased in ice which would stick to my legs. Every step home felt like pen knives were being poked into my legs, my bottom, and my feet. When I stepped into the house and started to undress my aunt hurried to stop me, then quickly placed me right in front of the heat register and turned up the heat. Then she handed me a cup of hot cocoa saying, “Drink that cocoa slowly because as those pants begin to melt, so will you. And honey, you ain’t felt anything that hurts like that!” Then over her shoulder as she walked away, “And tomorrow those snow pants won’t look so childish!”

001-girlwithdog1 “It’ll be a cold day in hell!” before I cross the street to schmooze. The other night I saw a leggy woman walking an equally leggy dog wearing a unitard (the long-legged dog was wearing it not the leggy walker, who’d resemble an Olympic swimmer languidly strolling down a snowy sidewalk on a blustery eve). I and my dog crossed the street beneath the guise of doggy introductions. After they’d had their bouts of butt-ery I finally asked the woman, “what on earth is your dog wearing?” Her Tsk, followed by the 180 degree hair toss followed by a voluminous, lung-filling sigh told me that our humorous repartee was chilly when her answer was dipped in the patronizing tone fondue, “Why, it’s a Unitard, of course; cold dogs are a reality. They’re all wearing them in Lincoln Park. But I suppose way up here in . . . in Roger’s Park . . . “ to which I interjected, “Lady, are you lost? This is Edgewater where, believe it or not, our dogs wear fur coats in winter and in summer we relish our hot dogs!”

“Go Ahead,” they urged, “See If It Fits.”

According to results recently delivered to scientists at an annual meeting of the Categorize, Classify, and Typify Society that more than 92% of the American workforce can be identified as bearing the common traits associated with one of only two populations: unaffectedly round or affectedly round.  Of the 92% of American workers, 97.639% fall into the unaffectedly round while the remaining 2.361% not only self-identify with the characteristics associated with affectedly roundism, but maintain those characteristics no matter the consequence or makeover.  But the most surprising statistic was satisfaction: Nearly 100% of both populations felt little job satisfaction.  And as an addendum, most professionals believe that the hole which they currently occupy doesn’t accurately represent them,

It had been six months since the crash and like so many accidents turned a normal life into a new normal life; I’m not saying that the normal was better than the new normal; I’m simply using pre-crash as a point of reference of which to compare. My normal life had all the normal things: A life partner of 23 years named Nick, a beautiful Victorian home, a cute little MINI convertible, lovely gardens, custom clothing, Rolex watch, retirement accounts, money in the bank; all the trappings. But as the old adage goes “nothing in life is free” and I never knew the cost of having all the normal things until June 28, 2008 when I was not one of the normal things; as a matter of fact, I was one of those new normalists substituting for the normal team.

How many of us continue to force a round peg into a square hole only to find it frustrating, angering and eventually impossible? Some of us can manage to get a corner in, some of us trim the excess by dummying down or taking jobs beneath of us, some of us simply place the round peg atop of the square hole hoping one day one of them will change enough to fit.

On June 28, 2008 I finally realized that I would never fit into one of their holes. My roundness wouldn’t even fit into their round hole because much like metric versus english, a wrench which looks like a close fit isn’t a fit at all and simply won’t work.

. . . later that night . . . (excerpt from “The Other: A Collection of Doubt”)

“So, what did you want to know?” Scott asks placing the bottle of wine on a coaster.

Tom stands, adjusts the flame and walks to the sofa where he sits.  Scott sits cross-legged at the corner.  “Well, how you came to be here.  Not here, in my house per ce, but, I guess, how you came to be period.  I mean, I know about your mom and your dad and how they came from China and about your sister, but I don’t really know anything about you besides you’re an excellent kisser and I love the softness of your skin and blackness of your hair and your smell.  I want to know about you.”

Tom reaches for the bottle and pours himself more wine and refills Scott’s glass all the while struggling with the desire to simply strip him naked and bring them both to a mind-blowing orgasm.  Scott remains steadfastly silent.  “You don’t have to tell me, if you prefer,” Tom adds finally.

“I don’t know how to answer.  I mean, no one has ever asked me that question before.  Has anyone ever asked you to tell them about yourself?  How do you answer that question?  I feel like anything I say will sound grossly trite and insignificant.”

“But those are the things I want to hear.  And I’d rather than hear them now. . .than after.  Maybe I’m afraid that. . .after. . .you won’t feel so compelled to share them with me,” Tom says feeling suddenly embarrassed and insecure.  “I’ve never had anyone over to my house like this,” he admits.

“Like this, like what?” Scott asks.

“Like you,” Tom continues.  “And it’s not like I’m trying to protect the house or even myself for that matter.  It’s just that this is all so unusual.  This morning, this day, tonight, even you.  It’s all very unusual.   I don’t normally behave this way, not that the way I’m behaving is bad, it’s just different.  Different is all.  And I guess I want to understand you.  In a way that’s bigger or deeper or larger than kisses and erections and orgasms,” Tom says sheepishly.

Tom feels that slight sickening feeling of overexposure, that sorrow you feel when you realize you’ve stayed out in the sun too long and you’ve got a fitful night of prickly sunburn ahead of you.  Perhaps he should’ve kept his mouth shut and quickly stripped Scott in the kitchen and wasted no more than ten minutes including the awkward “so long.”  Perhaps by now he’d be in his shower washing away the remnants of weakness.  Simple.  Easy.  Clean.

Tom takes a long swallow of wine and looks at Scott, at the front of Scott’s jeans which no longer suggest his passion, but which now sit folded politely much like his own.  All that remains of their bodies collision against the countertop is an unforgiving stickiness.

“I never knew what I wanted.  Growing up, I never knew what I wanted.  What I wanted to do, wanted to be, or who I wanted to be with.  I knew almost immediately what I didn’t want.  What I didn’t want to do or who I didn’t want to be or who I didn’t want to be with.  And it seemed easier, I guess, to eliminate things than to chase things.  So I’ve spent the better part of my life in a state of subtraction.

“I never gave it much actual thought, you know, the reason for the activity of eliminating things from my life.  I guess I just found it to be an easier way to get by. And somewhere, some time I thought that I’d eventually find something that I’d be interested in enough to actually add to my life.  Something that I’d be willing to pursue.”

Scott takes a long drink and studies the wine as though he were reading tea leaves.  Tom watches Scott’s intense stare into the wine glass.  Leave him alone, Tom thinks.  Maybe all Scott wants is a quickie and you’re trying to make it into something more.  Maybe all this talk will lead to nothing.  Maybe Scott will find you too needy.  Maybe you should simply lean over and kiss him so you can get this over with; but Tom feels that their attraction has waned.

“I can give you a ride home if you’d like,” Tom says quietly, uncertain of Scott’s desire to stay.

“Why?  Did I say something wrong?”

“No, no you didn’t say anything wrong.  I just thought that. . .” Tom adds quickly, trying to allay Scott’s uncomfortableness.

“See?  This is exactly the reason why I never tell people what I’m thinking!  It’s like they think they want to hear it, and then when I’m straight with them they realize that they’re not really interested.  It happens all the time.  So I think it’s just easier to do what we both want and get it over with.  Simple.  Clean.  Easy,” Scott says defensively.

Tom stands up and walks to the fireplace for no reason than to move away from Scott.  He studies the fire and wonders how this day could end this way.  “Well, what is it that you think is so simple, clean and easy?” he says without looking at Scott.

“The same thing you do,” Scott says still studying his wine.

Tom watches the fire immediately realizing that they have reached the fork in the road.  The same divergence he has reached scores of times before: the familiar scenarios play out in his head like a montage: Scott stands and lets himself out; Scott stands up and walks to him, kisses him lightly and leaves; Tom walks to Scott, kisses him and they do indeed play out the inevitable, in exchange for the fifteen awkward minutes when scraps of paper with false phone numbers are exchanged and Tom locks the door securely behind Scott.  They all seem obvious.  They do seem simple and clean and easy.

Tom rubs his face with his hand, “I don’t think so, Scott.  I don’t think I want simple, clean and easy.  Not this time,” he admits finally looking at Scott.  “I think this time I want it difficult, dirty and hard,” he says walking to the sofa.  “And I think it all has to do with you, with you Scott” sitting next to him, “and I think it’s all about me letting someone in and all about you knocking on a door you want to open.  I think it’s all about you and me, here and now.  I think both of us are done, at least right now anyway, with simple, clean and easy.”

Tom reaches a hand to Scott’s face which he tilts upward.  Scott’s eyes meet his.  They both sit in silence for a few moments.  Tom’s thumb gently caresses Scott’s cheek and chin feeling the soft stubble of his beard.  Scott smiles slightly at his tenderness and reaches a hand to Tom’s face which he touches softly.  Tom thinks that this is the tenderness discovered between friends, friends willing to be naked and exposed, friends that share intimacies deeper and darker than just sex.  These are the moments which relationships are built on he thinks as their tender caresses continue.

Scott leans forward and kisses Tom’s cheek, then pulls away slightly, “no one’s ever taken the time to articulate it like that,” he says, “usually they simply dismiss me.  Usually by this time I find myself on the stoop of their house wondering how in the hell I’m going to get home.”

Tom takes Scott’s hand off his cheek and kisses his exposed palm, “but are you up to it, Scott?  Up to the difficult, dirty and hard?  Because I am, I mean, at least I think I am, right now anyways.  If you’re not then I’m not sure I want to complicate this any more,” he admits, again kissing the hand, “and I think that that would be a shame because it seems that we’ve already achieved a certain distance.  Given all the opportunities we’ve had today to simply sprint to an orgasm it would seem odd that you’re not up to the long distance run,” he adds.

Scott lifts himself out of the corner of the sofa and kneels at Tom’s side.  He leans in close and turns Tom’s face to his and kisses him devotedly, closed mouth, without passion but with longing.  “I’ve trained for a run like this all my life,” he says quietly while kissing Tom’s cheek.

Tom stands and places his wine glass on the coffee table.  He moves in front of the fireplace and slowly begins to undress starting with his shirt and opening one button at a time.  His fingers move slowly over the fabric feeling its softness, the stitching of the buttonholes; as he pulls the tails out of his trousers Scott takes a drink from his glass, places it on the coffee table next to Tom’s and walks in front of him.  Scott reaches for the hem of his fleece and in one smooth motion pulls it over his head and drops it on the carpet at his feet.  Tom peels the shirt off his shoulders, pulls his arms out of the sleeves and allows the shirt to slip out of his hand and fall to the floor gathering in a cotton heap.

Scott reaches slowly for the buckle of his belt, pulls on the length of leather which winds its way through loops, tugs at it, and unbuckles the latch.  At the same time Tom undoes his own belt.  They are now in-sync with each other as they both reach for the closures on their pants: Tom’s clasp and Scott’s button.  Both pop open as they grab the metal tab at the top of the zipper and slowly pull down, the metal teeth sliding into a wide-mouthed grin showing the soft fabric of their underwear to each other; Scott’s being steel-gray with Tommy Hilfiger emblazoned in purple on the waistband and Tom’s being simple, white Nautica boxers.  They stand motionless for a moment studying each other.  Tom grabs the edges of his wool trousers and lifting one knee withdraws one leg and then the other from his trousers; Scott simply allows the added weight of keys, cell phone and change to draw his jeans off his hips and down his legs like an anchor being dropped into the ocean and settle at his feet.  He stands watching Tom fold his trousers neatly laying them on top of his shirt.  Scott pulls one foot free from his jeans and then slowly, the other.  He kicks the denim to the side.  They stand three feet apart in only their underwear looking at each other.  Scott moves first, slowly hooking his fingers in the waistband of his shorts and drawing them down his hips, past the curve of his buttocks, out and over his erection and past his thighs releasing his hold on the cotton which folds like meringue at his feet: now naked in front of him.  Tom hooks his own fingers into the waistband of his boxers and pulls them in one swift motion off one leg, then the other finally naked to Scott.

Tom feels the heat of the fire brushing his back as he studies Scotts body: his long, lithe neck meeting the angle of his clavicle dissected by its horizontal bones; shoulders which spread out and bend with muscular caps bow slightly at the junction of his biceps and triceps; the mounds of his chest crest with lean muscles and are topped with two, quarter-sized auburn nipples which are separated by small, sparse hairs; the chest falls onto the ribs which look like pale piano keys and descend into the diamond form of his abdominals which drain into the slightly indented bellybutton centering his core; muscles like hands forming a “V” fan out on either side of his groin, a furrow of muscle rising from his crotch up to his hips and disappearing into the flesh of his buttocks; his hairless thighs give way to bony knees and lithe, muscular calves which have a splattering of stray, black hairs.

Scott studies Tom’s form: the wide chest painted by brown hair which continues down his stomach and empties into the hair surrounding his erection; muscular thighs support the heavy foundation; the most obvious characteristic is the abundance of body hair which Scott finds very sexy; Scott yearns to bury himself in Tom’s masculinity.

“You’re absolutely beautiful,” Tom hears himself whisper, afraid he’s sounding trite and wishing he could summon up words he thinks would be worthy of the apparition.  He wishes he could utter the oohs and aahs reserved for firework displays he enjoys.

“You’re better than I had imagined,” Scott admits while feeling himself pulled by an invisible string into Tom’s embrace.  Better than I imagined, Tom thinks to himself, better than he imagined.  No one has ever said that to him before, and, he wondered, if anyone had ever even thought it.

At the same moment they both take steps towards the other and meet in the middle of the carpet, Tom feeling a cooling of his backside and Scott feeling the warmth of the fire wash over his body.  They stand less than a foot apart, their hands at the same time begin to touch areas of acute attraction; Scott to Tom’s formidable chest hair, Tom to Scott’s slender hips.  At first their touch is tentative, as though they can’t quite believe they have acquired permission, but quickly their caresses gain momentum and purpose.  As they move closer together their hips, pressed tightly together as hands continue to roam, to explore, to touch and discover.  Tom’s hand leaves Scott’s hips and move hastily around to his back then hungrily to his bottom, groping, kneading the soft flesh which tightens as Scott pushes himself against Tom, feeling himself being blanketed by Tom’s abundance of soft yet protective hair, recalling a similar feeling when his mother would pull the blanket to his chin and tuck in the sides; bliss he thought, blissful then and simply bliss tonight.

Blame Edna St. Vincent Millay

We’ve all had one.  Just one.  The One.  Not the one that got away.  And not the one that married your best friend.  And please. . .certainly not your first one.  This One is The One.  

You know which one is The One.  The One’s the one that heard your protestations yet felt your searing stare, your eyes glued to the sight, intent as though you were watching the final inning of a no-hitter, your mind recording in high-definition inch by baring inch of torso; the molting of cotton and denim; your appetite overflows the banks of friendship as The One, the object and the consort silently affirms your theft of privacy.  That’s The One:  A compatriot in what would become your benchmark of shame and crowning expression of tortuous affection.  The One was the only one to encourage betrayal of character as bond to be free of moral constraints and fuel your burgeoning obsession. 

The One for me was Steve.

We opened  the door  to the room in  the Super 8 Motel in  Davenport,  Iowa where tomorrow Steve and I would compete for first place in the National Forensic’s Tournament.   Both of us were nervous of course, but unlike Steve who was nervous about the tournament  I was as nervous as a newlywed when I spotted the king size bed hovering in the middle of the room like the Hindenburg.

“Well, here we are,” Steve said as he put his duffel bag on the floor and flopped on the bed.  I stood there aghast and slowly placed my coveted Tod’s Weekender on the stainless steel motel valet and stiffly sat on the edge of the bed.

” … at last …” I added, slowly turning to see him stretched out like a newly caught salmon, his bright colored belly slightly exposed under his polo.

“At last?”, he asked.

Realizing my blunder I quickly stood up and attempted to turn the conversation.  “You nervous?”

“Nervous?    What’s  there  to  be  nervous  about?    We’re  the  best  in  the  state  and tomorrow we’re going to be best in the nation.”

“You’re right,” I added weakly, fighting my desire to look at him on the bed.

“Are you?” he asked.

“Am I what?” I asked retreating into the small, secure confines of the bathroom.

“Nervous,” he called from the bed.

“Why would I be nervous when I’ve got a partner like you?”  I asked.

Steve appeared in the doorway looking at me in the mirror,  “Because you’re acting nervous,” he said walking up behind me, looking at me in the mirror, both my hands white knuckled on the faux marble vanity, the inches of warm air between us igniting and scalding my flanks. He looked directly into my eyes and I prayed that he couldn’t  see either my knees that had begun to buckle or the erection that had risen in my jeans.

“So I’m a little nervous,” I snapped “and you standing this close to me doesn’t  help.” I wanted to be able to easily assault his closeness as some latent homosexual thing, some calling his hand when it came to his masculinity, some assertion that he was coming on to me.  But I had already played that trump card on some ranger look-out station on a wooded rise called Belmont Mound.  I blubbered my homosexuality between shared swallows of apple schnapps, my conviction growing with the depletin liqueur.    He too, was drinking,  but  he kept his composure, acknowledging my confessions with tart, little babbles; all the while I wished he too, would expose his wrist and in some tribal custom, bind our lives. But instead I slept in the cool comfort of the toilet.

Then I made the mistake of looking back at the bed.  “The bed bothers you, doesn’t it?” he asked, almost sounding interested.

“No, you idiot, it isn’t the bed that bothers me” I said moving quickly away from him back into the room, “It’s not the bed …” I paused, wondering if I should be the bleeding heart (and what good would it do me) again, would he tire of the whining, “but it’s me,” not that it really was me. It was more him.  I had no trouble with me. It was him.  Him and his damned morals, not even morals but tastes, not even tastes but attractions,  not even attractions but fickleness! “It’s me, Steve. Me! Me and you. Here. Tonight. The bed … the tub.”

“The tub?” he asked.

“I’ll sleep in the tub.”

“You’re fucking crazy! What do you think you’ll do?  Rape me in my sleep?  Christ, you’re a guy that’s  able to control himself, aren’t  you?   If you think you’ll have a problem, take care of it before you get into bed!”

Was I an idiot or what?   What did he know?  What did he care?  Christ, it wasn’t my lust that I was worried about.  It was my heart! What did he think?  It was then, at that moment when a little divine intervention would’ve helped; an angel to come down and tell me that my reality was not reality. That what I really thought was going on wasn’t really going on, except as a private screening for my own enjoyment.  That what WAS true was that there were two best friends vying for national recognition that needed to share a bed in a motel room. So what was the big deal?

 

After dinner we wandered through  the halls of the motel to our room.  Upon opening the door  Steve threw  his jacket on the bed and  went into the  bathroom.    I walked to my bag, opened it and pulled out my sweatshirt and gym shorts.  As I was beginning to undress I heard the toilet flush, the faucet run and finally the door open.   Steve stood in the doorway, backlit by the ceiling light, his silver buckle dangling  like a fishing lure, his shirt open, untucked, hanging off his shoulders like draperies.  I of course, should’ve already been in bed, chiffon negligee spread  out before me like a tablecloth, a dozen  pillows plumped  and puffed surrounding me in satined down.  But instead I stood before him in my white Hanes underwear and Dago T.

“Going to bed so soon?”, he asked.

“I like to read a little before I fall asleep,” I replied, as I pulled off the Dago T and pulled on my sweatshirt.

“You go there?” he asked. “Go where?”

“To Colorado,” he finished, standing across from me, tugging his heavy socked feet out of his still tied, dirty Nike sneakers.   He stood there, determined to shed his sneakers, tongue sticking out of the comer  of his mouth, body slightly contorted, peeling the tightened shoe off his foot.

“It might help if you untied them,” I said as I folded my clothes and placed them on the valet next to my Weekender.

“I’m too lazy,” he shot back over his now naked shoulder.

I looked up from my bag and saw him standing across the blue polyester comforter,  his  tanned  back  separated  by  a  deep  crevice  which opened  like  a  well-read hardcover, rising to parallel muscles which flowed into his ribs; his shoulders ascended by cords of muscle to his throat; his upper arms taut like a bow; and rising from the waistband of his jeans was a banded collar of cream followed by a blood red cotton stripe.  I stood transfixed.

“Mind if I watch a little TV?” he asked over his shoulder. “Not at all, as long as you keep the volume low,” I answered quietly.

I turned my back on him and with one swift, practiced motion pulled my Hanes off and sat down on the bed, pinning  my erection firmly between my thighs.   I reached for my gym shorts and in a moment threw my legs in the air, levitated myself, pulled the gym shorts on, yanked back the covers, thrust my legs in, and pulled the crisp cotton sheets to my waist.  After arranging myself, the pillows, and the book I was reading I heard the television snap on.

What I noticed first were his feet pointed towards my head.   They were solid, heavy feet; thick, cracked, blemished soles; wide, weathered toes.  These feet obviously walked many miles free. They were clearly the feet of the naturalist, someone that enjoyed the pain I often associated with running around barefoot. These were the feet which may have traversed hot coals. These feet had taken him somewhere.

 

The television rumbled in the background like some kind of geographical  expose as I continued the panorama of his lower body. Just above his feet were ankles which supported dense calves. If his feet were tundra when it came to hair, his calves and thighs were tropical rain forests.   Calves, now in repose, lay like sandbags.   The backs of his knees, the spring­ loaded cantilevers, the source of his power sit quietly.  His hamstring, a long, drawn, weighty mound of muscle sleeps like an eel amidst the concave back of the quadriceps.  I turned my attention to the television.

“Anything on?” I asked. “Nothing. How’s the book?”

“Can’t seem to keep my mind on it.”

“Well, I think I’m going to turn in.  It’s going to be a long day tomorrow.  Better get as much sleep as I can,” he said as he swung himself around on the bed and I stole a lingering look at him.

“Mind if I yank the blankets out from the end of the bed?  I can’t  sleep when there’s something holding my feet down.”  He tore the sheets from the end of the bed.  “Oh yeah,” he said struggling, “I toss and turn a lot.  If I end up on you, just push me back to my side.”

“Won’t you wake up,” I asked.

“Naw, nothing wakes me up.  Once I’m out, I’m out.  Once when I was a kid and one of the old silos blew up right outside my window.  Woke up the whole town.  Mom had to come in and get me when the fire department got there.  I can sleep through anything!”

When he was finished he sank back into his pillows. I attempted to concentrate on my  Anne Sexton anthology.  I was about to dive headfirst into the story when I quickly turned my head to see him laying on his side looking at me. “May I help you?” I asked.

“Nothing. Just watching you,” he quietly replied.

“Is there something wrong?”

“No,” he said defensively, “can’t someone just watch you?” he finished as he turned his back to me.

I attempted to read, then closed the book and placed it on my lap. “Look, I’m sorry. I’m a little tense, that’s all.  Don’t pay any attention to me.”  I put the book on the nightstand, reached over and turned out the light casting the room in complete darkness and sank back into the bed.  As slowly as dawn, slivers of light grew in the room where we couldn’t shut out the world.

Nothing happened  that night of any monumental  occasion.   All the ingredients were present; one bed, a hotel room, he and I, his body, my body, his sexuality, my sexuality but something was missing. I don’t know now if it was his lack of participation, or if I was waiting for him to make the first move, or if I was so certain that my attraction for him was wrong and his  distraction  of  me  was  correct.   But something,  some  idea,  some  moral  uprightness prohibited me from breaching the boundaries of our relationship.

Steve certainly gave me all the clues and  hints  that  he wanted something  to happen,  that  he wanted  me to press him farther,  beyond his words of denial, pushing  him to make a decision when  his body was screaming  for attention.  Had it been any different, had my subconscious been alerted to the remote possibility that he encouraged my affections, it would have triggered an internal alarm clock and roused me from my sleep at a most opportune  moment when  Steve was between hither and nigh; when he wasn’t certain what, if any of the stimulus and response was dream or reality, that in that deep and calm pool of slumber, his body could react one way while his mind  kept itself tucked  warmly away.   l guess all this conversation  occurred  in  my sleep between my desire and my morality, and on this particular occasion, morality (ahem) rose victorious.

Hey! Who’s Got the Key to my Closet?

When I was a junior in college I made the conscious decision to climb off the fence and declare, for the indeterminable future, that I was going to live my life as a gay man.  *(Included with membership was: style, wit, fashion awareness, detail, grooming, manners, art, martini, and the male girdle appreciation, secrecy, caution, abuse, scandal, misunderstandings, stereo-types, profiling, and a great number of acronyms: DINKS, A-GAY, GLB+T+Q+. . ., GUPPIES and, of course, your very own fruit fly selected for her precise complementation of my pointed wit, sarcasm, design style, performance art preference, iPod playlists, and ultimately her unconditional allegiance to all things me!)

But gay by choice not by default.

I have several friends that have absolutely no sexual or romantic interest in women.  They do not find the female body (and it’s intimate components) curious or alluring.  A few stumbled into confronting and compromising degrees of sexual exploration and determined that (while rounding second base and signaled to slide face-first into third base by Coach Conventionality) instinct was missing supplanted by determination.  How fun might determined sex feel as opposed to instinctual sex?  When I say “instinct” it includes a deep, gnawing curiosity; hunger that causes selfishness, self-concern, and manipulation; desire under pressure like a shaken can of pop.  Most of my gay friends have profound respect for and completely empathize with the daily struggles women face in our culture today.  They just lack any degree of sexual interest.

I, on the other hand, was different.  The exploration of a woman’s body was like walking through a dense green forest, lush, abundant, enchanting, and yet dangerous, secretive, thick canopies cripple directions, and customary trails challenge the most experienced — twisting and turning and vanishing into a thicket.  A man’s body isn’t explored, it’s an ascent, with carefully calculated base camps strategically dotting the vista; a man’s body like a mountain is built of craggy rock, covered by a dense base of snow, hardened like iron, ancient, as though Hannibal crossed it; age, like summit storms, blankets the snow pack with uncertainty; simply put, both man and mountain, there’s but one direction, up, and it’s the peak which they all seek to conquer.

And it was back in college that I failed horribly at coming out of the closet.  And not for any of the reasons most gay men site: fear, ridicule, retaliation, physical harm.  I failed at coming out because I fell madly in love with a wonderful woman.  My sexual attraction was clearly stronger for men, but every time I attempted the summit, I found myself lost in the enchanted forest.  While my roommates hopped from bed to bed like Goldilocks, I was stepping deeper and deeper into the gloomy and impervious forest sensing that the clearing would soon disappear and so would I, the real me, into a world which was pleasant and decent and impossible to promise fidelity.

What I determined was that I could easily marry a woman, but I couldn’t promise fidelity.  No matter the depth of my love for her, a strong chin, broad shoulders, narrow hips would always catch my eye.  And even though I never had the chance to fall madly in love with a man, I was absolutely certain that when I did fall in love with a man, I could promise fidelity because my desire for women was lower than my desire for men.

Above all I refused to live a life of avoidance, determined to be faithful, and desperately trying to deny my fundamental identity.  I wanted a life of unrestricted expression and a promise which I would never break.

(POST NOTE:  3 years later I met Nick and fell madly and deliciously in love.
28 years later; promise intact.)