guysterrules posted a first-rate entry in his journal the other day. His story was quite serious, but also drippingly dirty and funny, in parts. It also got me thinking.
One of the things that I love about journal reading is the great variety of material that you find out there. Oh, there are quite a few journals that bore me to tears, because they’re filled with memes and quizzes, and of course there are others that are filled with so many grammatical errors that I suspect they’re actually written in a secret language. And then there are a few writers out there that make me want to throw things at the screen every time that I read one of their entries, because of the stupid-ass things that they do (and you’ll probably never know who you are).
But the best journals that I read actually tell stories, and they develop a unique style that keeps me coming back for more.
One of the things I’ve noticed about my own personal entries is that they tend to fall into certain categories. The entry that I was mentioning was an awful lot like what I like to refer to as a “rabbit hole” entry: it starts out in one direction, and then takes an unexpected turn, which is typically hidden within an LJ cut. They can be tricky to compose, and a lot of times it’s easy to play your hand too early and give away where you’re going, but when they’re done right, they can be awfully gratifying.
Here’s an example, from the “nocompromises” stash:
December 2004 Happy birthday to me
Saturday, I returned to the apartment after a day spent with Corb putting a new battery into Annie's car and watching Tiger at his first basketball practice at around five in the afternoon.
("That was fun!" Tiger had said about his first practice. "I paid more attention at basketball practice than I do at school!" That was my Tiger quote for the week-end. That, and his response tonight, as I was telling Corb's mom the story: "Are you going to tell someone else that story about me AGAIN?")
(Oh, and for those keeping tab on the "When will Ted tell his kids" watch, I FINALLY had THAT conversation with Annie on the way to the Auto Zone. It was low key and unassuming, and essentially went like this:)
TED TELLS ANNIE: A TINY LITTLE PLAY
SCENE: The inside of Ted's really stinky RAV-4.
TIME: One in the afternoon. a cold New England day.
TED: You know...we keep putting off having that conversation, and we really need to talk about it one of these days...and it's just as hard for me to talk about it as it is you, you know...but, well...you know what's going on with everything, don't you?
ANNIE: Yeah. I do.
TED: And are you okay with everything?
ANNIE: Yes, Dad, I am.
TED: I just feel bad. I mean, I've always tried to be a good dad, and I just feel that this past year, you guys think of me as a bad dad, and I hate that feeling...I just wish.
ANNIE: I don't think you're bad at all. In fact, I see you and talk to you a lot more than I talk to Mom, actually.
TED: Well, yeah. But I wish you two could talk more. And not yell at each other. I love you, you know.
ANNIE: I love you, too, Dad.
TED: I always have loved you, right from the first day Josie and I started dating..and why do I always get so teary about these things? Man, I'm a big wimp.
--Fast forward three minutes--
TED: And Corb's a pretty good guy, don't you think?
ANNIE: I like Corbett a lot. I didn't like him at first, because he liked the Yankees, but I've gotten over that, because I now know other misguided people, too. But he's just so clean about everything!
So anyway...I returned home at five , got in a little dumpster loving with the Corbster, started planning where we're going to go out that night, when suddenly, I received a call on my cell phone. It's Josie, and she's clearly distraught.
"Ted, I know it's your birthday, and I'm sorry, but you need to get home right now," she said. I heard someone yelling in the background, and Josie started screaming at whomever it was. "I just went to the supermarket, discovered I lost my credit card, and came back and found out Ashley took a big shit in the toilet, and she's denying it, but I know it was her and--" There was more yelling in the background, and Josie started to scream again. "And the toilet overflowed again, and flooded the bedroom again, and I'm not going to clean it up this time, so I'm sorry, but you're going to have to get over here now, because I can't take these kids any more and you're going to have to look after them because I need to get out of here and be alone for a while."
And then there was silence. Josie had hung up.
I sat at my desk, stunned. All my thoughts of getting away to Boston with Corb that night went up in smoke. "Um, Corb?" I called out, my voice wavering a bit.
"I think we might have a little change in plans tonight..." And I stumbled out of the bedroom, and into the living room, explaining what was going on. "I can't believe this is happening, tonight. How could she be freaking out like this?"
Corb placed an arm on my shoulder to try and calm me down, because it was clear that I was about to go over the edge. "Ted, calm down. Just focus on the important stuff right now--the kids. We have to go there and take care of them before something worse happens."
"I'm trying to be calm, I really am," I said, even though it was obvious that I wasn't. "Okay, let's go. Let's go over there right away."
Corb drove, because it was clear that driving wasn't going to be a good thing for me. And on the way, I started babbling, that's all I could do, about how I was going to have to take over custody of the kids, and how could Josie do this to me on my nirthday, and maybe she was trying to get back at me, and that had to be it, and how she had looked so sad the night before, and how could she have backed out of going with us last night, and just given me a crummy, nonchalant litle card, and now this, and all the time Corb's trying to get me to calm down, and we're driving along, and we pulled down onto the little dirt road in North Eldredge, and I closed my eyes, bracing for the worse.
(Pretend an LJ cut is here...I can't get it to work...and what follows is hidden behind it...)
...and I noticed, as we pulled down the road, that my driveway was filled with cars.
I turned to Corb, and realized that all this time, he had been trying not to crack a smile. "You guys planned this whole thing, didn't you?" I asked, and he burst out laughing.
"Yes," he admitted. "Josie and I have been talking about this for the past week. Surprise!"
So basically, I spent my birthday night surrounded by the people I love best in this world--Corb, and Josie, and the kids, and Buns, and Pauline, and Amber, and Donna was there, too, and we had a great time eating pizza and playing board games and laughing. And thank God, no, I didn't have to clean up after a clogged toilet!
Corbett, Josie...thank you. You provided me with a wonderful birthday surprise. I really don't think any other guy in my position could honestly expect his boyfriend and his soon-to-be-ex wife to work together to plan something like that for him--but you did, and I love you both more than anything for it. Sometimes I really do feel that I'm the luckiest guy in the world...I'm certainly not the richest, but I couldn't ask for nicer, more loyal, more loving friends...and I thank God for that, every day!
More often than not, however, the story that I want to tell is not conducive to that format. If I get the time to think things out, and there’s something I really want to say, then my stories usually assume a “slice of life” format. Introductory paragraph. Little french scenes. Something quirky to wrap things up.
I probably won't be able to type for long...Annie should be dropping by any moment to sleep over, and I'll want to talk to her for a while...but I do want to set down something that happened during vacation that I wanted to spend some time on, but the days keep slipping on by and I don't want to let it get away from me.
When's the best time to say the "l" word in a relationship? No, not lollipop or licorice, or even like. You know. The big one.
Corb and I have been dating for what will be ten weeks this Friday, and I've been seriously thinking "l" every time I see him for about the past month. I mean, every time, so much so that it's been affecting my speech, because every time I'd stare into his eyes or hold his hands or snuggle next to him, I'd think "I want this to last for a real real long time," and I start staring at him and he'd say, "What?" and I'd have to smile and say, "oh, nothing," because I wasn't certain what the right thing to say was.
Would I scare him off? Would he blush and say he doesn't feel the same way? Was it too soon? Was I heading into territory that was better left unexplored at this time in my life?
Ah, but the heart. It doesn't always pay much heed to "No Tresspassing" signs.
"Pauline's boyfriend's not coming camping," I said to Corb as we drove into Nashua. "In fact, he's no longer her boyfriend. He broke up with her and changed his cell phone number."
"That's too bad," said Corb.
"Yeah, for us," I replied. "She's going to be moping all week long. But I knew something was going to happen like that. He was rushing in way too fast. He told her he loved her after two weeks. That's way too soon, don't you think?"
"Ah," he replied, casually.
It's funny what bubbles underneath the surface. The Shadow may know what fear lies in the hearts of men, the Amazing Kreskin may be able to read minds, but when it comes to heart and mind, there's that pesky surface layer, that outside shell, and it continually renders me clueless.
Cut to: Sunday morning in New Hampshire. Lying in bed together, listening to his heavy breathing, feeling his smooth body next to mind, his hand draped around my waist. Feeling his lips gently brush against my shoulder.
I cannot contain it any longer.
"I love you," I say.
He opens his eyes, lifts his head up. "Ted, did you just--?"
I lower my head to his chest and squeeze him. "I've been thinking it for a while."
Corb laughs, shakes his head, and pushes me away; lifting himself up and moving out of bed. I look after him, somewhat shocked, still slightly dazed from the sweet arms of Morpheus' embrace the night before, but now, more confused than anything, and thinking the worst.
He moves over to his suitcase and pulls out a card. "I was going to give this to you the first night we arrived here," he explains. "But then you told me what you thought about Pauline's boyfriend and I thought you were trying to tell me something." He shuts his suitcase and moves forward, extending the card. "I feel the same way, Ted. I love you, too."
And then...well...you know...we kissed.
Can I tell you how much more intense kisses feel once you've said the words "I love you?" Can I tell you about the physical tingle of sheer pleasure I get in the base of my stomach every time I say the words, or I hear him say them to me, or as I stare into his eyes late at night, watching him gaze lovingly back at me.
Three little words.
And suddenly, everything's different.
One style that I haven’t used in what seems like forever is what I like to thin of as the “emjay” format. There’s an obscure reason for that name, which I won’t bore you with now, but it typically involves overdramatic stories of past injustices told in a breathy, confessional style.
The Dark at the Bottom of the Stairs
Tonight we went to the Community School in the center of town, to sign Tiger up for camp.
I remember the Community School well, although my memories of it were as the town’s Junior High, back in the late seventies. Even now, walking up those stairs (which seemed so steep when I wore smaller shoes) and passing through those double doors, the shadow of the haunted child that I was, and the ghosts of the battles that I fought within those walls, continue to linger within the dim corridors of that old brick building. At least, I can still feel their presence.
I have a few friends that have told me truly courageous stories of how they stood up and challenged the bullies and cliques that form the bread and butter of every junior high. I can only sit there and listen in dumb amazement; because the plain truth is that I didn’t possess that courage. Instead, I just sat back and passed each miserable day in silence, hoping that the day ahead would somehow be better than the last, all the time counting each day until summer vacation, like beads upon a rosary.
The few times that I’ve been back to the school since I graduated in 1978 have always been spent in the auditorium, usually for some type of assembly. The auditorium had not changed in 25 years. Same decaying stage. Same creaky old chairs. And each time I go, I sit in the creaky old chairs, staring at the decaying stage, and every time I’m consumed with the desire to get up and break away and walk through the corridors. Just to see. Just to see what it would feel like to hear the echoes once again, to see if I could still will myself into numbness, as I did so many days trudging my way to class.
Tonight I had the chance. The speaker for the summer camp program, a very chatty Portuguese man with a broad smile and full cheeks and a firm belief that he could sell anyone on anything, decided to launch into a slide show of the camp activities and devote fifteen minutes to each slide, detailing his plans for the future and casting snide aspersions upon the previous Director of Park Activities. “Here’s the entrance…click click…here’s the baseball field…” would have sufficed. Instead, he turned the pictures into a verbal three-ring circus.
By the tenth slide, Tiger was getting extremely fidgety. He would jump out of his seat next to Josie, which resulted in a loud squeak, then move down a row to where I was sitting and sit next to me. Then he’d chat with my a bit, then move back to Josie, chairs squeaking, Tiger’s voice raising until Josie turned to me and
“Could you bring him outside?” she asked, with her teeth on edge. “I’ll just fill out the forms and pay, and then we can leave.”
“Sure,” I said, and took Tiger by the hand.
“Want to go on an adventure, pal?” I asked after we were out of the auditorium, in the main lobby, staring across at the outside of the principal’s office. The principal is your pal!
“I want to eat,” Tiger grumbled.
“I know, and we will in just a few moments,” I said, “But first…”
We made our way, to the left, into a corridor weakly lit by a few overheads and the light of the auditorium. This was the corridor that I spent most of my eighth grade walking down. This was the corridor that led to Mr. Pontillilo’s classroom. Mr. Pontillilo was my homeroom and English teacher. Next to his room, my favorite of all places, the library. Mrs. Hanold had been the librarian. She had always been remarkably chummy with “Mr. P.” I used to make snide comments to my cousin Lisa that she was cheating on Mr. Hanold (my gym teacher) with Mr. P.
But of course, that was sheer fantasy. Because the truth was, Mr. P. was gay. He died of AIDS about ten years later. But of course, I was oblivious to his sexual orientation. I mean, I kind of suspected I was gay after one class staring at Mr. Papalardo (our history teacher) and his practically see-through salmon colored pants, or the time I spent sitting next to Rich McD. in the auditorium. He was a cherubic blond boy with a killer smile, and I would sit there, fascinated, my eyes glued to the hair on his arms. But I didn’t really consider the fact that one of my teachers could be like that.
Mr. Pontillilo had little use for me, anyway. He made no effort whatsoever to bring me out of my shell. I was worthless to him, a silent kid with greasy black hair, pale white skin, a bad case of acne, and thick glasses. Besides, he was too busy flirting with the popular guys. I do recall one poem I wrote that he took a fancy to—a parody of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky . Even then I had a flare for the absurd.
I loved to write, although he didn’t encourage that, either. I would spend hours all day long, during homeroom, during study, every break, ignoring the kids around me and writing furiously. It was a compulsion. I would write continuing series, short stories, comics, whatever. My favorite series to write was called, “Bus 21,” which was about the kids on the bus I took to school. Hey, if I couldn’t socialize in real life…
“Who’s locker is this?” asked Tiger, touching a colorful purple locker with the named “Jasmine” written on construction paper shaped into a kite. Community School was now a kindergarten.
“Looks like Jasmine has this one,” I replied.
“Can you see a Ted?” he asked.
We looked through the lockers, looking for a Ted. I was searching for a different kind of Ted, though.
We made our way up to the second floor. There was Mr. Tucker’s classroom. Mr. Tucker taught me chemistry. Sort of. I looked into his room and thought, “He must surely be dead by now.” He was technically half dead when he taught us. He looked at the time as though he were 87. He wore the same striped gray suit to school every day. His idea of teaching chemistry was to hand out pages of scientific equations for us to solve, while he dozed at his desk. I read more books during his class. My favorite was “Lucifer’s Hammer,” which was a huge novel. I read most of it in his class.
Mike Gonzalves used to do a dead on impression of Mr. Tucker, with his gravelly old man voice. Especially Mr. Tucker getting angry and screaming, which happened on more than one occasion. But then, Mike did a dead on impression of just about everyone. Just as he had nicknames for everyone. Squarehead. Zitpicker. Goatgirl. I don’t think I had a nickname, but he did write a limerick about me, which I will not repeat, even here.
And next to that, Mr. Ouimet’s room, where he spent two years, unsuccessfully trying to teach me French. I don’t think I ever pulled a grade higher than a D minus in his classroom. Of course, it was the teacher’s fault, because I eventually did well in French, in High School and College. Although I never learned to roll my R’s.
Oh! What a dork I was in those days. Hard to believe that the sexy beast that I have turned into (can I get a guffaw from the back row?) was once such an ugly, ugly duckling. I usually wore a turtleneck to school every day (my mother had bought a ton for half price somewhere), and by this point in time, my allergies had kicked in full force, and I spent half my classes fumbling around for Kleenexes, reusing the same ones over and over again, until they started to crumble and would end up upon my lap, looking like snowflakes.
“Look at Chris!”
“Chris, you don’t have any hair under his arms yet?”
“He wants you!”
“They call it Packer steel…”
“Daddy? Can we go down now?”
I pulled out of my reverie and stared down at Tiger, at his sweet calm face, looking up at me and tugging at the edge of my shirt.
“Yeah, we can go now. But there is one other place that we have to visit…”
And we proceeded down the stairs, to the first floor, then down another level. To the belly of the building. The basement level. This section wasn’t as well lit. Our faces were cast in shadows.
WE stood there, in the narrow corridor that I remembered so well. My body felt on edge. My head was slightly groggy from the awakening sting of memory. Yes, there was the boiler room. And beyond that, you’d reach the end of the corridor, and you’d push open a door into the boy’s locker room.
And there I was again, still waiting, through those doors. There I was. 25 years ago.
There I was changing into the same rumpled white T-shirt and baggy blue jean shorts, ones that I had thrown into a paper bag and kept in my locker, weak after week. With the same bath towel shoved into the bottom of the bag. Unused, of course. I dared not ever use it. Not in a million trillion years.
And I’d unbutton my shirt. And I’d keep my eyes down, careful not to look around. And I’d listen to the others.
“Chris doesn’t have hair under his arms!”
“I’ve got it where it counts, though…”
And I’d lift my T-shirt up, at the end of gym class. And I’d keep my eyes down, and I’d pray that I could get through this and get changed and put on my sneakers and then move into the waiting line for the next period of class, just in the nick of—
“Petey, you wearing a jock in gym class?”
“Of course I’m wearing a jock, asshole. I always wear a jock when I’m exercising.”
“I’m not. My balls were going jiggle wiggle all through gym class!”
“That’s 100 percent Packer steel, man…”
I remember that voice. His voice. Dana’s voice. He stood about a foot taller than me. His voice had already deepened, he was practically a man. What do you call his type? An ectomorph? He was a good-looking guy. Slim, and strong. Brown hair, slightly long. Feathered, of course. Smooth, long legs.
“He wants you, Eddie!”
I wasn’t going to make it to the waiting line, was I?
“Eddie, he wants you, Eddie, he wants you!”
Oh please God oh please God oh please…
Dana had it in for me since the practically the first day of junior high. Every day, he found some new way to torture me. To turn the class against me. But his best performances were in gym class; his finest moments down in the belly of the building, with Mr. Hanold upstairs on the basketball court and the guys all downstairs crowding around and—
“Eddie! Look at him! Look at him!”
And I’d look up.
And there he was, naked, his broad shoulders looming over me and a huge, sickening smile on his face. And his naked body, thrust forward, and his cock jutting out, semi erect, red and swollen and dangling through a mound of hair, his dick tilted at half-mast. He stood inches away from me. And all the other boys, gathering around and laughing, pointing and laughing, laughing at me, as I’d turn bright red and try to just keep on changing, to try to ignore him, to try and control the shaking in my hands and the sob in my throat and to try and pretend that I wasn’t so scared, so embarrassed, so ashamed, so, so, so…
“He wants you, Eddie! Touch him! Go ahead and touch him, Eddie! Go ahead!” His voice, so high at that point, the voice he always used for me, mixed with the sounds of all the other guys, doubled over, laughing.
I could feel their eyes on me, waiting for my next move.
Later, that night, jerking off in my bedroom. At the memory of his cock. And the sounds in my head. And I’d hate myself for wanting him. And I’d hate myself for being me.
“Touch it, Eddie…”
Another tug of my sleeve. Another break from yesterday.
Tiger, with a frown on his face. “Can we go back upstairs, Daddy? This place is scary.”
I looked around. We hadn’t gotten further than the furnace room. I turned around and patted the top of my boy’s head. And we moved away, of course. Out of the darkness. Away from the scary place.
Dana killed himself when I was about 28. At that point we lived about a block away from him in the center of the town, only a few blocks from the junior high.
On my way to work, shortly before his death, I noticed him walking down the street about a half a dozen times. Each time, he was wearing a tight sky blue baseball uniform. It was an odd outfit to wear, considering it was a workday. Unless you were looking to attract work.
He’d always be hitchhiking, looking for a ride. I think he was looking for more than that. There were several times where I’d have to resist the urge to slow down and pull over. And then? Well, wouldn’t that have been a kick?
I didn’t exactly shed any tears when I learned that he died. Nor did I feel a sense of glee or satisfaction.
I had simply willed myself into numbness.
Sometimes you can’t trust what the writer is saying, however. Hey, it happens to everyone. Springtime sets in and you just want to go off into some bizarre half universe that doesn’t really exist, and make things up as you go. These entries (I think) are pretty obviously make believe. The initial paragraph may have some basis in reality, but they usually take a left turn pretty quickly.
Saturday night vegetarian dish
Tomorrow is Ashley’s birthday, so we spent a great deal of time running around making the outside look at least halfway presentable. There is--or I should say was--a large, wild looking plant growing by our deck. It had thick, green, heart shaped leaves and little green buds that grew in clusters that, if left to grow, would turn purple and look like little deadly blueberies.
Josie got it into her head that it was time for the wild plant to get cut down, even though she's usually it's biggest--which is to say, only--advocate. Every summer it would grow wild and unwieldly on our deck, and occasionally try to nip at the foot of the dog, or suck the earwax out of the childrens' ears. We would slap it back and I would complain, but Josie, the plant's steadfast support, would come to its defense and insist that we keep it there. "I like it," she would say, "It belongs here."
But for some reason, she didn't think it belonged there this year, and so she got out our electric clipper and started to hack away at it.
Naturally, the plant, feeling threatened, started to go on the offensive. Using its thick stalks, it wrapped its leafy appendages around Josie's legs and started to tug at her. She fell to the ground, surprised. The clipper fell out of her hands and scuttled across the deck.
Before she knew it, the plant was all over her, hugging its stalks around her, wrapping its little vines around her extremities and brushing its leafy fingers all over her body--her neck, her legs, her arms. One naughty little stalk actually tried to insert itself into her, much to surprise. A vegan violation!
Alarmed, slapping her arms like crazy, Josie cried out for help.
I was busy at the pool, dutifully filing it with water and hunting down any stray blades of grass that may chance to float to the top.
Like Tarzan saving Jane from the Zulus, I sprang to Josie's defense. Throwing down my skimmer, I ran to the deck and surveyed the situation. The pissed off plant had wrapped its stalk around Josie's neck and was trying to strangle the life out of her while continuing to try to take her from down below. Amidst cries of horror and pleasure, I grabbed the clipper and skillfully landed a killing blow that left the plant strewn in pieces across the lawn and deck.
"My hero," mewed Josie, lying limp and exhausted across the deck, pieces of green matter still entwined in her hair.
"My Lord," I replied, peering down into the crack in the deck where the plant had just minutes ago thrived. "Is that a secret passage?"
There are many other decent styles out there, of course. The ones that tell a stories with photos, of course, or images. The silly short entries that you post simply to get yourself through the day. And there are, what I consider the best entries--the ones that are written like a bullet straight to the heart, and yes, I do have quite a few of those that have been posted here. And yes, I still have one favorite. One of the days, I really am going to get the damn thing published...
Back in 1992 or so, Josie and I were renting an apartment on Broad Street. It was an old Victorian, three floor apartment house, and we were living on the top floor. I remember what a pain it was moving in, especially because we were moving from one third floor apartment to another, and the process of lifting and lugging our furniture, weaving up windy spiral stairs, and, in many cases, trying to figure out how we were actually going to make it happen, was sheer torture. Damon and I, who had been slotted to do most of the heavy work, stood outside and bitched about it forever while Josie lugged up all the couches and tables. (Just kidding..)
It was probably the happiest that we ever were.
One of the things that I loved about that apartment was the bathtub. Now keep in mind, in the apartment that we had lived in before, we had received about thirty seconds of hot water before it turned icy cold, which made bathing miserable. But in this new apartment, it was like entering Nirvana. The landlord had just refinished the bathroom and kitchen, and the bathroom was actually divided into two sections--one area for the toilet, then a small opening that entered into the bath.
We hung a blue curtain to separate the two areas and placed a small table next to the tub, where we placed a tape deck and a speaker, lots of candles, and rocks and shells that we have collected from all over New England.
I loved that room. Every night, after work, I'd go in their, usually with something to read, usually a comic book first, followed by a few pages from Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain. I draw a bath and just relax, and I really think that it helped me discover some inner peace.
Things changed drastically when we moved into our house, located so close to Steven, so that his memory was literally like a shadow hanging over us all the time. All I'd have to do was look out the window and there he was. I think that we both had an idea when we purchased the house that it was probably a mistake, and we did talk about it before going through with the purchase. And I lied to myself and to her and said that I had gotten over Steven, secretly hoping in my heart to see him again, and she--I believe--lied and said, I believe you, secretly--I believe--wanting to determine if it was true once and for all.
In our home, the bathtub is located on the top floor, by Annie's bedroom. The lock has been broken forever (I really should fix it). And it's an older tub, and not as comfortable. Certainly there are no shells or relaxing music to be found there, only the remnants of a teenage girl--used razors, tampon boxes, toothpaste.
But even so, I have found moments of peace here, moments where I can simply stretch out and reflect upon things. So I think it's fitting that I began this in the tub, hunched over and scribbling on a pad, staring into the steaming hot water and looking down upon the hairs on my legs, watching them wave back and forth as the water gently circulates.
I remember. A girl. How old was she? Was it sixteen years old? Yes, it was. A girl with jet black hair and beautiful eyes that changed with her mood, and one of the tiniest waists that you could have ever seen. And I remember the first time I met her. After a performance of Gypsy, in the back of Peter Thacher school. She had allowed her rabbit to appear in a local community theater production.
My friend Pauline was performing with her in a high school show, and was absolutely besotted with her. "You have to meet her!" she must have said, over 1,000 times. "There's just something about her. She's so cute and funny, you'd just love her!"
I knew then that Pauline was trying to fix the two of us up.
I fought valiantly against the coupling.
First of all, she was way to young for me. I was a junior in college, and she was only a junior in high school.
Secondly, the thought of having Pauline play matchmaker was absolutely nauseating.
And third. I was gay. I had known that since I was at least 12 years old, probably earlier, since I had first tried to kiss a boy when I was ten. I mean, if sexual orientation is measured solely in terms of what you fantasize about, then it was clear from the start.
But at the same time, I was also fighting these feelings. Denying them. I went through hell in junior high because kids thought I was gay. My response had been to establish a stony silence. I would just ignore everyone, and pray that the next day would be better than the one I had just gotten through.
My sister Laurie, who was (although I didn't know it at the time) wrestling with her own sexuality issues, but was far more popular than I was, encouraged this response. "Just ignore them," she'd say with disdain. "Don't say a word. Pretend that it doesn't bother you."
And at home, my parents and Nana encouraged a code of silence and denial, too. One day, I walked in to my parents' bedroom and Laurie was talking to them about what a freak I was, and how I should be put away. It was one of the most humiliating days of my life.
A few days after that, I was in Brooks Drugs, and I started skimming through a copy of National Lampoon, which had a girl in a bikini on the cover. And Nana turned to Mom and said, "See? He's okay. He likes girls. He's normal."
Normal? Well, it depends upon your definition. In a way, perhaps Laurie was trying to help. Perhaps if I had received help at an early age, things would have turned out differently.
As it was, I did receive help. But help comes from strange places, sometimes, places you wouldn't expect. The help that I received came from a 16-year-old girl. The girl that I met one night in the back of Peter Thacher Middle School, the girl holding the rabbit. The girl with the tiniest waist you'd ever seen and eyes that changed color depending upon her mood. Is there such a thing as fate? I have to truly believe that Lisa--Josie--came into my life for a reason.
For you see, this girl had a secret of her own. She was pregnant. And she hadn't revealed it to anyone.
So perhaps that's why Josie--Lisa--had compassion for me, why she's shown such love, understanding and support for me through the years. Because she knew at an early age what it was to--by necessity--hide away a part of yourself. Pretend to be something you're not.
And perhaps that's why we both learned together the harsh penalty that keeping secrets can bring. For Josie, hiding her pregnancy for nine months--up until the day of conception--and then living with my secret for tenfold times that--has taught her to create a wall when it comes to truly revealing her feelings. She has to be cold, hard, she has to be strong--because if she reveals even just a hint of what she's actually going through, then the entire edifice would collapse.
And me, for my part, would learn to be standoffish, aloof. To hide my true self behind a front of sarcasm and anger. But I did reveal myself to one person, slowly, as the years passed. I peeled the layers away like an onion. And instead of rejecting me, she has accepted the truth, and nurtured me, and encouraged me to walk down a road that she thought would allow me to find true happiness--even if that came at the expense of our relationship.
I do not believe that I can put into words the courage and resilience that Josie has displayed through the years. Hiding a pregnancy. Raising a wonderful girl when everyone was telling her to give Annie up for adoption. Dealing with my stuff. Surviving the suicide of her brother, a brother whom she still had unfinished business with. Dealing with a Dad who had been an alcoholic and had turned his life around, only to suffer an inoperable brain tumor, which robbed him of his talents at the height of his career. Getting through two really tough pregnancies, once of which almost killed her.
Josie--Lisa--you've taught me what it is to be courageous, and also what it is to be a friend. You've taught me to have faith in my abilities, and also to realize when you need to sacrifice your needs for that of a greater need--and also, when it's time to put your own needs to the forefront. You've shown me humour, and grace, and beauty, and also patience.
That girl--that tiny little wisp of a girl--has grown into one of the strongest human beings that I have ever known. And certainly one of the most brilliant shining souls. How could I have known that Pauline was just reaching the tip of the iceberg when she said there's something about you, Lisa? You have more strength inside you than the trunk of the oldest oak, and more beauty than a New England landscape in the midst of winter.
Thank you for the years that we've shared, for the road that we have taken, hand in hand. You will always be my lifetime companion, no matter what. Man or woman, I will never know a purer love or truer heart. You have been a miracle to me, a miracle that turned my life around.
I do believe that there is instantaneous, lasting love in this world. This type of love goes far beyond mere surface sexuality. There is the love that you feel when your child is born into this world. The love you feel when you open up your eyes and view your mother for the first time. The love you feel when you meet your one true love. The love you feel when you make a connection that you know is going to course through your very being for the remainder of your life.
Such a love is a love that only grows deeper as time goes by, that deepens and strengthens and grows shoots and branches and bursts through the ground in a riot of color, establishing its presence so strongly that nothing, no force in this world, can ever hope to tear down what two have so naturally created.
This is the kind of love that I will always--always--no matter what, always--feel for you. This is the kind of love that the two of us will always share, no matter what.
(Okay, so I didn't work on Amelia this afternoon. Want to make something of it?)