Corb was laying on the mattress that we had pulled out from the sofa, all covered in blankets, one pink leg sticking from under the white comforter. He was mightily concentrating on Paper Mario , but I could tell, he was also prepared to half-listen to my latest rant. "What's that, honey?" he asked.
"It just cracks me up that they like to think of themselves as having the nicest apartment building in the complex," I grumbled. "I haven't met very many nice people in here at all, except maybe that lady that we thought was a lesbian, who moved out. Everyone else here is old and grumpy and mean. Especially that nasty woman who lives underneath us."
Corb groaned. He knew how much I loved that one. She was the one who had come storming up, the first night we had moved in, to yell at me for letting the kids run around and play the sock-sniffing game, which was a rather perverse variation on tag. Once tagged, you weren't just it--you were forced to sniff for one minute the socks that the other player had worn all day. It was a gross game, but it didn't mean that she had to come charging at me, curlers in her hair, with her large reptilian face all pouty, to hiss out, as though the thought was utterly distasteful, "Do you have CHILDREN up there?"
"What did she do now?" Corb asked me.
"Nothing," I said. "It's just that looks she gives me. I was heading downstairs, to check on my wash, and she was at her door. The minute I came down she looked the other way, but I smiled and said hi. She said hi, too, but then slammed the door shut, really quickly. So, why does everyone in the apartment complex have to be mean?"
I sat down on the mattress. "I don't really care about whether they're nice to me, either. But I'd hate to think that if Ashley were here, and went downstairs...that they'd be mean to her, or something like that."
Corb shrugged, but for me, it was a problem that lingered. I've always been very sensitive to people's body language and attitudes, and ever since I've come out, I've been more sensitive than ever to perceived slights, subtle attitudes of disapproval. And the worst part is, I can't really figure out whether it's just paranoia on my part, or a substitive change in attitude.
Because the thing is, people DO act differently. People DO disapprove, even here in Massachusetts, the gayest state in the union. I know. I've heard what other people say, during my years of playing it straight, during my years as a secret agent in heteroville. I know what secrets linger in the interior, especially within straight white males. The oppressive aggressive nastiness that I experienced when I was a kid in junior high may not exhibit itself that often, once you reach adulthood, but it's still there, hiding, not so secretly, just under the surface layer.
But the thing I've never been able to figure out, for the life of me, is WHY. Why? What's the reason, really? Is it as simple as "Because I can"? Is it a clannish thing--"you're different than us?" Is it a moral thing: "the Bible says you're unclean?" Is it an airborn disease sort of thing, and the fear of contamination exists?
Any way you slice it, I've always felt like an innocent around it, unable to figure out what I've done wrong, exactly. I get that wounded, betrayed look. It was part of the reason that I stayed silent for so long. It was a huge part of the reason that I, and so many others, put our heads down, in shame, and stay silent, hoping that we won't be discovered.
Later, I walked down to the front door to say goodbye to Corb, as he left for work, and then went to check on my laundry. As I made my way to the laundry room, I realized that I wasn't going to be alone, and I braced myself for a visit with the nasties.
There was an older lady, about eighty, standing by the washing machine. She wore a pink housedress and had on brown sandals. She had whispy white hair like my grandmother and piercing blue eyes, hidden by thick glasses.
"Hello," I said, as I moved to the dryer.
"Hello!" she said, looking me over and smiling. She had a large wobbly chin that jiggled as she spoke.
"I didn't think there was anyone else in the building today." Her voice was open and friendly, and her manner of speech was, I could tell, intelligent. She reminded me of my grandmother. She held an empty glass jar filled with Woolite.
"I took the day off," I admitted. "Have a few vacation days." I moved over to check on my clothes. They were still wet. I'd need four more quarters.
She tried to start the washer, by pushing in the quarters, but the machine stuck. "Oh dear," she said. "It looks as though this is broken."
"Oh! Wait. I can help." And I could, too. The same thing had happened to me, earlier, and I had called Corb down. The container that held the quarters needed to be emptied, and so the coins were sticking at the top.
It pleased me to be able to help someone, the way Corb had helped me. I moved over and jiggled with the machine, and got it to work.
The old lady was grateful, and we spoke for a bit, about her birds.
"Oh!" I said. "You're the lady with the parakeets on the third floor. I'm right down the hall from you." I extended my hand. "My name's Ted."
"My name's Rita," she replied. "But I'm moving out this Wednesday, unfortunately. Going to be closer to my son in Wrenthem." She looked away, and I had the suspicion that she was going to go to a nursing home.
It was nice to have found a friendly face, here in the 'friendliest apartment in the world.' But did it have to only be for two days? Well, there's always the hope that the new occupants will be just as nice. It's a thought I'm holding out for...the lady who lived across from me at the last apartment kicked ass, and she was looking for another place. She'd do.
Me, I'm hoping for the best on this one.