It’s Just A Life.7

7. Rule Of Thumb

I remember the shock of the glass breaking, an instant sting, and the adrenal rush that feels like your heart will explode from your chest. I hadn’t done anything to cause it; it was just the case of a cheap fast-food restaurant glass giving up the ghost. For some reason I think it was a Wiley Coyote glass, but after 35 years, all I know is Burger King owes me one.

It was summer, and I was alone at home. It was one of the first times since our move to Novato, CA, that I’d been alone. At 13, that was OK with me. My mother was at the beach with friends, and my sister was at work. The only thing on my calendar was breakfast, lunch – and lots of TV.

I thought it was bizarre that a feather-light tap against the cabinet could cause this silly glass to crumple in my hand. The flash of red as I snatched my hand away and instinctively closed it against my chest made it clear what I’d done. I was surprised it didn’t hurt much, but shock will do that I suppose.

I’ve never been one to panic, so I didn’t then. Ask anybody who knows me well, I’m the person you want around in an emergency. I assumed since it didn’t hurt, it was probably pretty minor. I grabbed a towel to stop the blood, applied pressure and, as I’d learned, went in search of antiseptic and bandages. I don’t think I ever found either, and I realized quickly that those wouldn’t be enough. There was more blood than there should be for a simple cut. It had started to soak through the towel in my hand and was dripping to the floor with dark red splashes. Now I started to panic – a little. Panic enough that the next-door neighbors were the only solution I could think of. Find adults – even adults who hate you.

The back patios of our condominium complex had minor fencing separating them. The condos were built with a kind of communal feel, and all of our back patios faced a public open space. Being situated on a hillside in Marin County, there was no better view to be had in this 13 year olds head, so the fact that the view wasn’t blocked only seemed natural. As an adult 40-something-ish man, I’m shocked they weren’t fenced in with 6 foot stone walls. So all I had to do was go out the back door, turn left, and knock. I can only imagine what they thought when they saw the wild-eyed half-naked neighbor boy in cutoffs looking through their slider. They didn’t say a thing other than a few comforting words. The husband just dialed 911 and they waited with me until the ambulance and crew appeared. I don’t remember what they did after the EMTs trundled me away. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing them again.

Knowing what they thought of my mother and sister, I was hardly happy seeking their help, but I also remember thinking how nice they seemed after they let me in their back patio door. It took me years to realize that there are two sides to every story, and my sisters loud stereo and somewhat volcanic attitude probably played the major part of the “villainy” in this tale.

The ambulance arrived pretty quickly. At least I don’t remember spending much time waiting in awkward silence. I also don’t remember the trip to the hospital, which I find strange, considering how exciting I must have thought it was. I was going to the hospital for stitches! The idea of stitches at the hospital was pretty cool to a 13-year-old boy. And besides, though I wasn’t going to spend the day alone in front of the TV, I was having way more fun than I had expected!

As an adult, it’s funny to me now to think that I wasn’t too worried about being alone in the emergency room. They had no trouble contacting my sister Yvonne, who was working as a waitress at a Peppermill Coffee Shop. Unfortunately, she couldn’t help much, since she wasn’t my legal guardian. My mother was at the beach, before cell phones existed. My father was a traveling salesman at the time (a three-month stint). They reached my step-mother quickly, but since she wasn’t a legal guardian either, there wasn’t anything she could do. So, I waited.

I lay on the gurney, alone and cold. Occasionally a nurse wandered by. It took a while for somebody to realize I was only wearing cut-off shorts. Regardless of what your mother says, it doesn’t matter if your underwear is clean at the hospital if you’re not wearing any. At some point, I acquired a hospital sheet, but no blanket. I’m 99 percent sure the staff assumed I had a guardian or parent nearby.

After two or three hours, they finally got my father on the phone. I never found out how. I assume his boss knew where he was going to be and left a message for him. It seems so inefficient now. If this had happened to my son, now 24, I would have known about it within minutes!

Even after they connected with my dad, there were hurdles. Nurses had to read him the legalese, get his consent for my treatment, and record the phone call. I was relieved that they’d now be able to clean me off, stitch me up, and send me on my way. So when they started rolling my gurney down the hall, I asked, “What’s the procedure for stitches?”

I wish I could remember the look on the nurse’s face as she rolled me down the hall, but I know she stopped in her tracks.

“Didn’t anybody talk to you about what’s happening?” she asked.

“No,” I replied.

“Oh sweetie, you’re having surgery. You cut the tendon and nerves in your hand, and the surgeon is going to have to stitch it all back together.”

I’ve always been on the strange side, it’s true, but you would think this would have at least thrown me a little off balance. Not me, I was excited! I had always dreamed of having surgery. From the first time I saw the early ‘70s hospital dramas, I wanted to be served ice cream and watch TV in an adjustable hospital bed while the lovely nurse came in to check that everything was okay. A hunky doctor was a given!

I tried to remember everything: the smell of the operating room, the look of the instruments, what the doctors and nurses were wearing, but as soon as they wheeled me through the door and the nurse told me to count backward from 100, I was out. I remember 99.

The next thing I knew, I was waking up to my mother’s face. She looked a little worried; She told me it was because I had had a bit of trouble coming out of the anesthesia and that they had me in the Intensive Care Unit. It doesn’t surprise me; I’ve never liked mornings.

I’ve always wondered what it was like for my mother when she came upon the scene of the crime. While I was in surgery, my mother returned from her outing, completely unaware. From what I was told, she walked in on a bloody trail of red drops, leading from the kitchen and out the back sliding door (left open when I left, as I recall). I’m surprised her reaction didn’t induce a 911 call. She called my sister who was prepared for the talk-down.

The next thing I remember is waking up in a regular hospital room. Soon after, I got a roommate — my mother. She developed a blood clot in the ankle. I initially assumed she was there to stay with me – or it was a joke. But no, she was checking in!

There are so many things wrong with this scenario, according to today’s medicine. It’s a miracle either of us survived. I stayed in the hospital for almost a week. I’m pretty sure this would be outpatient surgery today. And my mother? They never hospitalize for blood clots below the heart anymore. They give you syringes and you inject the medicine yourself. She was hospitalized for more than a week as well.

It was funny watching the nurses every time there was a shift change. It never failed, as soon as a new one walked in, she would do a double take, nonchalantly sidle over to my mother, and prepare to ask why a 30-something woman was rooming with a 13-year-old boy. She usually stopped them before they got far and explained the relationship and convenience factors.

We were treated and released without extraordinary complications. I had a cast for seven weeks. Again, no way this would happen today, I’m pretty sure I would be wearing a removable cast and seeing a physical therapist to reduce scar tissue. But in the ’70s, there was no muss, no fuss – and not the best of results.

Thirty-five years later, my thumb is stiff, and sometimes aches, but is not too noticeable on most days. And, in the final analysis, a stiff opposable thumb is better than none.

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It’s Just A Life.6

6. Children Will Listen

I’ve been to eleven different schools. Eleven. When I first counted it I figured I must have counted wrong. Eleven. Who goes to eleven different schools? And of course the first thing everyone thinks of when they first hear this? No, nobody in my family has ever been in the military, unless you consider my step-brother Clark’s membership in the christian army of god. It’s no wonder I’m a social basket case. After the fourth school, I’d pretty much given up on making friends.

I was hardly a social butterfly as my mother might say, well, knowing my mother she HAS said it. I had few friends, and lived in fear of losing them should they discover the real me. By the time I got to the fourth school it wasn’t worth the effort, I was convinced I couldn’t make friends. I was bruised enough that I felt I shouldn’t make friends, and I was scared enough that I didn’t make friends. Damaged people make damaged decisions. This is why I vowed Pete, William, and I wouldn’t leave the house we bought when William was 4, until he graduated from high school. William would have stable, long-term relationships until he went to college, from then on it was all on him.

To be fair, eleven schools includes preschool and cosmetology school.

I barely remember kindergarten. I remember I really liked my teacher, but when she embarrassed me in front of other students I would be so angry that I literally couldn’t see straight! My father took me to the eye doctor because my teacher told him I had a lazy eye. I think I had anger issues. I’m not sure when I got over them; most likely some time after I moved in with my mother. She was never as strict as she should have been, but she was never stricter than she needed to be.

I don’t seem to remember as much of my early years as others do. Things changed too quickly for me to reinforce the memories. There are a few things that seem to drift to the surface occasionally. I remember my father coming to get me when I fell out of a tree onto a sprinkler. I fell on my back, and I remember I couldn’t breath well enough to cry, until just about the time my father arrived and of course I was crying by then. My father could never stand a “crybaby”.

He took me to the doctor, no permanent damage. And all I can remember is how bad I felt for hurting myself. I can’t be sure it’s true, I was pretty young. I can only remember how angry he was that he had taken me to the doctor even though I was fine. It wasn’t until I started writing that I realized how weird that kind of story sounds. If my son had done that he would have had no trouble knowing how ecstatic I was that he wasn’t hurt, and why I needed him to be more careful in the future. As Stephen Sondheim famously said, children will listen.

In kindergarten, I remember, I lived for snack time. I would volunteer as often as possible to go get the snack. Oh what a magical trip! You got special permission to go to the cafeteria, you got out of class, and you got to bring the wagon of milk back from the wonderland that is a kitchen!

I flash to those days any time I smell slightly sour milk, or eat graham crackers.

And my strongest of all school memories: in kindergarten, we were told by the teachers never to go into the park next to the school without having an adult present. There were bad men there that would “do bad things to us”. It hurts to think that I knew at age 5 what they meant. I knew enough about the world and my place in it very early. I thought they were talking about people like me, and I didn’t really understand the difference for many years to come. Children will listen.

We moved at the end of that school year. I remember where we lived like it was yesterday; an apartment complex in Carmichael. It’s still there, but now it’s condos. It wasn’t a great area, but my friends and I terrorized the apartment grounds, wild and unattended, and always felt safe. We were bad children when left to our own devices, which I firmly believe is every child’s natural state.

My mother tells me my sisters and I lived with her for the last few weeks of that school year and then we flew to Arizona to live with my father who had moved for a job promotion. There’s a hole where the memories of staying with my mother should be. I find that odd, but no more odd than half the other crap that life threw at me as a child.

I don’t remember how I felt about the move to Arizona, either. The new school didn’t seem too bad I guess; I started in the first grade, so it wasn’t like I was the new kid in school that time. For the most part Webster Elementary was a typical 70’s era primary school. I think I got a pretty good education, but I probably would have almost anywhere in those days. I spent most of my time in the library during free times at school as I grew older. Over time they made up rules specifically for me, banning students from the library until a certain number of minutes after lunch started, no students in the library during the shorter late morning recess, and simply even resorted to telling me I had to go outside and play.

Libraries have always been my refuge. The books, my god, who can pass up all those books? And in elementary school, you’re not going to find anything too disturbing, violent, or overtly sexual, so you can enjoy everything without risk! I could have read through the entire library if they had let me. At times I would get burnt out on certain types of books, or feel like I had read everything I could in the library, so I would read the encyclopedia! The encyclopedia (and now Wikipedia) are, in my opinion, the god’s gift to humanity. Education is what makes us human, and even the laziest person on earth can browse wikipedia. I lose hours there. The library was my escape from the growing realization that kids were figuring out what I was.

Faggot is a horrible word to throw at a scared young boy, and you don’t ever really recover. So I hid, and I coped. This is where I discovered Judy Bloom,  E. L. Konigsburg, and Madeleine L’Engle. Equally lucky for me, at around 4th grade I met Chris. He was the best friend I could ever have hoped for. I persuaded him to join the band when I learned he played trumpet just like me, and after a few weeks we were inseparable. I have to admit to a very large crush on Chris, but I never found out if it would have meant anything, and I had no intention of hurting our friendship by trying anything, and besides, we were only children. I still search for him on Facebook, but so far no luck.

When I found out half way through sixth grade that we were moving back to California, again I wasn’t sure how I felt. I was secretly thrilled that I would be moving in with my Nana. My father and step-mother were moving to Las Angeles, and according to them they weren’t sure what area would have decent schools. I didn’t mind that situation in the least! There was no one as loving and accepting of me as my Nana. I’m pretty sure I was her favorite. It didn’t hurt that I’m the youngest, I’m sure. But moving meant leaving Chris. He was quite literally the only friend I had had for the past three years. From my perspective at the time, the only person in my life who cared. He would let me cry when I had some perceived grievance against my father or step-mother. Childish stuff, but important to a lonely boy. And on some level I knew we would lose touch. I called him once, I don’t think he was allowed to call me because of long distance charges. Eventually I lost his phone number, and we haven’t spoken in 36 years, but I haven’t lost hope.

Antioch, where my Nana lived, was a completely foreign experience for me. It was a revelation! For some reason, all of the kids at the school I transferred into thought I was amazing. I was instantly popular. I assume in some way I was exotic. Antioch’s a pretty small town, interesting was good. I was in the band, I was in a dance group that was trying out for a talent competition (swear to god), and I had the most supportive home life of my entire 11 years. Until it all fell apart.

I don’t clearly remember the chain of events. I think I was staying with my mother over the easter break. She was taking me to the train station to go back to school from what I can piece together. But somehow we got a message that my Nana was sick. She was in the hospital, and there was no way she could take care of me any longer. She didn’t die, but she was not healthy for much longer. I don’t think I got to say goodbye to her, but in my heart I know we were good.

I ended up staying with my mother. I was awful to her those first few hours and days. I didn’t mean to be, but I was so sad that I wasn’t living with my Nana that I was practically inconsolable, I only very slowly realized how amazing it was going to be to be with my mother. It had just never occurred to me. Since I hadn’t been living with her up to this point, I figured she didn’t want me. Also, it didn’t help that my mother was used as a threat all through grade school: i.e. “If you’re not happy here I can always pack you up and send you to your mother’s. Is that what you want?” Actually, I couldn’t decide, yes/no? I decided that I probably didn’t if it was such a bad idea. Which led me to believe that that wasn’t what I wanted. In fact, however, when it happened, it was the best thing ever. My mother is an amazingly loving and supportive person, a little too much at times, but nobody can deny her obvious devotion to her family and friends. She helped a damaged little gay boy find himself, and though I didn’t do it very well, I like to think I succeeded eventually. Children will listen.

The school in Sacramento was odd. I don’t remember any school work. I think there were only a few weeks of school left, and the teacher didn’t see the point. I was always a straight A student, so it didn’t really matter in the long run. The kids were nice, but with less than two months of school left, we all figured why bother. I made a few friends, but I never saw them after those few months, so whatever. I decided friendships were too hard, so again, why bother.

Junior high school was so much different from anything I had known (and yes we moved, so I didn’t know anybody in the new school), that it wasn’t really bad that I didn’t know anyone. I made friends, I was in the band, I was starting to notice how cute the upper clansmen were. Gym was becoming torture, who’s idea was it to have naked young men parade around during adolescence in the locker room. Does nobody see how naturally erotic that is? Even straight boys are affected by it. Shit. I spent the first half of my day dreading gym, and the last half dreading the next day. I was obsessed with it. We only had communal showers for god’s sake! And then, to add insult to injury, the very hot, strangely older boy (you know the one, the one who started shaving in grade school, and now appeared to be in his twenties even though you’re in middle school), and the rather hot gym coach were extremely chummy! Nothing out of the ordinary, but he was obviously coaches favorite, and coach showered after our gym class! Thank god he had his own private shower, I don’t think it would have ended well for me.

I stayed at Howe Avenue Junior High School for the whole year, and half the next. Yes, half. Halfway through the year we moved to Novato. I have to admit I fell in love with the little town of Novato, but it didn’t quite fall in love with me. My mother and my oldest sister rented a condo together on the newest, and most expensive side of town. The condo WE lived in wasn’t expensive, that word could never have been used in conjunction with the much too stereotypically cheap landlord. Nevertheless, we were the poor people, on the rich side of town. The junior high school on that side of town, honest to god, they had a rich side of town junior high (Novato Junior High), and a poor(er) side of town junior high (Hill Junior High). Let me paint the picture. You arrive at Novato Junior High School (long since closed, it is now a youth activity center), and the first thing you notice is the beautiful redwood buildings. They are sighted perfectly, with the rolling Marin County hills set behind. A creek bisects the campus, with two picturesque bridges to either side of campus. It was the prettiest school I’d ever attended, unfortunately, the kids were all much better off than my family, and once again, there was only a month or two left of the school year. Nobody needed to go out of there way to befriend me, and I just didn’t have the energy to try. I remember at one point I stayed home sick for over two weeks. You would think this would be a problem, but there just wasn’t that much to do for my classes anyhow, as I said, I was already a straight A student, and they just didn’t seem to be too worried about my work, so everybody seemed to figure, meh.

It seems crazy that my mother would let me stay home for so long. Every morning she’d ask how I was feeling, I’d say my throat still hurt, and I would stay home. Maybe somebody brought my school work to me, but I don’t remember it.

When I was at school the library at Novato Junior High School is were I fell in love with Ray Bradbury, Heinlein, and a host of other science fiction authors. There were no rules barring me from the library, if I had a break, and the library was open, that’s where I would be. I haven’t been to a library in years, but I know if I stepped inside one, I would feel instantly at home. The slightly moldering pages, the dusty books on row after row of shelving, the Dewey decimal system, the card files for checked out books, it all is so fresh in my brain. Oh wow. That made me sound so old. Do they still have file cards at the library? Are there books?

Once again I had come to this school so late in the year that they didn’t even try to teach me anything. A few perfunctory projects, some worksheets, but really, since I had come with a completely different curriculum, there wasn’t much hope of integrating me. I think I made one or two friends here, but nobody I can even remember.

Over the summer we moved to an apartment in the middle of town. I liked it better there. The school that I transferred to, Hill Junior High School (closed in 2011), was a pretty average school. Academically it was in the middle of the spectrum, but I got to start fresh with the rest of the classes. The kids were nice enough, not snobby like other parts of town and I managed to make a few friends. At this point I didn’t try for good friends, just kids I could hang out with at lunch. I spent my after school time with comic books. That fantasy world was much easier to navigate. Of course we moved half way through the year from Novato to Vallejo. At this point I put my foot down. I refused to change school. I told my mother that if I had to go to school in Vallejo I would get on the bus in the morning, ride it to campus, and walk home. We worked something out.

I commuted with my mother’s boyfriend from Vallejo to Novato, and then I would hang out in the library (where else) until it closed, and then out in front until my mother picked me up around 5 or 5:30. I learned a lot of patience during that time. Somewhere around the last six weeks of school we moved again. Away from the boyfriend, quite a little story in itself.

I moved in with my sister so I could finish out the year. She lived in San Rafael so theoretically I could ride the bus. But in fact, the librarian at the school would pick me up in the morning to take me to school, and I would only ride the bus home. What would I have done without the library?

At the end of that year I moved to Benicia with my mother. I actually stayed in the same school all the way through the end of high school. I don’t think I would have gone to another school. Knowing me, I would have just taken the GED test and called it quits.

It’s Just A Life.5

This is a repost, but only because it happens to be chapter 5. Well, it also happens to be one of my personal favorites.

 

5. She Became A Nun

I met Delphine the summer before I started at Hill Junior High School, the second middle school I attended in Novato. I fell in love with Delphine instantly. Now don’t get all worked up that a gay boy (which I very much was) could fall in love with a girl, it certainly wasn’t the last time.

This was in a phase in our lives that was almost pre-sexual, if such a thing exists. I know children are sexual beings, but that doesn’t mean they have the urges to explore it constantly. I just didn’t think in those terms with Delphine. I knew what I was, but really didn’t quite know what I was going to do. Delphine was like a young elf princess. But not the shrinking violet kind, the don’t cross me or your life will suck for a very long while kind, and besides, I genuinely liked girls. I don’t think puppy love is right for how I felt, and still feel to some extent to this day. I’d say love at first sight, in a chaste sort of way.

I wish I could remember how we met. She lived with her grandparents in the same apartment complex that my mother and I lived in. Delphine’s mother was absent, and strange. I only met her once, and the only thing I recall from meeting her was how alike she and Delphine looked, as if she were a clone, and the father she never talked about, literally didn’t exist. I don’t remember a single word spoken about her father. Delphine and I became friends very quickly. Unfortunately, her grandparents hated me, well more accurately, they seemed to hate everybody.

She and I often played word games or practiced dancing. This was the peak of the disco era, which may just be one of the gayest eras, I couldn’t miss out on that! Mostly we just hung out and played stupid teenage flirty games. Her grandparents wouldn’t allow her to see me, and she could never let them know we hung out together. It was like forbidden love. High drama!

When school started we were practically inseparable. And then one day, I honestly can’t remember when it happened, she stopped talking to me. No explanation, just done. I think our relationship scared her; she was scared by what she thought I wanted, something I believe she couldn’t reciprocate. It still makes me sad to remember those first days.

It seemed that she changed overnight. She dressed like a completely different person, the catholic school girl was gone (yes she had been), and the tom boy rock chick emerged! She went from playing bass clarinet, and Cello, to playing base guitar, and not only would she not hang out with me any longer, she shunned me completely. I remember being desolate for days. My mother, in desperation I assume, gave me a small dish garden of hers to give to Delphine as a peace offering. I honestly just wanted to be her friend. I had no desire for more, and I had sensed for some time that she didn’t either. Not because she wasn’t attracted to me, but because she wasn’t attracted to men. But I think I scared her away. Trying to get her to talk didn’t help. I took the planter to her apartment, and, afraid to be seen by her grandparents, I knocked, and hurried around the corner to listen.

They answered, I heard somebody swear, and shut the door. Damn it all, they hadn’t seen it. I knocked again, and scurried again. Ditto. They completely missed the damn planter sitting right in front of the freakin’ door! I was terrified. Somehow I had ended up playing a stupid game of Knock And Run, and I didn’t even realize it yet. In desperation I went to the door, picked up the dish, and knocked. I stood stalk still. A split second later the door was flung open! As I jumped back a little old man jumped out and yelled “What do you want!?!”

Scared the living shit out of me! It wasn’t until this very moment that I actually clued in to the fact that I was in fact playing Knock And Run. And with the grandparents who hated me for Christ’s sake.

I quickly told him who I was, who the gift was for, and no, I hadn’t seen anyone running away when I arrived. No lie involved! An audience with Delphine was denied in the strongest possible terms, and I was too scared to do anything but scurry away. I barely had a chance to speak to her ever again.

She changed dramatically in almost every way, going from straight A’s, to practically failing. She had confided to me early in our friendship that she wouldn’t answer in class anymore because people thought she was weirdly smart, which of course she was. It was obvious to me that drugs were involved in her transformation, but she never seemed so bad that it was obvious to anybody else. We hung out for part of a day right after school ended. She obviously didn’t really want to be there. It was so uncomfortable.

I spent years searching for her online. I wanted to come out to her, and hoped it would allow me back into her life. I tried early social media sites like classmates.com. I often googled her late at night. I even contemplated joining a “people search” site to see if I could find a number for her. Nothing. When Facebook came into heavy use I knew eventually she would join. Delphine is a rare enough name that I was certain eventually I’d find her. And eventually I did! She was listed (cryptically) as the base-guitar player for a band named The Nuns, under a pseudonym, Delphine Volino (Neid). It didn’t list very much info, but on later research I’ve learned that The Nuns were one of the very first punk bands, originating in San Francisco and Marin. They were extremely important in introducing the punk music scene, and were highly regarded, though not immensely successful. Delphine replaced their former guitarist in 1986, and was described as young and gifted. Delphine would have been 21 at that time, and she was most assuredly gifted. She made me love classical music after I heard her play the cello. Unfortunately, as I learned as I read more, she died of a drug overdose shortly after The Nuns finished recording their album Desperate Children, in 1990. I was shocked, but thought that, though extremely unlikely (young base player, drugs, named Delphine, in Marin County) maybe it wasn’t her. The odds were ridiculous, and it seemed it must be her, but still, there’s always hope. I contacted the only person I could find info on, the lead singer Jennifer Miro. I sent an email asking if she remembered Delphine? Did she know of her history? Was this Delphine the same girl who went to middle school in Novato?

After sending the message I forgot about it. Moved on, wondered occasionally, but only briefly. So months later, when I got a reply, I was dumbfounded. Jennifer’s answer didn’t settle my nerves. Yes, she was sure it was her. She knew her very well, in fact she was looking at a picture of her as she wrote the email, and how she and the whole band missed her every day. I have no proof, but I think she confirmed not only Delphine’s identity, but other questions I had as well. But I still wasn’t really convinced. You can’t think of a friend as dead on circumstantial evidence. Denial and hope are too strong.

And then while researching The Nuns again, I found a video! The only scrap of video ever taped showing Delphine Volino (Neid) performing with The Nuns apparently. After all those years and months, I was now positive it was her. Though the video was black and white and very blurry and grainy, I recognized her body language instantly. Even after all these years I recognized her signature slouch and bounce, a strange bobbing of her head when she played, and a singular focus that seemed to block out the rest of the world at times and playfully laugh at it the next. I cried, finally. In all the years I searched, I always knew I would connect with her again. I grieved for her life and tragic ending, and for the lost chance to tell her how much she meant to me.

It turns out Jennifer Miro’s email would reach me just 7 months before she too would pass away. She died quietly of liver and breast cancer in January of 2012. I don’t know anyone else that would have known Delphine. Our story is finished.

It’s Just A Life.4

4. Mendocino, My Own Private Oz

Mendocino, my own private Oz, is the place I go to feel like I’m “not in Kansas anymore”.

Yes, you are likely to hear me tell you that Hawaii, specifically Kauai, is my happy place. And that is absolutely true. It’s the place I go – figuratively and literally – that is immediately relaxing. It’s a place my husband Pete and I discovered, that’s totally free from childhood memories, or any of the daily stress of modern life. Honestly, I can walk off the plane at the Honolulu airport and feel instant rejuvenation. I’m relaxed, and ready for adventure.

But Mendocino? Mendocino is particularly special to me because it’s where I met the men I consider to be my gay role models. They owned a house in the hills above Mendocino. It was a beautiful redwood coastal house, with modern lines and a totally fabulous kitschy and laid back vibe, and they were fabulous, and seemed to be genuinely happy with each other. I had never (knowingly) even seen a gay couple before, and to be staying with one, at their house, near the beach?! They were who I wanted to be, but was absolutely terrified to allow myself to become.

It was the summer, and I was there with my mother and two of her friends. I’m amazed I was allowed to tag along, but I was always precocious for my age, and my mother didn’t have a lot of options for babysitting. At 14, I was too young to stay home alone, but too old for a “babysitter”. It became one of the most important trips of my life.

It was a revelation to me, seeing this happily adjusted – and apparently well-off – couple. Before this time, I assumed that if I followed my heart, and admitted I was gay, I would end up a lonely old man with no family or friends. Little did I know, what true love brings into your life can’t ever be taken away. These men showed me that. They were happy in their skin, and totally honest and comfortable with who they were.

It’s been too many years now for me to remember them very clearly. They seemed to be a much older couple, which of course to a 14 year old must mean they were in their late 40s. They were funny, accomplished cooks, their house was beautifully decorated in a California coastal style of the early 80s, and most of all they just seemed to enjoy being together.

My favorite evening of our visit was the night we all settled in front of the television and watched “The Wizard Of Oz” on VHS. Honest. To. God. It was already the favorite movie of my 14 years of life, and this made it even more amazing because they didn’t think it was stupid to watch it! They loved it as much as I did. And that was the seed that gave me the courage to admit to myself what I was.

Oh it’s not like I had a major epiphany and came screaming out of the closet that weekend. No, I would go on to make the mistakes that all young people make. Believing I could make something obviously wrong for me become the right fit. Hoping to make my parents and friends happy in the life I thought they wanted me to live. But they lit a spark that would take hold around 10 years later and remind me that I could be happy with the hand life dealt me if I truly chose to.

I love to go to Mendocino with Pete. He doesn’t like the drive, but I would happily drive there myself. That’s really saying something, because I hate driving. Pete and I wanted to be married there, but in the end we didn’t want to spend a fortune on a ceremony that would be just as meaningful in our own home. Maybe we’ll renew our vows there in 20 years.

I love the streets of downtown Mendocino. Pete and I have spent Christmas Day strolling, window shopping, and looking for the one restaurant that’s open (Mendocino has a charming tradition of rotating which restaurant’s open on holidays). I love the cool winter evenings, sitting in the window of the Mendocino Hotel & Garden Suites in town, having a drink, and staring at the sea illuminated by the moonlight, or even just staring out into a moonless night. We like to travel to the botanical gardens in Fort Brag, Glass Beach – or really any beach – to lie on a blanket in the sand, reading a book or taking a nap.

I love the art shops. These are the few times I wish I was a millionaire, just to be able to buy some of the fabulous art found in the dozens of art galleries. I love walking the dogs through town, stopping at a coffee shop on the corner, climbing the staircase in whatever business currently resides in the water tower on Albion Street. It was a garden shop the first time we visited, then an art gallery, or maybe a gift shop. But it will always be a garden shop in my mind. Our china was purchased in an antique shop down the street. And though I rarely do, I am always tempted to splurge on some designer clothing at one of the ridiculously expensive clothing shops in town.

None of these memories can compete, however, with sitting on an amazing deck overlooking a lush Northern California coastal valley, eating a homemade trifle. It was prepared for us by the perfect couple that welcomed (an obviously gay) boy into their home, and hearts. The grand finale? I took home a kitten. You really couldn’t top that trip if you tried.

In my many returns, I’ve tried several times to find their house, wandering the streets above Mendocino with my ever-accommodating husband, but no luck. It’s almost like my fairy godfathers didn’t leave a trace. They came into the life of a scared little 14 year old, and then disappeared without a trace. The hard part of that trip, and those following and yet to come, is returning home, over the rainbow, to everyday life.

It’s Just A Life.3

3. Yard Work, Gardening, Slavery, Hobby

The first plant I ever remember purposely cultivating was a simple annual called Celosia. It’s a plant I consider garish and unrefined today. It’s an annual, so it has to be replanted every year. It’s got a large “cockscomb” flower at the top of its single stem. You usually see them planted en masse in flower bed, or maybe lining a path. In twenty years of committed gardening, I have never planted it again. But this little plant was special to me for some reason. It was given to me at the mall where my step-brothers and I would hang out on weekends or summer break. We would often get free samples at the candy store (until they kicked us out), find treasures in the dumpsters outside J.C.Penny, Walgreens, or Diamond’s (Mesa’s version of Macy’s, now owned by Dillard’s), or once a year, free seedlings from the garden center. 

At the time I would have told you that I hated “yard work”. I wouldn’t have known what gardening meant, I’m sure. Yard work I knew. It meant cutting the grass at 6 am in the middle of the summer because by 10 am, when any self respecting summer vacationing 10 year old wanted to get up, it would be 100 degrees in the shade. It meant pulling weeds by hand as soon as there was any shade in the rosebuds, and it meant cleaning up dog poop around the pool before being allowed to swim in said pool.

My step-brother Clark and I would take turns mowing the boring square patch of lawn in the front yard. Back and forth lengthwise we would push the two-stroke gas mower as it screamed and belched toxic fumes that were hotter than the morning air. After a certain number of passes, trying to clip as wide a path as possible without missing a strip between passes, we would trade. Of course we did always leave a strip, which just meant more work going back over it. The problem with getting up early in the suburbs of Phoenix in mid June? It’s already miserable by 6 am. We detested it. I don’t remember the consequences of doing bad work, but I do remember that it always was bad work. I don’t remember ever being praised by my father. He was a product of his generation. It was a job that needed to get done, not a moment for praise.

We were responsible for clearing out the cuttings when my father would prune the Pyracantha bushes, and though I’m sure it’s because he was too self-centered to even think of buying his kids gloves for gardening, the reason I remember being given for us working gloveless while he, of course, did not, was because our hands were smaller and we could grab between the thorns, and while I’m sure that it’s true we could have grabbed between the thorns with our smaller hands, you don’t cary shrub clippings one at a time and hope to spend less than an entire day moving them all.  The best advice coming from my father? Stop whining and toughen up. As I said before, he was a product of his generation.

Pruning the ivy growing on the back porch was neck and neck with the pyro bushes for most hated summer job. While it’s true that ivy has no thorns, it is also true that I am extremely allergic to ivy (and grasses and a number of trees, just like my father). Piles of acrid smelling vines would pile up under my fathers ruthless hacking. Dust, and most likely spiders, danced in the hot, dry, and mercilessly still air. We would gather up as much as we could carry at a time, sneezing and hacking out the back gate and dumping them in the alley. Return and pick up another armful. Rinse (preferably the garden hose, but the pool was right there in a pinch), repeat.

Weed pulling was grueling, and we never did a good enough job according to my father. Which I have to admit is probably true. By my standards today I would consider our work mostly half-assed. But we were ten, and ten year olds suck at everything. That’s what it means to be ten. 

Yet even though I was convinced that I HATED yard work. I still took this little Celosia plant home and planted it in the only bare dirt on our lot that would receive full sun. A tiny corner where the carport met the path to the front door. Bare dirt, and direct, blazing, scorching sun from noon until around 6. Now, when I planted I was careful to crack the soil into as many smallish clumps as I could so that there was a decent chance some of the water would pause on it’s way by. Of course you had to be careful when packing the dirt clods back around the base of the plant not to crush, well, everything. Then water thoroughly, make sure drainage is good (I always assumed that the dirt in my little garden being bone dry within minutes to be a good sign where drainage was concerned). All I had to do now was sit back and prepare to be blown away with the lush and vibrant little plant shown on the little black plastic pot the little sprout was packaged in!

For several years I planted one of these perky little seedlings. Every year it lasted about three or four hours in the relentless Phoenix sun. The fact that years later I took a barren patch of dirt in the courtyard of the duplex Laurie, William, and I shared in Woodland and planted a garden (never to see fruition as this was the summer Laurie and I separated), proves to me that I have the soul of a gardener. So when I moved in with Pete in his middle-class duplex on the fringes of East Sac, it just seemed natural that I would help him renovate the front and back yards. He had made a start in the back with a little sprucing, but the front was a complete tear-down. The shrubs were dreadful. Every person that lived there or visited seemed to be allergic to them, they smelled funny, and they were completely out of control. The lawn was pure weeds, and the yard had no character. So I took charge. Pete put his energy into preparing the soil for seeding a new lawn, we replaced the shrubs with better behaved varieties, planted roses, lined the walkway, and added a perennial bed at the corner. In the fall Pete seeded, and before we new it we had a half way decent front yard.

As it happens, we only lived there a few months longer. A house we had passed daily on our way to the coffee shop a few blocks away suddenly dropped it’s asking price by a few thousand dollars, and we realized we could actually afford it with a little cash flow management. 

It was my dream house. It was a cute little bungalow with casement windows, beautiful hardwood floors, and 1927 charm coming out the wazoo. When we moved in we were ecstatic, but of course like any good home owner I saw all the flaws that needed fixing right away.

The first thing I did the very first weekend after we took possession was to kill off the side yard. It was a waste of space. I wasn’t about to maintain a silly little 6 by 10 patch of lawn. It became a rose garden over the next winter. I then started planting the front, and by the middle of the next summer Pete and I were redoing the back yard. Suddenly I was gardening, not doing yard work! Pete had to promise to prune the bushes and help with the weeding though. You only get so much out of me.

It’s Just A Life.2

2. Three Strikes And You’re Out

It wasn’t that I couldn’t play sports. It’s that I despised them so much, I wouldn’t let myself be good at them. Of course I didn’t understand that when I was young. It took me decades to realize where the problem started. Quite simply, my father is a sports nut. Not your Sunday armchair quarterback, or your team fanatic, no, my father is more dedicated than that.

We had one of the first VCRs in our neighborhood, possibly our whole town for that matter. My father won it for some sort of office competition. Who repossessed the most cars or double-wides, or something similar. It was only capable of recording one show at a time, and programming the thing was a bear, but now my father could watch sporting events in one room, while recording one to watch later in another!

Saturdays and Sundays were a marathon of sporting events. Weekends were an endless parade of Wild World of Sports, Monday Night Football, The Summer Olympics, The Indianapolis 500, summer baseball, Wrestlemania, My god, if it was a sport he’d watch it! And for some reason he always expected my step-brothers Clark and Kirk and Me to want to watch with him…eery single time! It was like he’d never met us before.

He’d all but order us to sit and watch with him. I’m sure the sitcom-perfect sports loving family is what he pictured, but as we got more and more bored and fidgety, he’d get more and more disappointed and irritated. It would always end with him sending us outside to play, or to our rooms to do something quiet if we couldn’t sit still and pay attention.

One summer day he drug us to the races. Motocross to be exact. At first it sounded great! Going to the fair grounds, motorcycles, hotdogs, sodas, what’s not to like, right? Yeah, well, that’s not quite the way it went. You see, we lived just outside Phoenix, Arizona. If I remember correctly, we were rather lucky, it was only in the low 90s that afternoon. Of course there was no shade and a horrific amount of dust and hay, but at least it wasn’t in the hundreds. I remember we had a great view of the races. Unfortunately, I discovered that day how agonizingly boring a race truly is. The races are loud, and pointless in my 12 year old brain, and it turns out, I don’t even care about the stupid bikes themselves. It was that day that I realized that a great portion of the people watching a race are actually just waiting for the inevitable crashes. No thanks.

Theoretically, a couple of young boys should at least enjoy the freedom to roam the race track area, right? Concession stand, mechanics area, play under the bleachers. Yeah, again, that’s not how it went down. One glaring problem in all of this? My father and indulgence are literal polar opposites. We didn’t need to waste money on hotdogs, we could eat when we got home. No, we didn’t need to get sodas, there were water fountains, right? And we knew there was no point in asking for ice cream. Yay, having such fun. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just watching sports that intrigued my father, oh no. No, he was also sure that if he could just get us involved in a sport, we’d surely thank him later.

It’s clear to me now that my father never actually saw me. He only ever saw what he wanted, and what he disliked. Of course, I was never anything but what I was – a quiet little gay boy who loved chorus and band, who played with dolls, and wanted nothing more than to hide somewhere by himself with a book. What my father saw, I have never been sure.

Another summer, my father, ever hopeful, took Clark and me to the park. He must not have told us why, because when we ended up at the baseball diamonds for little league tryouts, my step-brother and I were both caught completely unaware. He actually expected us to try out for one of the teams! It was one of the few times in my entire life that I put my foot down to my father. It was crazy to put us through tryouts. He knew as well as we did that it was a total waste of time. I don’t think I had ever picked up a baseball, or a bat, in my entire life. I certainly had no illusions of what was going to happen when somebody threw a baseball at me, and it would not be good. I should have realized it wasn’t going to be as easy as saying no to my father. With a disappointed, or perhaps more accurately, disgusted frown, he said fine. No tryouts.

Yay, we thought! My step-brother and I were uncharacteristically unified in our joy. Usually our good spirits came at the expense of one another, but this was a small miracle. My father never gave in to our opinions. But, of course, we should have realized this would be no different. As we followed my father away from the tryouts, we noticed a number of mingling boys who had gathered in a diamond on an adjacent corner of the park. Our hearts sank as we saw the sign hanging on the backstop. “‘No tryout’ team sign-up here”. Yup, as far as my father was concerned we were going to enjoy our summer wether we wanted to or not.

I was lucky, I only had to suffer through pre-season practice and a couple of games before I was unexpectedly whisked off to my mother in California. I only had to put up with watching the outfield players move in closer when I came up to bat, and being struck out on every pitch, a few times. I was in California long enough that by the time I returned the season was over. It may have been the only time in my life that I’ve felt sorry for my step-brother. He had to play the entire season, and he was no better equipped for it than I was.

I discovered years later that I am actually pretty good at sports; you have to want to. I also discovered how much people can whitewash their memories. My father and I were discussing something forgettable, as we usually do, at some family gathering, when unexpectedly my father remembered the baseball season. “You guys begged me to take you to those tryouts,” he insisted. At which point I put my foot down for the second time. “Who exactly do you think I am?” I asked incredulously. To his credit he didn’t argue.3

It’s Just A Life.1

Hello faithful readers, assuming, that is,

I haven’t kept up my blog well. It’s one of those nagging guilts that eats at me, and yet I do nothing. However, I have been writing over the years. A few people know that I finished a novel recently. It’s science fiction, and yes, I’ve submitted it, many times, and yes, now I’m a real writer because I’ve been rejected, whatever. If it doesn’t get a “real” publisher I’ll self-publish and my son will inherit a storage unit filled with unsold masterpieces. 

There’s another project I’ve worked on for much longer, however. It’s a memoir of sorts. Miscellaneous short stories written in the hopes that my son can have a bit more family history than I have. Some are (hopefully) amusing, some are embarassingly self-pitying, and most of them are just a day in a life…which is my poor attempt at setting up the intro to the book, which is entitled It’s Just A Life.

I don’t know when, or if it will ever be fully published, but I thought maybe a serialization (ha! now you get the blog title right?? Hopefully, if not just google it) in my blog might be a nice way to get it vetted. Feedback (nice constructive feedback!) is most definitely welcome. So, here we go, every week a chapter from the book. I hope you enjoy, or at least aren’t embarrassed for me!

 

David Martin

 

Chapter one, in which you learn of some interesting family dynamics…

1. Oh Brother!

My parents were experiencing bad times when I was conceived. I owe my existence, I’m sure, to the fact that my father was told he was largely sterile. Ironically, I have a half brother who is one week older than me that proves “them” doubly wrong. Swear to god; born in the same hospital a week apart. Can you imagine what the nurses and doctors must have thought? I don’t know the details. I would hope my father was present for both births, but I doubt very much he was. It was a different time.

I’ve never really known my half brother, we avoid each other at family gatherings, sharing only the most cursory of greetings before moving to opposite sides of the room. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say he’s not comfortable with the fact that I’m gay, but it could just as easily be the fact that I avoid him, and I’m not even really sure why.

I reached out to him when we were in our early twenties. I had always been intrigued by the idea of a real brother. We got together for one dinner at my and my fiancé’s house, but it never seemed to amount to much. And though it provided the impetus for him to become closer to our father, the brotherly bond I had hoped for never materialized.

My sisters Yvonne and Rhonda were 6 and 5 years older than me respectively. They were legally adopted by my father, they are in reality also my half-sisters. My mother left home, married her first husband, and had a baby girl by the time she was 17. 14 months later my other sister showed up. Sometime between these two events the neighbors helped my mother escape an extremely abusive marriage. My parents married shortly after my younger sister was born.

My parents met when they were step-siblings. My mother’s father, Byron, was married to my father’s mother, Naomi for a few years. They met after mom left her husband and lived with her mother and step-father for a time. Somehow my mother becomes my aunt and my father my uncle in this scenario, and we’re not even from the South.

I suppose my father was probably a fairly good catch, he’s quite charming, was rather good looking when he was “younger”, and he was a race car driver. The parentheses are there because sometimes I think he was born an old man. One of those people who never seemed to have the carefree attitude of youth, he looks the same to me in the pictures of him and I as a baby, and years later in pictures of him and my son. He can be a very nice man as well; he and I never really managed to connect. 

I’d always assumed my parents made the mistake of staying married because of me. But really, life just isn’t that simple,. Can you imagine getting a divorce from your pregnant wife in 1965? But of course what does that make the other woman waiting in the wings? My grandmother Naomi led me to believe they were engaged, my father and the other woman, that is, but my mother assured me that she wasn’t aware of a separation, so that might not be an accurate assessment.

I didn’t know I had a brother until I was thirteen. The same year I stopped living with my father. My grandmother decided it was time for us to meet, and once she set her mind to something, it was going to happen, and screw anyone who thought they knew better. I don’t know if she hoped we’d connect on some level, or maybe it would somehow interfere with my father and step-mother’s relationship. She never liked any of my father’s wives, and I wouldn’t put it past her.

We were born in a Northern California hospital, and shortly after my father moved my mother, me, and my sisters from Sunnyvale, CA, to Washington State. I’m sure it was for a new start. Oh, if only that mythical creature existed. Within a year we had to move back due to my frequent bouts of pneumonia. My mother tells me the doctor told them to move back to California or expect me to die. Can you believe I didn’t come out of the closet until I was 24 years old? Born a drama queen. 

We moved to Sacramento, where we lived in what has since become a thoroughly terrible neighborhood, but was pretty much middle class back then. Very much a 1960s suburb, I imagine it like Bewitched, starring my mother as Samantha Stevens. I’m pretty sure in reality it was nothing worthy of a sitcom, maybe a soap opera. I hope to god it would at least be a classy one.

Mom and Dad divorced for good when I was five. I remember the last time my mother left. What a dramatic scene I remember! I was crying and following my mother as she got in the car and drove away from us. How did I even know what was happening? Does our life create our memories, or do our memories shape our life? Do I remember it accurately, or did I create a memory of what I think it must have been like? No matter what truly happened that day, the memory I have, has affected my life for nearly half a century. It hardly matters what yesterday’s truth is today.

I have very few strong memories of those days, apparently I and my father were very close when I was little, I’m told I idolized him at the time. I remember having fevers and my father sitting up with me through the night. I have one very strong memory of a night I was having trouble sleeping, I’m sure I was sick, and when I woke in the night with a fever, he was sitting in a chair watching over me. I remember him teaching me how to swim, he believed in the sink or swim method, that’s not something you easily forget. I remember being so happy when he would pick me up from daycare, but I don’t remember those times lasting much past my fifth birthday. Wow, did life change after my fifth birthday.

I’m sure the transition from the 60’s to the 70’s was monumental in some peoples lives, but I can’t say I remember being aware of the decade. I was five, I had barely learned to tell time, I don’t think I had a clue how a calendar actually worked. But though I didn’t know the era was changing, I do remember my life changing drastically. The most significant change would be our moving from an apartment in Sacramento, to a house in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. Mesa to be precise.

It didn’t seem like a monumental change to me at the time. Oh, I do remember excitedly getting on the plane in California. I wish I still had the little plastic wings the captain gave me when he came out to say hi to the passengers, and I remember getting off of the plane in a blast furnace. The heat would have been similar in Sacramento a little later in the season, but all I remember is the blast furnace that was our new home. Five year olds don’t have a lot of perspective. But even as an adult, I would say the only difference between Sacramento and Phoenix is a major river, and some social niceties. They’re both hot and exhausting in the summer. 

My sisters and I flew to our new home by ourselves after school ended in California. We moved to join my father, who had already found us a house in the spring. My grandmother had come out to help my father prepare the house for us and met us at the airport. If I’m not mistaken, by the time we arrived he had also found a girlfriend, the woman renting the house next door. How cliché; I guess it wasn’t a classy drama after all. 

I wasn’t too unhappy with the kids that came along. They lived next door for a time, so we knew them pretty well by the time they actually moved in. Jack, a little older than me, was fine,  but his sister Janet, whom I grew to like quite a bit, was “special”. She was large, and slow, and to this day I still connect her bad breath to the mayflies I mistakenly thought were the cause of the odor the first time she stayed with us. My sisters hated her. I don’t really understand hating somebody in that condition, but I didn’t have to share a room with her as they did. Anyway, she only spent short periods with us, so my sisters only had to share with her part-time.

Gwen…I can still remember Gwen 42 years later. Not so much what she looked or sounded like, but a very strong recollection of alcohol, cigarettes, and big hair. My sisters hated her more than they did her daughter, and I remember not liking her very much. I don’t think they lived with us a full year, but it was quite a year. Sometime around the end of her and my father’s marriage she kidnapped us. 

Gwen and my father had apparently had a huge fight (the divorce happened not long after that), and Gwen ran to her parents in Florida. It wasn’t the first time she ran off with us. That would have been a trip to California, to my grandmother’s. It was the last, however.  

The trip should take about 1 and a half days to drive. All I remember is sleeping with my head cradled in one of my sisters laps for what seems like a few hours, but what had to have been a miserably long trip. Most of what I remember of Florida is rain and frogs. My step-brother Jack and I spent most of one day outside in the rain, playing in the downspout on the front porch of his grandparents house. I also remember my sisters sending me down into the storm drain to catch baby frogs. My sisters and I spent some time in the woods around Westwood, CA where my grandmother lived catching lizards with our cousins in the summer, so baby frogs were no problem at all. Try not to think about sending a six year old into the storm drains, what’s over is done. I also remember swimming in the gulf (the warmest water I ever remember swimming in), and catching crabs (which I’ve never been able to tolerate, sure I’ll eat escargot, but crabs are disgusting). I also remember Gwen’s horrible mother standing over me forcing me to eat all my grits. A more disgusting concoction I’d never before been subjected to! So there we sat, the grits and I, playing the same stupid game I’d had to play with my father for years. You can’t get down until you finish it all. God parents were stupid back then.

My father showed up to get us eventually, I don’t remember Gwen much after that. I still kind of miss Jack. He was the only brother I’ve had over the years who felt like family.

It didn’t seem to be too much longer after that that I met Clark. You might think meeting my step-mother to be, Brenda, would have had a bigger impact, but in fact not only would you be wrong, but you would be horribly wrong. Nobody had as much of an impact on me as my step-brother Clark. 

The first time we met was an unfortunate sign of times to come. Surely my father and future step-mother had been dating for some time at this point. I would hope so anyhow, but I had never laid eyes on her before this day. Brenda brought Clark with her this evening for dinner at our house. I don’t remember Clark’s younger brother Kirk being present, he was young enough that he probably arrived asleep. I assume the two of them were there to meet my father, sisters, and myself. Clark brought the most fabulous hot wheels garage with him! I loved hot wheels, they were at the time so amazing to a young boy, even a gay one! Bright, colorful, made of heavy duty metal at the time, and I could play with them for hours. I’ve always loved building car tracks, train tracks, hot wheels tracks. I especially loved those electric slot cars! They worked like shit, but I just loved them. 

Boys were an entirely different subject. I was terrified of boys. Always have been. My internalized homophobia created some rather unfortunate side effects. I was terrified that anybody could plainly see that I was gay just by looking at me, so I avoided eye contact. I avoided boys in general because surely they could sense I was different. I knew I was different by the age of four or five, so surely they could tell as well. So I avoided people in general whenever possible, either by hiding in the school library with a book, volunteering to work in the school cafeteria during lunch, or by staying home, generally in front of the television. Sci-fi and fantasy shows were the best. Lost In Space, Land Of The Giants, Star Trek, or even Dark Shadows! I’m sure it led to my life long love of sci-fi and fantasy books. Unfortunately, above general shyness, was pure terror of other boys in a one on one situation. Clark lived up to most of my expectations of doom.

As soon as they arrived Clark and I were situated with the Hot Wheels garage in the dining area just off the family room where Brenda and my father could have privacy and still keep an eye on us. Not a very close eye, though. Within seconds my life changed. As I reached to help set up the cars on this wondrous toy, Clark reached out and pushed me away telling me not to touch HIS garage! Our relationship over the next 8 years would only go downhill from there.