OK. I know what you’re thinking. The title of this post. Me. Gay. Blah. Assuming someone is gay is the new beating someone to death because you assume he is. So five years ago. Today, a co-worker (male) told me that the anti-gay marriage amendment to the Georgia Constitution “affects a lot of people I (the co-worker) really care about.” You know what that means about the co-worker, right? That he supports judicial activism? No. That he is a liberal? No. That he’s GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY! (Especially because he’s married and has a child). Gay is as gay does. ____ is as ____ does is one of the best rejoinder lines ever invented, assuming it is used properly.
While I’m rattling off good lines, here’s another one. It sounds like a quasi-faux-goopy-so-inspirational-I’d rather watch Dr. Swill-kind of line, but I like it, and somehow, even my mind, as polluted with cynicism (or as Woody Allen more properly calls it, “perception” – I hate describing myself with a word others use to describe themselves so as to make themselves look “cool” – “cynical” is a “cool” word, but “perceptive” is – well, according to people my age, gay), as it is, cannot penetrate it:
“It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.”
It’s been ten years. Since what? Well, since my life changed forever. Thank god that I’m not trying to write a book with those three ululations as the opening lines. But seriously…. about ten years and a week ago, I graduated from high school, and was at about that time dropped on to a baggage carousel that I can only hope someone has momentarily (yes, ten years is hardly momentarily in the span of a human life, but the word sounds more optimistic than “temporarily”) forgotten to shut off.
Somehow, I knew that summer was not going well even as I was entering its early phase. I thought that it would be in my best interest to take the summer off (i.e. not have a summer job) before going to college. What a dumb idea – and not just in hindsight. The paltry sum I could have earned would have allowed me to work that many less hours of work-study freshman year (well, the first half of it; I hated that work so much that I didn’t do it the second half, and the second half, naturally, was the first time in my life when I began to experience a depression so acute that the depression disrupted and overwhelmed every aspect of my daily routine – sleeping, grooming, ability to think, cleaning, eating, and so on).
I remember at one point trying to remedy the mistake – by going to an interview with a temp agency a few weeks into the summer. My father, as I recall, had contacted this agency, and had told me (he never tells, even when he tells, he screams; “Tomorrow, you’re going to a temp agency for an interview. Bring your resuME and some references.” I said, “OK. Thanks for doing this. I merely said it would be nice if I had a job, and I really have no idea what a temp agency does or how it can or would help me, and I’ve never even had a real interview before, so this will be a complete waste of time for reasons that I probably won’t figure out until well beyond I’m dead – well, at least that gives me an incentive to die – but thanks anyway.”
So, I went. I had no idea how to dress for the interview, which my father said was informal. Not all temp agencies are created alike. All I had at the time were cheap suits that did not fit. I put on a pair of navy pants and a black T-shirt, not knowing any better. The amount of common sense I have now has increased measurably; it is almost at the point of being a whole number. So, when I was interviewed, I was asked what kind of position I was interested in. I don’t remember what I said. I just remember feeling really overheated and embarrassed.
And then I remember my father, who visually inspected me (to make sure I combed my hair and so on; this is a man who bathes once a week) before we left the house, INTENTIONALLY screaming at me for not having worn a suit to the interview. That made me feel special.
The rest of the summer was a haze. I had no car. My mother, in those days, still had her outside job, and my father had only half-raped his body to death.
So, near the end of August, it came time to leave the comfort of my home (and I should note that despite everything I’ve said in this message, my parents are the greatest people in the world, and when they are gone, I can but pray that mentally, I will not be gone with them) for college. The last image I have of leaving home is of the movie “Sense and Sensibility” playing in the den. A few characters were entering a house. I then had to shut the remote off as my parents and I left the house, locked the door, and drove to Ithaca, NY to deposit me to my temporary (note the deliberate use of that word) 4-year home. By the way, that movie was a great movie, but I cannot bring myself to watch it any more. The song “As I Lay Me Down To Sleep” is a great song, but I cannot listen to it, because it was on the radio circa 1994 in the car my brother and I shared. This song happened to be on the day we drove to high school on a Saturday morning to take some kind of test. I cannot remember, after that date – after that song – when the next time we talked – just as people – since he gruntingly initiated a conversation with me six years later. Ever see the TV show “Cold Cases?” It’s about a pair of detectives in Philadelphia who crack cases that have been unsolved for many years – some for generations. This show, “The Sopranos” notwithstanding, uses music more effectively than any show on TV. The opening scene of July 2nd’s show (a rerun) had this song playing while an alcoholic mother (whose murder was finally solved at the end of the show) lost it in public, taking it out on her two children, circa 1994. The show makes me cry a lot. This scene was… I actually felt happy to have cried that much. It reminded me that I was alive.
So, off to Ithaca I was. Flash forward ten years later. I have such a foggy memory of what life was like when living at home every day was routinized and accepted. The fogginess is explained in part by the passage of a decade’s worth of time. But more accounts for it. And what frustrates me so much is that I do not know what that more is. Sometimes, it’s easy – painful but easy – to identify a loss in life. You lose a friend – the friend dies or stops talking to you, you know what you’ve lost. But over the course of ten years, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve lost things I didn’t even know I had. Perhaps the fact I can identify these now is merely a function of the maturity process – perhaps it’s merely a reflection of the fact that for me, that process has been so unnatural and stunted. I don’t know. But it is – for me, anyway – an odd phenomenon to want something – a restoration to the past – so badly – when I cannot even remember what I would be restoring myself to.
I know, I know. As my parents told me, and as I told myself, I had to learn to live away from home. Well, I physically did live away from home, and have done so for ten years. Whether I have learned to do so – whether I have INTEGRATED what it means to live away from home – and the implications thereof – into me – is another question. I am self-reliant but socially non-functional. Have I learned to live away from home? A recent study found that 1/4 Americans have NO friends at all, and NO ONE to whom they can confide an intimate personal matter. These people all “live at home.” Are they all non-functional too? And, had I continued to stay at home, would I have become self reliant? Maybe. Socially functional? I don’t know. I’ve been plopped into every social setting imaginable, and they all share one thing in common: they’re all dead-ends. Can one be socially functional if that person is merely friends with one’s parents? My old Scoutmaster, Syd Salinger, told our troops, “Your parents are your best friends.” Everyone laughed when he said this; I believed it was the way things SHOULD be if your parents deserve that friendship, and if you deserve theirs. Roughly one third of Americans, this study tells us, have one or two relatives as their ONLY friends/close confidantes. Is one third of the entire American population socially nonfunctional? If so, the question of what that phrase means is seriously begged.
Ten years ago, I did not have to reflect upon any of this. Ten years ago, though, I did not have (well, I had not been diagnosed with) OCD/depression/ADHD. But who knows how much these problems were exacerbated by events of the last ten years?
I think, in the end analysis, that my mind wants to believe, regardless of what “the way things were” ten years ago or previously, that things were better then than they are now – not so that my mind can enable me to lament my current state, but so that it can feed me with thoughts of happiness of days past, dangling the prospect over my head that somehow, such days may still lie ahead.
My mind may, in other words, in its own way, be trying to light a candle.
There is a great short story by Willa Cather, the 20th-century American novelist, called “A Wagner (as in Richard) matinee.” As I remember the story (I read it in, yes, high school – don’t rely on my memory – read it! It’s a great story!), an elderly lady who once taught music, but who has long since retired, leaving her musica skills – but not passions – to rust – is brought to the opera for a Wagner performance. She is brought by, I believe, a son, or grandson. This person is familiar with the woman’s occupation, but does not – and cannot – understand the intensity of her love of music. He thinks he is being kind to her by bringing her to a venue that will remind her of her former occupation.
The opera commences. The performance is beautifully rendered. And just like that, it is over. The son/grandson then gestures to the woman, indicating that it is time to go. She does not get up. She is still sitting in her seat, entranced, as she was during the whole performance. Slowly, as he continues to tell her that it is time to leave, she gets up out of her seat, back into the banality of reality, and cries, “Please! I don’t want to go! I don’t want the show to stop! Don’t make me leave! Please!! “
And with those words, the short story comes to a close. The past is not only prologue, it is what keeps us alive. This woman, who, the story seemed to imply, was living a dull and dreary existence once her teaching days was over, experienced a few hours of pure joy for one day. Yes, the joy culminated in tears of unbridled sadness – but through the sadness, the woman was reminded of what made life so great for her. As I said, “A Wagner Matinee” was a short story. I do not believe that Ms. Cather ever wrote about this woman other than in this short story, but I’d like to think, somehow, that if up above and beyond, Ms. Cather were to write a sequel, it would involve the woman again being taken to a matinee by the son or grandson, only this time, at the end of the performance, the woman would, while expressing a hint of sadness that it was time to go, applaud enthusiatically with the rest of the crowd.
In other words, I believe that she would rather light the single candle than curse the darkness – if for no other reason than that the match had something to ignite, just as my mind is trying to ensure that mine does.