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February 6th, 2013

Valentine’s Day Broken Heart Countdown…(continued)!

Valentine’s Day is Just Around The Corner! So let’s get started with that little pre-game celebration I promised. If all my dreams of love and happiness had to be other people’s stepping stones to heaven, then surely this brief little flare of hope within made someone’s closer to walk to Thee a little closer!

I was in my twenties, not at all sure of what I was going to do with my life, but at least making ends meet working as a stock clerk at the warehouse of a small catalog retailer. They had two local stores and one, oddly, in Hilton Head, but like a lot of catalog retailers did most of their business around the holidays from the annual Christmas catalog they mailed out. I’d worked there by then for a couple years. Most of summer and autumn were spent bulking up the warehouse with goods for the Christmas rush. But the two local stores had to also be kept in supply. The Hilton Head store periodically got shipments from our warehouse. The two local stores were supplied by me and the company van.

One day, one of the clerks from the Montgomery Mall store came by to pick something up. My jaw probably made a mark in the concrete floor the moment I first laid eyes on him. About my height and age, thin but not scrawny, short reddish hair and geek glasses. His friendly smile as he asked me where the warehouse manager was seemed to lift me off the ground. I pointed in the boss’s direction and thought of that smile the rest of the day. No…the rest of that week.

Periodically he would return and I would walk over to greet him and our eyes would meet and we’d share a smile. My gaydar was never wonderful but it seemed written all over him. Problem was we were never left alone so I could strike up a casual chat with him. The warehouse was getting busy for the release of the new catalog and we had a bunch of new temporary hires running around. Whenever he came to the warehouse the warehouse supervisor always seemed to get to him first, and by the time he’d finished his business I was usually busy with something else.

Plus, it was the late 1970s. You just didn’t come out to people back then without a lot of careful preparation. By that time in my life I’d already been let go from a couple places after it became apparent that Bruce is gay. One supervisor had told me to my face that there was no place for homosexuals in his business. You had to be careful. If he was gay, and I was pretty sure he was simply by the way his eyes roved cheerfully over my body whenever he came around, he also knew he had to be careful. But after sharing several long lingering smiles with him I resolved to at least get a name and hopefully…somehow…a phone number.

One day as I was dropping off stock to the Montgomery Mall store, he came to the loading dock. He’d never done that before…it was usually one of the other clerks. His shift I’d assumed, was the late afternoon to closing one and I always made my deliveries in the morning before the stores opened. But that day, there he was, and he offered to help me unload. My heart leapt for joy. We began a casual chit-chat as we took the stock out of the van and into the store’s backroom. Then the store manager came out to the van…just as we were sharing another of those long lingering smiles. The look on her face could have frozen lava. She told him there was a customer he should take care of, glared at me, and left me to finish unloading.

The next day I was fired. Allegedly because some unspecified store manager complained my hair was too long. (yes, seriously) A couple days later I worked up the nerve to go to the Montgomery Mall store and of course there she was and I was told not to come back. I later learned he was let go as well. I never got his name. Never saw him again. But I can still see that last smile he tossed at me.

I’ve no idea if anything would have come of it, but a closer walk with him would have been nice. But someone else’s Closer Walk With Thee probably took precedence. And why buy your stairway to heaven when you can make it out of someone else’s dream.

Some years later I ran into the UPS driver who ran the route that serviced our warehouse…my job had me working closely with him getting our stuff out the door to our mail order customers, so when our paths crossed again we immediately recognized each other and started chatting.   Hey…what’s up…how are things…? As casually as I could manage I asked him if by any chance he remembered the guy who had made my heart sigh, if only for one brief moment out of my life.   There was a guy…I don’t know his name, but he worked at the Montgomery Mall store…came to the warehouse every now and then…remember him…? No, says he, he didn’t make runs to the Mall. But the warehouse manager who fired me he said, had ended up getting arrested and going to jail. The owners of the company had apparently caught him with his hands in the petty cash box.

No doubt he went to the pokey knowing that at least a thief’s chances for paradise were better than a sodomite’s.

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