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February 27th, 2013

Adios Valentine’s Day…

I try to be rational about things, but sometimes I wonder about why my life had to be so lonely and when I can’t find a logical answer my thoughts stray elsewhere, down darker paths. Lately I find myself thinking that maybe the reason I have always been so alone is mom was supposed to marry that other guy.  Had war not driven him mad perhaps he and mom would have likely married, and they’d have had a few lovely children (mom said often that she had wanted more then one but alas her one and only marriage did not work out).  And as time passed their children would have each found someone to love and settled down with them.  As the saying goes, “every pot has a lid.”  I never found mine probably, because that person does not exist.  Because I was the child who was never meant to be.

Sometimes I wonder what it must be like, looking at me from the outside in.  It’s only people who have known me the longest I wonder this about though. The people in my life who remember me from grade school, or as a young adult.  How does it feel to see Bruce has walked from adolescence to the threshold of old age, and you’ve never seen him dating anyone, never known him to have a boyfriend, any significant other, even a fling or two.  What are they thinking?  That this is a normal thing?  Expected, completely unremarkable, untroubling?  Yes…Bruce has always lived by himself.  Of course.  We knew he would.  That was always to be expected. Is that what the thinking is?  And if so…why?  What is it about me that made you, not so much certain that I would always be alone, but that it was just completely unremarkable to see that happening to me.  Part of the normal everyday background.  The sky is blue, traffic on the beltway is horrible, the republicans are screwing America, TV sucks, Bruce is alone. C’est la vie.  My friends. This image came across my Facebook feed on Valentine’s Day…

Well, I haven’t read the Twilight books so I can’t say I agree with that or not.  But I did watch Up, bought a DVD copy the next day, and not to give anything away, that first eight minutes, and the little bit about the scrapbook at the end, moves me so deeply I find myself bawling and I can’t stop. And I am crying for everything that might have been, that I lost, forever, for all eternity, because I never got that chance to love, and be loved.  What adventure?  There was no adventure.

You only get one life and now at the threshold of old age, the life I see is one I’d have rather not have lived.  The predators who run the ex-gay ministries would nod their heads and point and say, See…we told you so.  But read their tales about the self destructive gay lifestyle and you see a lot of things that if anything are more about the self hatred relentlessly preached at us, and to our peers.  I am not a drug addict, drugs did not deliver me into a bitter, broken place. That it might have been sex addiction that kept me from finding true love all these years is a belly laugh. At age fifty-nine I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve ever had sex.  My libido was never the explosive vent of hot magma I keep hearing male libidos are supposed to be.  But it wasn’t non-existent either.

I desired.  Oh very much so.  But with that desire, always, was a need of companionship that was intimate in both body and soul.  The one time I let myself get picked up it was with a guy who sat on some steps beside me as we watched the Pride Day block party on the street below.  He was handsome and I was, in my late twenties, already very lonely, and when he suggested we go back to his place I accepted. But with his clothes off came his street persona, and what I saw under it was a personality so vacant I could not maintain an interest and nothing happened. I left hoping I hadn’t hurt his feelings and resolved never to do that again. What I needed was a lover, not a fuck buddy for a night or two. But instead of the lover I got a lot of near misses and a near total indifference from the people around me to the fact that I was getting older and older and still had no companionship.  And now I’m fifty-nine.

A lot of that has to do with being gay, and being born when I was, into the culture I was.  Had I been born a generation earlier I might simply never had borne a hope that I could have someone else to love and be loved by.  I might have resigned myself to life similar to the alcoholic’s of endless struggle against urges I would never defeat but only suppress one day at a time.  Or I might have just tactfully killed myself, as so many have, and continue to do.  Perhaps one day I’ll take that traditional cure for homosexuality myself.  I have come so very close to it.  So very very close to it.

Had I been born just a couple generations later than I was, I doubt I’d be so bitter and so despondent every year around Valentine’s Day. I’m not saying it wouldn’t necessarily have still been a struggle. Just that it seems with each new generation our struggle to find that special someone begins to look more and more like everyone else’s too.  And more critically, it becomes a struggle others in your family and community are willing to help with.  Gay kids can take their dates to the prom.  They can talk their problems and anxieties out with family, seek advice from caring adults, read stories about that universal struggle for love that speak directly to them.

That’s wasn’t the case for me.  I reached adolescence at a moment in time when gay people could begin asserting a right to companionship, but well before homophobia stopped seeming like a perfectly reasonable thing, and the first tentative suspicion began taking root in the social consciousness that perhaps snuffing a budding same-sex romance out before it could even get started might be wrong.  Of course, the best way to keep a homosexual from ever knowing love’s happiness is to plant the seeds of self loathing firmly into them at a young age, and while some of us of my generation were willing to challenge the prevailing beliefs regarding homosexuals and homosexuality, a lot of us were completely cowed by the hatred we all faced, terrified of the stigma, and chose the closet instead.  And even those of us who didn’t, bore the scars of that hatred with us all the same.  A big part of why dating is such a struggle for gay folks of my generation, even today I am convinced, is because of this.  We treat each other like shit because that’s how we were taught gay people should be treated.  Consciously we may reject it, but deep down the scars, and the pain, remain, silently doing their work on us.

When I was in college some friends decided to help out a couple mutual friends who had been eying each other, but could not work up the nerve to actually speak to each other.  That’s how it usually works, at least among heterosexuals. Boy catches the eye of girl, girl catches the eye of boy…they talk it over with their friends…and if the process seems getting a little stuck then friends of boy and friends of girl get together and talk it over and if both parties are interested then a plot is hatched to get the two of them somewhere they can break the ice and say ‘hello’.  That day we all decided we would gather at a local ice cream joint (this all sounds very Disney-esq I suppose) and girl would ride with her girlfriends and boy would drive his friends, each not knowing the other would be there, and we’d all just happen to be at the same place at the same time and hang out and eventually one would leave because they had to be somewhere else…and then eventually another would have to go somewhere…and then another…and another…until finally boy and girl were there at the table by themselves.  As I recall it worked out very nicely for all parties involved.

Over the years I helped in that process several times and always took a deep satisfaction out of it, even though back in the 1970s I could have hardly expected my straight friends to do the same for me, if only because they didn’t travel in gay circles and most of us gay guys my age were still dealing with the closet.  My straight friends might suspect that so-and-so was gay, and maybe even a good match for Bruce…but you could hardly walk up and ask if he was gay and back then not many of us who lived in the suburbs were willing to be out with it.  I even lent my bedroom to some straight friends while mom was away visiting family.  I was willing to help love out in any way I could, because I knew what it was like to be in love myself. What I didn’t know from first hand experience, was what it was like to have a lover.  I still don’t.

So in the 1970s I was on my own, but I figured that would change when I finally was able to connect more with others like myself.  But it wasn’t until the late 1980s and the first computer bulletin boards that I was able to find a community of other gay guys I could easily socialize in.  I was in my thirties by then…an age where by most reckonings you’ve passed over the hill and now you’re ready for the remaindered shelf.  But I made some friends, including that of the sysop of the BBS and his lover, and got a handful of dates out of it, but nothing steady, and in painful to look at retrospect, zero dating support from…anyone.  I had found a gay community I could socialize in and make a few friends, show off my artwork, display my inner self as best I could in my online postings and discussions…Here I Am…and I was still completely on my own.  And…alone.

As I got closer to forty despair grew deeper within me.  I recall one time hashing it out with the sysop…a guy I had tried dating who had rejected me, was suddenly dating this other guy who had rejected me the year before, and I was miserable.  I figured since grade school I wasn’t supermodel material, but never felt that I was actually ugly until then. I poured my heart out and the sysop gave me the advice that would become his constant song for the next couple decades whenever I complained that my love life was going nowhere…that I just had to get out more and meet people…as if I wasn’t already trying to do that on his BBS system.  I still remember this one moment as a kind of shock: he had looked kindly at me and said that of course if I just kept at it I would eventually find someone who would appreciate (pause) how I looked.  I thought to myself then, well he didn’t mean it That way…

There are people like me who want the soulmate and nothing else will do. There are people who are perfectly willing to sleep around until they hit on the one lover, or spouse, or something good that they’ll stick with, but until then they’re fine about having some fun in the meantime.  Some people don’t want a lifelong thing, but want more then a one night stand all the same.  They’ll drop in and out of the singles scene all their lives and they’re fine with that. And some people just want to sleep around and really aren’t interested in, don’t need and have utterly no use for the lover, or soulmate or anything with the slightest string attached to it. Here’s the thing about growing old and single; most of the people you find yourself socializing with in the singles scene at a later age are in those latter categories because most of the rest have found what they were looking for and have settled down and they’re keeping the singles scene far far away from the life they have now.  You’re still there because you kept trying and kept failing and you have no where else to go but off a bridge maybe, but they’re there because that’s home and they just don’t get you.  If anything, they think there is something tragically wrong with you and no, the tragedy isn’t that you didn’t find your soulmate, the tragedy is that you haven’t realized yet that the only thing in life worth worrying about is getting laid.  And they will keep offering you the same helpful Just Go Get Laid And You’ll Be Fine advice over and over and over and they will never get why that isn’t helping.  It works for them, it should work for you too.  And if it doesn’t well that’s obviously because you’ve got hangups you need to get over.

Time passes, the universe expands, and those of us who shared a brief community on that gay BBS system moved on to the Internet.  The sysop had a new and very much devoted lover…his previous lover, dearly missed by all of us, had passed away due to a chronic illness that wasn’t AIDS (we did die of other things back then believe it or not).  He and his boyfriend began a regular happy hour gathering of some of us in the BBS community who still lived in the area.  Others drifted in and out of the new circle.  One of these was a guy who was, like me, middle aged and still looking for that other half. We were not exactly each other’s type, but still recognized that similarity between us.  Still hopeful, still looking, not really all that much about the singles scene but here we are.

One evening we all decided on a different bar as our starting point, and when we walked in my jaw just about hit the floor when I caught sight of the bartender there.  And as always when that would happen to me, I got all shy and befuddled about it.  And…in retrospect…as always, the others just watched as I gawked with my jaw hanging open.  All of them but the new guy, who walked up next to me at the bar and ordered a drink and when the beautiful bartender served it, casually asked for a name, and when it was given, he looked sideways at me with a little smile.

There you go…

In two decades of socializing with the others there, and on the BBS before it, nobody had ever done anything like that for me.  And this new guy, about my own age, comes into our circle and just does it as if it were the most natural thing in the world. But it wouldn’t be for another year before I really noticed it, and found myself wondering Where did you come from and why couldn’t I have lived there among the rest of you…???

Well of course nothing came of it…trying to date the cute bartender is about as hopeless as you can manage, though some do succeed with it.  But all I needed was that name and it broke the ice and I gave it a shot. I was grateful for the help.

Eventually the new guy found what he was looking for elsewhere, and he stopped coming to our happy hours. I envied him, I was sorry to see him leave, but I didn’t blame him for leaving.

The sysop had a very fulfilling love life and other boyfriends over the course of time, and lots of stories about them he would tell us every now and then.  One day one of these was slated to get some special recognition at an annual drag ball award ceremony and I, the photographer and camera nut of the group, was asked to play paparazzi for him and document his moment in the spotlight.  I was happy to oblige; I’d never seen a good drag show live before and having the opportunity to photograph the whole thing up close was something I was interested in.

I did my best for the boyfriend, and really got into photographing the performers.  Some of them seemed amateurish, but others really had it going on.  The sysop’s old boyfriend had bought what must have been thousands of dollars worth of costuming for his big day and he knew how to work it.  And there was another, younger, cuter one there too, who I found myself unable to look away from.  Oh…I got tons of photos of him. There was a reason for that.

Those who know me say I have a thing for androgynous males, but I don’t see it that way.  I think of it as more of a happy middle ground between über masculine and über feminine.  Someone who does drag will need to work harder at it if they’ve got that über masculine face, but I’ve seen it done.  This guy at that show, was simply beautiful in a way that I love to see on males and he worked his costume very well.  I found myself wondering what he looked like in his street clothes. At the end of the show I figured I’d seen the last of him but at least I got some good photos.

That weekend I was to bring my computer with the digital images I took to the sysop’s house and the boyfriend of times-gone-by would come and review them and I’d make a CD copy of whatever he wanted. After I got set up we waited.  And waited.  And waited. And waited.  And waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Five hours later we finally got a phone call that he was on his way.  He’d decided to go on a boat excursion up the Potomac river with His boyfriend and they’d just missed one boat so they decided to take the next one instead.  Fine.  Whatever.  He finally arrives and we go over my photography and I’m happy he’s pleased with everything and I make him his CD.  He suggests I put some photos up in a directory somewhere that the others can see them because I might get some business that way.  I’m not really all that interested in making money on them, I have a good job and I’m fine with the income it brings me.  But further opportunity to document the drag performers tweaks my interest.  Then he leaves.  And then the sysop and his lover drop a bombshell on me.

Boyfriend from times-gone-by had called after the show, and told them that I’d attracted the attention of several guests at the awards, and was I available?  Well, says the sysop, knowing my tastes in guys, most of them there probably don’t do it for Bruce, but there was one guy…who went by the stage name…

Oh, says boyfriend from times-gone-by, you mean Robbie!  Yes…he’s actually single now and he’s looking.  He works in computers, as a project manager of some sort…has a house…and he’s into older guys.  Everyone says he’s a sweetheart…

And apparently boyfriend from times-gone-by had agreed to bring Robbie over to meet me.  The sysop and his lover said when they opened the door they wondered where Robbie was, but didn’t ask because it was supposed to be a surprise for me.

I was…to put it mildly…overjoyed.  Sure, it didn’t happen…but that they thought to do something like that for me just about made my heart burst with joy.  Oh thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you!

And the sysop agreed to try again sometime to arrange a meeting, or at least see if one was possible.  And I trusted them.  So a week later I asked about it. Am I going to get a chance to meet Robbie?  And the answer I got was, well…you need to get some photos of the other performers ready to show them and then I’ll have an excuse to talk to boyfriend from times-gone-by again and I’ll see if I can set something up.

Oh.  As if two decades of your friend Bruce being lonely wasn’t excuse enough.  But I tried to think of a way of getting some more photography of the show up on a web site the others could look at.  Problem was, boyfriend from times-gone-by had assured me so well that I would get ripped off or taken to the cleaners with requests for prints if I wasn’t careful that I kept trying to think of a way to put stuff up without there being a problem and I couldn’t.  I didn’t want to watermark everything as I thought that would be tacky.   So I hemmed and hawed about it, and asked again…am I going to have a chance to meet Robbie?  And the answer I got was the same…I need an excuse…we don’t socialize with boyfriend from times-gone-by’s crowd much anymore.

Another week went by.  Then a month.  Am I going to have a chance to meet Robbie?  Welllll…we don’t socialize with boyfriend from times-gone-by’s crowd anymore, but I’ll look into it.  Another month.  Am I going to have a chance to meet Robbie?  Well…I’ll look into it…but we really don’t socialize with boyfriend from times-gone-by’s crowd anymore. Another month. Same answer. Another month. Another Another.

By now you’re probably wondering why I didn’t just take matters into my own hands.  But I had no contact information.  None.  Not even for boyfriend from times-gone-by who didn’t do computers and email anyway. I was utterly dependent on the sysop and his lover for help here.  And I trusted them.  They were old friends from the BBS days.  They were my friends.

Had they told me there was something wrong here…something that maybe they were not free to discuss but that I should just trust them and forget about Robbie…I would have without regret.  I trusted them.  Had they told me that boyfriend from times-gone-by had said I wasn’t Robbie’s type after all, or that Robbie had flatly turned down an offer to meet up with me, I would have accepted it as par for the course.  Same-old, same-old.  There were a thousand things and more that could have gotten in the way of anything happening.  We might have met up and nothing at all came of it but a friendly handshake.  The point is it didn’t have to happen.  But I trusted they cared enough about me, after knowing me for as long as they had, and seeing with their own two eyes how lonely I was, how hard the dating and mating thing always was for me that they, being my friends, would at least give it another try.  Or at least give me enough information that I could try myself.

Another month went by.  Am I going to have a chance to meet Robbie?  I’ll see…but we don’t socialize with boyfriend from times-gone-by’s crowd anymore.  Finally I got fed up and late one evening at the end of yet another happy hour Friday I asked sysop’s lover what the hell was going on?  You said this guy might be a good match. You tried that one time. Why the stonewall now?  What the fuck gives?  And sysop’s lover shrugged and said he’d ask…

…and then he looks me right in the face and says, “Bruce, we’ve seen the people you look at.  People who look like that, want people who look like that.”

In vino veritas… I felt like I’d just been shot. But the real hurt didn’t come until much later.   When sysop sent me an email about how he’d talked to boyfriend from times-gone-by and Robbie was seeing someone now, and anyway Robbie had stood up boyfriend from times-gone-by and that’s why he hadn’t shown up at the house with him that day and so Robbie was probably just another “flaky drag queen” and I just needed to get out more and meet people. Well I’ve met some flaky project managers in IT but you can’t be too terribly flaky about it and still be successful enough to own your own house. And I guess I was supposed to forget about that ad hoc Potomac River boat cruise that had made boyfriend from times-gone-by almost six hours late.  I suspect if anyone got stood up that day it was Robbie.  But I’ll never know for sure now.  And I should just forget about it.

And I should also probably forget about the new guy in our happy hour circle who got me a name one day, like it was the most natural thing in the world, while sysop and the others just watched me flailing around and gawking.

Because everyone knows people who look like that, want people who look like that.

They say sometimes you don’t really feel the impact of a really bad injury until much later. I stopped seeing sysop and the others for a time, angry at them for their indifference. Then I sort of came back into the happy hour circle. Then I came home one day after a vacation in Florida, where I had briefly visited my first crush from so long ago, back in a time when I could still believe that there was someone out there for me…and I took my suitcases inside and looked around my empty house, which I have bought with the money I have earned from working the best job in the world…and I just wanted to find some nice high place somewhere I could throw myself off from.  So I’m not hanging out with the happy hour crowd anymore.  Going out for drinks and dinner with people who think your face does not qualify you for a love life just isn’t the fun it used to be.

You can’t live an entire adult life without love and not know there is something profoundly wrong with you. Maybe I really am that ugly after all. Or just that unlucky.  Or I was the child that was never meant to be.  When even the people around you who know you best don’t give your loneliness a second thought, if in other words, your friends don’t care, then how can you possibly expect someone to actually fall in love with you?  Whatever it was I thought I had to offer it can’t have been all that much if the ones who know me best don’t think it’s odd that I’m alone.  I can’t not see that anymore.  And seeing it, finally, something inside of me has died.  Hope I suppose.  Maybe at long last that’s all that needs to die. I don’t have to kill myself, I was never really there to begin with.  When the actual fact of death finally happens it will be like tying up a loose end that got forgotten somehow.  Oh…right…you’re still here aren’t you…? This time of year is the worst now.  The short days and long nights.  The coldness of it.  Valentine’s Day. 

I’m really getting tired of trying to sleep walk through Valentine’s Day week without wanting to drink a cyanide margarita. I don’t see an ugly face in the mirror, I never have.  But I see an old one now.  Too old to take himself seriously as date material. The skin on my arms has age spots now, my face is growing jowls, the ink on my sell-by date is growing fungus. The child who was never meant to be is all grown up now, still looking in the mirror with that vaguely bewildered expression.

People who look like that want people who look like that… Why me?  Why did I have to be born. I was the kid from the other side of the tracks who wound up with the best job in the world and a nice little house nobody least of all me would have ever expected. I should be amazed and grateful at the wonderful good fortune I have had, and I am.  Really.  Also, I wish I never was. 

There’s a scene in Robert Heinlein’s Job: A Comedy of Justice, where the main character Alexander Hergensheimer, angry with God after discovering that he got taken to heaven when the rapture occurred but wife Marga had not (because she was a pagan) complains bitterly to Peter that he was “…willing to wash dishes forever if only I could see her smile, hear her voice, touch her hand”, and concludes by saying that if Marga was in Hell then that was where he wanted to be sent too…and he promptly was.  I would be willing to do both of those things to have my other half, to see him smile and touch his hand…walk away from this wonderful life I have now and wash dishes forever, stand by his side in Hell even if that was what I had to do.  But that is fantasy, and fate does not offer even those choices for the one who was never meant to be.



If the heart is a house, he thought, it is rented to strangers who leave it empty

-From “The Man On The Bed” by Debora Greger

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