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November 28th, 2016

A Memory of Love And Romance

You reposted one of those Facebook chain post things…this one was where you ask people to post something they remember most about you and then repost it to see what people remember most about them. But I can’t post this to your page because…well…you know. So I’m posting it here. It’s actually something I posted back in the Usenet days, on alt.romance. Some moron wrote in there that gays don’t really love so there couldn’t be any such thing as gay romance, and in a way of fighting back at that crude prejudice I posted this. It’s been a while so I’ve edited it a tad.

It’s as close as I ever came to it, for a while I believed I was living it…finally, so the memory is very heavily tinged with sorrow and regret. But you gave me a chance to revisit it tonight and for that I am grateful….


In the mid-90s I began dating a guy I’d known since we were both boys growing up in a suburb of Washington D.C. He came from a very anti-Gay fundamentalist family and things he’d experienced had wounded him deeply. But he had a kind and gentle heart and he was a survivor. We’d dated briefly some years before but after coming out to his family he felt he had to break it off. I still vividly remember the hurt, but also my determination to let him go his way without playing the angry jilted lover. Whatever else happened between us, I was not going to become another leash on his collar. I loved him, and I wanted him to have at least one person in his life, willing to let him be free. But god it hurt.

Eventually I moved from the Washington D.C. suburbs where we’d both grown up to the Baltimore suburbs where I’d found work as a software engineer. During that time he went to chef’s school and moved shortly afterwards to Hilton Head where he’d done an internship at a big restaurant. He said later he found he liked the island and that it was good to be living at least one day’s drive away from his parents. One day several years after he’d broken off the relationship with me he called me up, and then later that year came up to visit me. Almost at once we began to rekindle the affair where we’d left off. Two weeks later I went down to Hilton Head to visit him.

We’d known for years that we had a lot in common, both in experience and temperament. We grew up Baptists, I in a more traditional Baptist church, and he in a southern Baptist church. Religion permeated our lives while growing up and we had both had our share of family pressures. We knew what it was like to have to fight every second you were around certain family members, to protect our self identities. We knew how rare and how important it was, to have someone in your lives who loved you who trusted you, and could be trusted unconditionally.

We lived in separate professional worlds; he was working as a cook, trying to make his way to chef, and I had stumbled into a career as a software engineer from teaching myself how to build my own personal computers and then teaching myself how to make them do tricks. He was still struggling to earn a living, and I was making a pretty good one. But as we would talk about our professional lives it became clear to us both that our attitudes about work and the art of what we both did, fitting the process cleanly and elegantly to the job at hand and leaving your mark on everything you do by how well you do it, were just about identical. We were birds of a feather.

When I walked into his apartment on that first visit we discovered a common interest in things 30s and 40s. Big band music, old radios and radio shows, deco and such. As it turned out, he had some friends who owned their own bar and restaurant, which they’d fashioned into a WWII Pacific GI hangout. That evening he took me to their place and we had dinner. It was situated near one of the main public entrances to the beach. Just outside the door a speaker played big band music from the times. Stepping inside was like stepping back in time. Behind the bar was a picture of FDR flanked by two 48 star flags, newspapers from the times, and an old refrigerator. Mounted on the wall was an period black bakelite telephone and below it on a stand stood a period radio which was hooked up to a CD player stashed under the counter playing the music I’d heard outside the door.

We had a great time and afterwards we went back to his house and settled in for the evening. As he was flipping channels he found one that was showing Jimmy Stewart in The Glenn Miller Story. He said that was a good one to watch so we settled in and almost instantly discovered another little bit of common ground: we both liked watching movies on TV while sitting on the floor, backs up against the sofa, snacks placed strategically around us.

It turned out to be a tear jerker at the end. I’d forgotten that Miller died in a plane crash before the end of WWII. The film focused on his struggle to make a living as a musician and the deep bond of love between him and his wife. There’s a running gag about the song “little brown jug”, which she loved and he hated, that runs throughout the film and I won’t give away what happens at the end in case anyone here hasn’t seen it, but it had us both crying, and he’d had already seen it several times. Another piece of common ground: we both like tear jerking romances from Hollywood’s golden age. After the film we talked about our favorites. Mine is Casablanca which to my amazement I found out he hadn’t yet seen. I resolved that when I went to visit him again I’d bring down a copy for us to watch together.

It was getting late and instead of turning in we decided to take a walk to the beach knowing there was a good chance at that hour that we’d have it to ourselves. It was the end of December but all we needed were light jackets. Hilton Head is nearly a tropical paradise but tourist season was still a few months away and the streets were nearly empty. We walked past his friend’s restaurant, the speakers mounted outside the door playing the White Cliffs of Dover as we walked from the pavement to the sand. Apt, I thought, since I felt at the time like I was trying to conduct a romance in a war zone. South Carolina isn’t exactly gay friendly territory.

There was no moon, and the beach was almost pitch black. It was low tide, and at low tide the beaches at Hilton Head become huge. There were no clouds in the sky though, and the night was bright with stars. Not as intense as I’ve seen out west, where the sky fairly blazes with them, but it was a denser field of stars then I usually get here in the Baltimore suburbs. To the east a calm sea seemed to stretch forever toward the bright flickering stars on the horizon.

We walked down to the water’s edge, and turned south. At some point I put my hand in his, something we could never have done there in broad daylight, without risking assault, and possibly even arrest. No love story I’ve read so far has quite fully captured the feeling of how that simple, beautiful, elegant gesture of taking your boyfriend’s hand in yours can be both deeply soul satisfying, and fraught with danger.

But on that shore the night not only sheltered us from hostile eyes, it made us a little paradise. There were no tourists. The locals were all home and we were alone. To the many condos crowding the edge of the dunes we would be two vague figures walking along the beach. The air was cool but not cold and a gentle breeze came ashore with the waves breaking one after the other it seemed as if to the beat of our hearts. We walked for a mile or so down the shore, turned, and started walking back, not speaking a single word, rapt in the simple company of one another like two strings spanning a single instrument vibrating in harmony. I am a fast walker and all my life friends have complained at me to slow down a tad when we’re walking together. I have to think to walk at everyone else’s pace and it’s work. That night he and I kept a slow easy pace with each other that just happened like breathing, and in the back of my mind a slow, easy big band song began to play itself over and over as we walked together.

Eventually we approached the public beach entrance again and we stopped not wanting to return to the real world just yet. We stood on the shore and I put my arm around his waist and he put his head on my shoulder and we looked up at the stars. I love star gazing and began pointing out this and that constellation to him. Orion was high in the sky, his sword pointing toward the sea. I was pointing out the three blue giants that made up the belt when a meteor shot across it. He shivered, and I think I did too, and for a while all we did was stand there silently watching the heavens and listening to the waves breaking nearby.

In the parking lot on the other side of the dunes a car radio briefly blared out some loud music and drove away. When it was quiet again I remarked that I’d had a big band tune dancing in my thoughts all that time, and he just nodded his head, “Moonlight serenade…right? Me too.” I like to think that even if it had been broad daylight in that moment I would have still drawn him to me and kissed him.

We stood there in each other’s embrace for the longest time. Eventually we slowly walked back to the public walkway. The little bars and restaurants nearby were all closing and there were people in the parking area. As we walked onto the pavement our hands parted. We were back in the world. Somebody beside one of the parked cars was having a loud argument with his companions about who should drive. He looked drunk and I hoped he didn’t end up winning the argument. In the distance I heard somebody’s car alarm start warbling for a moment. We crossed the parking lot, and walked around the traffic circle to the road leading back to his apartment. On the way we passed his friend’s restaurant. It was closed, but the outdoor radio was still turned on and it was playing Moonlight Serenade.

 

[Update…] Our little fling didn’t last long. It was a long distance relationship when we started it up again, with me in Baltimore and he in Hilton Head, and he eventually dumped me for a guy he’d met on AOL messenger, who I guess he just liked better than me. They’ve been together 17 years now. I was a contract software developer back then and my company had offices close to Hilton Head and I was making plans to move closer to him when I got told. We were chatting on AOL messenger when I asked him straight up if he was seeing someone else and he said finally that he was. So I stayed here in Baltimore and eventually got the job at Space Telescope and a house of my own, which he actually visited once, so I could say it all worked out I suppose. But like that character in Heinlein’s Job – A Comedy of Justice, I’d have washed dishes forever to have had him to come home to. So it didn’t work out, it just happened the way it did.

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