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July 6th, 2018

A Hug From Beyond The Grave…

Something to understand about the relationship between mom and I, that I need to get out here, before I go into what I just discovered digging through the stuff of hers’ I bought home after the funeral. After she passed away, people in the small western Virginia town she retired to, folks I didn’t know from Adam, would see me walking along, come up to me, and tell me what a ray of sunshine she was, and how sad they were to have her gone. It really helped.

And it was no act. I grew up with it. That was her. And I never doubted that she loved me. She really was a ray of sunshine everywhere she went. So whenever I misbehaved, and she got angry, and the ray of sunshine got all dark and stormy, it was Scary. Because you kept forgetting that was in there.

Mom knew her only child was gay, long before she retired, decades probably, before she passed away. But we never spoke of it. Partly that was reticence on both our parts to discuss anything related to sex. There’s a Monty Python routine that begins “Are you embarrassed easily? I am. But don’t worry, it’s all part of growing up, and being British.” Also part of being an American Yankee Baptist. Easily embarrassed would be an understatement. In my old age I can just let it slide. But in my adolescence, just when a boy needs to talk these things out with the parent unit(s), neither mom nor I could come anywhere near the subject without getting the terminal squeamishes and running the hell away.

But there was also this: she could see it coming. I did an episode of A Coming Out Story about this. With Bruce, it was always about the other boys. You might have thought there were no girls at all in his world. Well of course there were…his friends all had, or were looking for girlfriends. But Bruce was oblivious. Mom would comment later that she knew the names of all my male friends, but I never once mentioned any of the girls unless prompted.

She knew. In my mid thirties mom had to go into the hospital for gallbladder surgery. Back then it was a very invasive procedure, unlike today. A patient had to recover for at least a day, maybe two, after surgery. One afternoon I went to visit mom in her hospital room. She had another women as a roommate, I think they were also there for the same procedure. As I walked in I was greeted by the other woman, and her visiter, a female friend. A few moments of conversation and I could tell both women were friendly, intelligent, and liberal. Mom was getting along well with them both.

Somehow, a conversation about the torrent of political junk mail started. Reagan was running for his second term, and I, a staunch democrat by then, was baffled that I was getting so much mail from the GOP asking for donations. I related one of them…a flyer allegedly from George Shultz saying he and Reagan “need you Bruce” to fight off the democrats.

The two ladies burst into hysterical laughter. I wasn’t getting why the joke was That funny…but yes, it Was a bit hilarious they’d send that to a democrat. Then the roommate managed, between laughs, to get out “…and they sent that to a homosexual…they Need Him…they Need Him…” Uproarious laughter ensued, while mom and I sat next to each other, smiling back at them amicably and pretending we didn’t hear that.

Eventually the ladies noticed we weren’t laughing along with them…gathered themselves together…and decided it was time for them to take a nice refreshing walk. As the roommate passed me on her way out, she put a reassuring hand on my shoulder, as if to say “It’ll be alright kid…”

After they were gone, mom and I immediately changed the subject.

Mom…what sort of conversations have you been having with your roommate about me…that you won’t have with me…? 

Time passes…the universe expands… One day mom retired, and moved to a place in south western Virginia, to be near her cousin and their family, and to live in mountains much like the Pennsylvania ones she grew up in. For reasons I still don’t completely grok, that Pennsylvania side of the family held some kind of grudge against her all her adult life, after she married dad.

By then I was very much the out and proud gay American, but I still couldn’t talk about it with mom. Several times just before she moved away I tried to broach the subject. And the ray of sunshine would get all dark and stormy and I’d back the hell off. So I thought to try a different tack. I subscribed her to the PFLAG newsletter. A thing I’m certain lots of gay kids have done over the decades, as a way of laying the groundwork for officially coming out to a parent. Some months later I went for a visit, and after the usual joyful greetings and catching up on the news, mom pulled out a copy of the PFLAG newsletter, showed it to me, and asked if I knew why she was getting it.

Well…she knew damn well why. But the ray of sunshine was all dark and stormy just then and I wimped out and said I didn’t know. And she very ostentatiously put it in the trash.

Time passess…the universe expands… Here I am in my basement going through things of hers, deciding what to keep and what to discard. It’s one of the tasks I’ve set for myself this stay at home vacation, in an effort to reduce the amount of Stuff I have in the house, preparing myself for old age, when I might have to rent part of my house out, or move to a cheaper part of the country to live, like mom did. But I can’t be moving to somewhere they hate Teh Gay.

I have her diaries now…I know that she knew…I know that she stressed over it considerably. To her dying day she was a deeply religious woman. In the Baptist way she never tried to force me to go back to church, but I always knew she wanted me to and was sad I didn’t believe anymore. I tried in every way I could to make her proud of me, but there were some places I could not go. To church was one of them. Into the arms of a woman was another. Just a few days before she passed away we shared our last phone conversation, and she asked if I was coming for a visit soon. I said I would try, but I didn’t like being on the road by myself much anymore. “I know…” she replied. “I wish you weren’t so lonely. I wish you had someone…” A pause. “It doesn’t have to be a girl…”

And of course we both immediately changed the subject.

And here I am going through her things. Much of it I just simply stuffed into these Rubbermaid storage containers and brought back with me, and I haven’t really gone through any of it in detail, except for what I needed to dig up to settle her affairs.

And I found this.

It’s the issue with the “Mother Talks Back to the Bigots” text that was flying around the Internet in the Spring of 2000 when the election was starting to heat up, and GOP antigay flyers were flooding the mail in the swing states. I’m certain the pulpits were thumping down there in Southwestern Virginia…and the talk radio screamers. Mom didn’t want her boy to be gay, but she loved him very much nonetheless. And this was what she would have read, and didn’t throw in the trash but kept in her files, for me to find all these years later…

“I don’t know why my son is gay, but I do know that God didn’t put him, and millions like him, on this Earth to give you someone to abuse…”

Glad I decided to go through this stuff finally, instead of just putting it off until I was in my grave too, and it fell to someone else to throw it all away.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on A Hug From Beyond The Grave…

June 28th, 2018

And Now, For Something Completely Different…

Since this is a life blog, which I began way back when blogs were a new thing and not yet a commercial media thing, and since I’m way too friggin’ stressed out about the news these days, I’ll be trying a bit harder to post random life blog stuff here for a little while.

There was a post I saw elsewhere about how a chorus will sing a long single note in rotation, some singers taking a breath while others keep singing, such that the effect is the entire chorus is maintaining the note. That’s what I’m doing now. Because all last night I caught myself wondering if it was all still worth living, and I am not letting that happen to me. And if it’s happening to you because of the stress of current events…please…pause…take a breather. It’s okay. You can come back to the fight when you’re ready. We need you. We need everyone. Don’t let the stress of it break you.

This is one of those little Cut and paste about yourself thingees you see on the social media forums…something a little more light hearted about day to day life…a little more about me, because this is my life blog…


1. Do you make your bed?

If I don’t in the morning I’ll make it just before going to bed.

2. The first car that was officially yours?

1973 Ford Pinto, 1600cc overhead valve single barrel carb. I got 136k miles out of it before I had to give it up.

3. Three grocery items you don’t run out of?

Bread. Cheddar cheese. Tea bags.

4. When did you start doing your own laundry?

At some point in my early teens…like 13 or 14. I don’t recall any decisive moment, it was probably I needed it done at some point and just kept on doing it myself, a thing mom sure didn’t mind.

5. If you could, would you go to high school again?

Yes. And be a little braver this time about my sexual orientation and my first crush.

6. Can you parallel park in under three moves?

Yes. It’s simple once you know the trick.

7. A job you had which people would be shocked to know about?

I don’t know about shocked…I was stock clerk at a private mental hospital once…

8. Do you think aliens are real?

Well I think they’re out there. Visiting us, not so much.

9. Can you drive a stick shift?

Yes. Wish the car I had now had one. But they don’t import the ‘E’ class sticks.

10. Guilty TV pleasure?

Old ‘B’ Sci-Fi flicks and Republic Serials when they’re on.

11. Would you rather be too hot or too cold?

Cold. It’s easier to warm up then shed heat.

13. Sweet or salty?

Who? Me? Depends on You.

14. Do you enjoy soaking in a nice hot bath?

No. Shower. Nice…hot…luxurious shower.

15. Do you consider yourself to be strong?

I’m a gay male who made it to 64 single and soul-lonely the entire time. I reckon I must be.

16. Something people do, physically, that drives you crazy.

Stopping to check their grocery receipt right in the middle of the exit door.

17. Something you do, physically, that you are sure drives people crazy.

Go off on a topics of personal interest at the slightest provocation.

18. Do you have any birth marks?

One odd little one on my belly, about the size of a freckle, that could either be a mouse or a coiled up snake.

19. Favorite childhood game?

Imagining worlds…telling myself stories about them.

20. Do you talk to yourself?

Well…I talk when I’m alone. Not so much to myself as to the house, or the car, or whatever.

21. Do you like doing jig-saw puzzles?

No.

22. Would you go on a reality show?

No!

23. Tea or coffee?

Coffee in the morning, sweet ice tea the rest of the day.

24. First thing you remember wanting to be when you grew up?

A cartoonist.

25. No matter how much money you have or don’t have, what are you an absolute snob about?

I don’t think I’m a snob about anything…but I’ll admit to sometimes taking excessive pride in personal art projects.

Play if you want to…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on And Now, For Something Completely Different…

April 14th, 2018

Greetings From Uncle Sam!

I was going through the stuff in my fireproof safes to sort things into the new fireproof file safe I had to buy, because the older you get the more paperwork you seem to accumulate that you just can’t loose. Things like the deed to my house for instance, and my will. I found a folder of paperwork that went way back to my teen years and let the contents take me back to another time.

Nixon was president, and the Vietnam war was still going strong, when I got this in the mail…

It’s the thing that sets a sharp and unbridgeable divide between us Kennedy era baby boomers and the Reagan era ones. They never felt the touch of the draft. We lived under its shadow the moment we turned 18 and by law had to register at our local draft office. Mine was in the old Rockville post office. I still distinctly remember the sign inside, hanging above the door where we could see it as we sat and filled out our form, Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here. Draft office humor. Ha Ha.

On the day above I went to the address in the letter, which was not the old post office but another nearby place where two buses were waiting to take us to Fort Mead for processing. I remember sitting there among all the other scared teenage boys as soldiers from the Navy, Marines and Air Force came aboard and tried to talk us into enlisting because, as they said, we’d get a better deal from them than from the Army. Some took the bait and walked off the bus with them. I stayed.

I remember getting to Fort Mead, having to strip down to my underwear and line up with the others to be processed like cattle. Not even that first group shower in Jr. High made me feel so humiliated. This wasn’t about hygiene…a point was being made. From now on we were not to even think of ourselves as human: we were government property, to be used and disposed of as the military wanted. We were poked and prodded, told to cough, told to drop our pants and bend over…I still have no idea what the doctors were looking for as they peered at our butt holes other than maybe evidence of sodomy. That was still illegal in the state of Maryland and in the military, and as I sat in my underwear in a room with the others, answering questions on a form, I debated being honest about my sexual orientation because I reckoned that would get me out of it. But at what cost? In addition to asking about medical and family history (Has anyone in your family been confined to a mental institution?) the form listed dozens of organizations and asked if you belonged to any of them. I reckoned answering yes would put me on a list of suspected communists and at that moment I wasn’t sure which was more dangerous. When I came to the are you a homosexual question I lied and said no because I was afraid of getting put on a list of known sexual deviants. And if you think that’s being paranoid you were not a homosexual in 1972.

At the end of it all they said I didn’t measure up, being eleven pounds under the minimum weight for getting drafted. I think I was 5’9″ and 112 pounds back then, which was about typical for me. I was a scrawny thin as a rail boy all through grade school, and a favorite story of mine is when I went to visit a classmate at his home and the next day at school he tells me his mom asked if I was a heroin addict. So I was spared becoming Vietnam cannon fodder. I got a letter temporarily excusing me and was told I’d be called back in six months to see if I’d improved any. Before that could happen however, Nixon turned off the draft. Not that I was in any mind to gain weight after that.

If I can point to any one thing that fueled the counter culture and the protests of the 60s it is that war and the draft that gave it tens of thousands of young men like me, full of life’s hopes and dreams, to eat. So much human potential that was lost to this country, to humanity, that we will never even know.

And it scares me to think that had I been recruitment bait when Al Qaeda attacked us on 9-11, I’d have probably gone right down to enlist, lied again about my sexual orientation to get myself into the fight, and been promptly turned into Iraq cannon fodder, or maybe Somalia cannon fodder, or some other place where we are fighting pointless needless wars so politicians can thump their chests for angry old white votes. 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Greetings From Uncle Sam!

April 6th, 2018

Facebook Is To Socializing As McDonald’s Is To Food

Reposted from my Facebook page…which is going silent for a while…

Just a note to say thanks to everyone who reached out to me when I was having a bad time. I haven’t read everything yet but it is all very much appreciated.

I’m still not completely back together, and for now I’m taking a wee sabbatical from Facebook to spend more time on my blog to write more generally about my life and what I see like I used to before “social media” ate all the blogs up, and focus on other areas of my website where I have my artwork. So don’t take it wrong if you don’t see me here for quite a while. I’m not deactivating my account so people can still contact me here if you don’t want to bother visiting me elsewhere.

At some point, on the blog most likely, I’ll write more about what’s been going on with me that made a bad day at work seem like everything was coming apart. Basically the job has been all that’s been holding me together now for well over a decade. I know that isn’t healthy, but it’s the way it is. You can’t spend an entire adult life without finding that significant other, even if just for a while, without beginning to think there is just something fundamentally wrong with you. Logically I know it isn’t that simple. But there it is. I need to see if I can find it in me to see hope in my life again as the individual singular me, apart from the work I do that is for a greater good. Being a part of that has lifted me so much, but there has to be more, and right now there is not. So I’m going to go try and find it now.

Hopefully I won’t be away long, but in the end I really want to put Facebook in the background of my online presence and not the foreground as it has been. This place isn’t all that good for us either. There’s a world out there we should live in more. It’s so easy to socialize on these social media things and it now seems to me so dangerous for those of us who have precious little, if any, human intimacy in our lives. It’s real in that our friends are real and we’re all here, but this world we’re interacting in isn’t real and it’s all text and maybe a few videos and in actuality every interaction we make here is in a sense at arm’s length. That can’t be good. It’s to socializing as McDonald’s is to food. A steady diet of it might just kill you.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Facebook Is To Socializing As McDonald’s Is To Food

January 31st, 2018

When Your Brain Tells You That You Have No Life So Just Die Already

Yesterday I posted a link to a Salt Lake City Tribune article about a Mormon straight/gay couple who are divorcing. A Facebook friend linked me to their own blog post on the matter. It is stunning

Five-and-a-half years ago my wife, Lolly, and I sat together at a hotel in Las Vegas, nervously composing a coming out post that would, unbeknownst to us, change our lives in nearly every way imaginable. We were so, so nervous. But we were sweet and earnest, and we had been feeling the cosmic drive to do this for months . . . we knew, without a doubt, that it was what we were supposed to do, even though it felt totally out of left field, and we had no idea why. Our post went massively viral, and we were featured on shows and newspapers around the globe.

That act of authenticity brought many of you who will read this into our lives. Finally, we were able to live authentically, instead of this life of quiet struggle we had existed in for a decade. Finally we were able to be honest with our community, our friends, our colleagues, our families about our marriage, and about me—that I am a gay man, and that Lolly and I had gotten married knowing this about me. That I always have been gay. That it was not something I had chosen—it just was— but that I loved my wife and my life.

Finally, Lolly and I were out of the closet.

What is especially stunning for me, a gay man, raised in a Yankee Baptist (there is a difference) household, now an athiest, out to myself since I was 17, out to most everyone else by age 30, proud, and single his entire life, is that I see so much of my own internal struggle in this man’s story…

For me, though, it all came down to the people I met with–the actual human beings who were coming to my office. They would come and sit down with me, and they would tell me their stories. These were good people, former pastors, youth leaders, relief society presidents, missionaries, bishops, Elder’s Quorum presidents, and they were . . . there’s no other way to say this. They were dying. They were dying before my eyes. And they would weep in desperation—after years, decades, of trying to do just as they had been instructed: be obedient, live in faith, have hope. They would weep with me, and ask where the Lord was. They would sob. They would wonder where joy was. As a practitioner, it became increasingly obvious: the way the church handled this issue was not just inconvenient. It didn’t make things hard for LGBTQIA people. It became more and more clear to me that it was actually hurting them. It was killing them.

This is how I’ve felt almost my entire life since puberty. I have had my share of life’s joys, especially now in my later years, working for the space program; a dream I would not have dared to dream when I was a young boy. I have had a Good life. And yet I have always felt like I was dying inside. Slowly…bit by bit. A flower becoming a seed. This passage especially, hit me very, very hard the first time I read  it… 

Guys, my life was beautiful in every way. My children, my wife, my career, my friends. It was filled with so much joy. The things I talked about in my coming out post in 2012 weren’t false. The joy I felt was real! The love I felt was real, but something in me wanted to die.

It’s the thing that wants to die in all of us when we don’t have hope for attachment to a person we are oriented towards. It’s actually a standard part of human attachment: when we don’t have attachment—and have no hope of attachment–our brain tells us we need to die.

My suicidality was not connected to depression. That’s how my mind could hide it from me. With no context and no warning, I would occasionally be brushing my teeth or some such mundane task and then be broadsided with a gut-wrenching, vast emptiness I can’t put into words, that felt as deep as my marrow–and I would think in a panic “I’m only 37. I’m only 37. How can I last five more decades?” That thought—the thought of having to live five more decades, would fill me with terror. It was inconceivable for a few moments. And then it would pass.

That’s been me. Almost my entire life. The hopelessness would overwhelm me…and then it would pass and I’d go on with my life. As time passed, and I grew older and older, still never finding that Significant Other, waiting for those sudden bottomless pits of hopelessness to pass became a reflex. I knew they would, because they always did. But I also knew that there was probably one time waiting for me out there, when it would not pass, and I would simply fall in and not come back out again.

Go read the whole thing. These were two deeply devout people, who did everything they thought they had to do to stay right with their maker, and began to realize that they had to stop, for the sake of their lives.

In the end, the correct choice is obvious. We choose the option that makes sure people stay alive.

We should always choose the option that makes sure people stay alive.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on When Your Brain Tells You That You Have No Life So Just Die Already

December 9th, 2017

A Coming Out Story, Episode 23: Consulting The Oracle

…in which our hero consults with a world renown and highly respected seer to learn what the F*** is going on with him!

Episode 23 of A Coming Out Story…Here.

A Coming Out Story – Main Page…Here.

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on A Coming Out Story, Episode 23: Consulting The Oracle

December 4th, 2017

A Coming Out Story, Episode 23 On The Way!

ETA Sunday, December 10…

One of the cool things about doing A Coming Out Story is I get to bring back to life for a bit my beloved Rockville as it used to be when I was a kid. This episode takes place in the Congressional Plaza that once was. I used to burn off tons of nervous energy walking from the apartments at Village Square West to Congressional and then to the Super Giant and Korvettes and back down Randolph Road to home. But even before then, when mom and I lived in Courthouse Square, the Plaza was a center of gravity. And to this day I have a fondness for that 1950s-60s stack stone treatment on the facades of the storefronts. It will always take me back whenever I see it.

And oh God…you don’t want to see what they did to it now. But that’s okay. I can bring it back to life as it was in my artwork…

In this episode I consult with a world renown and highly respected oracle for some insight as to what the hell is going on with me. Here’s some work-in-progress. I’ve got panel one of the tale pretty much done. The inks and dialogue in panels 2 and 3 are ready for lighting and texturing treatments. I do all my initial artwork in traditional media, but then I scan it in and finish it in Photoshop…

 

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on A Coming Out Story, Episode 23 On The Way!

October 27th, 2017

Dreams Stitching Together Random Parts Of Your Life

I was having an odd dream about Woodward, my old high school, last night. I was in a Greenbelt hotel staging myself close to Goddard Space Flight Center because I had to be there bright eyed and bushy tailed first thing the following morning to get my fingers printed for a security clearance level change. The significance of that being that I wasn’t in my usual bed in my little Baltimore rowhouse, and that not being where my sleeping body expects to be often provokes strange, vivid dreams.

I actually have pretty regular dreams about Woodward and they’re always pleasant, as opposed to the dreams about my Jr High Schools. But even the high school dreams can drift into strange territory, particularly if I’m dreaming that I’m a teenager again. That strangeness will manifest itself in how images of the life I have now as an adult merge…weirdly…with memories of the past. For example: bits a pieces of the neighborhood I’m living in now, or places I’ve visited since high school, showing up in the neighborhood around the school. At this stage of my life I often have dreams where I’m back at the apartment complex I lived in during high school, but it has bits and pieces of every other apartment complex I’ve ever lived in added to it. While you’re in the dream this does not seem strange, but then you wake up and it’s a bit mind bending. 

Last night was like that. I was wandering around the hallways, and it seemed as if Woodward was being emptied of everything inside of it. But it was also full of elementary school kids and their teachers who seemed to be having some sort of community event in the old school building. It made me sad to see almost all the furniture gone, as if the building was about to be torn down, which was very odd in retrospect because news from Rockville lately is they want/need to expand Woodward, not close it, because of enrollment figures that the larger school down the street, Walt Whitman can’t handle. Further adding to the effect was the floor tiles seemed to have been taken up and I was walking over old wooden planks. The dream was so vivid I could feel the old wooden plank creaking a bit under my feet as I stepped on them.

Okay…I know where that one came from. I moved out of a storage unit I’d rented for the summer and that building, cobbled together from one very old city warehouse and a newer more modern building attached to it, had those exact same old wooden floors.This is how my vivid dreams weirdly mix and match details from out of my memories. So Woodward got the floors from my storage room. The part about how it was full of kids and teachers celebrating something I’m still thinking over. There were also all kinds of artwork on the walls of the sort you see in elementary school hallways…paintings paper mache art, paper collages. It was all bright and cheerful but set against a dark background of a place I dearly loved being vacated.

In my dream I wandered about the hallways, slightly afraid that one of the adults there would challenge my presence. What are you doing here? Whenever I passed someone in the hall I just acted like I belonged there, that I had some purpose I was attending to, and nobody bothered me. Eventually I passed a classroom where a certain someone used to sit at the end of a day, during the tail end of my junior year. If I passed by and he was still there I’d peek apprehensively in as I walked by. If you’ve ever watched that wonderful little animated short In A Heartbeat…I was Sherwin…

 

…beguiled, utterly clueless, unsure and more than a little afraid to acknowledge what I was feeling then…only that the sight of him made me smile, made the sun shine brighter, made the stresses of my day rest lighter on me…

Now the classroom was mostly empty. I walked in to stand where the desk he sat at was. Inside were a few objects of the kind you get at the very end of moving out…little odds and ends that for one reason or another didn’t make it into a box or the moving van until the very end. The last remnants of what was once there. If the heart is a house… A few small boxes sat in corner, next to a board leaning up against a wall that might have been part of a bookshelf. I wanted to see what he saw out the window while he sat there…for some reason in the dream that seemed important. So I looked and what I saw was a stunning view of one of the tall narrow rock walls in Arches National Park…I’d once hiked to a spot where they were visible…again, something out of my past. But it wasn’t in Arches, it was here just outside of Woodward, and surrounded by a lush forest around its base and flowering bushes. The sun was low on the horizon hitting it, casting it in a lovely reddish glow.

My jaw dropped. It was stunningly beautiful. And…because in dreams your mind isn’t quite all there…I thought to myself, Is that Sugarloaf Mountain? No…can’t be…that’s all the way out in Comus…

…and then I woke up, and I was in Greenbelt, and it was nearly morning and I had to go get my fingers printed…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Dreams Stitching Together Random Parts Of Your Life

October 9th, 2017

I Don’t Want To Hate The World…I Really Don’t….

Facebook helpfully sends you these little notices to look back on your Facebook past. You click on the link and get a feed of every post you’ve made on that particular day, going back through the years. Often it’s fun and enlightening. Sometimes it reminds you of things you’d rather forget. Like the day the best cat to ever come into my life got run over by a car in front of my house.

Today it was this, from October 9, 2011…

Of all the life experiences I’ve had that I could absolutely have done without, getting lectured by a guy I loved very much and thought of very fondly for 40 years about how I need to look elsewhere because life in the closet has damaged him too much is probably right at the top of that list.

When I told you that it was falling in love with you when we were both young that freed me forever from any possibility of living in the closet, I thought you’d feel proud. But I was twisting the knife in your heart wasn’t I?

I don’t want to hate the world. I really don’t. But some days I really do.

Further down in Facebook memory lane, there was this on October 9, 2008…

[Bruce Garrett] …is still reeling from a conversation he had yesterday with his first crush…

That would have been the “It’ll happen…things are better than you know…” conversation. Wow…full circle, almost, on October 9.

Here on the blog, but not Facebook, on October 6 2006 it was this

So for years now…34 years to be exact…I’ve been throwing these little messages in a bottle out into the world, where, hopefully, they would eventually find there way to a certain someone.  So what happened between us back when we were both teenagers is pretty central to who I am today.  So I finally got a reply.  After 34 years of searching for him I finally found him.  So we talked.  For just over an hour we talked.  You have to expect that 34 years is a lot of time for things to happen.  And things did happen.  Many things he told me about.  And many things I can only guess at from what he would only allude to.  He sounds just like he always did.  It was like picking up the phone and talking to him back in 1972.  It was eerie.  It was wonderful.  It was thrilling.  It was disturbing.  He’s the same guy he was back then.  And he’s different.  And things have happened in 34 years.  Many things. 

And I feel like…a gently whirling dust devil just suddenly smacked into me and threw parts of me that no one has ever touched or disturbed in 34 years reeling into the air, scattered across the sky, and now I’m just standing here becalmed, watching it all lazily settle back down, and I know it will still be me when it does, but different, and I don’t know what will happen next because those parts of me ran so old and so deep and so still…

It’s all there, gathered by these quick little online notes across the years of October.  It was December of 1971 he first put his arm around me and my heart shot into the stratosphere and later that evening, that I was able to finally come out to myself because of it. It was March of 2016 we spoke our final, angry words at each other. 

Life goes on…you take your hits and you get back up, dust yourself off, move on and get back to work. Because there is no growing up, there is only growing. And the opposite of that is dying. And dying isn’t something you want to waste your life doing. Yeah it hurts. Sometimes it hurts like a sonofabitch. You can let it beat you down, or you can take it as proof that you’re still alive, still growing, still moving forward. Eventually you get use to it. Eventually you move beyond it. Eventually.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on I Don’t Want To Hate The World…I Really Don’t….


The Rain, The Park, And Other Kids…

Posted to Misc Cartoons.  What it’s like growing up in a world where you don’t exist…

 

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

April 24th, 2017

Wish You Could See Your Space Cadet Kid Now Mom…

Got a chance to sit for a few moments in the test director’s seat this afternoon, in the Flight Ops room, and talk with White Sands on the NASA voice loop during a test of JWST data links. I’m still in training for this slot, and won’t be single-handedly directing tests for a while, but it was so very cool to be talking with other ground stations on the NASA loop…nervous first timer though I was…

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Wish You Could See Your Space Cadet Kid Now Mom…

February 13th, 2017

The Valentine’s Day Broken Heart Countdown – Spoiler Alert…it didn’t end well…

SPOILER ALERT!  That comic story I’ve been telling for the past decade or so…it didn’t end well.

You know how the game is played in grade school…right?  First base, second base, et al. These days I think of it more along the lines of Kurt Vonnegut’s three strike rule. Well…he didn’t exactly call them strikes. What he said according to his daughter was…

“I think you’re allowed to be in love three times in your life.” 

I’ve had my three strikes. Strike three was the boy I met in church. Strike two was when a very pleasant mutual closeness with a straight friend dropped me into a pit lots of gay kids probably find themselves in when they start crushing on a close but thoroughly straight friend. Decades later I’m still not ready to look back on that time.

Strike one was the boy I met in school…that other place which in a better world I might have hoped to find that magical first crush and first date and…dare I imagine it…going to the prom together and all that magical Disney-esq stuff boy and girl couples get promised as a part of growing up. He’s the Tyler (TK) Anderson in A Coming Out Story and no, that’s not his real name. I’ve changed all the names in that cartoon, in part because I don’t want to tell other people’s stories for them, but mostly because the story isn’t about him and it’s only tangentially about me: it’s about growing up gay in 1971-72 America, and what that did to a lot of us and why grownups need to give gay kids a break. I’m telling it with a sense of humor because I can still manage to look back on all that with a sense of humor, and because even after everything that’s happened to me, or not happened as the case may be, I still feel it deep down inside as a magical Disney-esq period in my life. The stars really did shine a little brighter, the sky was a little more blue, the birds really did sing a little more sweetly, I walked with a lighter step. Life was good…wonderful even. You’re allowed to believe it three times in your life.

My first time began as it had to with a couple gay kids, but with the added layer of us both being somewhat nerdish (me Way more than him). First comes a lot of stunned gawking at each other. Gawking turns to smiles, smiles turn to hellos, hellos become brief chats that turn to longer and longer ones. In our case it was the school library where we often met. Talking shyly turned to touching. First in safe pretense that it was accidental. Then it became a thing. The touch of hand to arm. Then meeting each other at the end of the day and walking together out the school door became a thing. From there we went our separate ways. We lived in different neighborhoods. One day on our walk together he put an arm around my shoulders, gave me a quick little squeeze, and before I could say anything rushed out the door with a see ya later. I swear I lifted off soared into the stratosphere right then. Later that evening I could finally admit to myself that I was in love, and oh by the way, gay.

Things developed from there in that thrilling and terrifying way it was for gay kids in 1972. It’s something I still have to think more about how to talk to in my cartoon. But I’ll give everyone a major spoiler now because, why not: It ended abruptly after I made plans with him to go on a camera hike at Great Falls.

I mean…come on…  I’m old and single and that we didn’t become a Disney happily ever after couple can’t be much of a spoiler. No, it didn’t work out. But happy Disney endings were on short supply for gay kids in 1971-72. In some places here in America they’re still nearly impossible to find. In some places elsewhere you get thrown off a building or honor killed.

I’d talked him into a tentative interest in photography. Looking back on it if I’d had half a brain, which teenagers don’t, I’d have taking an interest in his interests. But he was into things like tennis and skiing and I am not the sporty type. One day he brought one of his father’s nice Leica cameras to school and I told him what I knew of how to use it. We agreed to go on a hike with our cameras the following Saturday along the towpath at Great Falls. I asked for his phone number so I could call to let him know I was coming. Then the plan was we’d take a drive to the Great Falls park and wander the towpath looking for some good shots. This would also allow us to be alone together for a while, and so I was hoping, get a bunch of stuff out in the open between us that by then was getting ridiculous not to openly acknowledge.

You need to understand…this was spring of 1972. The torrent of abuse gay people got from the world around us back then, from Every Direction, is probably hard for some of you to understand today. And what I didn’t appreciate enough was what would happen when his family found out. I…perhaps stupidly…never thought twice about bringing him home to mom because I just knew mom would have loved him. He was bright, hardworking, decent, the kind of guy I might have hoped to meet in church or in school in some other better world. And mom would have loved him too…right up to the point she found out what my interest in him actually was. What I probably didn’t appreciate enough until decades later was how what happened next may have saved me from that major heartbreak way too many gay kids know all too well: what happens when the parents find out.

We’d agreed I would call at 11 on Saturday. So all morning Saturday I was on pins and needles waiting for the appointed time. When the clock struck 11 I jumped on the phone and dialed. I got an answer, but it wasn’t him. It was an older male voice.

“Hello?”

“Yes…is Tyler there”?

“Who’s calling?”

“Bruce”

“Hold on…”

Wait…wait…wait…

Tyler comes on the phone. First words out of his mouth are…and I’m not kidding: “Why are you calling me!?”

His voice was terse, irritated.  For a second I didn’t know what to say.  Like an idiot I began to remind him of our plans for a Saturday morning camera hike.

“I never agreed to that.”  

…but…we agreed…

“I don’t know what you’re talking about”

…but…you said…

“I never said I was going anywhere with you.”  

…but…yes you did…

“I don’t know why you’re calling me.”

That was pretty much how it went.

If I’d had half a brain, which teenagers don’t, I’d have realized something was going on at his end and I just needed to play along…oh sorry…this has all been a terrible mistake, please accept my profuse apologies…  But now in addition to the massive letdown I’m feeling I’m also getting a bit irritated at being called a liar and by him no less. So I stupidly pressed on…yeah we did…we were going to go to Great Falls..

“No…I never said anything of the sort..”

…with our cameras…

“I just don’t know why you’re calling me.”

Finally in desperation I said, “You gave me your phone number!”  

And he says… “Well I didn’t think you’d use it!”

Which must have gone over well with whoever was at his end listening in.

After that, he kept me at arm’s length for the rest of the school year. I figured I would just wait it out, whatever it was, and eventually he’d start talking to me again. But it wasn’t long after that the family moved away, and for the next three decades I wondered what had happened, where he’d gone.

I moved on and yet I didn’t. Isn’t that how it goes? But straight kids had the possibility of getting a little closure afterward. Why did this happen? Why did I get dumped? Father doesn’t like you. Mother says you’re a bad influence. You’re from the wrong neighborhood. You have the wrong religion, color of skin, income level. Gay kids get reminded not just of how much their culture hates them, but also of how badly the need is to erase us from existence. The beloved gets hospitalized and the scared and terrified other gets told they don’t belong there with them and security escorts them out the door, while the family that hates them both is allowed the bedside. The beloved dies and the one left behind is denied a place at the funeral while the family that hates them both changes the locks on the doors to their home and removes their belongings to distribute amongst themselves. You have no rights. It isn’t just you don’t belong here. It’s you do not exist.

I kept searching for him. There were other guys, other attempts at just getting a date, strikes two and three came and went. I never stopped trying but I never stopped searching for him either. At first I just wanted to know what had happened and hoped against hope that we could begin again, and maybe this time it would go better. Then came AIDS. I visited the Names Project quilt the day it was first displayed on the Capital Mall, and for years afterward had nightmares of wandering among the panels and finding the one with his name on it. So I kept searching. I had to know.

I eventually found him. I’ll write about it someday. It’s not a happy Walt Disney ending. Those are for the happiest place on earth. But for your gay neighbors of a certain age, that ending is the rare and wonderful exception. We did not exist back in those days. Thank goodness you’re only allowed to learn that three times in your life. I don’t think I could handle a forth.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Valentine’s Day Broken Heart Countdown – Spoiler Alert…it didn’t end well…

December 30th, 2016

A Coming Out Story – Episode 20: Why Do You Ask?

In which our hero tries to figure out football…and himself…

acos-20-sm

A Coming Out Story – Episode 20…

Main Page.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on A Coming Out Story – Episode 20: Why Do You Ask?

December 15th, 2016

December 15, 1971 – The Moment Everything Changed

December 15, 1971…Sometime around twilight I took a walk from the apartment mom and I shared, up Parklawn Drive to Twinbrook Parkway, then across the railroad tracks and to Rockville Pike. I sat down on a curb near the Radio Shack and watched the twilight deepen over Congressional Plaza. A classmate I was madly crushing on, but could not admit to myself that I was crushing on, had put an arm across my shoulders as we walked together down a school hallway to a side exit where he always parked his little motorcycle, and given me a quick little squeeze, and my head went into the stratosphere and I’d been walking on air ever since. I was watching the colors in the sky deepen, but all I could see was his face, and all I could think about was how it felt to have his arm around me.

Eventually I could think it: I’m in love. And then I could think the rest of it and not be afraid or ashamed, because nothing had ever felt so wonderful. And from that moment on I was never afraid or ashamed. Life was better than I’d ever thought possible. The days after that, winter into spring, then into summer, really were like a Walt Disney movie. The birds really did sing a little more sweetly. The stars really did shine a little more brightly. I walked with a lighter step. Life was wonderful. Everything was wonderful.

Forty-five years ago…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on December 15, 1971 – The Moment Everything Changed

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.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on A Memory of Love And Romance

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    This page and all original content copyright © 2015 by Bruce Garrett. All rights reserved. Send questions, comments and hysterical outbursts to: bruce@brucegarrett.com

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