I’m home in South Carolina for the first time in almost three years. I’ve been here for five hours now and I’m about to lose my mind.
The house I grew up in has been renovated almost beyond recognition. My father’s computer is so slow as to be carbon-datable. I have been forced to play checkers with the child my father and his wife seem to have placed under their protection. It’s all so hideous it makes me want to die.
The one saving grace is that I’ve spent much of the day looking through my old books. Because of a story that’s not relevant to this post (but that I promise I’ll tell at some point), my father has a moral obligation never to throw away any of my books. And so I’m running across forgotten bits of my history at every turn.
I found the first gay book I ever acquired, a slim volume called I’m Looking for Mr. Right but I’ll Settle for Mr. Right Away, by one Gregory Flood. I bought this book at a new age bookstore in Los Angeles when I was fifteen or sixteen, during the same trip on which I narrowly escaped doing all sorts of things in the bathroom of the local mall with a man who seemed at the time to be centuries older than I. Acne-ridden and wearing a fuchsia T-shirt, I was standing in B. Dalton when I heard somebody whisper at me to lift up my shirt. I looked over and saw the ancient man from whom the whisper had emanated; heart pounding with excitement or terror–who can tell which?–I did as he’d asked, but then had the presence of mind to flee when he suggested that we continue our interaction behind the Chick-Fil-A. I spent the rest of the day in a state of relief that I hadn’t done anything with him and despair that I wouldn’t ever do anything with anybody.
I found John Grishamn’s The Pelican Brief in French, which I bought at a train station in Paris so I’d have something to read on the trip to Madrid, where I was going to visit a lamentably heterosexual friend who lived there with his parents and sister, whom he hated. It was the first time in a decade I’d been to a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language; I quickly picked up enough Spanish to ask for directions to places like the Royal Palace, but not enough to understand the answers I got. As a result I ended up hopelessly lost in the streets of Madrid until I managed to find my way back to my friend’s house. Upon my return to Paris, where my family was staying for a month, I went out to dinner with my father and he asked me how I’d feel if he got married to the woman he was dating. Even I, dissembler that I am, couldn’t cover my dismay completely, but it seems to have made no difference–as was only appropriate, since it was his proposal and not mine.
I found a diary I kept for exactly a week, starting the day after I came out. It begins with these sentences: “So. It’s true. I’m gay.” I haven’t been able to bring myself to read any further, for fear that remembering the naivete (forgive the lack of accents–I don’t know how to make them on my father’s Cretaceous computer) and confusion and terror I felt then will somehow destroy the illusion I’ve managed to create–and sometimes even to believe–that I’m more in control of my life now than I was then.
More than anything else, reading my autobiography as reflected in these books makes me wish I could travel back in time and whisper in the ear of my adolescent self, “It’ll all turn out okay. Really, it will. I promise.”
Or is it that I wish my future self could travel back in time and whisper those words in the ear of my present self?
It’ll all turn out okay. Really, it will. I promise.