Halloween 1984

You may have seen a link making its way around Facebook titled, “My Son is Gay,” by a mother whose 5-year-old son wanted to dress as Daphne from “Scooby Doo” for his school Halloween party.  It’s a wonderful, inspirational story about a mother’s understanding of her son’s own gender identity and the repercussions of society on her allowing him to express himself freely.

I just read that post, and was suddenly reminded of my own experience with a similar situation.

I was in 8th grade.  It was around Halloween and my school– a very conservative Catholic school— was holding its Halloween Party for the school kids.  Keep in mind that at that time, 8th grade was considered part of the elementary school, so this party would be for grades 1-8.

The year was 1984– Michael Jackson and Madonna were hot costume ideas.  But I decided that I wanted to something a little different, albeit a bit less current.  I put on one of my mom’s old wigs, an old dress (or it might have been a caftan, I don’t remember exactly), and then put on makeup.  I was no artist, but I did the best I could.  I found a pair of nylons and a pair of her shoes.  Then I found some of her “costume” jewelry and completed the look.  I wanted to go as “Tootsie,” the 1981 Dustin Hoffman character.

I showed my mom what I had done.  And do you know what she did?

She said, “I think it’d be fun!”  I asked her, “Do you think the kids would make fun of me?”  She replied, “It’s Halloween.  You can go as whatever you want.  It doesn’t mean anything… it’s just for fun.”

So then we showed my dad.

That didn’t go so well.  Aside from his surprised reaction, and maybe a little bit of yelling, he didn’t have a massive tantrum (as I expected).  He was definitely shocked by my appearance, but he was more gravely concerned about what would happen if I went to the party dressed this way.  You see, only a few years prior, I had left my original grade school because of incessant teasing from the other kids.  I don’t think the teasing was ever about my being gay (or the possibility thereof, as I certainly hadn’t come out yet); but because I had such a rough time at the first school, I think he was worried that this would set off a lot of problems for me at this school.  Granted, I was in 8th grade and we were going to be graduating soon anyway– but I understood why he was so concerned.

He didn’t say that I COULDN’T dress as “Tootsie,” but he encouraged me to reconsider my choice– for my own sake.

So after some long talks about it, we decided that I would change courses and go as a greaser.  (“The Outsiders” was also a popular movie and book at the time– so instead of going as a woman, I pretended I was Rob Lowe.  Or Tom Cruise.  Or Tommy Howell.  Because I had a crush on each one of them.

In any case, I nearly became that kid in the recent blog post.  I just didn’t have the guts to follow through with it.  My choice had nothing to do with my sexuality, or even my gender identity.  I have never considered myself feminine, and to this day I think I make one hell of an ugly drag queen! (Which is why I’ve only done it once.)  I just was playing around with my mom’s stuff, came up with a funny costume, and thought it’d be fun to go as that character.

What touches me most, as I recall that day, is how bravely my parents dealt with it.  There were no knock-down, drag-out fights like I expected.  Just some serious discussions about whether or not it was best for me to do it.  And I especially love my mom for encouraging me to do whatever I wanted.  She never said no.  And she still doesn’t to this day.

 

 

Farewell, Grand Viagra!

It’s been a great run, but this week I decided to retire my little white putt-putt– my 1999 Suzuki Grand Vitara, lovingly known as the “Grand Viagra.”

I got the Grand Viagra in 2006, shortly after my dad died.  My old car took a dump and became scrap shortly after his funeral.  When my cousin’s grandma died later that year (my long-time readers — all 2 of you — will recall that 2006 was a terrible year for my family), I had to rent a car to come home for the funeral.

I bought the car from my co-worker, and it was in really great shape when I got it.  But I am tough on cars, and this one is no exception.  The fact that it had a manual transmission probably didn’t help matters.  I can ride a clutch like nobody’s business, and I wrecked two on this car.  Maybe I never learned how to drive a manual correctly– but two clutches in the span of 5 years is a lot– and a lot of money.

Still, the little Grand Viagra was a great car.  I loved that it was a mini-SUV– mini enough that it could fit into tight parking spots that you would never have thought it would fit into.  It transported tons of camping equipment and even my bike a few times; and I don’t know what I would have done without it when I moved last year.

But time took its toll, and earlier this year I did a bunch of major repairs that probably cost more than the car was worth.  Last week, the final nail was tapped– the “Service Engine Soon” light came. on.  The damage was somewhere in the $800-900 range.  I decided that it was time to retire the girl.

I’ll still have the car until I find something new, so I can use it– for what it’s worth– as some sort of trade-in.  So tonight after work and the gym, I will pick up the tired old girl, drop a few gallons of gas in her tank, and drive her home, where she will sit and wait for the day when I either decide to trade her in or sell her off; only being moved for street cleaning and to avoid tickets for being abandoned (they do that here in Chi-Town, you know).

In the meantime, I’m a total public transportation guy.  Which is probably a good thing.  I needed to start being smarter about that anyway.

Snowy car

My car in a huge hole!

Autumn street

My First Boyfriend – The Story Comes Full-Circle

Fifteen years ago, in 1995,  I wrote a story for my first website. The web was still in its infancy, and not too many people had personal websites.  This was even before I had my first Online Journal– before anyone knew what blogs were.  The story was about the first guy I ever dated.

I posted this story to my blog shortly after I started it in July 2004, and wrote an epilogue.

Today, I just got off the phone with Donnie, my first boyfriend.  I hadn’t spoken to him in over 15 years.

Funny how things happen.  We meet people, have wonderful experiences with them, and then life gets in the way.  Sometimes we stay in touch; other times we drift apart.  In Donnie’s case, I wasn’t sure I’d ever hear from him again.  But the other day, on a total whim, I tried finding him on Facebook– and I found him. Amazing how things come full-circle.

Here’s the story that I wrote in 1995.  I’ve fixed a few things for accuracy and better reading.  I’ll post an update at the end.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

It all started in the winter of 1992….

I was working at a Best Buy in Racine, Wisconsin at the time. I had a 20 minute drive to get from there to Kenosha, where I was living, and the majority of the drive was along a highway that connected with my street. As I entered Racine, I would always pass by a Citgo gas station. On the way home from work, I would frequently stop at this gas station to fill up my gas tank.

One night I stopped and went inside to pay my bill. There at the counter stood the most adorable guy I’d ever seen. He had deep blue eyes, brown hair and was about 6′ tall. I immediately knew he was gay… that instinct ‘gaydar’ we all have… but being rather shy I didn’t say too much. I simply paid my bill and left.

Needless to say, my visits to that gas station became much more frequent. It seemed that he worked there EVERY night, so I was almost never disappointed. Once in a while we’d make small talk.. maybe just smile.  He had the cutest Southern accent… I couldn’t begin to place where it was from, but that combined with his adorable looks just made him all the more irresistible.

I was a Product Specialist at Best Buy in the Audio Department. I had been there a few months so by that time I felt like I knew what I was doing. One day I was at our ‘answer center’ and I looked up.  And whom did I see but Gas Station Guy, walking into the boombox aisle. I quickly scooted over there and said “Hi!”

He recognized me from the visits to the gas station, and smiled. He wanted to buy a boombox, so I showed him all the features on the one he was looking at, gave it to him to take to the registers, and said, “See you around.” That was about it. I was in bliss.

The next day I was surprised to see that he had returned, with the boombox in hand. I waited for him to finish at Customer Service. When he headed toward the boombox aisle again I made my way over to him and asked, “Didn’t like that one?”

“No, I decided I wanted one with a CD player.”

“OK, no problem; let me show you some that have one.”

We talked a little more small talk and I sold him the new boombox. I couldn’t tell if he liked me or not.. and for that matter I couldn’t tell if he was gay or not.. but deep down I knew he was.. he just had to be.  Besides, this was all business.

That night as I left, I looked at my gas gauge and… what a surprise! I needed gas!

I drove over to the Citgo station. I could see him in the window. I was quite pleased. I gassed up, drove the car up to the building to park, and got out. When I walked in, he immediately recognized me. “HEY!” he said happily. “I was hoping you’d stop in!” My heart jumped. “I love the box.. I’ll keep it… but I wanted to know what you knew about car stereos..”

He proceeded to ask me a bunch of questions about car stereo equipment.  We talked about that for a while, then talked about where he was from, then talked about our families, then talked about music, then about TV… then about God knows what else.  I got  there at maybe 10pm.  Next thing I knew it was 1am and it was time to close the store!

He closed up, and didn’t kick me out. We talked some more about whatever.  Finally he asked me, “So where do you go out?”

“Well, here and there.. nowhere in particular…” I answered.

“Ever been to a place called ‘Club 94?′” He asked. (Club 94 was a gay bar in Kenosha)

“Well.. yeah… once or twice.. it’s fun.  I guess I like it.” I answered, getting VERY excited.

He asked me if he could sit in my car while his warmed up.  Now keep in mind, this was about the dead of winter of ’92, a VERY cold winter. He had a Renault Encore. I had one when I first got my license, so I knew how they were. I, of course obliged. He locked up, we got in my car while his ran to warm up and he says,

“OK I’m not gonna bullshit you anymore. I’m gay.”

“Well that’s good,” I said with a smile, “because I’m gay, too.”

We talked a bit more.. exchanged phone numbers.. and that was it for that night. We both had to get home.

His name was Donnie. I was on CLOUD NINE for at least 48 hours after that.

I visited him nearly every day after that. We’d talk all night long, sit in my car and wait for his to warm up, then go home. We never would kiss, we never got mushy… it was just this strange new friendship thing we had. I felt silly standing around a gas station convenience store for all hours in my Best Buy shirt; and my dad wasn’t pleased with it either– especially because I was there to see a guy! (My parents knew about me for a while before this)

Anyway about three weeks into my visits with Donnie a friend of his came in and hung out. I could see that they knew each other pretty well, so at one point I asked him about Donnie.

“How well do you know Donnie?” I asked.

“Why, do you like him?” (he was rather blunt)

“Yes.. why?”

“Well let me just tell you. You’re not his type. I wouldn’t try too hard.”

I was crushed. As far as I knew, he knew Donnie better than anyone else, so I had to trust his word. Still, I thought that if Donnie didn’t like me that much he wouldn’t have been talking to me so much and letting me stay so late. I mean, there had to be SOMETHING there. However, I was very new to the whole gay thing and as far as I was concerned, his friend was right, so I made my visits to the gas station less frequent.

But eventually that changed and I would stop in again just as frequently as before.

One night we went to a bar behind the gas station for a quick drink after he got out of work. We had known each other for about three months at that point. I still didn’t know what he thought about me, but I knew how I felt about him. I was crazy about Donnie, and it was driving me nuts.

After the bar closed, we sat in my car and talked. “This is it,” I told myself. “It’s now or never”.

“Donnie, we’ve been seeing each other now for about three or four months… and I’ve really grown to like you …. a lot. I just want to know… what do you feel?”

“I feel the same way Rick.”

“Really?

“Yes.”

I then asked him if I could kiss him. He said yes. It was the first time I had ever kissed anyone. And it was wonderful.

About a month later I learned that Donnie would be moving to Houston. His mother and sister would be moving back to Atlanta, where they originally came from. I was crushed. I was really falling for Donnie and now he had to leave. We decided that even though he was leaving, we would continue things up until he left, thinking that maybe someday I could move down with him or vice versa.

It killed me to think he would be leaving, but eventually he did.

We kept in touch while he was away, calling each other as often as we could.

He was gone for about three months when one day I got a call from him.

“What would you do if came back to Racine?”

I answered, “Well of course I’d be incredibly happy.. but what would you do? You have no job, nowhere to live, and I can’t move out because I’m not ready!”

He said, “I could probably figure something out.” I figured that was that and left it there.

The next evening I got home from work and checked the answering machine. There was a message.

“Rick, this is Donnie. I’m back in Racine. Give me a call tomorrow at this number..”

I cried.. tears of joy and tears of sorrow. I didn’t know where he was or where he was staying. But he was home. And as far as I knew he came back for me.

We saw each other the next day and holding him in my arms was the most wonderful feeling I’d ever felt. He got his job back at the gas station and was living with the owners. I knew that wouldn’t last long because he never got along that well with the owners, but for now he was here and that’s all that mattered.

We dated for a while but for some reason the magic just wasn’t there like it used to be. I became busy with school and then started working in Illinois. He worked every day at the station and we hardly ever saw each other.

Eventually I met another guy and we dated for a while. He was cute, younger, and fun to be with.. but he was 18 (I was 23), and for some reason that bothered me…

…and I wasn’t over Donnie.

I broke up with him about two months into things. I told him I still had feelings for Donnie. He understood. He was a good guy.

I went to see Donnie the next night. To my shock he informed me that he would be moving to Lexington, Kentucky to live with his father. He wasn’t happy in Racine and needed to get out. I was crushed more than ever before. I lost my chance with Donnie.. the guy I truly loved. We made out a bit in the back room of the store and hugged a lot. Then I left.

About halfway down the road from the gas station, I called him on my Cell phone. He was still there. I was crying.

“Donnie?”

“Yes?”

“It’s Rick. I’m in my car. I was just thinking after I left…”

“What’s the matter?”

“I love you, Donnie. I will always love you.”

“I love you too, Rick.”

“Don’t go. Please.”

“I have to, Rick… there’s nothing else I can do.”

We talked for a little while then I hung up.

I saw Donnie one more time after that. He had a going away party but I couldn’t go because I was sick. I cried so much I didn’t think I’d have any tears left. He called me from his party. We were both crying. I told him I loved him again. He told me he loved me.

The next day he was gone, and I haven’t seen him since.

We kept in touch via phone and mail since then. He now lives in San Jose, CA and has a room mate that he says likes him a lot.. but he’s never stopped loving me or thinking about me. Judging from my tears as I type this, I realize that I still love him. Very much. And I always will. Perhaps we were meant to be together, and if so, I hope that someday we can and will be. Until then I hold very precious memories of the times we spent together, and great regret for all the times we could have been together but weren’t. We parted against our will. We still have contact.. but it’s not enough. I wish he were here now to dry my tears, to hold me and comfort me and tell me everything will be OK. But he’s not and I must deal with that. I miss him. I will always love him.

I guess what I learned from this story is, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” as the song says. I never realized just how wonderful Donnie was until I realized he would be gone. Life is unexpected with the way it works. You could be walking down the street, minding your own business, when all of a sudden fate smacks you in the face with a new adventure, a new love, or a new tragedy. All you have to do is keep your eyes open and your senses aware. You never know what will happen next.

——————————————————————————–

Epilogue 1 – 1997

A few months after this was written, I realized I had lost Donnie’s phone number. I was pretty devastated, looking all over the place, and even phoning directories trying to find him, but to no avail. One day Donnie phoned me and informed me that he was, indeed dating the man he was living with in San Jose. They had been together for some time and he was happy with him. I was happy to hear from him again, and I finally got his phone number and could call him whenever I wanted, but I didn’t. I felt it was time to close the wounds from this experience, and I was doing a good job of that already. So I called him very sporadically.

A while later, I heard from Donnie again. He was moving out of the apartment he was sharing with that guy, and they had broken up. He was moving a few blocks away into an apartment with a friend of his. I was slightly happy to hear that, but again I felt like it was useless getting excited about it. He still wasn’t going to be moving back anytime soon. He said he’d call me with his new phone number once he got settled into his new place.

I never heard from him again.

Closure has happened. I am over Donnie. Though I will still have a place in my heart for him, as most everyone does when it comes to their first love. I am still single, still looking for someone to fill that space, but I guess I compare everyone to Donnie. That’s not fair, but I guess that is an unwritten rule somewhere when it comes to relationships. I had hoped he would call before I moved to Chicago, but he never did. It just wasn’t meant to be. And I guess that’s just fine. I’ll live.

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Epilogue 2- 2004

Many relationships–one much more serious than Donnie–later, and looking back at what I wrote nearly 10 years ago about him, I see now how young and naieve I was back then about love. Having been through the pain and the sorrow of the ending of a relationship one too many times, I know it never gets easier. But when you’re 23 or 24 and still new to everything, it seems like the end of the world.

Donnie was special, though I wonder if I really loved him. I’m not so sure now. I still think of him fondly, occasionally, but I don’t really know if I understood what love was back then. I think I do now, but I also think that love takes on many different characteristics depending on who he is, what the relationship is based on, and the when, where, why and how you fell for him. The fact that I haven’t had a relationship that has lasted over a year probably speaks to my still-evident inexperience in this area. Maybe, hopefully, that will change someday, but it is good to know that I am capable of loving. I know that will never change.

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Epilogue 3- 2010

Six years later, the story comes full-circle.

I always wondered what became of Donnie.  Where he ended up, who he ended up with, and what he was doing.  I didn’t even know if he was alive or dead.  When you lose touch with people, you can’t help but wonder these things.  Sometimes they cross your path again.  Other times, it never happens, and we are always left wondering.

So a couple weeks ago, on a total whim, I looked up his name on Facebook.  I’d tried this a time or two before, to no avail.  But this time, his name came up.  I clicked on the profile.  There wasn’t a picture of him to be found, but the birthdate seemed right.  Then I looked at the profile and saw two things that clued me in:  He belonged to a group for Atlanta Gay Men; and his employer was based in California.  It just had to be him.

I figured it was worth a try, and I sent a friend request.  A day or two later, the request was granted, and he sent me a note.  He said he was amazed that I found him, and he was so happy to hear from me.  We exchanged Email addresses and traded Emails back and forth, and today we talked on the phone.

He’s been with a guy for the past nine years and is in a wonderful relationship.  They’re living in Atlanta now; close to his family.  He’s doing great.  It was so good to talk to him again after all these years.  In fact, it felt like we had never lost touch.

He told me he always wondered what happened to me, and I told him I always wondered the same about him.  We shared stories of things that happened in our lives, and decided that someday we need to get together again.  It was like talking to a dear friend.

I’m so glad I wrote our story, and kept adding to it as years went by.  It’s really a testament to how, although our lives change, the good people who grace our lives will always find a way back.

Tonight, I’m smiling.  And reliving a lot of great memories.

Six Months

I just had a slightly terrifying realization:

In less than six months, I will be 40 years old.

I say “slightly” because I’m not exactly obsessing over it.  In actuality, the realization I had was really the first time I had thought about it since I turned 39 last December.

Still, though… the number alone is daunting.

Forty years.  Why does that seem like such a huge number?

Forty years.  That’s four decades.

480 months.

2,080 weeks.

14,610 days.

350,400 hours.

(Deep breath)

22,024,000 minutes.

(Take that, “Seasons of Love.”)

Eight presidents.

Ten Leap Years.

And so on…

So yeah, it’s a lot to process (and I apologize if my math is bad– I’ve never been great with math).

But I’ll be okay.  I mean… I don’t feel a day over 30.  Heck, I still feel 20-something.

I’m not afraid of 40.  At least not right now.

After all, I still have six months to enjoy my 30s.   And enjoy ’em I will!

Changes

Hello again… hello!

So yeah… It’s been a long time since I last posted something here.

But I’ve been pretty busy for the past few months.  Busy with work, chorus, family… and busy with myself.

You see, ever since I moved last year, I have been slowly and steadily fixing things that I didn’t like about my life.  And when I say slow and steady, I MEAN slow and steady.  These things don’t happen overnight, you know.

For instance, I finally opened a savings account– and actually started putting money INTO that savings account.  That’s huge.  I haven’t done that in years– especially those years when I was living in my old place.  It isn’t much yet, but I’m hoping it will grow into something I can use for– I don’t know– a trip?  Maybe even a long vacation?  That’d be really nice.

I’ve also been paying off some long-standing debts that have been hovering over my head.  I still have a few to catch up with, but I feel like I’m in a better place now than I’ve been in a very long time.

But the biggest changes have been with myself personally.  No, I’m not dating anyone (yet), but I finally decided to stop being a lazy ass and do something about my physical health.   I joined a gym.

It’s taken me over ten years to muster up the will to do this again.  My first foray into the world of physical fitness started in about 1995 when I was still living in Kenosha.  I had joined the local Gold’s Gym (which it isn’t anymore),  formulated a really good plan, and stuck to it for almost a year.  By the time I moved to Chicago, I was down to 190 or so pounds, and was really starting to show the effects of my efforts.

After moving to Chicago in 1997, I joined a Bally Total Fitness club.  Big mistake.  First, the club I joined was in the River City complex downtown.  I’m still not 100% sure why I went there, but I was a traveling sales rep at the time and I was never stationed in one particular area; so I could easily drive there any time I wanted.  The problem was, I let them rook me into the most expensive contract they had, which cost me a fortune.  I think I was paying something like $100-120  a month, and on top of that I hired a personal trainer.  HE was great– well worth the money — but I don’t know WHAT I was thinking getting sucked into that deal.

Well, as luck would have it, I lost that job about a year later, and I wasn’t able to afford that astronomical monthly fee.  I tried (and tried) to get out of it, but I was locked in for at least another year.  I was so upset with Bally that I just stopped going altogether.  When I finally paid off the membership, I told them to shove it and quit completely.  My love affair with fitness had ended.

In the ten years or so that passed since then, a lot has happened in my life– the most significant being the death of my father.  His passing was a wake-up call for me.  He wasn’t born with diabetes… he contracted it due to his lifestyle.  And after the diagnosis, he let himself go.  He went from weighing over 250 lbs. around the time of his diagnosis to over 450 at the time of his death.

I recount this, because I realized recently that if I don’t do something about my health now, I will end up just like him.  OK, I wouldn’t get quite so heavy (at least I hope), but I’m most certainly a prime candidate for diabetes, and I do NOT want that in my life.  And as 40 draws ever nearer, I realized that if I don’t do something about it now, I never will do anything about it.

So … I’m doing this.  And it’s not easy.  It’s hard work.  There are days I have to drag myself in.  There are other days where I look forward to it.  Thankfully I’ve done this before, so I know what to expect… but I really want this to work.  This may be my last chance to make a difference for myself.

I’ll be blogging about my progress here.  Since I haven’t been blogging much lately, I figured this was as good a reason as any to resurrect the old Launching Pad.  Might as well make use of it, right? 🙂