Rick Shory

Offering a little something you might not otherwise have

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Coming Out Year, Part 5: Memories.

I had been in California six month.  Every day, I had considered, should I stay or should I go.  It felt like an interim life, a way point in between.  Finally I went.

Some friends came through driving north, and gave me a ride.  I needed to make some money, so I headed over to eastern Washington.  It was late summer, the fruit harvest.  From then through the fall, there would always be work.

The economics of the orchard country was strange and wonderful.  Where else could you, as an itinerant bum, cash a couple-thousand-dollar check at the corner convenience store?  I gradually understood that it was about abundance and wild extravagance.

All the growers had expenses all the year.  Finally, in this brief time-window of the harvest, that’s when they made it all back, if they were going to.  It was no time to be stingy.  That spirit of festival rippled through the whole society.

I ended up at an orchard along the Okanogan River.  There were lots of young hippie types there, like me.  I fit right in.

Somehow I knew being there was just what I needed.  Out in the trees all day by myself, I was doing this good solid manual work of picking apples.  It was mindless, so I could think.

Memories came back.

I had believed this thing with Adrian was something apart — an isolated, magical, incident.  Nothing like it had ever shot through my life before.  It had come, like lightening, from nowhere.

Out in the trees all day, memories started to bubble up.  First an inkling.  Then an impression.  Then the pieces of a story falling into place.  A whole episode of being attracted to another man.  Powerfully, profoundly.  And then I had forgotten all about it!  Until now.

Each day, there would be another.  Through the morning, filling my picker sack with apples from the low skirts of the trees, I would think.  Planting the ladder, and climbing up, I would remember.  With a full picker sack, I would bend over into my bin, unhook the rope stays, and the apples would gently tumble out the bottom of the sack.  As the bin’s apples rose towards fullness, so did my remembrance.  As I stood at the tip-top of the ladder, looking out across the green trees, below the blue sky, I was stunned by my memories of it all.

Were these memories real?  At Wholeness, I had delved a lot into concepts of how we create our own reality.  I could not rule this out.  Something in me was toying with the idea that I might be gay. What if I were subconsciously manufacturing these memories, in support?  Or at least re-interpreting the past, giving it a different spin?

It would be some months before I found proof, one way or the other.  The proof was old journal entries.  One I had written was about getting a ride from Seattle to Portland with Terrence.  Terrence was one of my family-of-friends from college.  Terrence was gay.  I rode in the back seat while Terrence drove.  On the passenger side was his boyfriend of the time, Albert.

They were gazing into each other’s eyes, and holding hands some.  I was cool with it all, didn’t think too much about it.  At the time.  But something inside me was working.

From the current vantage of my life, I can say that Albert was exactly my type.  He was curly haired, and furry-faced, and cute cute cute.  And smart.  He was doing some technical science thing at Reed College.

That evening, after the car ride, I wrote a long soliloquy about Albert.  I laid out how wanted to see him naked.  I thought about what it would be like to explore every square inch of his skin.  I was very explicit.  Then, afterwards, I turned the page of my journal and completely forgot I had ever written it!

Meanwhile, back at my orchard, I was still months away from that evidence.  Yet the memories kept piling up.  I could not deny there were lots of them.  Rather than Adrian being an isolated incident, this now seemed to be the entire tone of my life.  The only difference was, with Adrian I had finally had the guts to do something about it.

The whole thing was like being in one of those hedge mazes.  I would follow the twists and turns and blind alleys, without any clear idea of where I was headed.  Every so often, I would poke my head up above the shrubbery to see where I was located.

On one side was “straight”, where I had come from.  On the other side was “gay”.  I was not particularly interested in going to “gay”, in fact didn’t really want to.  However, every time I looked up above the bushes, it seemed like I was a little closer over towards “gay”.

I talked to the other young people at the orchard about what I was going through.  I remember some of their reactions.  One guy, from Bellingham, mentioned a professor at the alternative college there, one David Mason.  This Dr. Mason had talked about “being gay” as an action, maybe akin to “eating breakfast”, more than as a state of existence.

I recall this only as a novelty, and because several years later I went for a Masters degree in Bellingham, and had David Mason on my committee.  We got to know each other.  I was his earliest confidant, for a budding love affair between himself and one of the university students.  This affair burned bright, and took him places I was amazed to hear about.  For example, meeting his young lover’s parents.  David was at his second Saturn Return, age 56.  I wonder if I’ll have something like that to look forward to.

I was talking to another guy at the orchard when he cocked his head and regarded me thoughtfully.  “Yeah,” he said, “You’d make a good hairdresser.”  It was not a jibe or insult, and I was not offended.  But I was piqued.

This was an issue I was definitely dealing with.  The whole question of self image and identity.  How much do you make yourself over to fit an inner truth you’ve discovered?  What about the stereotypes?  What about all the gay guys who are swishy and faggy, and feel like that’s just the way they really “are”?  I have given a great deal of thought to all that, but this is not the time.

Of course people asked me the question of whether guys turn out gay because of something they’re born with, or if it’s from how they’re brought up.  I have a different reply now, but the words I heard coming out of my mouth at that point were, “There’s never going to be any reasonable answer to that question, until you look at life as a journey of the soul.”

The Okanogan Valley was carved by a river as large as the Columbia.  One weekend, some of us went to a place where there were Indian pictographs.  There was a boulder with a sloping, overhanging face, and under there were the marks.  The boulder leaned east, standing in prairie that trended down the same direction.  Far over that way, another matching prairie sloped up, facing west.

It was easy to imaging the roiling river, over a mile wide, in between.  The obvious riverbank trail would have gone by the pictographs.  Maybe they were some kind of signpost.

When you stepped over to where the bank sloped down to the river, though, the river was long gone.  The ground dropped, almost as cliffs, to another pair of smaller banks bracketing a channel that meandered between the wider ones.

This channel too was dry.  Within it, a still smaller channel snaked, attended by its own pair of flat banks.  And down and down, five stages of terraces, till finally the present Okanogan River, scarcely more than a creek, squiggled through the meanders of the next-but-smallest channel.  The pictograph rock was abandoned, halfway up a mountainside.

One time, I went to visit another orchard where I knew some people.  When I was ready to leave, I thought:  I’ve walked two miles north, crossed the bridge east, and then come three miles south.  My orchard should be right over there.

I was alone on the riverbank.  I took off my clothes, held them in a bundle above my head, and waded in.  The other bank was right over there.  Soon I was up to my neck.  The bank was right over there.  I stepped into the current.  I kicked my legs and paddled with one arm.  I had never really learned to swim.  But the bank was right over there.

Suddenly, I was turning, going the wrong way.  No thought.  My other hand came down, splashed my bundle into the river.  I could always do OK frog-kicking under water, holding my breath.  The bank was right over there.  And then it was there.  Rough granite cobbles chipped a toenail.

My clothes bundle bobbed in the current.  I scrambled through brambles to the next bend and managed to fish it out.  Back at camp, nobody noticed my wet sneakers and jeans, and I didn’t call attention.  Yet it was still another ten years before I really learned to swim.  It was gay guys who taught me.

One weekend afternoon I scrambled up the cliffs.  Right by the orchard, all the five levels of the benches were stacked into one.  It made it easy to get up to views.  It was not difficult or dangerous climbing, but steep, rocky and dry.

Then, in the solid rock, I came upon a tiny bench, no wider than a one-lane road.  A pool collected, and there were water plants.  The spot was so lovely, perched there, looking out across the orchard valley.  I wished Adrian could have been there to share it with.

The thought came to me, Adrian loves me.  Somebody loves me.  I was quite overcome.  Here, I had gone through all my life, so far never feeling such a thing.  Never imagining I could feel such a thing.  And there I was smitten, in that magic hanging garden.

I try to remember that, as a moment in time to anchor my heart, if ever I want to claim a center of my life.

Next door to where I worked was a little orchard, just a few acres wedged into the walls beneath the cliffs.  This belonged to a man who, by coincidence, was also named Adrian.  To me, he was just flat fucking gorgeous.  Different than “my” Adrian, he was dark and wiry, with dimples and smile-creases that showed through his beard.  He was working at “our” orchard, driving tractor.

An apple bin is a box four feet square and three feet deep.  As it fills, it is of course too heavy for you to move down your row.  You wouldn’t try — it would bruise the apples.  When you’ve picked all the close-on apples into your bin, you yell “tractor”.  A tractor comes, slips a forklift under your bin, and trundles it some yards further along the grassy alley between the apple tree rows.

I was always glad when the tractor bore this dark-bearded Adrian.  He never failed to have a good word and a jolly smile.  Of course nothing intimate ever happened between us in reality, though plenty in fantasy.  I think it was good for me, to finally admit, at least to myself, how men delighted me.

Still, with all this, I could not quite get my mind around the idea of calling myself “gay”.  Gay was this, and gay was that, and I just didn’t feel “gay”.  I remember the moment when I got it.  I was walking the mile or two into town, perhaps to check our apple-pickers’ communal post office box.

Between one step and the next.  Between one foot coming down in the dusty track of the road, and the next foot rising up.  I got it.  Gay was not anything like what I had been told about it all my life.  It was not paisley shirts, and perfume, and shrill tenor voices.  Maybe for some guys, but not for me.  For me, gay was exactly how I was, how I had always been.

Of course gay was not going to “feel” like anything.  It was just exactly how I was.