Still, after my shattering disappointment, I decided to go with Adrian to Boston. My memory of the trip is fragments, vignettes.
We stopped at a gay bar in Eugene. It was bright in the afternoon sun, through big windows, unlike any other bar I have been to since. I think I heard it used to be an old IHOP or something. There was a young guy in there, wearing very short shorts. He had a very nice ass and legs. He was playing pool. He would bend over picturesquely as he lined up shots with his cue.
As Adrian and I sat down, I must have done something to betray I didn’t know how things were done in bars. “He hasn’t been out much,” Adrian explained to someone. I was furious. Who was Adrian, to make excuses for me?! All these decades later, I still don’t know how to behave in bars. It’s something to be proud of!
Our route must have gone up the spectacular Columbia River Gorge, and across Idaho, but I don’t remember a thing. I just sat, looking out the window, feeling empty. We went through Yellowstone. We must have toured the geysers and mud pots, but my only memory is that there was road work and we were stopped in our lane for awhile. Out the car window, I saw a lone bright red flower growing on a dry clay bank. Years later, I was to learn the species; scarlet gilia.
We must have crossed eastern Montana, miles of prairie. I remember where the trees started in the flats of North Dakota. The terrain finally started to look like the Eastern forest rather than the Great Plains.
In some little motel where we stayed, there was a faint spicy fragrance; something with perhaps a touch of clove in it. I had gone into the bathroom after Adrian showered. I recognized it as a trace of the scent I’d thought of as his scent. I realized then it was not intrinsic to him, but something he wore, or that lingered from some hair care product.
The weather was hot and steamy. Along the south shore of Lake Superior, we stopped for a dip. We’d found a beach remote enough so we didn’t bother with clothes. As I came dripping ashore from that freshwater ocean, Adrian remarked at my thick chest hair, wicked into circlets by the water. “It looks like you already have nipple rings.”
I guess he meant it as a mild complement. I only thought, “already looks?” As though sometime in the future I really will be so mutilated? Not a chance!
We stopped for an afternoon with Scandinavian relatives of his in Wisconsin. Aunt Frances told a story about during the war when there were shortages. “Somehow, your uncle Pete got ahold of a pound of coffee. He called everybody together. They brewed it up, so everybody could have a cup.” Scandinavians and their coffee.
Adrian had brought photo albums. People were looking through them as we visited. Aunt Sylvia turned the pages while others looked over her shoulders and from the sides. They came to a section of pictures from a Gay Pride parade.
The lowering sun slanted through the windows. Adrian was at the head of the table, talking with other people about something else. He didn’t offer any remarks on the pictures. It certainly wasn’t my place to.
Young Tommy was bursting the say something about the photos, but he didn’t. He had to find a nervous release. Instead, with something shiny, maybe his watch crystal, he flashed oblique sunlight across the eyes of his uncle Jan, one of the men sitting with Adrian. It was as much as Tommy could do not to squeal, “Look at this! Look at this!”
Uncle Jan blinked, and suppressed annoyance. This was, after all, a festive family occasion. “Oh, Tommy, stop that silly stuff,” he mildly said. Aunt Sylvia paged the photo album on. And so the moment passed.
Later, Adrian intimated, “I wasn’t going to hide that part of my life from my family. I’m not going to rub it in their faces, but I’m not going to hide it either.” Thus we bivouac along the ever-shifting skirmish line of coming out.
In all those thousands of miles of travel, Adrian and I must have talked about something, but I only remember fragments. At one point, I asked what he’d been expecting, coming back to meet up with me again.
“I was hoping to recapture what we had before. I hoped it would be like last year again,” he said.
Nowadays, I might have known more what to do. But at the time I thought, so much has changed. The way you’re treating me has changed. How could we ever have that magic again?
The irony hung in the air.
Somewhere in upstate New York, Adrian said something and, for a moment, the lilt of his voice sounded like my Uncle Fremont. I mentioned this to him.
“What’s your uncle like?” he asked.
I gave a quick inventory: Never married, no kids. Except his adopted son, Jorge, who still lived with him. They had a big house in Pompano Beach. I’d never been there, but the reports were they had lots of art.
“Sounds like he’s gay,” remarked Adrian.
I was thunderstruck. Such an idea had never entered my head. But the possibility that I had a gay uncle, my godfather in fact, began to send tendrils of exotic fancy down the corridors of my mind.
“What does he do?” asked Adrian.
I had never been sure. Different stuff. At one time, he’d worked for the perfume company, Faberge.
“Oh,” chuckled Adrian, “Has to be!”
I was reeling! What if I were not the first? What if I were not alone in the family? What if gay were inherited somehow, or passed along by cultural similarities, or perhaps by subtle imitation? He had, after all, always been my favorite uncle!
My Uncle Fremont was a grand, loud, larger-than-life character. He had traveled all over the world. He told wonderful, exotic tales of the Middle East, and South America.
Within a very few months, I wrote a coming out letter to Uncle Fremont. I framed it as, “You’re cosmopolitan. How can I help my dad, your brother, to understand this?”
He wrote back, supportive, with some good advice. He reminded me always to conduct myself with dignity. He gave not one slightest hint whether he himself were gay or not.
Over the ensuing years, Uncle Fremont’s adopted son (life partner?) Jorge died. The word was, pneumonia. My brother, the physician, was sure it had been AIDS. He told me a story.
Once Jorge had, in a fierce argument with my strong willed aunt Ann, screamed at her, “Your brother’s a homosexual!” But this was Aunt Ann’s version. She always did see things her own way. And who knows what might come out in fits of passion?
After Jorge’s passing, Uncle Fremont seemed toned down a bit, though not much. For decades, most of my life, he and Jorge had been distant relatives, both geographically and in terms of their infrequent contact. Now, Uncle Fremont gradually reconnected with the rest of the family. I heard more news of him, though by then I was living out west and didn’t have occasion to see him directly.
Nearly 20 years after my coming out, I spent some time in the Southeast with my parents. I drove them down to south Florida to see Uncle Fremont. We all stayed for a few days and had a great time.
My parents spent the night at a motel, but I stayed up late talking with Fremont. He and I caught up on old times at his house, now a small downsized bungalow. There was still art, for example an exotic collection of carved meerschaum pipes. We looked at paintings he’d done; maybe not quite professional quality, but not bad. He showed me photos from the local Little Theater production he’d been in, cast as the doctor in “The Miracle Worker”.
It got late, and I slept there — in the spare bedroom of course.
Next morning, when I was about to make up my bed, he casually remarked, “Leave it.” In not so many words, he indicated he wanted it obvious we’d passed the night apart. This strange incident was the only hint he ever gave, that people might even think he was anything other than straight.
Not long after, Uncle Fremont had complications from bypass surgery. He never recovered, but his strong fighting spirit kept him alive more than a year, though mostly flat on his back in long-term care. I drove my father down to see his brother one time, but with my dad so old and me living so far away, we could not manage it twice.
Finally, Uncle Fremont died. Many times over the years, I had wondered if he were gay. In the long months of his final debility, though, I realized some things just don’t matter any more. So now, the story, whatever story, of him and Jorge, will never be told. It hangs out there as a mystery, tenuously tethered to my life, but never to be known.