Adrian and I were getting close to the East Coast. Driving through the night, somewhere along Lake Champlain, we passed a car wreck off the side of the road. I made noises like I wanted to stop, me with my EMT training, in case someone needed help.
He gave a brusque excuse, and ignored me. I fumed. The one time I might have had something to offer on this trip, I was slapped down. Of course Adrian and I would never recapture any magic as long as he kept me in this role of the helpless tagalong.
The last night before Boston, we stayed at his parents’ in western Massachusetts. On the trip cross country, we had at least shared a bed. Now he said, “can’t”. The presumption was, those were his parents’ rules. It was just one more little disappointment for me. But it was also one more little toughening in me, to live as much as possible by my own rules from then on.
Boston, like the trip there, was a kaleidoscope of disjointed memories. Total emotional disorientation was more like it. I didn’t know what the rules were, or what still applied. But somehow, the only thing to do was to keep on putting one foot in front of the other.
I finally met James. He was a good guy, and about like I’d imagined him; slim and black-bearded.
It was summer, and humid. You had to dry off in the shower before even stepping out on the mat, for if the mat got wet it would not dry. I had to be told this. Growing up in the Southeast, and then living in the rainy northwest, trying to thwart moisture was not something that would have occurred to me.
One day, they took me out to Provincetown. On the way, as we wended through the endless maze of busy streets, we went by a Color Tile store. “I want to go to Color Tile,” James announced.
Adrian just drove on. A little later, he asked, “Did you really want to go to Color Tile?” I took it as part of their dynamic. In the presence of the older, bossy, Adrian; one sometimes has to assert oneself, just for form’s sake.
Another time Adrian took me to lunch at historic Fanueil Hall. The serving room was barnlike, with long tables that had hard benches down either side. It was plain, but supposedly presidents had eaten there.
Adrian explained that the Fanueil Hall waitresses were rude. That’s what the tourists expected. I went to sit down next to him. He said, “No, no. The waitresses won’t let you. They’ll make you move. You have to sit on opposite sides of the table.” I think we had crab cakes.
I stayed at Adrian and James’ house. At one point during my visit, I witnessed a visitor for James. I wasn’t eavesdropping. I was in an adjacent room with the door open. It was no secret I was there.
The visitor was an older man. Middle aged? I was so young that 30’s would have seemed old. He and James talked for awhile, sitting in chairs, facing each other. Then, something happened. James reached out slowly, as though something were holding his arm back, and he was forcing against it. He put his hand on the visitor’s knee.
The talking trailed off. They leaned towards each other. They stroked each other’s limbs, though still fully clothed. I made my way away from there. I had not known something private was about to happen.
Adrian and James were moving August 1st. That was ostensibly why I’d come. I would be there to help out.
The piano movers arrived. There was no way a piece of furniture that size would go down the stairs from their second story apartment, so I got to see professional big-city piano moving.
Down on the street, there was a crane. The movers dismantle one of the windows, even took the frame out, to make a sufficiently big passageway. It was large enough by mere fractions of an inch. The arm of the crane had a big fabric strap, so as not to mar the instrument’s finish. And out the window the piano went.
The process of Adrian and James packing up to move got to be a burnout procrastinated thing. On the last desperate day, I went with Adrian down to U-Haul to get a bunch of cardboard packing cartons. This little detail surprised me. I guess everybody I knew was so scrappy poor, we would have saved up old apple boxes and not paid money for the containers.
We were up at least till midnight, packing and packing. Finally, we were standing out in the street as Adrian drove the panel truck away. The night was cool, from breezes off the harbor, and the sky seemed inky black. The city lights erased the stars, somehow without making the firmament any less dark.
So many segments of memory are missing. Like, what happened after that? Sleep I would assume. But where, and how did I get there? And the trip to Provincetown: What about actually being on Cape Cod? No recall. Had James’s visitor been in their old place or their new? Did I ever ask Adrian about him?
The biggest blank is how I got back to the West Coast. Almost like a scene cut in a movie, I was home in Grayson Harbor. What about Oregon, and Forest Glade? Did I stop back there to pack up? Or did I have so little in the way of material possessions, it all went with me to Boston in a backpack?
Grayson Harbor had called me home. On the trip east to Boston, when I had had occasion give my address, for example signing a guest register, I’d put Grayson Harbor. Somehow, in all the whirlwind tumult of that summer, that was my one stable beacon of clarity.
So there I was, walking along the cobbled beach in Puget Sound. The tide was pretty high. I stopped and watched a section of tree trunk that was caught in the surf. The log would tumble in on each breaker, but not make landfall. Then it would roll back out on the ebb, but not become seaborne.
Suddenly, in a fit of energy, I knew what I had to do. After one wave, as the log trundled down the slope with the receding wash, I dashed out and stopped it. Now, it was further up the beach when the next comber caught it, and thus was carried higher. Here, I stopped it again. With this shepherding from me, the next several crests lifted the log as far as they could. Now it was fairly well on solid ground.
In between the waves, I walked it still higher, lifting one end at a time. Now I had it to the driftwood line. I tumbled it over that wall of whitened branches. There it lay, in the grass, grounded.
I was satisfied. This was a signature act, a symbol of setting my place here in Grayson Harbor. Not to drift, not to be caught in the endless suck and glut of circumstance, but to stay.
It was 1985. Grayson Harbor had already been my address for four years. Through that period, though, I’d been gone more time than I’d been there. Things like peace walks, and peace bike rides, and interim caretaker positions had taken me away. In the following decades, more things would take me away. Some, like grad school, for years.
When I’m there, I walk that same beach. My log is gone. You can’t rely on symbols, no matter how weighty. You have to continually return to your intent.
Part of planting my feet was the change from learning to being. For one year, I’d voraciously read everything I could about gay. Now it was time to internalize it, live it.
I set an intent to go about my life solidly. No more chasing after dramatic, far away, perfect images of who I wanted. I would just do what I would do. In the course of going about my affairs, I would eventually meet a nice man. We would like each other, and grow close, and naturally meld our lives.
I’m sad to say, this has not been so. The years went by, and this thing that I was going to just let happen did not happen. So I gradually put more effort into it. I networked. I joined gay clubs. I went on trips. I connected through email lists and computer bulletin boards. When the Internet came along, I ran personal ads and set up profiles.
I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I’ve tried everything I could think of. I am completely out of ideas.
For a couple of years after that Boston trip, I was very mad at Adrian. If you’d pinned me down to exactly why, I would not have been able to say. It wasn’t logical. I suppose I was angry at him for not being what I’d fantasized he was. Don’t worry, he was safe from me, on the other side of the country.
From this vantage of years, I realize he was incredibly generous with himself, within the bounds of what was possible. There I was, a destitute bum, and he gave me a cross-country road trip. He bought me subscriptions to publications. He spent time with me. But of course, from the state I was in then, none of it could ever have been enough.
Since then, I have tried to give back, to other gay men in similar situations. I have tried to do my best. One man had a terrible crush on me. I invited him to travel and work with me, until things came into balance. Maybe that seems bizarre, but I figured, “Do unto others…”
Guys who are just coming out have sought me. I try to give them what they need. I try to do right by them, even in ways I wasn’t done right by myself, when I was at that stage.
Being involved with a man who’s just coming out is like whitewater rafting. He may need a lot of energy, but he gives it back. It can be great, navigating through the tumult together.
It’s important to remember, however, that there will finally come still pools, where he can keep upright on his own. Then, he’s liable to drift away from you. Be sure to tell that to your heart, at the top of those first thrilling rapids.