Mar 16, 2007

Ghost of a ghost

This is a long rambling post, one that I more than likely shouldn't post, but I'm doing it anyway.
Be forewarned. I apologize beforehand.

Today is the anniversary of a breakup.
It's been a full decade to the day.

I don’t want to go into the hows and whys of why it didn't work. It's too painful, and not really the point here anyway. The point is, if there is a point, to untangle the good from the mass of bad.
Or try.

I met William, of all unlikely places, online. It's sad to think that a decade ago I was still in the place I am now, but again, let's not go down that path just yet. This trip is fraught with landmines, isn't it?

I remember posting an ad on yahoo. This was the Mesozoic age of internet dating.
There was a toggle in which the (presumably heterosexual) poster had to choose his or her desire for children: "yes, no, maybe."

In a fit of cavalier honesty, I chose "yes" and didn't think that much of it.

This, among other things, unbeknownst to me, caught the eye of a young man all the way up in Birmingham, a young Spanish instructor at the University of Alabama up there.

He responded.

We began a tentative correspondence. I was pretty nonchalant at the beginning. There were a few local responses that seemed much more promising. I mean really, Birmingham?
I was distracted, and only corresponded at first out of politeness. It seemed rude not to respond to someone who had written from so far away. He seemed more interested in me than I did in him, and I felt a bit guilty about it, but with every email he grew more intriguing to me. In short, I was caught in my own web.

Our first emails talked of his love of Charlotte's Web....he quoted Neruda (that was more than enough) and Borges....and T.S. Eliot....he quoted Dorothy Parker (a reference now that's oddly painful to remember).

At the time I was trapped in a horrible desk job, in a windowless office of endless brown paneling and women who wore navy suits and sensible shoes.
His emails coached me through the pain. He encouraged me in everything I wanted to do.

He himself was in the throes of indecision at the time too. He was planning a new career. He was planning to go on to more graduate school, either in Alabama or here at Tulane. He couldn't decide. He was leaning toward Tulane. He wanted to become involved in public medicine with a focus on Latin America, and Tulane's program was (is) renowned.

I lobbied for Tulane, not unselfishly, but not completely selfishly either. It seemed tailor made for his skills.

Our emails turned to phone calls, long idyllic phone calls. His voice betrayed a subtle Southern accent. When I pointed it out, he was horrified. My voice, he insisted sounded vaguely "New Yorkish". When he pointed this out, I was horrified (It was late and my westbanker-isms must have bled through).
He always insisted that I should move to New York, in fact. That was one of his running jokes. He saw me living in New York. How could you not fall in love with someone who tells you something like that?

Somewhere in this process pictures were exchanged, by post. By this point, I had already been caught. Charlotte's web had been spun.

By that time, it didn't really matter what he looked like. I remember once on the phone asking him, "What color are your eyes?" He wasn't sure. I mean, really,
what kind of person doesn't know the color of his own eyes?
He had to go to the mirror and tell me, "They're blue." He seemed genuinely surprised. That might seem odd.... ok, so it is odd...but it summed him up in a lot of ways.
He really didn't give much thought to such things. He had bigger things to think about.

When I got the letter he sent with his pictures, I found a boy (he did look young) with dark brooding eyes, and dark curly hair...black Irish looking, a little bit like a young Glen Ford.


He was a gentlemanly Southern boy, with a deep love for Latin America. Odd, but intriguing.

He was younger than I was by about 3 years, but he had had quite an eventful life.
Very unlike mine.

Eventually the phone calls turned to trips.

I took the first trip up to meet him. I had never driven that far alone in my life.
He had suggested we meet somewhere in between, but I had rejected that idea. I didn't want to meet him some no-man's land in Mississippi.
I wanted to see his beloved Alabama. Alabama was pretty enough, but very foreign to me.
When we met, I found him to be tall and slender, with a slightly forlorn air, something that's dangerously attractive to me.

I continued to quietly lobby for Tulane, but he waffled. Honestly, as he told me, he was terrified of New Orleans, terrified that she might swallow him up. He had been here before, when he as a teenager.
He had grown up Baptist, the only child of a good, but not particularly devout Baptist family.
As a teenager he had come to New Orleans as a missionary of sorts, with his pastor and a few other teens. He, however, had spent the entire time in "an alcoholic haze."
(his words)

Besides being gay and newly Catholic, (or maybe because of it) he was also an alcoholic. He remembered this city as too great a temptation. He wrote about his memories here in the kind of overwrought way that it probably should be written about.

By nature he was prone to being overwrought. Lord knows I am prone to being overwrought. This city is overwrought. More than likely, he was right, and that much overwroughted-ness is best to be avoided. Alabama to him was home.

He had been raised Baptist, but a few years before I met him, he had formally converted to Catholicism.
He had also come out to his parents. Somewhere before then, he had also joined AA.

I can only imagine the shock to them. It must have come as a bolt from the blue to them. Despite that, he was amazingly open with them, and they were a close family.
He and his father in fact were planning a trip to help orphans in Mexico the coming year.

There was absolutely nothing "gay" about him. Had one met him, no one would ever know. He certainly didn't dress well. He was glad to have me there to help him, and I don't think I enjoyed anything more.
In fact, he had never been with a man other than me in his life.

He had had a long string of heartbroken girlfriends, however, all of whom he had abandoned, because he "was gay." (I somehow now think that that was not quite it...but that's another tale....)

Despite our differences he and I had much in common. Our being only children was one of the biggest. Our (mutual? independent?) desires to have children was another. I remember one long drive through rural Alabama, to see his childhood home, the farm he had grown up on. On the way we discussed children.

He'd even picked out names, something I certainly had never had the hubris to do. But he had. He had the names of the adoption agencies already. He had picked out a name, John Miguel (blending his Southernism with his love of Latin America?).
It was a cool name, I had to admit.

I was fascinated by this plan, by his determination, but a bit disconcerted too, and I told him so.
He seemed to understand me, but maybe he didn't.

He insisted that he could get me a job up there. Some friend of his worked for Southern Living. I had no interest at all in that, but I was flattered by his confidence and that he wanted me to live with him...but Birmingham?

My time spent up there was spent entirely with him, every hour. We rented movies ("Mighty Aphrodite" I remember one) and he showed me around downtown Birmingham. It was nice enough, but there was a pall on the place, a repressiveness that was palpable.

The mysteries of Catholicism, it seems, were easier to navigate for him than the mysteries of being gay. I remember when I first visited him, he showed me his music collection. He earnestly showed me a cassette of Erasure, which he had put on.
I grimaced.
He seemed surprised at my reaction.
Then relieved.
"I don't even like Erasure either," he admitted. "I just thought that's what gay people listened to, so I bought it." He laughed. He didn't laugh often.
I made him throw it away.

I'm reading now what I've written above, and I realize that the picture I am painting is not accurate at all. There was a "poetry" ....and seriousness about him...and even a humor that I can't seem to get across.
It's frustrating, but then writing always is, I guess.

But that's the whole point of this long rambling post, I think...or one of the points.

He's such an important part of my life, and yet no one, no one that I know now or knew then, knows him. He's a part of my life that no one else in my life has any connection to.

So here I am, trying to conjure up this ghost so that he can be "met," and all I seem able to do is conjure up just a ghost of a ghost.

I'm ashamed to admit this, but sometime after I had returned from the evacuation after Katrina, I went to see a "psychic." She was a nice woman, a plump, friendly blonde in Metairie. She kept me for twice as long as she intended, and didn't charge me but for half the time. She held my keys in her plump hands and told me a lot of things that have not quite happened, and a few that have. She asked me eventually, if I had any other questions.

"Yes," I said.
I asked her sheepishly, "Can you tell me anything about William? Is he ok?"

I didn't tell her who he was or anything at all about him, only his name.
She clenched my keys more tightly and said, "Yes."
"What do you see?"
"I see a child with him, a boy....a son. He and the boy seem alone."
"Is he happy?"
"He's had some problems," she went on. "But he's doing better."
Then I paused, afraid of my own question. "Does he ever think of me?"
"Yes...sometimes," she said. "He cherishes you."

That's the word he always used (a stupid word I thought then...like that stupid 60's song)...the only word he could sadly ever manage to use...to me.

What she told me, whether true or not gave me some peace of mind, not nearly enough, but some.
I'm not sure there can ever be enough.

3 comments:

Michael said...

Thank you for showing me a piece of your life and a beautiful image of William.

Silly Monkey said...

Back in the day, were the Yahoo ads only for straight people? You mention "presumably heterosexual."

Okay, so there are REAL people out there who do things like visiting orphans in Mexico? I'd love to meet someone who does stuff like that, and do those things with him. I'd never do something like that on my own.

Thanks for sharing that, Jason. It was interesting. :)

So you've never picked out names for your kids? I have mine picked out. Names, gender, looks, etc. :)

So what possessed you to visit a psychic?

I had a friend once who, for my birthday, gave me a gift certificate to have my stars read, or something like that. She was really into that stuff, and I wasn't. She said it was a two-hour sitting.

I made the very hard decision not to go, and she (my friend) was terribly upset with me. But I thought it would have been worse to pretend that I believed in that, and then gone through the two long hours of listening to it, and then acted enthusiastic about it.

I felt that would be lying to my friend, and the lesser of two evils would be to hurt her by not going then to have her find out somewhere down the line that I thought it was nonsense and only pretended to get something out of it.

I have a "William," too, that I think about a lot and do searches for--never coming up with anything in spite of his unique Italian name.

jason said...

Yep, there are people like that, Silly Monkey.