It’s been a minute since the last installment of this series. Turns out this gets harder to write as I go. If you’d like to catch up, you can click on the ‘journal’ link, and scroll back to earlier posts.
Late summer 1990. I was 19, a long-haired, long-bearded, stinky hippie. A functional alcoholic, a pothead, and an acid freak. After high school I sleepwalked into college like the subject of a certain Steely Dan song where I ultimately found friends and a home in the deadhead crowd, or at the least I found people willing to tolerate a self-destructive misfit looking for a place to check-out. Why no one escorted me from school is beyond me. I suppose I’d become good at passing. I also discovered improvisational music which is still relevant to me, still meaningful, fluid, ever changing. A relationship longer than most it seems. I spent a good deal of that summer at concerts tripping on acid before moving in with my girlfriend from the prior school year, whereupon we would soon discover she has become pregnant. So at the time of this story, I was heading down to the Syracuse Greyhound bus terminal, on my way home from college for the weekend. To tell my parents that my girlfriend was pregnant.
I’d bus from Syracuse, north to Watertown where my grandparents would pick me up, and then my folks would collect me from them. I had no car of my own. (I’d had one, but it broke down on the way to a Dead show—that’s a different story.) I was incredibly anxious already as I headed to the bus terminal. Looking back, I’m pretty sure this would have been the very first time in my life I shared something of consequence with my parents. Something that I was afraid about. I hid everything from them, and from everyone. I did not share. And I was not looking forward to this, to telling them. I was incredibly anxious.
I walked to the bus terminal, though to most people that would seem kind of a long walk, through a variety of neighborhoods, but I liked feeling like I lived in a city. Part of that, to me, was walking through it, all parts of it. It was mid-day, the sun was somewhere directly overhead in that overcast sky. As I approached the bus terminal, I was in the shadow of the highway overpass above, and its structure of framing below which divided up the entire area of about a city block into an asphalt, steel, and concrete monochromatic scene; a shadowy geometry devoid of scale or vibrancy. As I walked through, a car appeared, a silver sedan. It pulled a U-Turn and came alongside me, passenger window down, pulling up at walking speed on my left. The driver, an older man with white hair in a tan trenchcoat like a businessman would wear, leaned over to speak to me through the open passenger window. I imagined he was about to ask directions.
Do you want to get your rocks off? he asked.
I’m sorry? I replied, and leaned in closer as I didn’t really comprehend what he’d said.
He leaned over farther and pulled the door handle,releasing the passenger door which swung open.
Do you want to get your rocks off? he asked again. Come on, get in.
He had a big friendly smile, and he still just looked like someone’s grandpa or like the manager of a bank to me. Sort of like John Forsythe, the patriarch figure I’d recognize from the TV show Falcon Crest.
Umm, no thank you, I politely say, I’m just going to catch the bus, pointing at the terminal within eyeshot, like I was turning down a ride from my neighbor. The man quickly pulled the door closed and raced away.
Get your rocks off? As I walked the rest of the way there I just kept replaying it. Do you want to get your rocks off? He wanted to have sex. He was asking me for sex. He was a grown man with white hair. Driving a sedan. Like those things were somehow supposed to not be for men looking for sex with men. He asked me to have sex. So many different things went through my mind:
- I could have said yes, and I could have had sex with a man
- He could be a killer and that’s how he finds victims
- Did anyone see the interaction, does anyone now think I’m gay?
- Do I look gay? Why did he ask me?
- Shit, am I gay? I hadn’t thought about any of that in a really long time.
My anxiety about the conversation with my parents was now displaced by the awakened stirrings of possible homosexuality and danger. Do I kind of like that a man asked me to have sex? Does that mean I’m gay? For fuck’s sake, am I gay? What strikes me, now, years later writing this that it didn’t occur to me that maybe I was bisexual. My frame of thinking was always that someone was one or the other. I had no bisexual role models, and a hard time seeing the shades of grey between certain things like this, the concept of gay or straight. The idea of a spectrum in general. Simultaneously though, I had already begun developing an interest in things that slip between the boundaries, things that don’t fit into boxes. Fusion jazz and improvisational music. Books like Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid exploring concepts in science, art, and spirituality together as though they are on a continuum and not separate, isolated things. I began a lifelong fascination with urban wildlife and urban wild spaces. I was drawn to these spaces between in so many places in my life, just not this concept about myself. That I might be attracted to women and men. That I might not be one or the other. This search for the spaces between is so constant in my life in so many ways, as if my subconscious was urging me to consider applying my outward searching back upon myself all of my life. But I just couldn’t see that back then, I think for the shame clouding it all.
So, by this time I’m sitting in the Greyhound terminal on one of a few benches reminiscent of church pews, waiting for the bus to arrive. Like every bus terminal I’ve been in, it was a large open place with hard shiny surfaces, and the din of people coming and going was louder than it needed to be. I masturbated in the men’s room stall and went back to the benches to wait, a bit more relaxed. I didn’t know which thing to be more anxious about, telling my parents my girlfriend was pregnant, or wondering if I’m gay and if everyone knows. I wondered if straight guys masturbated in the Greyhound bus terminal bathroom. Someone comes within my bubble as I sit there staring at my feet jittering with worry. I don’t recall what I was wearing.
I look up to see an older version of the kid who beat me up in 8th grade after I called him a fag because he called me a fag. The kid, who sucker punched me, told me he’d beat me up the next day, then did beat me up the next day. Over the word fag.
Hi? I replied. It’s him, it’s that guy from high school. Well, I mean I knew him from I think 1st grade on. I couldn’t remember if he graduated high school with me or not, to be honest. I hadn’t thought about him in years. He ended up sitting down and he told me he had recently got out of prison. Or maybe jail. I told him I was about to tell my parents they were going to be grandparents. He said how he regretted many things, and he apologized for beating me up. I did not offer that I was confused by feelings about homosexuality.
He left, and I got on the bus and I went to Watertown where my grandparents picked me up and took me to their house and they told me about things I really heard none of. My parents arrived, then we began driving to their house, a further twenty miles north. Not a long drive. They were in a dark blue Olds Cutlass wagon, an automatic, with a bench seat in front. When we were finally heading down the street I said, Ok folks, now that we’re alone I have something I need to tell you. I’ll never really understand what happened next. My dad, who was driving, signaled right, pulled us over to the curb, and put the automatic gear lever up into park. He threw his right arm over the top of the bench seat and turned himself around to better face me, I was in the back. My mom looked as well from the passenger seat.
You’re gay aren’t you? my father said, turned around there in the driver’s seat on the side of the road just outside of the municipal fire station with its bright lime green trucks lined up in front. You’re gay aren’t you? he said.
I really don’t know exactly what followed. I did tell them what I was there to tell them, but I don’t recall it, or what followed at all. I mean, looking back on it now, it would have been a great time to come out as bisexual, I suppose. If that had seemed like an option at the time. But it just didn’t. It got shoved down inside for a few years while I did what I thought was the right thing to do regarding bringing a new life into the world, and like usual I ignored the feeling deep inside I’d taught myself wasn’t really there. Not just sexuality, but so many facets of me I’d learned to ignore for fear of being seen as gay.