My life in 1,000 words or less…and counting

A scene from my life...and an unfortunate haircut.

My latest article for the Charleston City Paper is here. And for the record, it’s an interesting writing/journal assignment to give yourself: summing up your life in 1,000 words. What would you include? What would you skip? Below is the first go-round of the article, which I had to trim to 800 words for publication.

I grew up in a suburban town of lush front lawns and tree-lined streets 30 miles from New York City. During summers, I was outside from morning until night, until my Dad’s whistle called me home.

I was a tomboy. My brother, 12 years my senior, was my idol. He played football, fixed cars, listened to Pink Floyd and had the coolest Adidas ever – white with green stripes. I had to have a pair just like them.

My sister, who I also idolized, was five years older. In addition to teaching me the lyrics to “Crocodile Rock,” she was also the first person to tell me I was gay. She was mad at me at the time. Probably because I refused to play Barbies. Again. I cried and told my Mom, who said, “What a terrible thing to say!” My sister got punished. My sister and I talked about that moment recently and she said, “Well, I was right.”

My Mom kept my hair short. Her story is my sister and I screamed whenever she touched our hair. To be fair, Dorothy Hamill’s hairstyle was all the rage at the time. I dressed in jeans and t-shirts and was often mistaken for a boy. This pained my Mom to no end. Rather than grow my hair out, she decided to sew white eyelet lace around the back of my jean jacket. It looked as horrific as you are imagining. Even at six, I knew it was awful. I was mortified and refused to wear the jacket. I joke with my Mom now that white eyelet lace is the reason I’m gay. She thinks it’s funny, most of the time.

My childhood girl crushes include Olivia Newton-John, Joan Jett, The Go-Go’s, Jodie Foster, Lindsay Wagner and Kris Evert. In more disturbing news, my male crushes include Tom Wopat and Burt Reynolds.

I’m the only girl at my friend Dave’s 8th birthday party. This is not unusual. After cake, we play football. While celebrating a touchdown, one of the boys says to me, “That’s not fair. I’m not allowed to tackle girls.”

I date and fall in love with a number of boys/men during my teens and 20s. One breaks my heart. I break another’s heart. Along the way and through the angst, I decide that there is something wrong with the way I’m built. That I’m not meant to fall in love the way other people do. It doesn’t occur to me that I’m gay.

The first gay bar I go to is called “Connexions.” I’d like to write a coffee table book about all the badly named gay bars in the world, but that’s another story. I was terrified, exhilarated and danced all night.

I live with my best boy friend for seven years in my 20s. He has known me since birth, and as I ease my way out of the closet, he is there, supportive, loving, even accompanying me to the gay girl bars in New York. The first time we talk about my sexual escapades with women, he barrages me with questions. We compare notes, and I cannot stop laughing.

The first time a gay man tells me I look hot I feel like I’ve won the lottery.

I’m folding towels and underwear with my Mom when I come out to her. I was not planning on it. She asks me if the bar where a friend of mine and I are going is a gay bar. I say yes. She says nothing. I realize this is the moment. I say, “Is there anything else you want to ask me?” She says no – and means it. I tiptoe my way out by saying, “Well, I’m pretty sure that I’m gay.” She stops folding laundry and says, “I’ll get your Father.”

My Dad suggests therapy. I think this is because I used the words, “I think I’m gay” rather than “I am.” Overall, he takes the news much better than Mom. Later he says, “I try very hard not to get upset about things I have no control over. I just want you to be safe and happy.”

I’m at a Gay Pride party in 2000. I see a beautiful woman. She’s from South Carolina and is leaving. We begin emailing and then move to the phone. I make my first visit to Charleston. On my 30th birthday, she gives me a ring and asks me to live with her. In 2003, I move to Charleston. We move into a house and are together nearly four years.

Once, when discussing the holidays, my Mom refers to my partner and me as “the girls.” This small gesture of inclusion brings me to happy tears.

I spend one summer as a stepmom during which I feel loved, hated, exhausted, elated, panicked, whole, inept, like a bizarre combination of babysitter, aunt and neighbor. I now realize that the kids were just kids – and I was with the wrong partner.

Around straight people who don’t “know” any gays, I sometimes feel like a Lesbian Ambassador.

I have come out a hundred more times since first coming out – to doctors, friends, co-workers, confused men, etc.

In case you missed it, Laura Bush supports gay marriage, saying “…when couples are committed to one another and love each other, they ought to have the same sorts of rights everyone else has.”

I could just kiss her.

Peanut butter & John

Peanut butter & John

Grief morphs, ebbs and flows, grows deafeningly loud, then silently steps to the side. The peanut butter and jelly sandwich pictured above was my Dad’s favorite lunch. Although, to be accurate, one would have to butter the bread before spreading the jelly and the peanut butter. And you have to eat each half separately. That was my Dad.

I just stopped in the middle of making that sandwich to weep, tell my Dad I missed him and write this down. It seems somehow imperative that I record the moment, sit with this feeling…and share it.

I’ve been writing a separate piece about Dad and my grief since he died. Here’s a more recent excerpt:

April 1, 2010
On my walk through the neighborhood behind the Catholic Church this morning, a hearse and limousine passed. I put my head down as they rolled slowly by on this brilliant, blue-skied, sun-filled morning and thought of riding in the limousine to Dad’s graveside service. The procession of cars went through small towns, and as we inched down a state road, several middle-aged men along the street stopped walking and put their hands over their hearts as we passed. I’d never seen anyone do this before and I could feel the heat of a sob working its way up my throat. A simple gesture of respect for the soul that passed by that I will always hold. I wanted to roll down the window and scream out, like Auden in his poem, “He is dead! He is dead. My father is dead!” I wanted to keen and wail. But I didn’t. I sat looking out the window at the stunning day unfolding and tried to memorize everything I passed.