Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saturday Musings, 24 January 2015

Good morning,

A small article on the second page of my morning newspaper announces what the Internet has already told me:  Alabama ban on same-sex marriage fails.  And for some reason, this article sends me back 35 years, more, maybe; to a time when I longed to be desired by a straight-laced young graduate student.

I lived at the time in an apartment building south of St. Louis University.  Grand and old, the U-shaped brick structure flanked a grass expanse rimmed with a sidewalk.  Neighbors regularly crossed from one entrance to another, visiting, socializing, sharing wine and dinner.  My closest friends lived in the middle section, two men who formed a couple back in an era when same-gender couples still seemed novel.  The one with whom I became the closest was named Lloyd; and from this distance, I do not recall the other's name -- not because I did not like him, but because I am old and my brain works rather less well than it used to work.

Those were the early days of the appearance of AIDS in the Midwest.  HIV had already gripped each coast and squeezed, slaughtering its victims without regret.  In St. Louis, homosexuality still carried an embarrassing taint.  Heterosexual men and women alike still twittered about it, still told jokes, still ribbed each other by calling ugly names supposedly casting aspersions on each other's sexuality.  As for myself, in those days I was called names that the  users thought ugly, but I wore like a badge of honor because to me, they meant that my friends had depth, character, and variety.  To some, they meant that I had friends in low places, but I did not care about their opinion.  They meant that some of my friends were gay; and that I enjoyed their company.  Let's leave it at that.

I liked the apartment which I had in those days.  The building had not yet been renovated.  I had a studio, behind the doors of which I made a one-bedroom with judicious use of a wooden screen.  In the cubby which had once held a Murphy bed that could be lowered into the living room, I put a desk and lamp.  I scribbled poetry on the wall; in fact, I once wrote a poem called On the Wall.  I drank too much Scotch and wrote lamenting essays in long hand on loose-leaf paper.  I tucked my writings in folders and binders.  I slipped the folders and binders into a metal lock-box.  I don't know why; I cannot imagine anyone stealing such maudlin passages, nor would the box have withstood a fire.  A decade later, maybe two, the box became immersed in a basement flood and the yellowing paper on which I chronicled my alcoholic grad school years thankfully succumbed.

In that period, I fell in love with a grad student whose name I shall withhold.  From farm country, Conservative, Catholic, the man had deep brown eyes and thin curls.  His studious manner charmed me.  He gifted me with small smiles, chin downwardly tilted, upcast eyes.  My heart invariably melted.  But he looked right through me.  Perhaps, perhaps:  I was not pretty enough.  I've never felt pretty enough.

I held parties in that little apartment.  We put canapes on metal TV trays borrowed from my mother, and cold bottles of Piesporter in an ice-filled dish pan in the sink.  We drank from jelly jars.  We laughed:  Principally, we described our lives and loves  in broad, rowdy tones and goaded each other into personal admissions, confessions of situations in which we daringly placed ourselves and from which we barely escaped.  Had there been no escape, the stories would not have amused.  Only slight bouts of discomfort or embarrassment could make the tales amusing.  We told them on each other and on ourselves.  Gay couples, straight single girls, clumps of misfit men who ogled everyone regardless of gender.  And at the edge of it all:  My grad student stood, invariably looking uncomfortable, probably wishing he could vanish.

One night, we all decamped to the Central West End.  We had come to the end of our wine but not of our money.  Rather than make a beer run, we decided to invade the bars on Euclid.  It was July: Hot, sticky; we wore shorts, low-cut sun-dresses, and sandals.  My grad student wore jeans and a button-down shirt with its cuffs folded to just below his elbows.  We took four cars; my grad student drove me in his car, and I sat close, letting the wind through the open window blow my long hair into his face.

On the sidewalk, under a make-shift tent, we grouped around several tables.  Lloyd and his partner shared a table with my grad student and me.  When we had drinks, Lloyd dragged his friend out to the street to dance to the band at the restaurant next to where we drank.  I eyed my grad student, assessing whether he might be persuaded to step onto the pavement and put his arm around me.  I adjusted the skimpy bodice of my thin dress and took a drink.  He spoke, then, saying, Your friends are a little weird, Corinne.

I tried to play it off with a high giggle.  But  he pressed.  They don't exactly follow tradition.  I threw back the last of my first Scotch and looked around for the waiter.  He continued, suggesting immorality, decadence, undesirability.  I felt something rising in me.  Not nobility but kinship.  The offbeat were my people.  The weird were me.  I slammed my fist on the table, knocking over his beer and scaring both of us.

Look, I snapped.  It comes down to this.  Either you are my friend, and accept my other friends; or you reject my friends in which case, you reject me.

I felt rather than saw that Lloyd had reappeared at my elbow.  The three of us stood still, frozen in that moment.  My grad student, my friend, and I:  waiting.  And the soft reply, I guess I reject you, then.  I rose.  Lloyd's hand went out to me, and pulled me away from the table.  I did not take my eyes off the man from whom I retreated.  Lloyd's partner appeared behind  me, and they turned me toward the street, toward their car, toward our home, and walked me to my apartment.

They enfolded me in a circle of their arms.  We love you,  they murmured.  I let them hold me.  Then I went into my little home, and lay on the mattress that was my bed.  I did not cry.  But neither did I sleep.

Across the country, men and women whose only difference from their neighbors is their attraction to their own gender finally begin to see their loves and their alliances acknowledged.  My grad student, who resurfaced in my life years later, seems to have changed -- to soften.  I don't see him much, but when I do, I see the virtue and not the ugly past; I hear the goodness, and not those almost whispered, ugly words.  I have not ask him if he's had a change of heart. I simply assume that like the courts across our land, he has come to see that love should be enough.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.