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1978 - Ross
Posted:Oct 30, 2018 9:39 am
Last Updated:Nov 19, 2018 12:14 am
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In April 2012 I wrote the following. In the intervening years, I’ve found my center again, and am no longer troubled by the feelings described. But…I still remember how distressed I was at the time. I suppose it was a mid-life crisis that was causing me to doubt where I’d ended up in life.

******

The last two days have been hard. The best description of how I've been feeling is grief; it’s been there for weeks, growing stronger every day until I almost can’t stand it. I don't even know if the identified cause is real, or just a foil wrapping concealing the genuine issue.

First – what's so special about thirty-four? It's not an auspicious number. Not a particular anniversary, not a biennial, triennial or what not. It's just the number of years since I was eighteen, a recent graduate of High School, and newly accepted to Florida State University for the upcoming fall semester. FSU in Tallahassee was the only college I'd applied to, chosen for it's proximity to my sister (who lived about ninety minutes away in Bainbridge, Georgia). None of that’s relevant, really. What is, is that it's the year I fell in love for the first time. For the last time. The only time. The worst part is how is it seemed meant to be, and the reality of how it actually turned out.

I'll start just before the beginning, the preface as it were.

June, 1978. OK: maybe July. It was evening, and I was on Main Street in Daytona Beach heading into The Landmark – a popular gay bar. I say popular, but it must have been a weekday because it was almost empty. I would have ordered a sloe gin fizz, the only drink I'd found at I could stand, and headed immediate to the back room where the pool tables were. This was before the bar underwent one of it's many remodels that led to the stage being in the back. Before the building was demolished to make room for...well, I have no idea. I haven't been back to Main Street in decades.

In any case, I was in the back playing pool. Smoking a cigarette in the most mature way I could arrange, and drinking my pink drink, when a cute guy wandered into the back room, surveyed the lack of competition, and asked if I'd play a game.

Duh.

He introduced himself. I promptly forgot his name. I suck that way. We played a game. I learned that he was in town because he'd won some 'Mr Bar-something of 1978" contest. He showed me the current issue of the bar rag (a free weekly mag that advertised bars throughout the south); it had a picture of him wearing a red baseball cap, with a list of the bars he'd be appearing at for some promotional gig – I didn't really understand it. Apparently I wasn't the only one, because I really was the only one at the bar so early in the evening. If there had been a normal crowd that night I'm sure I would never have even spoken with him, much less played pool.

He was so handsome. More than that, he was funny and smart. Way smart. I had a great time, we talked in that fast, intoxicating speed you have when you're really hitting it off with someone. Too soon, he was being told by his photographer/handler that it was time to pack up and head off to the Zodiac – the South Daytona Gay Bar on Ridgewood. So, I reluctantly said, "Bye," and watched him go.

I did not follow after, or head to the 'Z' like a puppy dog. I was enamored, true, but I have never been the type to reveal my weakness to the world.

And that was that.

Only, strangely, it wasn't.

******

One month later I was in Hotlanta, walking along Peachtree Street. It was night, the sidewalks crowded with people and I was 'nerd in the big city'. I had just passed a Krystal's, home of oddly small and unsatisfying burgers. (Their motto, "Buy more! Eventually you'll feel full!") I was about to cross the street when someone called my name.

And there he was. He'd seen me walk by from his seat in the Krystal and had run out to catch me. It was the most unlikely thing that has ever happened to me, and not in the way you may think. It wasn't the statistical long-shot of happening to walk by someone I'd only met once, a month previous, just as he looked up to recognize me that was so astonishing. It was the fact that this amazingly handsome and smart guy remembered me! Remembered me, and was excited to have the opportunity to renew our acquaintance! I could have accepted that as perfectly normal; after all in a universe of infinite possibility, it would be odd if coincidences didn't occur every day. What was actually surprising me was he had felt a connection when we first met, and was delighted to have the opportunity to see where it led.

Knowing, as I do know, where it led, the disappointment and (dare I say it?) eternal sorrow, would I have walked down that street that day?

No. I wouldn't. The pain, even thirty-four years later, is still fresh. The sense of loss never healed. The universe is a cruel bitch to let things like this happen to sad schmucks like me.

But, as I've found over the years, Life is not what we were promised. The lies we were fed as children about love were made were, not told in order to deceive, but in order to give hope. And, it's not the disappointment that hurts. I can deal with disappointment. I just can't deal with the hope. That's what I find so cruel about life - the constant and unrelenting hope that I face each day.

******

The times with Ross (yes, learned and remembered his name...but not his last name. Cruel bitch of a universe, eh?), were filled with the magic I'd been waiting for all my life. We spent days, weeks together, side by side. Or was it only a week? It's too far removed for me to know reliably. I don't remember each day, I just remember events.

I remember we spent the day at Six Flags over Georgia. Going on rides, walking for hours. I refused the roller coasters, which to this day I will not get on, and he was disappointed. But we went on the spinning barrels and later I played ring toss and, to my own astonishment, won a truly gigantic toy dog. As we were leaving that evening, walking to my car through the maze of parked cars, some man came up and begged me to sell him the dog. He'd tried all afternoon to win one for his little girl and she was heartbroken that she didn't get one. I told that man, "I won't sell you the dog. But I will give it to you." He thanked me and I felt great, and Ross told me that I'd done something wonderful. I think he really believed that so simple a gesture meant a lot and his admiration was the high point of the day. I think that's why I remember our day at Six Flags so well.

I remember going out and eating at a lovely restaurant. Ross talked me into trying batter-fried mushrooms. Up until then I'd been convinced that I hated mushrooms – I'd never so much as had one on a slice of pizza. He convinced me to try something new, and I found I liked it. I think that's why that memory stuck.

I remember driving with him one morning to the magazine he was loosely associated with (the same 'bar rag' that was in every bar in the south). The building was on Peachtree street in what had formerly been someone's home (was everything in Atlanta on Peachtree Street?). That's where he found out about another bar contest. We made plans to drive up to it...Tennessee? One of the Carolina's? I no longer recall. I remember it was a small bar with a dirt parking lot. During the contest I took a few pictures with my inadequate Kodak 110 camera, so he'd have something for the magazine. Ross came in third, but should have been first. The first and second place winners were locals, and the contest was decided by applause. So, while Ross got decent applause, it was nothing compared to the locals, who had brought all their friends with them.

Then, back in Atlanta, I helped him move his mother. She had decided to leave Atalanta (not a clue why) and needed to go to Tallahassee to live with her mother. Another astounding coincidence. Ross's grandmother lived in Tallahassee, so he would be a frequent visitor with both his mom and grandmother living there. And me, registered with FSU for the fall term, soon to start.

Ross drove his mother's car, packed full of her possessions and I followed with his mother in my car. We had a long talk on our trip; she confided that she felt guilty that Ross as gay. Somehow she felt it was her fault. I told her about all the research I'd done on the topic in my quest for self-enlightenment. “It's just part of who we are – inborn and predetermined. You have no reason to blame yourself – and he's as likely to be happy gay as straight.” That seemed to satisfy her. She enjoyed my CB (it was the late 70’s after all), and said her CB handle was “Postage Stamp Lil,” cause she stuck to the back of Semi's and drafted when traveling.

When we got to Tallahassee I was surprised at Ross's grandmother. She was not what I’d expected, having based her upon my own grandmother. Instead she was a classy lady, and younger than I thought a grandmother could be. Her home was a beautiful A-frame, set back away from the city and seemingly isolated. She showed us the marionette she had been making – something for Ross to develop a talent routine around. It was not complete, but it was wonderful. The figure was similar to “Madame”, the Waland Flowers creation, and Ross was excited to see it. So I met his mother and his Grandmother all in the same day. Must be why I remember that day.

I remember lying next to him in some hotel room. My hand running along his chest and belly, smoothing the thick, soft fur he was covered in. We talked about sex and fantasies and he told me, “I think lions are so sexy; I'd let one make love to me if I didn't think it would eat me!” I looked at him, golden-furred with a curly mane fanned out on the pillow and told him, “You are a lion!”

The next memory, the penultimate memory, the memory of the end. I want you to understand that I don't blame Ross, or hate him...both of us were flawed, and nothing lasts. I don't recall what triggered it, I'm sure that it was just the slow accumulation of things. I've never been, never will be, a risk taker. I calculate, minimize the odds, avoid the uncontrollable. I must have said “no” to something important. But I'm stalling; it's not a memory I cherish. I remember lying on my back in bed, while Ross straddled me, slapping me. I curled up, hiding my face in my arms, crying and begging him to stop. Not crying from pain, but crying from the sense of betrayal. Even now, thirty-four years later, the anguish is there. “Hit me back and I'll stop,” he kept saying. I kept refusing. I've always been afraid of my temper, I feel like I have a bad one, and I always keep it in check. I'm more afraid of hurting someone than I am of being hurt. Eventually Ross gave up and then tried to apologize. I remember his telling me that he'd just been trying to “fix” me – somehow he was convinced that if I would just strike back I'd be...what? Courageous? Adventurous?

Well, that was the end. Trust was dead, and with it any hope of us. We must have spent the night sleeping in the same bed in that sad room. I would have driven him wherever he wanted to go the next day, saying little. Maybe nothing. Passive-aggressively silent.

School began shortly thereafter. I did not do well. And in the years after, whenever I drove to my sister's house I would dread coming up on Tallahassee; the city made me sad now. I never did fall in love again, no really. I tried a few relationships but I carried the seeds of my own destruction within me; quick to take offense, slow to forgive. Or never. Yes. Never forgive. Never forget.

Besides, in order to fall in love your heart must be free to give. But my heart has always been and always will belong to Ross.

I saw him one last time, just before I left FSU and Tallahassee and moved back home. It was at the Casbah – a disco across from FSU on Tennessee Street. (Gone, like every other setting of my youth. Where it used to be is now Bullwinkles, I think. Though, by now, that’s probably gone, too.) My friend Sonja was working there as a bartender and I'd come in to see her. And I saw Ross. Handsome as a dream. He was carrying his mannequin, I think he was taking part in the show that evening. He saw me as well, and gave me the saddest look I'd ever seen.

And it made me happy. I was happy to know that he felt bad, too.

So, which of us was the crueler? I think it was me...and I carry the regret every day. But, wasn't it justified? In the dance between abuser and abused, someone has to walk off the dance floor.

Still, I think I understand him and what he once said rings true for me too.

If did didn't think he'd eat me, I would let him make love to me.
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