Sunday, June 23, 2013

Chapter Seven, "Broken," from "For the ♥ of David," A Novel-in-Progress

Three years ago, I started to write a novel based on a short story I'd written.  By late last summer or early fall, I'd completed a first draft, and I began to work on rewrites.  Since then, the editing process has been long and often frustrating.  But I'm starting to get a sense of what my novel will be once it's done, and that is gratifying.

I'm pleased to share with you Chapter Seven, "Broken," in its entirety below.  The content of the chapter is self-explanatory; all you need to know is it takes place in late 1988.  Oh, and it's suitable for all audiences.

Thanks for taking the time, and I hope you enjoy it.



Two weeks later, I went to David’s for an early Christmas dinner.           
            It was the first time someone, other than a relative, had invited me over for a meal–certainly another gay man.  I was so excited, I couldn’t wait to go.        
            When I arrived at David’s apartment late that Saturday afternoon, I was surprised when he told me it would be just the two of us.  Especially considering how much work he was putting himself through, going all out as though he expected a houseful of family and friends.        
            In addition to the traditional roasted turkey, stuffing, and gravy, the meal consisted of a tossed salad with homemade dressing, garlic mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, oven-warmed buns, and cranberry sauce, which David told me he’d made using a secret recipe of his grandmother’s.  And, for dessert, he’d baked a pumpkin pie, including the crust, which he garnished with fresh whipped cream and sprigs of mint. 
            Overstuffed, David and I sat at his intimate, candle-lit dining table–the everyday items normally found on it moved to the floor, in the corner and out of the way–where we talked, laughed, and enjoyed ourselves until well into the evening.         
            When it came time to clean up, we worked together to transfer everything back to the kitchen.  Afterward, I stood in the short hallway, leaning against the narrow half-wall, and watched David fastidiously rinse the dirty dishes, piling like items on top of each other.  In amongst his impatient and frustrated mutterings about the lack of counter space, our lively dinner repartee continued.   
            Once everything had been rinsed and stacked, David excused himself to use the bathroom.
            As I sauntered about his living room, admiring the things he had–and, dare I say it, allowing myself to consider sharing them with him, if and when we became a couple–I felt I needed to do something more to show my appreciation for dinner.  After all, David had done everything he could to make me feel like an important guest.  Perhaps, I thought, I should start washing the dishes and help free up some space on the counter.           
             Having rinsed the sink, clearing it of remaining food debris, I turned on the hot water and added dishwashing liquid, just like I would if I’d been home.  As I did, a tingle ran up my spine and spread throughout my body; I found myself humming a familiar tune I couldn’t place.                 
            For the first time, I felt what I imagined it must be like to live with someone, to be in an honest-to-goodness relationship.  Having shared a delicious meal, and after cleaning up, David and I, the two of us, would settle in for a quiet evening together at home–watching TV, talking, or just being in each other’s company.  As I thought of that, I felt warm and full inside.              
            Standing at an unfamiliar kitchen sink, washing someone else’s dishes, admittedly felt unusual, foreign, because I’d never done it before.  But it also felt somehow right, like it was meant to be. 
            I’d never considered the possibility, but I discovered an unexpected intimacy doing such a mundane task–working with those things someone else uses everyday to prepare and eat food.  Perhaps, in some respects, more intimate even than having sex together. 
            That’s when it happened.  Caught up in my reverie as I was, I’d added David’s crystal wineglass to the sudsy water without realizing it.  Then, absentmindedly, I’d pushed the dishcloth into it, snapping off a large piece glass, and driving the resulting sharp edge into the base of my right index finger. 
            Searing pain shot through me, and I instinctively retracted my hand from the water.  In amongst the soap bubbles, I saw a flap of skin.  Blood and water ran down my hand toward my wrist.  When I tried to see if a piece of broken glass had lodged into the wound, seeping blood obstructed my view. 
            The first impulse I had was to dip my hand back into the sink of hot, soapy dishwater, to wash away the blood before it dripped onto the floor.  But I already knew that would sting like hell.  Not to mention, mixing blood with the clean water didn’t feel like the right thing to do.            
            Then the thought of HIV came to me.       
            While there was still some confusion about how the virus was transmitted from one person to another, there was no question contact with infected blood was one of the primary ways.   
            Since I’d had sex with only a few people, I was almost certain I wasn’t HIV+. 
            Still, Kurt and I had engaged in risky sexual activity, just after I’d come out a few years earlier.  And I hadn’t been brave enough, or saw good reason–that is, I hadn’t entered a committed relationship yet–to get tested.  The last thing I wanted to do was contaminate the dishwater with my blood.  Even though, in the unlikely event I was infected, I doubted the diluted virus would be dangerous.
            As I stood in David’s kitchen, holding my hand upright, using a tissue from my jeans pocket to wipe up the blood and water so it wouldn’t drip on the floor, I started to panic.  How could I have been so careless?  Would David be upset when he found out I’d broken one of his wineglasses?  How could I have ruined an otherwise perfect evening?      
            I looked at the cut on my hand.  It was still bleeding.  A lot.  And I didn’t know what to do.  I was no longer thinking clearly.    
            Just then, at the other end of the hallway and across from the kitchen, the door to the bathroom opened.     
            “What happened?” David asked, looking at my hand, then up at me.         
            I pointed to the water in the sink and explained about the wineglass.        
            As I spoke, David went into action.  He opened a cupboard door and produced a roll of paper towels.  Unrolling several sheets, he tore them off and handed them to me.  When I’d cleaned my hand and arm, he inspected the wound.  Blood kept getting in the way. 
            “I don’t think there’s any glass in it,” I told him, my voice shaky.   
            David tore off several more sheets of paper towel, folded them into a thick pad, and gave them to me. 
            “Keep your hand up,” he instructed.  “Apply pressure to stop the bleeding.”  The calm yet earnest tone of his voice reminded me of my mother, on those occasions when she’d shown concern for my wellbeing as I was growing up. 
            Several minutes later, I removed the soiled pad.     
            “It looks deep,” David said.  “You might need to get stitches, to stop the bleeding.”         
            My heart sank. 
            The word “stitches” took me back to a hot summer evening in my late teens.  My father and I had been on our way somewhere in his pick-up truck.  To our right, the driver of a car on a side street missed the stop sign and slammed into us.  In the passenger seat, I was thrown to the left.   
            When we were safely out of the vehicle, my father took a look at me and said I needed to go to the hospital.  Without realizing it at the time of the impact, my head had hit the steering wheel, opening a gash.  I felt something warm on my forehead and touched it.  My fingers were covered in blood. 
            As I laid on a stretcher in the Emergency ward, a doctor injected my scalp with a local anesthetic, then dabbed at the wound to clean it.  He threaded numerous stitches through the layer of skin to close the cut. 
            At the time, I hadn’t felt much beyond a pulling sensation, as the suture thread had been drawn through my skin.  But the idea of what had happened, as if hemming a pair of pants, had made me sick to my stomach.
            Regardless of what David had said, I wasn’t going to Emergency at St. Paul’s Hospital–that was for damn sure.  Not only did I not want to inconvenience him, by having him take me there–even if he did like to drive his car–but also I had no intention of allowing a doctor to stick a needle in my hand, to freeze it or to sew it up.  Eventually, the bleeding would stop on its own.  It had to.               
            Blood kept oozing from my hand, faster than I was willing to accept.              
            Determined to stop it, I returned the compress to the cut and pressed even harder.  David prepared another pad of paper towel and exchanged it for the one I had.  Several minutes later, we looked at the cut again.  The bleeding seemed to have slowed, somewhat anyway, and I breathed a little easier.  Still, I couldn’t get the idea of stitches off my mind.    
            As I continued to hold my hand up, pad firmly in place, David drained the sink and sprayed water over the items in it, clearing the soap suds to find the broken wineglass and shards.  He looked at me and smiled.
            “You drama queens are all alike,” he said.  “Always needing to be the center of attention.” 
            Several times while he worked on washing and drying the dishes himself, David asked to see the cut.   
            Finally, when the bleeding had mostly stopped, he opened a cupboard door and took out a first aid kit.  He unzipped it, made a compress from several feet of gauze, and affixed it to my hand with medical tape. 
            “I missed my calling,” he said.  “I should have been Florence Nightingale.”
The excitement of the evening thankfully over, David and I carried our cups of tea to the living room and settled into the two cozy, wingback chairs. 
            The table lamps on both sides of the sofa, reminding me of tall, narrow, Grecian urns, cast the room in a warm glow.  Smooth jazz tunes from David’s favorite radio station out of Seattle played quietly in the background.
            I shifted uneasily in my seat and cleared my throat several times. 
            “I have a question,” I said tentatively, as though seeking permission to ask it.           
            “Why am I not surprised?” David responded.  I heard the tick of his teacup as he set it in the saucer on his lap.
            “It’s been on my mind for weeks,” I said.
            That was true, it had been.  Just as it was true I’d been determined not to bring it up.                 
            But the events of the past few hours–from the fantasy of being part of a couple, to feeling vulnerable when I’d cut my hand, to seeing another side of David as he’d tended to me–had weakened my resolve.  If there’d been a time to raise the subject, I thought it was then.   
            I gathered my thoughts and tried to select my words carefully. 
            “I was just wondering, you know, when you told me before…um, that I’m not your type.  I mean, how did you know?”
            “Here we go again.”
            “What do you mean, ‘here we go again’?” I tried to ask it in a joking manner, to keep the tone of our conversation light.  “I haven’t brought this up before.”           
            “Maybe not directly, Priscilla.  But I know where you’re going with this.”             
            “Oh, yeah?  And where am I going?”   
            “We already discussed it.”
            “No, you discussed it.  I listened.”  He gave me that skeptical stare.  “But I don’t get it,” I continued.
            “That’s right, you don’t.  And you’re not going to.”  I attempted a laugh.       
            After a moment, I tried again.  “When you said I wasn’t your type, you didn’t even know me.  How could you be so sure?” 
            “I knew.  Like I said before, it’s either there, or it’s not.”     
            “But I don’t understand.  How am I not your type?”   
            “You won’t give up, will you?” David said, taking another sip of tea.  “Well, for starters, you’re too desperate.  People can smell how needy you are from a mile away.  No one wants to be with a needy, old queen.”  He smirked at me.           
            I shot him a look.  “Thanks a lot.”
            “You’re welcome.  I know you don’t mean that now, but you will…one day.”                
            Neither of us said anything.  Then David spoke up.
            “I see how you might have gotten the impression I changed my mind, that I’m interested in you now.  But, as far as I’m concerned, Gertrude, nothing’s changed.  We’re still where we were before.”                 
            “No more buts,” David said firmly.  “And no begging.  It’s not becoming to a woman like you.”   
            I wanted to say something else, I really did, but I stopped myself.  What was the point?                
            For some time afterward, David and I sat quietly, drinking our tea and listening to the music. 
            But my mind was churning.        
            In less than a year, I’d turn thirty.
            I knew, or I’d been led to believe, anyway, that once a gay man had reached that milestone age, it was all over.  Just like that, he’d be old, undesirable, and invisible, especially to those he most wanted to find him attractive.
            From that point onward, the chance of meeting a partner would be even more difficult than it had been (read: impossible).  Through no choice of his own, the poor sop would live the rest of his life isolated, lonely, and miserable–what he’d probably dreaded most happening to him.       
            Seeing myself end up like that scared the living crap out of me.  I couldn’t conceive of the possibility I’d go through life without ever experiencing real and true love–at least once.  In the event that was the case, I believed little else would have any meaning.             
            The light and airy riffs of George Benson’s “Breezin’” floated about David’s apartment.
            Time was running out.  
            Despite my persistence, the clubs had been nothing but a disappointment, and I had no reason to believe they’d be any different in the future.  Before it was too late, I had to try something else. 
            But what?
            The only other thing I could think of was what I’d told myself I never would.  After all, I had to draw the line somewhere. 
            As I pondered the situation I was in, I knew I might not want to do it.  But the decision had already been made for me. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Our Relationship Comes of Age

In some countries, states, and jurisdictions, the relationship I have with Chris officially comes of age today.  That is, this being June 13, 2013, Chris and I celebrate our twenty-first anniversary.  I will not be at home with him to share our special day, as I happen to be in Kelowna, on my annual visit with my mother.  But I'm scheduled to return home tomorrow, and we'll mark the occasion then.

What's so remarkable to me is that, twenty-one years ago, I would never have thought I'd be where I am today–in a monogamous relationship, for twenty-one years, with one of the most amazing human beings I've ever met, and still madly in love.  I am blessed, no question about that, and I couldn't be more grateful.  I have what a good many other gay men confide in me they wish they had.

I know you've heard this before, particularly on televised awards shows, but it's true:  If this can happen to me, it can happen to you too.  I am all the proof you need of that.  In other words, if an ordinary, nothing-special, mostly uptight, and not particularly easy to live with, gay man like me can find a wonderful human being to cherish and love for over two decades, I know for a fact it can happen to you too.

I hope when you look at me, you see someone very much like you.  I hope you see how much we have in common: the belief that love (not sex) is the only reason we're here, love can happen to any of us at any time, and the degree to which you love yourself suggests the degree to which you're able to accept love from someone else.

For all of you seeking real and true love, let this be your year.  That is my sincere wish for you.

Happy Anniversary, Sweetheart.  I love you so much.

Monday, June 3, 2013

March to the Beat of Your Own Drum…Even When You're Gay

I've never fit in.

Because I'm gay, and lived all of my childhood, and a good portion of my adulthood, at a time when being gay was unacceptable to the mainstream, obviously, I didn't fit in with straight people.  Although I had a lot in common with straight people, as all gay people do, there's just this part of you that knows straight people wouldn't understand, or wouldn't want to understand, if they knew about your same-sex attraction (even though love is love, when it comes right down to it).

But you want to know something ironic?

I didn't fit in with gay men, either.  You might think that, once I came out, I finally found where I belonged–namely, in the company of other gay men, who, presumably, I had a lot in common with.  But you'd be wrong.  Sure, we shared our attraction for other men and could at least understand each other on that level.  But, when it came to other matters related to being gay, I knew I was different from many of them.  In other words, I still felt very much on the outside looking in, where everyone else seemed to be.  

This all came back to me last week, when I received an email from a nineteen-year-old gay man who lives in Eastern Canada, and who wrote to me on the subjects of casual sex, promiscuity, and open relationships.  The words he wrote speak better for him than I ever could:

I was a little shocked when I learned about the stereotypes of gay men being promiscuous, and far more shocked when I realized the extent to which such stereotypes are true. While I'm just about at the point where I can tolerate others engaging in casual sex when single, I cannot understand why anyone with the opportunity for a monogamous relationship would seek anything outside of it. To me that means you are not ready for a relationship and/or are with the wrong person. To have an open relationship to me negates the whole point of a relationship and cheapens whatever bond there is supposed to be between the people involved.

First, how refreshing it was to hear from a young man–as a matter of interest, the majority of readers I hear from are in their teens or twenties–who, in 2013, has what I would consider old-fashioned, traditional, or conservative (pick the term you prefer) principles, morals, and ideals, which, as it happens, exactly coincide with mine.  Exchanges with people, such as this young man, give me so much hope for the future of our world in general, and of gay people in particular.

But, as I wrote back to him, the gay male community is a large and diverse place, and there's plenty of room for all the different ways we have of being gay.  Just because you don't agree with this type of gay person, and how he feels about, or conducts himself on, matters that are important to you, doesn't mean you won't agree with that one.  It's just a case of finding those you feel most comfortable with, and who validate the way you know yourself to be.

One of the greatest challenges you'll face is finding those people.  Unfortunately, we still live in a culture where gay people are unable to meet each other as easily as straight people are.  If you're not into the gay bar and club scene, as I wasn't–but I still made the effort to frequent them anyway and ended up meeting my life partner there–then you'll have to be creative and find other places where you're likely to meet a good cross-section of gay people, or where you'll have at least one main interest in common with everyone (like a cycling group, for example).  

One of the other challenges you'll face is the temptation, in order to belong, to compromise what you hold most dear and true.  Here's what I think it looks like:  A young gay man comes out of the closet, meets other young gay men, and, in an effort to finally fit in somewhere–that is, to feel no longer isolated or alone–he goes along with the crowd, and finds himself indulging in substance abuse and/or sexual practices that are not who he is.  Unfortunately, peer pressure doesn't necessarily end when you've left high school.

The point I'm trying to make is this:  Stay true to yourself.  Just because you want to fit in with other people doesn't mean you have to be someone you're not.  The gay male community is a seductive place.  There are many things you could encounter in it that will turn your head, some good, some not so good.  Don't throw out your principles, morals, and ideals because you're finally out of the closet; because you've been led to believe homosexuality is immoral anyway, so why not live an immoral lifestyle?; because you think you have to in order to appear more attractive to other gay men.  

For those of you who don't know my story, I'll give it to you in a nutshell:  I never smoked, drank, or did drugs.  I was never promiscuous, and I've been in a monogamous relationship for twenty-one years this month.  I have always lived according to what is right for me, and I've never been influenced by anyone to do something I'm not comfortable with.  I've done all right for myself.  I don't believe I've missed out on anything important–because I was unwilling to compromise my standards to make someone else happy or to fit in.  And, somehow, I managed to meet the man of my dreams, who I'm still madly in love with today.  

In other words, if I can do it, so can you.  Nothing is worth having if it's too easy to get. So, when you're wondering why you're making things so difficult for yourself, by not going along with everyone else, remember, if you stay true to who you are, and get what you've always wanted that way, you will keep your self-respect, which is, believe me, one of the most important things you can have.  

All good things come to those who wait–and, I might add, who work hard to get it.


(My thanks to Chris M. for inspiring me to write this post.  I respect you more than you know for the principled young man you are, and for the tremendous character you show by being true to yourself.)