Friday, May 8, 2015

Another Life, Not my Own

Today’s question: Should I be happy for Pablo or not?

He was one of my students at Walmart, and I liked him a lot: He had worked his way up from being a stocker to being a buyer, and that—if you can handle the pressure of having to sell twenty million dollars of merchandise in a year—is a great job. So he had done well, and the class that he was in was one of my favorites.

In that class was another student, who at one time gave a presentation on Facebook, which in those days I didn’t use. OK—I did, but I didn’t accept friend requests from my co-workers. Why would anyone? I spent ten hours or so every workday with these people—was I now to go home and spend more time—electronically—with them?

All that changed when Walmart and I parted ways; then, Facebook became my connection to the four hundred students / friends I had lost. And I quickly learned: My Facebook friends were a lot more diverse than most friends are.

There was María, for example, also in the same class with Pablo, and also a wonderful student. Her story was essentially the same as Pablo’s, with the exception that she had been married and divorced twice, and was trudging along the arduous road of single-motherhood.

She was helped on the way as many are: By a deep faith in God. Nor was it as much God, perhaps, as it was Jesus, and I knew that she went to an Evangelical church. But it was only after reading her Facebook posts that I realized how “Evangelical” the church was, and how deeply it was affecting her thinking. She quoted chapter and verse incessantly, and was convinced that the Godless—should that word be capped? Interesting theological and grammatical question—were imminently poised to snatch whatever last tatters of religious liberty she could still cling to. How crazy was she? Well, she urged her Facebook friends to sign a petition of support for Dolce and Gabana, since they were being persecuted by the gay Nazis.

I learned a long time ago: Facebook can bring out the absolute nastiest in a person, though YouTube, with its greater anonymity, may well top it. At any rate, I didn’t sign the petition, nor did I respond to her increasing rants that we gay people were threatening to topple marriage and Western Civilization into the abyss of sin and moral turpitude. Reading her posts, you could hear the fabric of our society being torn, slashed, rent, sundered, and burned. Presumably, we gay people were dancing Satanically on the ashes.

What made it ironic, I thought, was that Pablo, her classmate, was…well, my gaydar can occasionally blip, but my guess was that Pablo was either heterosexually challenged or homosexually gifted. And since I knew that she was a good friend of Pablo’s outside of work, and they were undoubtedly Facebook friends, I wondered how he felt about all the proselytizing and commentary.

Well, my gaydar had not blipped, but Pablo certainly had, at least in my eyes. Because Millie had liked what Pablo had written:

A mi querida Apóstol Wanda Rolón:

Llegue a la iglesia la Senda Antigua con una vida hecha pedazos, sin trabajo, en depresión, buscando llenar un vacío que había en mi corazón, sin identidad, creyendo que practicando el homosexualismo Dios se equivocó conmigo.  

(To my dear Apostle Wanda Rolón, I arrived at the Church of the Ancient Path with a life in tatters, without work, in depression, seeking to fill a void in my heart, without identity, believing that by practicing homosexuality God had erred with me.)

And who is the dear Apostle Wanda Rolón? Well, everybody in Puerto Rico knows her, since she has the gumption—or perhaps the craftiness—of standing up and telling it like it is: Ricky Martin is an ambassador from Hell. Oh, and she’s not afraid to tell homosexuals the truth, either, and that is that…oh, do I really have to tell you?

More recently, she had been criticized for having received a prophecy—stuff like this happens to Evangelicals—that a group of businessmen would buy her a private jet, since her “theology” is that old, well, actually Ancient Path: “health and wealth theology.” OK—I would call it swindling or, perhaps more politely, hucksterism, since she is the middle man here, between God and man, and her take is 10%, and isn’t that fair? Besides, is she to blame for a prophecy someone made over her? Who wouldn’t be happy, on hearing the news that a private jet was on the way? Oh, and by the way, it never arrived, or maybe we should be hopeful—or perhaps up the commission to 20%--and believe that the prophecy has yet to be fulfilled. The Lord, as you know, works….

Anyway, all of the Godless, in whose camp I reluctantly fall, were sniggering about this, and that was what inspired Pablo to write what he did in Facebook.  

Well, I read the entire post several times over, and came upon the telling sentence:

Hoy por hoy gracias a esta pastora altamente criticada por fariseos y gente incrédula se ha dejado utilizar por Dios para sacar gente como yo de esa cárcel y de vivir una vida de maldición.

(Today, thanks to this pastor highly criticized by Pharisees and unknowing people I have allowed God to use me to free people like me from the prison of living a life of evil.)

I looked, then, at his Facebook page, and realized that sometime after I left Walmart, Pablo had married a woman: He looks, in his pictures, to be quite happy, and he is holding a child (presumably his / theirs) with his wife sitting next to an older child (presumably hers / now theirs).

I pondered the whole question yesterday, when I wasn’t teaching. Was it real, Pablo’s conversion, his “healing” from the “sickness” of homosexuality? Was he bisexual, and thus able to turn his homosexual side off? What had his background been, and why had he felt that God had erred by making him gay?

More—didn’t I want him to be happy? He stands in his photos with a wife and children, and who could not want that for a friend? I am very clear—I don’t need everyone around me to be gay.

But I also wondered—what had Pablo found out there, in those years when he was practicing that evil of homosexuality? Because it’s a different world, now, for Pablo than it was for me, at his age thirty years ago. And in some ways, I had it easier—there were still bars, and are there any today? Because however much we tended to become drunks, the bars were community. But isn’t everything now over the Internet? Is there any community at all?

Well, I check it out, and yes—there are bars, and there are churches (not, thankfully, of that ancient path) and there are social activism groups, since we have a large gay pride march, and who organizes that? So there were things to do, people to meet, and a life to be led, if Pablo had wanted it.

Or could have gotten to it. Since was it truly the apostle’s doing, this loathing of the sin of homosexuality? Isn’t it more likely that he had felt that way all his life, had been taught that being gay was sinful and horrible, and had been ashamed and hurting for years before getting back on the ancient path? And now that he’s back, well…will he stay back? Anyone’s marriage is a mystery, but how will his fare? His wife clearly knows that he has homosexuality in his past: Will she worry that he’ll go back to being gay? Will she watch him, to see if he watches men? What will all that do to his marriage?

What will he feel, as he grows older? And isn’t it odd that I ask that, since that t was supposed to be the worst fate of gay men: We would grow old, our beauty gone, our money frittered away, our friends fickle and then…bam, we would look around us, and see our heterosexual friends and family surrounded by their children and grandchildren, and how would we feel? Ah, then we’d regret the errors of our ways, as we sat lonely and poor and despised while the whole world went happily on its way, leaving us only misery and dejection! Hah! See!

Did it happen that way? Sure, for some. But more often, I saw people who, like my uncle, had been married and had had children and grandchildren, and yes, that was a blessing. But there was a lingering sense that something had been deprived of him, and of all the other gay men who had played straight all those years.

Two things have happened as I write this: A heart-stoppingly beautiful man has walked into the café, and a sister-in-law has called, since there will be a family gathering tomorrow which of course I don’t want to attend but have to because otherwise there will be hell to pay, since don’t forget, this is Mother’s Day weekend, and for me not to go? Hah, better it would be to spit in her dear face!

I tell you this, since the beautiful man has left the coffee shop untouched by anything but some lecherous looks and memories from me. And it made me remember days long gone with Mr. Fernández, when the love and the sex was newly minted, and had the shine and the value of an ingot of gold. It’s just as good, and even more valuable, but it’s different. And how often have we borrowed against that capital? Because am I spilling any secrets when I tell that every marriage well, tinkers on the brink of insolvency at times? We, like everyone else, have held on when there wasn’t much there to hold onto. And will Pablo have that? Was there ever enough fire raging to produce embers to warm them in later years?

And my sister-in-law? Well, she is one more reminder of how deeply embedded I am in Mr. Fernández’s family, since it is absolutely natural that at any moment Marc can and must be called, for an affair as important as a funeral or as trivial as a search for the right music to play for the event I don’t want to go to. So rather than facing a lonely old age, I’ll have to have well-whetted machetes to break through the family ties that bind.

So I tell myself, I should be happy for him. But the question that nags, really, is this: Is Pablo really happy? Assuming that he is suppressing his homosexuality and feigning someone else’s heterosexuality, well…how could he be? For that matter, when I was trading my soul for the spoils of the corporate world, was I happy?

I ended up happy to have done it, and happier still to have done with it. But there’s a reason, I think, why the whole issue of marriage equality resonates so strongly. Every one of us at Walmart felt the same way, and many of us said it openly: When I walk out that door, I leave it behind me. Put it this way—everybody had a picture of the wife and kids on their desk at work. But how many had a picture of the Home Office next to their bed?

And so Pablo has been saved, and is now married and with children. No, I don’t know if he’s happy, or if I should be happy if he is, or even if he thinks he is. What do I know?

Well, I hope he really has been saved, and that God came in and did a good scrubbing, and tossed that old devil homosexuality out of Pablo’s life, and left the temple orderly and immaculate and straight, God dammit! Because otherwise?

Pablo’s marriage is a sham.