You grow out of things, and then you have to grow back into them.
There was high school, which was perhaps the darkest time of my life. I was in that cell in the prison of denial and in fact, it wasn’t just a cell. It was solitary, and the term was life, and there was no parole. Oh, and nobody had gotten around to missing me, outside the rest of the world. They peered in at me, periodically, and told me: “these are the happiest days of your life.”
The Shorewood quarry was my ticket out.
It was going to look like an accident. Like all quarries, it had been dug out, and there was a pit with water. Above it, a cliff. And so I would shoot myself, and fall backwards into the water. So it would look like a drowning—see?
All right, fifty or so years later, I can identify some flaws in the plan….
But flawed or not, it was undeniable, the heaviness that burst on me each morning, usually after a fitful night of sleep. Because I had two secrets all during the hell that was high school: I was gay, and I was depressed.
The peculiar irony is that I didn’t know either of the secrets.
It shouldn’t have been that hard. Hadn’t I read, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex? I can see it in my mind’s eye—the yellow paperback that I probably stole, since how could I ever have summoned the nerve to buy such a thing.
“Listen, kid, lemme just ask my manager….”
“No, listen, Sir, that’s OK. I’ll just….”
“Hey, Joe,” shouts the clerk, “we got a fifteen-year old here, want to buy Everything you Always Wanted to Know About Sex….
All heads turn to Marc!
“WHAT!” shouts back Joe.
“Fifteen-year old says he want to buy Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex!”
Bring out the spotlights!
“Still can’t hear you!”
So I probably stole it, and though I’m not proud of it, I understand it. I only wish, however, that what I had stolen had been worth it. Here’s what I read:
Male homosexuality is a condition in which men have a driving emotional and sexual interest in other men. Because of the anatomical and physiological limitations involved, there are some formidable obstacles to overcome. Most homosexuals look upon this as a challenge and approach it with ingenuity and boundless energy. In the process they often transform themselves into part-time women. They don women’s clothes, wear makeup, adopt feminine mannerisms, and occasionally even try to rearrange their bodies along feminine lines.
But not to worry, because…
Q: Can homosexuals change?
A: If a homosexual who wants to renounce homosexuality finds a psychiatrist who knows how to cure homosexuality, he has every chance of becoming a happy, well-adjusted, heterosexual.
There was a little problem, of course, since how was I supposed to find “a psychiatrist who know how to cure homosexuality?” Back step: how would I even find a psychiatrist?
“Dad, I need to see a shrink.”
“What! Oh my God, Marc, what’s wrong? Why? Tell us! What’s bothering you, son?”
“Oh, it’s just nothing…”
Look, if I couldn’t buy a damn book, do you think I could tell my parents I was gay? And that I needed to see a shrink?
And so I lingered at the precipice of the cliff, in several ways figuratively, if never quite literally. I had no girlfriend, but that was no problem, since I was still fifteen or sixteen. And my father had married late—for reasons never quite explained. He was in his early 30’s when he married, and the official story is that he was looking for “the right one.”
True, he found her, but what guy goes through his 20’s without forming some kind of emotional attachment?
At any rate, if I was gay, I wasn’t going to tell anyone, because who knew how he or she might react? What if a “friend” went around telling everybody? What if—worse—the friend decided to tell my parents, since I was sick and needed help?
It is both unique and all pervading. Unique because every other sickness has a cause, even if not necessarily biological. But homosexuality, as then defined, had nothing to do with genes, but everything to do with the family, and guess what that meant? Yes, the distant father, the overly protective mother.
Was that it?
Well, yes, since my father was over fifty when I got to know him at age 3 or so, and I was number three. So the bloom was fading on the rose of parenthood, and he was entering that period when a man realizes: his dream of being publisher was never going to happen. Retirement was in sight. Two of his kids had made it into manhood, the third would likely as well. So when He came home, he slouched against the refrigerator, and rolled his neck from side to side. He was prone, you see, to stiff necks.
It was a house that screamed with that which was unsaid. My mother, in those years, was a secret smoker; later, she got a job despite the deep reservations of my father. She didn’t have to work, after all. True, in the decades that followed, they aged very well, but when I was in high school? My father spent an entire year in a huge depression, since my brother was living with—but not then married to—the woman who has been his wife for the last 40 years.
Is this comical? Yes, now.
They were deeply conventional, and if the 60’s had produced sea changes, none of that was reflected in our home. And so I was—perhaps—a homosexual. Which meant that I would have to become campy, like the Boys in the Band, or like the homosexuals in Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent.
There was no one to talk to. There was, in fact, nothing to say, since nothing had happened, and nothing would happen. I would live alone, or perhaps with my mother, as the man next door was doing. I would have no friends, since any woman friend would always be wondering: when was I going to get serious? And male friends? Not possible, because what would people think: an unmarried man with male friends? And it was unspoken at the time: the wives made the friendships, and the men got along with each other.
This was, of course, completely ridiculous. It was also completely serious. And so I went on, day after day, trudging along with the secret that was a secret even to myself, but still a secret.
And very heavy….
The years went on. I graduated, first from high school, then from college. Things got, as they say, better. I changed, society changed, my family changed.
But in some ways, I haven’t changed. How could I? I will never have those “best days of your life.” I will never feel that I fit in easily, that people unthinkingly accept me, that they would still love me, if they knew me. I will still think, somehow, that I have a secret, somehow, a secret that again is unknown to me. There are, perhaps, ways in which the outsider can become the insider. But not, I think, for me.