I have a history of fence-sitting.
I was a very young teen in a very small town when Patti Smith‘s iconic album, “Horses”, was released. I was desperately, impatiently waiting to escape the life I had in which I lived in secret and silence, to a life where I could jump the fences in which I felt trapped and escape to fields where I could be my true self. I had just learned the term “androgyny” and seeing Smith gave it tactile truth; she became one of my idols. My dream of moving to New York expanded to include not just the musical theatre and Warholian Studio 54 realm, but the whole Mapplethorpe and Burroughs punk-elastic sexuality, faux Rimbaud scene.
I became obsessed with Smith’s pianist, Richard Sohl. He was long and thin, sunken-eyed, and radiated the anemic, etiolated, halo of mysterious damage and unspoken ache, the ambiguous combination of vulnerability and cruelty that was to become the defining quality in all the men I would try to love. Which, to me, meant “save.”
I had no one with whom I could discuss these things until I attended a summer theatre camp. On my first night, there was a meeting for we few-twelve residents of the more than one hundred workshop students. It was my first time in a place where no one knew me, and something took over. Instead of the terrified little boy balancing madly on a fence, I was given the opportunity to leap into a pose of attitudes and phrases gleaned from Patti Smith, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Oscar Wilde and not a little Liza Minnelli; all because, after this meeting, the two coolest of we twelve – Julie & Sonya – approached me and asked, “You’re a fag, right?”
Indeed. I was. I spent the summer terrifying people with my liberated attitude – all a complete show, an experiment of costume and bravado. Julie, Sonya, and I percolated our own “Dangerous Liaisons” in the midst of the campers; we worshipped Patti Smith and Lou Reed and David Bowie, and Julie and Sonya played Madame de Merteuil to my Sebastian Valmont. We soon exhausted the possibilities amongst the theatre-folk and extended out reign of terror into the orchestra campers from which I targeted an emaciated saxophonist because he looked like Richard Sohl; a walking wound of lanky, long-haired, skeletal sensitivity who impassively fell prey to our manipulations – physical and emotional. When I was done with writing floridly throbbing faux Patti Smith/Rimbaud odes to him, I made my way through the academically probation-ed athletes who shared the dorm who adopted me as some sort of rare combination between exotic-imported pet and blow-up doll.
I have no idea what loosed the mask of the terrified, suppressed little mouse of a boy I’d been to reveal the debauched libertine I revelled in becoming that summer. But, by the time I returned to my little town, I was an entirely new person. I had discovered that there was a world in which I could be free, that place where I could do and be anything. I could not wait to escape Woodsboro, Maryland and the uninformed, backward-thinking, totally blind yokels I imagined everyone to be.
Years past. I tried to make of the farmhands available to me into the TinMen, Scarecrows, and Flying Monkeys I had left behind in theatre-camp Oz. It was a sad failure. Those same farmhands – some of whom had played my Valmont games and hated me for it – took it upon themselves – at one point – to smash into bits my Patti Smith album and leave the word “FAG” sprawled across the cover. Somehow, I knew they didn’t mean it with the same sort of affection as had Julie and Sonya. I left town. I came back. I ran away. I came back. I made a life.
I tried to find a balance between the Valmont and the hermit within me. I straddled the fence; dangerous adventure and risk versus undisturbed habit and certainty.
I have never quite found that place. Still looking. But at this moment in time, my dreams seem to be prompting me to flee once more. For a week now, each night, I have been trapped in a half-waking nightmare in which I am surrounded by people who do not much like me (people from my real life who hold grudges or enmity where I am concerned) and I am unable to escape the show into which I’ve been dragged; a show for which I do not know my lines, cannot remember the order of, and no one will help me and I haven’t the courage to simply hang it up and walk away.
I am exhausted. I feel the weight of my past pressing against me, and the gravity of some future about which I am not quite sure pulling at me, and I am bestride a fence, and sore in need of jumping, one or another way. So, if I disappear, it is because my splintered ass can take no more of this straddling, this trying to maintain balance. I need to run through some field, crazy, unbound once more. I need to find and free a little of my inner Valmont; to try again to live my soul, or, perhaps, my Sohl.