Yesterday did not go as planned.
That, perhaps, should be the title of my memoir. Although, as a result of all the many yesterdays having not gone as planned — whether those plans were of my devising, my family’s, the Catholic church’s, or the expectations, ought to haves, could haves, and should haves imposed upon me by the lengthy and rotating-like-a-soap-opera cast lists of significant and not-so-significant (which is a very different thing than insignificant) others who’ve made appearances in the narrative of my life — I’ve not achieved eminence enough to merit a memoir.
But, the Kardashians have a television show. So, there’s that.
And while I did not out-Capote Truman nor inspire a gender-switch re-write of Funny Girl or Gypsy nor become the first American Pope nor succeed at that Isherwood-Bachardy thing I thought I had going, I have managed to cobble together a sort of flaneur-extra-man/walker (although, mostly what I walk are dogs as opposed to the wealthy widowed) existence that affords me plenty of free time not to finish my next novel.
But, yesterday did not go as planned. You would think that a person whose main occupations consist of idly observing life go by while reading books he wishes he’d written and actively vying for the favor of Duchess Goldblatt in her Twitterary Salon (click HERE to follow her on Twitter, though I hasten to caution you; Her Grace MUST love me among the commoners BEST and MOST, and should I suspect this NOT to be the case and you its cause, your life isn’t worth the paper on which my first novel was written), watching Frankie seduce one after another “straight” man on Big Brother 16, and trying to beat Kindle Mahjohngg, would be copacetic in the face of schedule changes.
You’d be mistaken. Things came up yesterday requiring my presence and attention and so I did not transition from one house/pet sitting gig to the next at the EXACT time I had determined I would. I the course of this upending, I visited the actual physical location at which I receive mail and subpoenas and in my absence some long-lost relatives (as in, amongst the ones who’ve disowned me) had visited and, too, had arrived a box of effects from my recently deceased sister.
That box. Those things. When I was a wee thing, all holy and blonde and beautiful and filled with hope – no, more than hope, BELIEF – I believed there was an order. And, too, I believed I would be loved – no, more than loved, SEEN. I was a brilliant child. I entered first grade already reading, thanks to my aunt Sissie, with whom I spent Sundays in the huge, deteriorating family home in Libertytown (coincidentally the title of my unsold novel). Across the street was another huge stone home, this one definitely not deteriorating, and in it lived the Whites. Mrs. White was one of those portly, everyone’s mother, embracing, visionary sort of women who ended up teaching at St. Peter’s Catholic School when I was in third grade.
By third grade, they didn’t know what to do with me. The Sisters of Notre Dame had suggested to my mother that I be skipped ahead grades and she — having done so as a child and been left feeling socially disadvantaged by it — had said no. The Sisters of Notre Dame then suggested I be sent away by the church to a Jesuit boarding school. Again, no. Thanks to my mother, I was never given the opportunity to become the favored boytoy for some hot Jesuit seminarian-semen-arian genius.
My mother had a love-hate thing going on with the Catholic Church. She’d converted in order to marry my long-dead father — a conversion that would have been a death sentence had my father not driven into that telephone pole. She’d have kept following the tenets of the faith, popping out progeny long after doctors told her to stop or die. She wasn’t supposed to have had me. But she had (and even managed to pop out my younger sister a mere nineteen months later, which was, alas, two months AFTER the telephone pole intervened) and she wasn’t handing me over to the church. In retrospect, I don’t know that the good Sisters of Notre Dame really wanted to pimp me out to the Jesuits so much as, like many other people in my life, they just didn’t know what to do with me. There wasn’t much they could teach me that I didn’t seem already to know and so, I spent my third grade year helping Mrs. White in her first grade classroom. Although quite well read and educated, Mrs. White was entirely untrained and unequipped for teaching. She could not maintain order. She could not move from one to another child with ease, I think it always felt like walking away to her, and she didn’t grasp that some children — most children — were not – like me — well-behaved, terrified automatons would sit and quietly wait their turn for attention. Mrs. White became involved in every exchange at great length, in great detail, close and touching, affectionate and nurturing like one of the kind women of fairy tales, determined to change each life completely, to inculcate total understanding, to bestow happily ever after on each of us.
I was her aide, and, in many ways, ran the class. Talk about socially disadvantaged. I wasn’t just teacher’s pet and sissy (and yes, you can imagine the confusion when I was first called “sissy” — approximately my second day of first grade — and not knowing at first that a word I’d up until then thought only as the name of my beloved aunt, Sissie — meant something else entirely, something awful and ugly about the way I walked and talked and thought and was that I must hide at all costs or pay this price — but that’s another story) but now, I was, in third grade, an actual teacher.
Ahead of my time, even then. At the end of that year, Mrs. White, on a Sunday, called me across the street to her home — as she often did — and gave me a gift, a little Hallmark book called, The Gold of Friendship. Inscribed. The next year, the archdiocese closed the school and I was sent into the wilds of public education, where, in essence, I stopped learning anything in school but how to hide from being called derivations of fag. Within three years, by sixth grade, I was living a double – maybe triple – life. Still posing to some as the cute, the holy, the intellect, while leading a louche secret life of smoking, sexing it up, and readying myself to get the hell out of Frederick County, the Catholic Church, and the bodycast into which my family and culture had tried to confine me for what they thought was my own good.
And Mrs. White was dead.
Years later — citing some offense I can no longer recall — I gave Mrs. White’s gift to me to my sister Peggy, complete with new inscription and notation of the date when Mrs. White had died (another story I cannot tell today) and now, in that box I saw yesterday, yesterday that did not go as planned, there it was, sent for me by Peggy’s husband.
And, too, among other things, pictures of the happy family. My mother, father, and my four older siblings.
You know what there are none of? Family pictures like this taken after I was born. Well, that include me. In the seventeen months during which both my father and I were alive, no family portraits. I’m not there. Then, of course, he died, and two months later my younger sister was born. So, what there never could be — never will be — are family portraits with my parents and all six of their children. We didn’t all exist at once.
And now, there will never be another picture taken with Peggy. Not that there ever would have been. My family has fractured. Another yesterday that didn’t go as planned. I saw that fucking picture yesterday and I just got angrier and angrier.
Why wasn’t I in it? Peggy, lower left corner, she looks old enough that I must have been born. Right? I mean, where the hell am I?
And the chest pains started. The feeling that my innards are like a towel someone is wringing to squeeze out the moisture. Tighter. And tighter. I can’t catch my breath. WHERE THE HELL AM I?
Flaneur? Pretty word for failed. At acting. At teaching. At writing. At loving. At everything but sitting and watching. A walker? The walking near-dead. Extra man? Yes, as in “one too many” and go away.
Where am I? Not in that picture. For sure. Not in any picture. For sure. And as I kept slamming down wine last night and feeling sorry for myself and chatting in Duchess Goldblatt’s virtual salon I realized, HERE IS WHERE I AM. In my blog. On Twitter. I have at long last found the literary milieu for which I have always longed … my own little Jane and Paul Bowles, Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, Dorothy Parker and gin, Edmund White and anonymous, younger trade-tricks, group of droll, epigrammatic, acerbic, supportive, brilliant pals.
Here is where I am, going. And while all my yesterdays did not turn out as I planned, well, I’ve the bad (or good?) luck and genetic misfortune to have — somehow — this unshakeable optimism, this belief in the existence of grace (and, her Grace, the Duchess – never miss a chance to pander) which makes me tired and sad to my core; all this believing in the face of all this proof of nihilism and hopelessness in the world is exhausting, especially when, time after time after time, I am left out of the picture.