NOTE: None of the following is true. All of the following is truth. The events have been changed to protect the names.
CONFESSION / REGRESSION: (or, an approximation)
Recently Ricky* told me he likes my hair. Likes my lack of hair, actually. I have bought clippers and twice weekly shear myself, a coiffure approximating the crew-cut I fought desperately, tearfully as a child to avoid. So much did I loathe being balded as a boy that when finally I gained control of my appearance, I grew my hair to the middle of my back recreating the Veronica Lake-ish long-luxurious-blonde-ness I’d approximated in my early childhood only by arranging discarded bath-towels about my head while playing with my baby sister, or, alone in front of a mirror, posing, preening and pretending to be one or another of the musical stars I adored, or, rather, my own amalgamation of their qualities and my imagined adult ones. In the magical-thinking of my pre-school, protected, isolated life I believed that I would – of course – become a hybrid of my crew-cut balded-boy self and those glamorous weeping, warbling women; or some approximation thereof.
My life was then – and has continued to be – a lot about such approximations. Imprecise, not rigorously exact, but close enough? Ah, that is the question.
Ricky*, for example, is not really Ricky and I am not really Russell*, but those are the pen(is) names under which we met and although we eventually confessed our real names – his being Ryan* and mine being Sebastian* – we are more comfortable with the names we’ve given these approximate selves, these masks, because what we have most in common – our approximation of an actual emotional connection – is our propinquity of attitude about the posing, preening and pretending done at the hook-up ball, these masquerade veils, these vanities, these postures, pretenses, dissimulations and disguises; our grown-up versions of those towels I used to wrap round my head. But, now, unlike in my childhood, I have playmates, and these other poseurs are, like me, mirror, cast, and audience, we alias-ed men, furtively searching for a stage on which to achieve some approximation of the person we meant to be.
That’s how I met *Ricky/Ryan. There in the ether of approximation and dissimulation and anonymous/alias-ed assignation. We failed to assignate, associating instead after each becoming fascinated with the vocabulary and frame of reference of the other during initial ethereal contact. I quoted Sondheim and he parried with Cole Porter and raised me a Latin quote. And when I say Latin, I do not – as is usually the case in such exchanges – mean Jennifer Lopez or Ricky Martin. No, this *Ricky/Ryan has an IQ in the same neighborhood as mine, and, sadly, too, the same inability to employ it toward any conventionally useful and/or profitable end. He is **24 (like I am **44) and he lives with his parents in a million dollar home, his room complete with its own en suite bath has one wall which is entirely obscured by color co-ordinated stacks of expensive sweaters and shirts, another wall thus adorned with pants. He drives a BMW convertible his parents gifted him when he graduated college. He turns tricks. Which, me being me, it took me a while to understand when first we started “talking” and I asked why he’d be interested in someone *20 years older than was he. He used what I now know to be the code for trick-turning, he thought I would be “generous” – I am a lot of things, true that, but that sort of “generous” I am not. Although, I now count amongst my acquaintances two **young(er) men who make their living on such “generosity”. Such is my world – or, part of it.
I shaved my head because it plays better in this milieu. I’ve also begun sporting a modified-goatee and something akin to a jaded, suspicious sneer, all of which has had the result of not a few people (meaning, in my limited circle, more than one) suggesting I look like Walter from Breaking Bad. I’ve never watched the show, but my understanding is that the character began as some sort of genius who gave up his own best-interests to become a teacher, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and started hesitantly doing small-time drug deals in an effort to provide for his family after his death, but eventually arced into a savage, sadistic criminal.
I’ve been compared to worse. Nonetheless, faux-Walter is no more or less who I am than were any of the other personae I have worn along the way, from faux-musical-theatre-diva to teacher to insurance auditor to philosopher to writer to … whatever category I jammed myself or was rammed into through the decades. I have never felt at peace in any of them, or, perhaps, a better way to say it: I have never felt at truth.
I have always felt something of a fraud. Except when I was on stage, where I was completely free to live whatever deception I had been hired to assume. But, in real life, in that “all the world’s a stage” day to day shit, I have always known that I was neither as wonderful nor as horrible as people believed, and, worse, that I was rarely even close to who and what they believed me to be. I tried for ever and ever to be the best approximation of what and who it was they (those various people who claimed to love me, who I claimed to love) needed me – WANTED me to be. Without my eleven-o-clock ballad to define it, there never seemed any sort of closure, affirmation, an applause break.
Not surprisingly, the closest I got to love was an approximation, and not a very strong one. It gave way under the slightest pressure, or, rather, as soon as I determined I could no longer tolerate being a mirror, cast, and audience going along with the delusions and illusions of those who had used me to shore-up their own fantasy world, as soon as I asked for something in return – to be seen, who I was, and honored, who I was – the approximation of love and relationship collapsed.
So much collapse happened that I lost faith. Such as it was. The little crew-cut boy I was had once upon a time ago been brainwashed into being quite the Roman Catholic. By age ten, I was teaching Sunday School – which happened on Saturdays – to first and second graders. But, then, by the time I turned twelve, I deviated from the plot. I had been groomed and urged toward the sacrament of Confession (now called, I believe, Reconciliation – that’s a good one) but the no longer-crew-cut-Roman-Catholic-he I was had begun turning into this *Sebastian-I-am – deviating into deviancy – and I soon enough had given up on the whole Catholic thing.
Long story truncated although admittedly – already – not short – by my mid-teens I had left home and started exploring all sorts of believings of a metaphysical bent, starting with the writing of Jane Roberts who channelled (it’s two L’s dammit, I don’t care what spell-check says) Seth. I was introduced to it by a much older waitress who had taken this then abandoned and terrified and obnoxious sixteen year old under her ganga smoking, whiskey drinking, blues loving wing. Another story.
Sixteen. After years of having been Catholic and never doing the bedtime prayer thing, now, a free-love advocate (though I knew nothing of love, but, by then, a good deal more about sex) I started saying a nightly prayer, on my already worn in knees – that early Catholic training served me in more ways than one – and it went like this:
I am the Creator of my own reality, a part of All That Is and my point of power is NOW. I live in a safe and perfect Universe and I am surrounded by abundance and plenty in all things. Thank you All That Is for my Light and my Love, and thank you for . . .
After which followed a list of names (And here is where it gets ugly and if you know me – which, if you are reading this, you probably don’t – you ought to stop reading) which began with my immediate family from youngest sibling to oldest, their children, and spouses who made the cut (and not all of them did), then Mother, then my dear, dear, DEAR aunt and finally, a very, very few very, very dear friends and loved ones. My rule about the list: once I had placed someone in the rotation, I could NEVER remove them. So, in order for a friend – or lover – to make the list, they had to be around for a very long time, someone I was sure I would always love, who would always love me.
(It’s about to get even more personal and ugly, so, maybe, you know, if you knew me at some point or knew people I knew or have an investment in how my story is told – even though I have already explained that none of this is true – you should maybe go read a book. Or listen to a musical. Or, watch Breaking Bad.)
I loved someone once, very much, named A. He was one of only two people with whom I had sex who ever made it onto the list. He also left my life, mostly. But never completely. He tried. I tried. But he’d burst periodically into my life in invasions full of painful self-doubt and hiding and terror of who he would be if he actually admitted to loving me. Every time he would show up, undercover, like the B-movie-Back Streets-Susan Hayward I had trained myself to be, I would let him in. I would swear all over again never to tell anyone. Ever. I didn’t. Until now. Confession. Even so, eventually, he killed himself – although that final act was a curtain to years of scenes in which he had – piece by piece – bit by bit – emotion by emotion – cut away and denied himself into oblivion. Still, that “eventually & final act” came a few months after we played out an extremely unpleasant confrontation in a parking deck during which I called him a liar and a coward and told him never to contact me again until he could say out loud he loved me.
I thought it an eleven o’clock ballad sort of moment. I’m sure I tossed what hair I had. I remember crying. I thought sure he’d finally face it, say it.
He didn’t. Ever. Not much of an approximation there, right?
In short order, another friend – the only one I had ever trusted with the secret of A (and any other men) and who, too, was on the prayer list also died. And a few months later, that very dear Aunt who loved me unconditionally in any color light or dark I was, she too died.
All of which made me doubt the complicated metaphysical cosmology I had constructed through the years, but, only doubt. I didn’t abandon it despite the fact I was now – each night – on my knees thanking All That Is for a list which included an alarmingly increasing tally of the dead.
I became even more cautious about adding anyone else to the list. Or my life. The spiral of deaths A’s suicide seemed to have started had the effect of closing me off, killing me off, more and more, piece by piece. In some physical manifestation of the spiritual culling, I cut my hair somewhere in there. But, then, some retro-Roman-Catholic-martyr-hopeful part of my brain – or heart – kicked in and I believed enough in the possibility of some level of “happy” to add a fellow to the list who had worked extraordinarily hard to convince me he belonged there. He did make some things better, but, still, I got sadder and sadder and ever more sad.
Then, I spent a summer at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where I was loved and praised and hated for my facility and considered the next big thing (albeit warned that my overtly and overly Baroque style would be a hard sell – damn fucking right – how about IMPOSSIBLE SELL) and I was so incredibly happy. I came back to my real life and soon, not soon enough, realized I had either to change my life or die.
So I did. Change it. Incrementally, at first. Telling someone who claimed to love me more than life that I needed to have a day a week to write. Apparently loving me more than life didn’t allow for my dreams and hopes to be supported. Loving me more than life, it seemed, meant “as long as you’re performing MY plot line” – a detail that the person had neglected to mention, a detail the person didn’t see as unusual or perhaps, a bit selfish.
I changed my life. And much to my horrified surprise, some of the people on the list, some of the people for whom I had spent years (decades in some cases) on my knees praying, did not love me enough to support my change to save my life. Some of the people on the list chose to break my heart. Some of the people on the list, knowing what it would do to me, did it anyway. (“It” being things about which I’m not going to write, because those “IT’s” are not just mine, and so, there.)
And the result? What years of loss and depression had not been able to do – those people did – after almost four decades, I stopped my nightly prayer. I stopped believing in a greater power or good. I stayed the fuck off my knees.
There’s my confession Sister Anthony. At last. The one you and my Aunt wanted me to make that I couldn’t back then, back when I couldn’t quite tell you and my Aunt that I didn’t believe – couldn’t believe – what your Roman Catholic Church wanted me to believe.
Now, I can’t believe there is any sort of order, any ultimate good in a world where the only man I ever really loved died of fear by his own hand; where some of the people I loved most in the world could behave toward me, say of me, believe of me, in the ways they did rather than support me.
And (and THIS is the ugliest truth of all – so please – STOP READING unless you are one of those who – after the change- wished me ill – here you go – you’ve gotten your storyline after all – except, I’m not crazy – just, defeated, you win. Feel better now?) so, in order to save my life, I had to change it, and in doing so, rather than save myself, I managed to create a situation in which the few people and things in which I believed, those things about which I got down on my knees for decades, were taken from me. In essence, I died.
Approximation. That is what I am. A fraud. This walking, talking *Sebastian is just hanging around until he figures a painless way to get out. Sometimes, now and again, someone like *Ricky/*Ryan makes *Sebastian/*Russell feel good about himself for a few hours, minutes, drinks, texts, whatevers.
Funny story. Not really. The reason I hated being bald back then; the barber was a perv. He always managed to be rubbing his crotch against my hand as I sat in the chair. I didn’t know at the time what it meant or what it was, but I knew it hurt, the pressure of him pushing against my hand that way, how his breath smelled all leaning in close, and the way he was always adjusting the plastic apron, pretending to brush hair away from me but really, groping. I didn’t even remember it until I started writing this.
I shave my own head now because I can’t find a barber interested in groping me or pushing his crotch against my hand. Circles. Approximations.
Funny story. Not really. I had this cult of sharing Love and Light, which no one knew came from my prayer, that prayer I no longer pray. I wanted everything to shine – in the open – in truth. A, afraid to be seen with me, unwilling to admit he could or would or did love another man, would pick me up in whatever car he was in (sometimes a car he had from the branch of government for which he worked, even) and take me out – far out – into the back country woods in the night, late night, here in this rural-ish county where we live – where I live – where he lived, past tense (funny story – I stayed here for him, waiting for him to show up – like he did – now and then – jesus I have always been a fucking idiot, why didn’t I move to NYC where I belonged) and we would get naked, under night sky, and do things he could never admit to doing. When he would contact me about this he would say, “Hey, *Chuckles, want to go get a moontan?”
You have NEVER met a person less aptly named *Chuckles than me.
Funny story. Now. Sometimes. I go outside in the middle of the night – like – right now – with a glass of wine – and look up at the sky – and cry – and wish – despite how compromised and self-hating and second-class and not-really-loved it made me – that somehow, A could show up in my driveway again and ask me to moontan.
I want this to be over. I have cut off all my hair. My hooker friend *Ricky/Ryan loves it and I am sure it would be a hit on Grindr were I **20 years younger. Or, on Grindr. Which I am not. I have given up again and gotten off my knees and started cutting more away. Although there is no hair left. No way to reduce it further. I cut it myself now. Something else will have to go soon.
Soon, everyone who gets my references will be dead. Or, have turned on me. There is so little left.
Elaine Stritch died. I mean . . . all I’ve got now is Barbara Cook, Stephen Sondheim, and my Mom. All in their 80’s.
I need to moontan with someone who’s going to take me with them when they go. That’s the thing, really: A left me behind one more fucking time. And after that, thanks to that first name on the prayer list and that last one I added – thanks to the way they chose not to be there, the ways they chose to break my heart – well, I don’t even have a prayer list or a cosmology left to comfort me with the belief that there might be another level of existence, of knowing, of happy, where I could be with A and give him eternal grief for leaving me – so many times.
Oh please. Make. It. Stop.
*Not their real names.
**Not their real ages.