My “real-mom”: a term used in my childhood that now makes me bristle. Yet, I still have not found a way to respectfully differentiate, with proper dignity, the two women in my life who both married my father (at separate times) and both parented me with highly individualized mentoring styles.
In the chapter “What Happened” of my new book, Drama Club, the mother who gave birth to me decides to let me know how the divorce between her and my father played out.
Here is an excerpt:
“She was unpredictable and intense, just like the monsoon rains that flooded the Tucson desert floor: sudden and powerful; unable to ignore; exotic to my Northwestern sensibilities; and absolutely necessary to the ecosystem. I had learned that the panic caused by her sudden lightning strikes and claps of thunder quickly dissipated. After that, I usually enjoyed her unbridled insights into the life of our family. I just needed to let the information pour over me like a warm deluge of Arizona rain.”
This photo shows us sitting on the sofa where the conversation happened. She had given me a perm and I was enjoying the summer heat, oblivious to fact that I was nearly naked.
In 1980, when I was 15 years old,I begged my parents to let me go work on a plantation for six months. Of course I did, I lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming where there was snow on the ground for months at a time. The pineapple plantation was located on Maui. What’s the down side?
My parents said yes and I learned a lot about hard work, leadership, and how hiding my secrets had its advantages.
These photos show us picking and planting pineapple and me participating in one of the many competitive activities they created for us.
Inside my new memoir: Drama Club During the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, Bart and I attended a ballroom dance camp held on the campus of BYU. In our shared dorm room, my life realigned after our first kiss and I no longer had thoughts of killing myself. “Only two months earlier another boy had my heart soaring through joy filled fantasies of a perfect future together. “You look like Superman,” I said looking directly into Bart’s eyes as we lay facing one another on a tiny dorm room bed. We were dressed and ready to head out to dinner with our ballroom dance teammates, but had found we shared more in common than our fashion sense. “Shut up!” He giggled, looking away, and just as quickly turning his face back to mine. Our eyes stayed locked together. I heard the sound of my own heart pounding in my ears. The smell of his Polo cologne was intoxicating, and our knees were touching sending bursts of passion through my entire body. When he stopped smiling, panic gripped me. Was he going to freak out? And then, as if we were two celestial bodies caught in each other’s gravity, we moved together and kissed. Our lips touched, and a surge of truth and ecstasy rushed into me. The kiss that was supposed to be so wrong simply wasn’t, and if it was wrong, it was worth risking everything.” These photos were taken in the wedding reception hall we used for ballroom dance rehearsals in the Pocatello. Bart is in the Micky Mouse shirt and I’ve forgotten the names of two girls.
In 1982, a 50s theme school dance was embraced whole heartedly by our crew ofhigh school drama kids. Always looking for ways to push the envelope, we did a couple of things off script.
First, Michael Marriott wore a dress. HE WORE A DRESS! I was shocked and confused that his offering was received with sustainedenthusiasm. It was triumph over Idaho masculine ideals that taught me a lesson about confrontingsocietal norms.
Second, our group didn’t pair off into couples for the standard school dance photo. We were a unit. We expressed our crew camaraderieby crowding every one of us into the little photo op vignette. It was a bit of performance art to celebrate our common otherness.
Michael is bottom left, my high school prom date Angelais perched in the top right hand corner, Kelly Sanders is top center in the red sweater and I’m bottom center in the white t-shirt. Geeta, our class valedictorian and only person of color that I can remember at either Pocatello High or Highland High (a sum total of all schools in our town) is on Kelly’s left.
Somehow Bart is missing from this photo, but I’m certain he was on my mind.
My stepmom called me from Idaho to give me the news of R.L.’s death from a brain tumor. She didn’t know who R.L. was, or why his mom had called her and asked her to share one of R.L’s dying wishes with me, but my mom obliged the request. Standing next to the phone (they were all land lines in 1985) in San Diego I received the news that my mentor of six years was gone.
When other men would not talk to me, I’m guessing because I was so young and therefore illegal, R.L. shed light on the realities of life for gay men in the late 70s and early 80s. The law, STDs, and queer vocabulary were just some of the subjects he covered. He was a mentor, a lover, a Wikipedia of information. I needed all of it to mitigate the risks ofnavigating the secret world I’d found by reading the writing on the walls of public bathrooms.
He loved and protected me. I loved him and broke his heart. He continued to love me anyway. He hosted me for a secret threeday stay in Cheyenne so that I could attend my first Gay Pride March in Denver Colorado, before rendezvousing with my non-gay friends in Cheyenne.
This photo was taken then. It shows the hubris of youth; the admiration and concern of experience. I learned about my own selfishness that weekend. With love, R.L. pointed out how unattractive it can be. He softened the lessons I had to learn in the School of Hard Knocks. And for that, I will be forever grateful.
More experiences with R.L. are in my book new book Drama Club.
Why do I write? The question becomes really important now that three copies of my memoir are setting on my parent’s porch. One for mom, one for dad, and one for my sister Candra. A book cover with two boyskissing in front of the Salt Lake City Mormon Temple. All the details I’d hidden from my family during high school – details about love and sex that have been only half-explained over the years are now in print ready for them to peruse.
How will they react? Will it embarrass them, make them proud, or some mixture of each?Since they are in it, I wanted them to see it before the rest of the world starts reading it.
As if the rest of the world is going to read it. There’s that too. More fear. The fear that no one will want to read it.
So why do I write? One word: survival.
It was a solace when I was a teenager and continued through the tough years of my young adulthood. Putting pen to paper (that’s what we did back then) conjuredmagic. The angst inside my heart became lighter as words fell from my pen onto the paper. I felt legitimized and relevant. It was a message in a bottle to a distant future, a place where people were allowed to love who they love and be honored for expressing their passions for art and beauty. The message made it. I’m here. And after a phone call to my parents letting them know the books are waiting for them – even as they drive back from their time working in their local Temple – I know, and more importantly, I feel the unconditional love I had hoped against hope would be found if I just wrote it all down. Let’s hope they feel the same way after they’ve read it.