This is the first time I have felt a bit sad when returning home to Boston from my hometown in Greensboro, NC. Usually, I am ready to get the hell out of dodge. Ready to run away from the blue haired ladies that I inevitably meet when running errands with my mother, who say "Aren't you just the smartest thang?" with their sachrinny sweet smiles. I imagine them returning home swiftly to their families and saying "You'll never guess who I ran into today! Poor Julie with her cocksucker son, he lives in the gay ghetto of Bawwwston". Although I'm pretty sure they don't say cocksucker, but it's my daydream so I'll decide what they say, thank you very much.
But this time, I took my 17 year old daughter for a drive by my high school and college and even after 30 years, the memories are still vivid. It's as if the memories have settled into the walls, the grass and the trees, wakened by my passing and running after me, saying "You may think you have grown up, mister, but we knew you when you were young and stupid" and then like a line from a half crazed Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction: " I will not be ignored, DAN...!" Except it's Bill...
Now, to be sure, the memories have been there every time I have visited. This is not the first time I have been home since moving to Boston seven years ago. No, this time the memories are more emphatic because my 30th high school reunion is gearing up. Facebook pages have been created, classmates are consulting personal trainers, plastic surgeons and colorists....This is real!
My daughter, Taylor and I logged onto the high school reunion page at 11 pm Saturday night, after I had consumed two or three glasses of wine and created my profile. I was choosing only the most flattering photos of me. The ones where the light was good. Important note: never create anything online after two or three glasses of wine. As a matter of fact, you should probably disconnect wireless routers and turn off all cell phones after a few glasses of wine.
Of course the first thing we did was to click on the pictures of those that had already registered. Taylor quickly scanned the page and located all of the names with pictures by them. "Oh, she looks sweet", Taylor said, clicking on the first little camera icon. "Uh, yeah, looks can fool you", I said, while secretly hoping she had contracted some type of STD. Taylor clicked on another picture and in unison we both said "Oh!" as if a huge bug had just hit the windshield. "OK, she must have been sweet?" Taylor said trying to salvage something nice out of our involuntary reaction to the picture. "I honestly don't remember her" I said, and sadly, that is probably the reaction that everyone would have at the reunion.
Then I saw the name. The school jock, the "big man on campus", the one every boy wanted to be and every girl (ok, and some boys...) wanted to date. "There, click on that one!" I said to Taylor. And there it was, sweet justice! I laughed out loud while grabbing the bottle of wine to pour another glass.
"Look, he's bald! and check out the schnoz!" I said. Taylor was looking at me for an explanation. I wanted to see more. "There are more pictures, Taylor, click on the next one". This was too good, he was fat too! I was now pushing Taylor's hand to click on the third picture. "Oh, his wife is beautiful." Taylor said. "He was the school jock, he must have married her right out of college." I said, a little defeated. "Dad, do you want to go to this reunion just because you have your hair and you are still in good shape?"
Secretly, I loved that comment, even though she was insuinuating that I was shallow. As a gay man, I was required to work out every day and use whatever chemicals were necessary to keep my hair. This was stipulated in the gay contract and my membership card could be revoked if not strictly adhered to. High school reunions were tailor made for gay men. We hit the gym frequently and obsess over physical characteristics. While my therapist told me that I had an "unhealthy body image" I knew this would benefit me on reunion night.
So, I tried to answer Taylor . "Sweetie, I spent high school trying to fit in. You'll find out that most everyone begins to accept themselves after high school, most everyone, not Republican senators.." And then Taylor began to roll her eyes, so I reeled it back in. "Your grandmother is a smart woman, she says that we spend the rest of our lives getting over our childhood".
"And you're still doing that?" Was Taylor's question, but I think she meant it more as a statement, as a recrimination. That made me think. Here I was, doing the same thing that all high schoolers do. Measuring someone's worth based on the way they look. I was not getting over my childhood. I was returning to it. And it took another high schooler to point that out.
"You're right, Taylor". And then I took the mouse and began to upload a picture of me and Paul, sitting on the steps to our condo in Boston. His arm draped around my shoulder, smiling with that big toothy, grin. The light was not the most flattering. I uploaded a picture of me and my children standing in the early morning light in front of a rental van, holding our Dunkin Donuts bags in front of us, looking goofy and ready for our trip to the beach.
"This is what I am most proud of, Taylor." I said.
I took another look at the school jock. He looked happy. His kids were beautiful. And really, I was happy for him.
So we are driving into work today and Paul looks at me and says,
“Where’s my Valentine’s Day card?” In an expectant, puppy dog way.
To which I reply
“Well, maybe you’re not supposed to get it until later”, trying to be coy, because I really did not plan well and thought I would run out at lunch to buy one…..
“Don’t get me a friggin’ card, it’s a Hallmark holiday, all I want is a little slap and tickle later” he says.
“Very romantic” I tell him. Of course this gets him going, which is what he was looking for. He begins singing, with a pained country singer face
“Before I met you, I didn’t know I had a manginaaaaa….”
I am spitting out my coffee laughing now and he keeps going, this time singing Katy Perry,
“Baby, you’re a firework, look at me with sparklers on my perky breastisses….” elongating the "s" in the song
“Is that what you want, Dameron? Do you want me to come to the restaurant tonight and be all lovey, dovey?”
And I have a vision of him with balloons and flowers at this small restaurant and he can see the fear on my face before I even say anything…..
”Look, Dameron, I’m driving your little ass to work today, that’s your Valentine”.
“But, you do that every day” I say.
“Yeah, I need to stop doing these little things every day, so you’ll appreciate them. Put your ass on that bus” And then he says the same thing he always does when we talk about the bus. “Show me riding on the bus like a little Japanese school boy”. And I sit there with my arms held out in front of me acting like I am holding my lunch box sitting on the bus.
“Ah, so cute. So is Valentine’s day every day for you?” He says like someone talking to their puppy.
“I guess it is” I say. And then he makes his point:
“So, do we need cards and chocolates and flowers?”
“No, we don’t.”
“So, shut up and sit there and look pretty”
And I say, “Say it nicely…”
And he says “I’m sorry. Sit there and look pretty…Bitch!”
So, that was my Valentine’s day this morning, can’t say I would have it any other way……