Public Displays


We are strolling along the Charles as Paul’s hand falls behind my back and taps me on the rear end. I swat at the air as if an angry swarm of bees has descended upon us.

“See that? Ninja like reflexes,” he says and performs a karate chop.  “Nobody would have seen me touch you if you hadn't made such a public display.”

He begins to sing. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when you act gay.” He then slides his sunglasses down his nose with one finger, glances sideways at me while raising an eyebrow and says “You need modesty panels beneath that shirt. I can see your breasteses.” The thumb and index finger of his right hand come towards my chest like a snapping turtle, which I block with the back of my hand, hi-yah!   

Taking a walk with Paul is no walk in the park. My discomfort with performing public displays of affection is, perhaps, rivaled only by his delight in delivering them. The more I squirm, the more he fondles.

“You’re adorable,” he’ll say, while my hands dart to shield parts of my body as if my clothes have evaporated.

It is this reaction that fuels his glee.  You think I would learn.

When Paul is driving and I am sitting in the passenger seat, the slightest anomaly startles me, a car changing lanes, a bus suddenly stopping or the shadow cast by a passing bird.  All of these things will cause me to shout “Look out!” and stomp on the imaginary brake.

“Sweetie, look at me. What if I were to pass out right now,” Paul will say, his neck becoming slack and his hands flopping to his side.  The car will veer slightly towards the shoulder. “We would end up sinking to our watery death in the marsh,” Paul will say and my hands will fly up as if I’m swatting away bees again.

“Don’t do that!”

I can’t remember the exact moment I became so fearful, though I know it is entwined with when I became fearless. When you make the decision to become courageous and get what you want, you become afraid of losing it. We have never crashed through the guard rail.  No one has ever threatened us over a kiss, still I am like the dog getting his back scratched; too concerned that it will end to completely enjoy it.

But today it is a warm September afternoon and summer is flirting with fall. The leaves are glowing yellow. Rowers skim the river’s glossy surface like water bugs. Crickets are chirping love songs to one another and if gravity failed, we could sail forever together through the endless blue sky. I make the decision to enjoy the moment and then like a driverless car my thoughts veer towards the dark water.

“What are you thinking about, right now?” Paul asks, while pointing a finger at me.

“That I am afraid the literary magazine will not publish my piece, or worse, that they will. Maybe I shouldn’t have sent anything out.”

Paul screws up his face and says “They’re going to hate it. You will probably never write again.”

I throw up my hands to block the insult.

You think I would learn.




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Spinning Bottles


The first time I kissed a girl, I was twelve years old, which was also the first time I sampled my first taste of alcohol.  The two were, rather surprisingly, unrelated.  The former involved a gaggle of eighth graders in Carolyn Clancy’s backyard, spinning an empty green bottle and the latter a bubbling champagne fountain at my step-grandmother’s second or third wedding in Danville, Virginia.  Both of them left me feeling slightly nauseated.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why my father thought it was A-OK to let his twelve year old son drink four glasses of champagne.  Perhaps, he thought it might put some hair on my chest or maybe he found it charming the way, when loosened up, I performed my Cary Grant impersonation for the crowd.

“Judy, Judy, Judy.”

My step-grandmother wore a smart, ivory, lace jacket and skirt suit, smiled widely and her lilting southern accent curled up at the ends like her Mary Tyler Moore hair-doo. She wore bright red lipstick and from a distance she could have been a beauty queen, but when you got up close you could see how the lipstick bled into the tiny cracks around her mouth from years of smoking Virginia Slim cigarettes. The effect was slightly horrifying.

I suppose that’s the way I felt about Karen Enright too.  From an emotional distance, she looked appealing, but when the mouth of the bottle stopped spinning and pointed at her like a gulping fish I scanned the expectant crowd and wondered if they might settle for my Cary Grant impersonation instead.

“Kiss her!” The boys shouted at me.

“Judy”—I muttered.

“Just do it Dameron!”

The crowd wanted a lurid display of sex.  Sister Mary Claire had just that year, attempted to teach a classroom of hormonal boys the facts of life.  The girls were sent to another room to learn about their monthly gift. But, when Alex Brethette asked Sister Mary Claire if a blowjob was considered pre-marital sex, she became red-faced and was replaced by our hunky physical education teacher with the porno-mustache.  I was thrilled, however sorely disappointed that Alex never broached the blowjob question with him.

I finally mustered up the courage, stepped across the divide of the circle, closed my eyes, and planted a kiss squarely on Karen’s nose. My aim was a little off.  She jumped up, holding her hand to her nose and inexplicably, started crying.

“I’ll hate you for the rest of my life!” She bawled.

Her hatred lasted for one week, maybe two. My embarrassment lasted a little longer.

The first time I kissed a boy, I was nineteen years old and unsurprisingly, it involved alcohol, gobs of it. There was no spinning bottle, but the stars above us were twirling and they all seemed to point at a guy I met in a bar on the edge of town, beneath the moonlit shadows of the Colorado Rockies. My aim was much better this time and despite being a little more than tipsy, I don’t remember feeling nauseated in the least, quite the opposite.

I first kissed my husband in the cold Burlington Mall parking lot. There wasn't any alcohol involved, but the effect was no less intoxicating.   If I could go back, I’d tell my twelve year old self a few things. Ignore most of what nuns teach you about sex, alternate glasses of water with the champagne and have faith, it will take forty-four spins of the Earth around the sun to find your own charming Cary Grant. It’s worth the wait.



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Mystery Date


My therapist leaned forward and asked, “What are you looking for, physically, in a man?” I could have said, “Someone who looks like you.” It would have been truthful, though awkward. After forty-three years in the closet, the physical details regarding my ideal man were basic: someone over twenty-one and under fifty. Even then, I was willing to grant some leeway. If I had an angel and a devil on either shoulder, one was a gyrating go-go boy in a red G-string and the other was a gay Pat Boone.

“Tall, maybe six-two, one hundred ninety-ish pounds,” I said narrowing my eyes to visualize him and then continued, “brown tousled hair with highlights, blue, no, green eyes. He works out, but not too much, you know?”

“That’s fairly specific,” Adam remarked.

I was describing a guy I had just seen on the subway.

“Also, a good sense of humor and caring,” I attempted to round it out.  Although these were not technically physical attributes, I hoped this made me seem less superficial.

“You’re a good person, you’ll attract a good man, but it’s important that you understand what you’re looking for,” He replied.

There was a warning of sorts, couched in that compliment, but like most people would, I focused on the compliment and ignored the warning.

After creating an online dating profile I showed it to my friends, Hans and Dennis. Hans had been in the closet for forty-six years and if Dennis ever was in, it was only to color coordinate his clothes. They lived together in a small condo on the top floor of a 1920’s building in Harvard Square. I would visit them often and dream of living in the city with the man I loved. Their home was like a photograph from the pages of House Beautiful. Although in House Beautiful, I doubt there was a charcoal drawing of an ejaculating penis on the refrigerator.  

“Oh my God, so many of these men are the same ones who were on here before I met Hans. These poor men--Not you honey-- you’re fresh meat,” Dennis said patting me on the shoulder.

How long would it be before my meat began to spoil?

“Oh honey, let’s go through them all. I’ll tell you which ones to avoid with a ten foot pole,” Dennis said, then he raised one eyebrow and added “or the ones with a ten inch pole.”

Hans rolled his eyes.

It felt incestuous knowing that I could potentially date some man that Hans or Dennis might have had a relationship with. While I appreciated their insight, I didn’t want to end up with sloppy seconds.

“What does DDF mean?” I asked Hans.

“Disease and drug free,” he said.

“Honey, did I tell you about the time I did LSD with my friend Angie from high school?” Dennis said. “Her mother opened the door to her bedroom and Angie shouted, ‘Shit, it’s my mother!’ I said that’s not your mother, it’s a big crow!  We started screaming and throwing pillows at her, trying to shoo her away.” 

Hans gave me an upside down smile, pushed himself up from the table, walked over to Dennis and kissed him. They put their arms around each other and started swaying back and forth, laughing. I watched them dance to music that only the two of them could hear. They were in madly in love with each other. When I looked at them, I could almost hear the music playing and if I narrowed my eyes just a bit?

I could almost see my future.


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