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It’s been 60 years since I last saw the young man who sits across from me. He has, at 19, what a friend calls “the poetry of youth.” An eager freshness that’s a joy at my age to see.
He hasn’t changed much. Still thin as a rail. Tall as ever. Same deep blue eyes. (But I have changed. Oh, my, my…)
There’s a kinship between us. It’s hard not to make comparisons. Yes, it was fall of ’56 when he left Gilead Baptist Church membership, realizing at 20 he was gay, knowing that because of this “shocking sin” there was no welcoming place for him as a born-again believer.
I’ll give him credit for wasting no time to begin what has proven to be for him a long, long journey. (How well I know it!)
Yes, so much has happened since those decades passing quickly by. So many people we both knew are gone. A whole world has vanished. I’m bewildered by the sideshow that’s taken its place. A nonstop carnival of glitter, guns, guttersnipe. It scares the hell out of me.
As my young visitor looks out my studio window, and the setting sun weaves slowly in and out among shared memory clouds, my visitor seems both friend and, curiously, stranger.
More than anything I’d like at this moment to give him a reassuring hug. An embrace of acceptance. But how might he react? What if he just, say, up and disappears?
I wonder — did we ever exchange glances or greetings on that long-ago downtown Detroit gay street thoroughfare? Did we take time to ever get even slightly acquainted? The important thing is that he somehow, unexpectedly, stopped by today.
It’s nice to have visitors, especially on a day that’s not quite sure whether it’s budding spring or last-chance fall. It would be a bit of luck if he could stay through June. (I’m sure it would be “like old times.”) But what’s youth got to do with old age? Pride celebration or no Pride celebration?
I’m curious how he found me. I’m not in many important address books. Like everyone with nothing to hide, I’m AT&T unlisted. (Foolish I know, but I find myself wondering what he thinks of me? Overweight. Bald-by-choice. Retired fuddy duddy. Have I become someone he’s come to respect? Would he likely trade places? Or I with him? Silly question.)
He smiles. Not an open smile, but a smile of gentle introspection. Thoughtful. Troubled? (Maybe he’ll be a writer, a poet, an artist. He certainly has sensitivity. Will he make something of his life? Or get by on his looks? Ah, the age-old gay dilemma.)
I hum absentmindedly and he speaks. “If you’re wondering why I dropped in out of the blue, it’s because I thought you might have answers. I’ve taken important steps to be me. A gay man. You’ve been down that special road. What’s it like near the finish? Would you do things differently?” Direct and to the point.
“Near the finish?” (Hey, young guy: I’m not over the hill yet.) “Different? Yes! I’d stay out of debt. I’d get a college degree sooner. I wouldn’t drink to excess. I’d have fewer chance encounters. A lover or two. More friends. And I’d tell anybody who put us down — you and me — to go chuck it. Would I be gay again? Silly, silly boy!”
Ah! I’ve said the right thing. He laughs, wholeheartedly.
“Great!” he beams, taking his leave. “It’s important to know someone who’s been there. Goodbye. For what it’s worth: God bless you.”
And, as we hug long at parting — maybe for the very last time — he adds so softly, so caring: “Thanks ever, Charles. Thanks for being the me in you that I’ve finally become.”