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It’s been 65 years since I last saw the young man who now sits across from me. He has at age 19 what a friend calls “the lyric poetry of youth:” a freshness of look that’s a joy to see.
Over the years he hasn’t changed much (still the shy boyish look, still the blond cowlick). Oh my, in contrast, I have!
It’s hard for me not to make comparisons. After all, it was summer 1955 when he first stood on the corner of Farmer and Bates at the Hub Grill in downtown Detroit.
It was a big step for him to take (Gays were not tolerated then and the closet was haven). I’ll give him credit for taking that first scary step on what would be his long gayhood journey.
Yes, so much has happened since then. So many people I once knew are gone. A whole world has vanished, and I find myself bewildered by the sideshow that has taken its place.
A carnival of glitter, guns and guttersnipe. Trump, Pence, Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, Theocrats. At my age it scares hell out of me.
As my young visitor looks out my studio window at the robins, buds, and overall struggle for spring, he seems both a friend and, curiously to me, a stranger. Did we ever exchange glances on that downtown crossing of gay bars?
Did we take time to get to know one another? There is I’m sure a kinship of sorts between us. A then-and-now contrast.
The important thing is he dropped by today (for whatever reason).
It’s nice to have visitors, especially on a cloudy day. And I must confess there have been too many overcast days this reluctant April. It would be great if he could stay and keep me company, but what has youth got to do with old age?
I wonder after all these years how he found me (foolish I know, but I find myself asking what her thinks of me. This overweight, bald, retired fuddy-duddy. Have I become someone to respect? Would he be likely in time to trade places with me?).
He turns and smiles. Not a full, open smile, but a smile with a touch of hesitation. Sensitive is the word that comes to mind. Maybe he’ll become a writer, a poet or an artist. He seems to have the temperament. Will he make something of his life? Ah, the perennial question for gay men!
I cough lightly, and he speaks, “If you’re wondering why I dropped by it’s because I thought you might have answers. I take important steps to be who I am. You’ve been down my road, it seems. What’s it like at 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 said. “I’d get my college degree sooner, I wouldn’t drink, I’d have fewer lovers and more friends. And, I’d tell anybody who put me down to go suck a hardboiled egg. Would I be gay again? Silly boy!”
For once I said the right thing. He laughs.
“Great!” He beams, taking his leave. “It’s important to know someone who’s been there. Goodbye. For what it’s worth, God bless!”
And, as hug warmly at the door, maybe for the last time, he smiles and says, “Thank you for being me. We’ve come a long way, Haven’t we.”