Copyright © 2003
So there I was trying to look at Donald but my eyes were being drawn back to the little mountain of supplies on the counter. His eyes followed my line of sight down to the condoms and lube and then back to my eyes. Then he cocked his head and said nothing but smiled a little bemused smile. An accepting and reassuring smile I hoped. Then I didn't feel compelled to look at them any more. I could just look at him. Differently now.
Now he wasn't the census taker coming to enumerate the residents in the nursing home where I had worked. That had been two and a half years earlier. Then I'd been constantly bubbling over about Greg; telling anyone and everyone who would listen how much in love we were and showing them the matching rings we wore and always being very sure that this was it — this was the love that would last a lifetime. Explaining in great detail that gay men could have deep, meaningful, lasting relationships even in a n essentially hostile society. Because he seemed so straight with his boring clothes, carefully chosen words, crisp speech, and military style haircut, I laid it on extra thick with Donald, implicitly daring him to doubt that my out and proud gay life with my most-wonderful-man-in-the-world lawyer lover was anything less than perfect. But Donald hadn't expressed any doubt; he listened, he nodded, he smiled. And then he asked me how long we'd been living together and who took out the trash thus making me confess that Greg hadn't quite gotten around to asking me to move into his massive Garden District home but I was sure he would soon. A year later I broke up with Greg when he offered to pay, or more accurately, attempted to insist on paying the rent on my apartment.
Now he wasn't the guy at the after-Christmas party in Covington who I needed to keep my secret. That was just two and a half weeks before. I was there tagging along with my mother and Aunt Sue who were tagging along with my brother and his wife who were dragging my eighteen-year-old nephew, Brent Jr. I didn't expect to know anyone there among my brother's business associates and neighbors so I was surprised, then shocked, then worried when I first saw him. Donald was telling a long funny sea story about his Navy days to a growing crowd. When there was a burst of laughter, I edged in to the crowd to talk to him, but he kept telling his tale and soon there was another punch line and then another and another. Waiting for him to finish, I wondered if he'd even remember me - we'd only chatted briefly on each of the four days he came to the nursing home. I certainly remembered him. As soon as it ended, I snaked my way through the still chuckling listeners to drag him away from the crowd and confess that my out and proud life didn't quite include being out to my family and would he kindly not mention any of that stuff to them. He greeted me with a giant smile of instant recognition and, just as instantly, graciously agreed to my request, asking how my life with Greg was going leading me into confession number two. He was very sympathetic but not very surprised.
Now he wasn't the man on the phone two days ago asking for a guide around Acadiana for the weekend. "No one knows the area like a native,” he had said. A Cajun guide in Cajun country. He shifted gears instantly to dinner at Bywater Barbeque when I told him I was taking my Aunt to the airport in New Orleans and spending the weekend in the city.
Now he was just a man in my apartment who wanted to be with me and, I trusted, wanted me.
The reality of our proximity began to settle on me. It's easy when I'm just thinking about someone and they're not there. I can think anything at all — as weird or wonderful as I want — and it's just my very personal, very pleasurable, very private fantasy. Even if the emotions are real, I'm protected by distance. Protected from the agonizing embarrassment, from the major disappointment, from the total rejection, from all the thousand other things that can go so wrong.
But here was Donald not a foot away from me, alive and in the flesh. I started thinking this was really a very bad idea. A ridiculous idea. I couldn't understand how I'd ever thought I wanted to go out with this guy. A man who was older than my immediate biological antecedents. A man who has sons who're way older than me. Why did I ever say yes? I couldn't even remember what I'd been thinking when I said yes. Everything just seemed so wrong. How could I have been so stupid? So desperate? So desperately stupid! So stupidly desperate! If it hadn't been my own apartment, I'd have just walked out. I almost did anyway. Just when I was going to tell him I'd made a mistake, just when I was going to ask him to leave, he said he wanted to give me something, a poem. Reflexively I said I'd like to read it but he said it wasn't written. He would have to say it for me. On the loveseat he took my wine glass from my hand and set it on an end table. He told me to close my eyes and just listen. Let go of every other sound and every other thought and truly listen. Just listen to him. Listen just to him. Then he chanted the poem he cast when his father died.
His voice, his words, his ideas were like nothing I'd ever heard before. They all just penetrated me as easily as an x-ray. His voice is deeper than most men's and on exactly the pitch that resonates at the core of my being. I could feel his voice. Even after he finished speaking, his words reverberated inside me. He made me look at my life differently. His poem wasn't about how sad he was his dad died but, instead, about how throughout his life he couldn't express his love for his father or his sons. Just like my family. I remembered how, just a month earlier, we all kissed and hugged my nephew Eric when he killed his first deer. Our faces were all smeared with deer blood from kissing him. We won't kiss him or hug him again until his wedding. And then, probably never again. I asked Donald to sing his poem again. When he did I thought about kissing Kevin, how scared I was the first time but how easy it was for him. Kevin kissed his mother every time he came home and every time he left and some times for no reason just cause he was passing by her. On the lips. It always horrified me. I thought about how I never kissed my mother, neither does my brother Brent. She doesn't kiss us. Just a brief little bounce, cheek to cheek. She doesn't kiss her grandchildren either. I sure didn't kiss my father. Except once. Two months before then. When it was safe. When he died. Just like in Donald's poem.
Donald pulled gently on my neck and said, "Come here, little one.” As I leaned against him, he wrapped his arms across my chest and held me close to him. I felt safe.