336.0: Hateship, friendship, courtship, loveship, marriage.
I am the kind of book nerd who is so nerdy about books that a book title will float through my head for seemingly no reason at all.
Sometimes the title is of a book that I’ve never read, but had obviously noticed and even put in my mental notes of books to read, such as the time Clara was attempting to cook a Denver omelette for the first time and she wondered if adding more salt would improve the bland result. In response, I jestingly exclaimed to her: “Salt: A World History?” To which her response was not merely blank but the kind of subdued annoyance that one has in response to a non sequitur, although in my defense I would say that the conversation did have at least some tangential relation to Mark Kurlansky’s book.
So the title of this never-to-be-sent is really the title of a collection of Alice Munro short stories. It isn’t often that I borrow the titles of other books for these never-to-be-sents, although I often use song lyrics. Alice Munro is one of my favorite short story writers because, oh, I dunno: Canadian writers, to me, seem to be allowed space to be writers even when they are deservedly lauded with awards and positive reviews, and so therefore we the reader have the room to relate to their stories in the ways they probably meant us to in the first place. Margaret Atwood, although her novels are much more stratospheric in scope than an earthy short story, are still meaningful in personal ways. But I can never bring myself to separate the gravitas from a Raymond Carver or a Miranda July and I always finish reading their stories wondering if I’m “getting it.” My reaction to an Alice Munro short story, such as The Bear Came Over the Mountain, is usually wordless: it starts with a slight moment of physicality, such as gliding my hand over the last page, and results into more of a feeling, an acute pharmaceutical concoction of familiarity and longing, replete with a debilitating calm like one that would come from morphine. I don’t have to prove to anyone, least of all myself, that it was a Literary experience.
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage has been floating through my head for at least the past two weeks, but its mysteriously sudden appearance in my life might have been better explained had it just been a morning thing. In the last two mornings, I’ve woken up from wonderful dreams that, opposite of betraying me, have broadcast visual evidence of wishful thinking, which is what dreams are supposed to do.
On Sunday morning, I woke up with a vivid recollection of a newly skinny Pablo Sandoval who told me, in startlingly proficient English, that everything was gonna be alright. In real life, I’m not sure if perfecting his English is in his field of interests, much less listening to “Three Little Birds” or anything else by Bob Marley; there, too, was an element of Dan Savage’s It Gets Better campaign in that dream. The campaign is targeted, justifiably, toward teens but I have often contemplated the plight of adults who want to right own their lives but face little in the way of resources. Societal attitude is that adults have already made their choices and if those choices have resulted in failure, then that’s their fault and they must endeavor to make the right choices that result in success. Although this has been on my mind for some time, I thought about this most specifically and recently when I was on the bus the other day and saw an ad for a program called Year Up; the ad did not mention any requirements and the photos used in the ad seemed to indicate that I might be the kind of audience for which it is intended. So I whipped out my phone and pulled up the website — in this technology-dominated age, it was only appropriate that I had a sense of relief when a mobile version of their site materialized, rather than a standard desktop version scrunched onto a little screen, and thus proved that Year Up was serious — to read more about it, only to find that I was already aged out of the program. (The list of requirements contained additional criteria, which I’ve mentioned in one of those rare Clubhouse letters that I’ve sent your counterpart but which I doubt he’ll ever get, that might be difficult to meet.) Scholarships at my age are also difficult to obtain. Although I completely agree with throwing money and resources at our young, I also think that adults who’ve made mistakes should also have some of those same opportunities as readily accessible.
Some mistakes I’ve made are so serious that I’ve only been able to reveal them in those Clubhouse letters that probably got thrown right into the recycling bin or saved into a pile that will never be reviewed, if my experience working in administrative assistance, and submitting to literary agents, is any indication. I find myself thinking of Gloria Stuart saying in Titanic that “A woman’s heart is an ocean of secrets,” which you might think is typical and corny of me, but so it goes.
Speaking of Gloria Stuart, recently I confessed to Gemini my secret to getting through hard times; thinking more about it, it’s a confession that, so far, I’ve only made to Gemini. I hope it doesn’t say anything negative about my friendship with, say, Mary or Selma, both of whom I’ve known since we were kids, that I have never told them that my secret to getting through hard times is to think about women of the past. It is a common stereotype that gay men relate better to women but sometimes that particular stereotype is actually, and acutely, truthful. I did not “become” gay because women were dominant in my life — as a kinda-great woman once said, I was Born This Way — but I don’t deny that because women were dominant in my life, I favor them in influence more than I do men; so as a kid when Bill Clinton was president and doing his extramarital thing(s), I often wondered how this affected Hillary, and as I grew up I was unsurprised to realize that Hillary was so much more than the wife who Stood By Her Man.
My secret to getting through hard times is thinking of women in times when women were oppressed, and I have this visual in my head of a woman in, say, Victorian times or immediately preceding suffrage who has had to sacrifice her hopes and dreams; in my visualization, such a woman is tightening her corset at the same time she is hardening her face, and likely her heart, and she is assuring her children that we will get through this, even when very privately she is deeply, justifiably saddened and wholly inconvenienced that things are not turning out the way she would like. She is living in an unfair world but is marcing on. That is who I look up to.
I woke up from the dream about Pablo Sandoval on the day that the Giants dropped the last game of the Marlins series that they would have otherwise swept, so I’ve shyly held off on telling anyone about it — though I did mention it on Facebook that morning. Oops. The next morning, I woke up from a vivid dream that was fraught with argument and resolution. At times, it seems that even my sub-conscious, which should run wild, is as controlled and grounded as my conscious life. Even though from these never-to-be-sents it would seem that you are always on my mind, Linc, the truth is that the dreams that I do remember having of you are relatively few in number; and even lesser are the dreams where I dream that you and I are acting in, you know, the lecherous ways we ought to in a dream that I have about you.
We were arguing about going to Paris.
"It’s not an ideal time to go," I was telling you. "It’s cold. It’s gonna snow. And all the tourists know not to go there during that time of year, so only all the locals are around, and they’re not very nice to tourists. They don’t really have to be. I don’t blame them. It’s not summer anymore. They should be free to be themselves the other three seasons of the year."
"So we’ll keep to ourselves," you — or your counterpart, or both of you, integrated at long last — assured me. I don’t tell you this, but privately I am very surprised, and happy, that you are so convinced about going; of course, this is all just a dream, although it’s kind of interesting that even in a dream I still manage to maintain an internal life.
"We’ll drink hot chocolates and go to museums," you continue. "We’ll go to the touristy restaurants where they’re expecting tourists. This is in Paris, by the way. We’ll go to Bordeaux and Brussels and all of their little cafes and bakeries and not give a shit because, why the fuck not? We’re in France anyway. We may as well go to Bordeaux and Brussels and everything in between."
In hindsight, that you were listing specific cities and pretty much saying what I wanted to hear was the moment that truly demonstrated I was in a dream; as for the dream itself, I was already lost in dreamy thoughts about walking around arm in arm with you for twin reasons of warmth and romance in the European winter. On the verge of accepting your offer, I ventured: “Let’s not go crazy just because you have a lot of money.”
As dreams go, settings shifted without warning and events happened out of sequence. One moment, we were leaving the modest apartment in the Parisian suburbs that I stayed in with Pop and Ma earlier this summer; the next moment, we were on the TGV to Bordeaux. You had lobbied that we at least ride first class, and this was the one of the few splurges that I allowed, although in real life I had concluded earlier this summer that there were few differences between first and second classes other than fewer passengers and free wi-fi. In fact, the train culture as I had experienced it earlier this summer through France and going to London is distinctly more subdued than taking the train here in the United States. On the east coast, Amtrak has an option called a “quiet car” where you pay a business-class premium for assorted luxuries such as softer seats and a prohibition on cell phone conversation. But in my own European travels, quiet car amenities seemed widespread: people would take their cell phone calls near the doors away from everyone else, and any bustling conversation from passengers just boarding gave way to quiet again not long after the train resumed its course.
Back in my dream, we were still on the TGV when I woke up from a nap, and though I was still very sleepy, I had enough awareness to become overwhelmed with serenity: I snuggled up against your shoulder, you tightened your arm around me, and looking past the theatric window — an accurate recreation of windows on TGV trains in real life, I should point out — I watched thick streams of snow descending on the rapidly passing landscape. Though my only sense of time in the dream was that it was winter as well as the baseball off-season, I was vividly aware that Christmas was just around the corner.
"I’m almost ready to say I love you," I said.
Your arm loosened. I straightened myself enough to look up at you. You were wearing a beanie of thick, warm fabric and your hair was long again. These framed your face in a way that a shadow was cast that might not necessarily have been present in real-world lighting. But I could see that you were confused, if not entirely hurt.
"Why don’t you?" you asked.
Your voice was deep and resonated with the manliness apropos of your age. But there was also an undercurrent of innocence and boyish disappointment that I would not admit to you made me feel validated, though the reasons that I was about to lay out were also justified and not the result of any sort of vindictiveness or self-serving.
"Because it’s too soon," I said. "Because as much as I enjoy your company, as much as I want to spend every moment with you, I’m not sure if I can say I love you yet. And, really, if you think about it, so much in this world is tenuous anyway. What makes love so different?"
"So you won’t say that you love me because you don’t know if I’ll stick around?"
Even in my own dream, this conversation was taking a sharply confrontational turn that I didn’t like. What I said next was something that I was hoping I delivered with both authority and finality: "I’m saying that I don’t want to say I love you yet because it’s not something I’m ready to say right now."
There were many directions that this situation could have taken had it occurred in real life instead of a dream. In real life, I wonder if you would have thrown it back in my face that you went through all the effort of taking me to Europe during the holiday season which, you would sharply point out, you know is my favorite time of year, and still that isn’t enough for me to declare my love. Out of anger, you might mutter that at least I’m good in bed, and I’ll press you to repeat that, and instead you’ll turn away and stare at the window. In real life, I am not at all enamored of theatrical expressions of emotion, and a silence might settle between us while we both stew.
"I don’t want to argue with you on this trip," I will eventually say. After a pause, I will add: "Not ever."
I will reach for your hand, which is warm but initially chilly denial, although you don’t pull away. Sooner than later, though, you wrap your fingers around mine and for the moment, our hand holding would have to be as close to saying I love you that I can muster. My last memory of that dream is actually you and me still sitting together on the train, the silence growing into a comfort rather than a debilitating burden.
You know, I once met Diana Krall. I had no idea what to say to her, and luckily that day I had a notebook with me — for an alleged writer, rarely do I ever equip myself with the expected implements — so I was able to get her autograph. When she asked me what I would like her to say, I was taken aback that she was willing to write more than just her name. Shyly, I said, “I really like your song ‘Why Should I Care?’”
She stared at me. (Diana Krall stared at me!)
"You want me to write ‘Why should I care’?" she exclaimed.
I was about 20 or 21 at the time, inarticulate and easily impressed, so I just shrugged and felt my blushing get hotter.
"I really like that song," I squeaked.
With authority, Diana took my notebook and began to write. When it was back in my hands, the inscription composed in loopy, expressive handwriting read:
AND I DO.