I Laughed, I Cried
I never delete e-mails (except spam, of course). I keep them all — incoming and outgoing — and, for the most part, sort them in folders. I’ve been using different versions of the same e-mail program since the mid-1990s; consequently, I still have messages from 1996. You might be wondering what’s the point of keeping all these messages. But last night, I rediscovered why.
Before e-mail, I used to be a prolific letter-writer, and my friends who’ve received those letters could attest that my letters were not only long, but unconventional. I would narrate my thoughts and what was happening to and around me as little stories — stories that were sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes silly, sometimes banal, sometime irreverent, sometimes sentimental. It was before the time I was addicted to word-processing for writing, when my handwriting was still legible and my prose, if I can dare call it that, would flow easily from one paragraph to another, unlike today when I can’t write worth shit with pen and paper and jump all over the place to edit and cut-and-paste as I write (as I’m doing right now).
However, when e-mail came along, I made the deliberate choice of viewing the keyboard and computer screen as a modern form of pen and paper, and the Send button as a stamp and envelope. I didn’t see it as giving me license to be telegraphic and sloppy, but at the same time I got off on the idea that, unlike old-fashioned letters, my missives would be received instantly. I kept my voice and continued to write the tales of my life as I had always done, and much to my delight, many to whom I wrote adopted the same candour when writing back to me.
Thus it really isn’t that surprising that I took to blogging nearly five years ago; it was an extension — a natural evolution — of what I had always done. But there are significant differences between my letters of old and this blog. The most notable difference is that, because letters and e-mails were one-on-one, my correspondents and I allowed ourselves to be a lot more coarse and politically incorrect because we knew each other well enough to recognize that we were indulging in hyperboles and that we could divulge raunchy details with the knowledge that they would remain between us. Writing in a blog, however, requires more tact and discretion, unless, of course, I as a writer chose not to care an iota that readers might misconstrue my musings due to their lack of context about me and knowing that I’m merely being flip.
Take, for example, a passage of an e-mail to my oldest friend, who happens to be quadraplegic. Although I’m able-bodied, I’d call him “The Crip” or “The Quad” in the same vein as gay guys might refer to themselves as faggot or how some Black guys might use the N word among themselves even though no one including myself would ever consider that very same word as being acceptable coming out of my mouth. Someone with no knowledge of my long friendship with him and the fact I was his attendant for several years — not to mention that he’d often call me a slut and a cocksucker — wouldn’t understand how anyone could write:
Speaking of people with that monicker, remember the crip who’s been studying at our alma mater since the Year Dot? Well, her wheels drove her into the ground so she’s six feet under now. She was a pain in the ass but no one wished her dead.
All this to say that last night, I started reading e-mails dating back more than 11 years. I don’t know what brought me to doing that, but it was an experience that, at various times, brought me to laugh out loud or get a bit misty-eyed. Moreover, these e-mails now stand as a detailed journal of countless happenings which, at the time, were incredibly consuming but that, until last night, didn’t even register as a memory anymore.
One set of three extremely long messages I wrote for the benefit of two of my closest friends at the time (as well as myself, I suppose) recounts, in the present tense, the days of my father’s open-heart surgery in 1996. I can’t tell you how glad I am to still have such a detailed journal of that difficult period of my family’s history. Many of the details are mundane while others are not; however, I was amazed last night to realize how many significant details I had long forgotten.
Monday, July 29, 1996 (the day before my father’s surgery)
Eight thirty comes too soon. Dad will have a big day tomorrow and he still has some pre-op prep to do before going to bed. He gets up from his chair, ties the belt of his housecoat and escorts us out the ward. He and Mom stop in the hallway so that my oldest niece can snap a picture. When we reach the entrance to the ward, we look out the large windows overlooking the parking lot and Dad points out our cars. He has few interests, but cars have always been one of them. Then we start saying goodnight and that’s when his tears come back. All choked up, he echoes our goodnight and, gripping his IV poll, he turns around and starts walking away from us, back to his room.
I break my own rule. I look back. But he does not.
Not only had I forgotten that moment; upon reading the whole series, I realized I had forgotten the long days of waiting for his surgery and the longer days of worries afterwards when the hospital was intent on shipping him out five days after the surgery even though he clearly wasn’t ready to be discharged. It was in those five days I figured out in my heart that the system had irreparably broken my father, and indeed, the remaining seven-and-a-half years of his life turned out ghastly when they weren’t wretched.
But not all the stories I’d e-mail at the time were of sadness and heartbreak, as evidenced in the first quote. The early/mid-1990s was the period I was bestowed the nickname “Whore of Babylon.” And I really played into that character both in writing and in action, whether to recount tales of whoredom or non-sexual incidents, like when I e-mailed a good friend about my then-car Homomobile blowing up on the way to the airport.
This here Whore resolutely gave up his spot in the fast lane a week ago yesterday when Homomobile decided that life wasn’t worth living.
Homomobile, you must understand, is the most ungrateful of creatures. He doesn’t care that this here Whore spent two grand on him less than three months ago to prolong his life by a few years. Nor does he care that, on any other four-wheeled motorized device like himself, the repair he received would work like a charm. And he certainly doesn’t give a sweet flying fuck that this here Whore is officially on the verge of unemployment.
Picture it: May 17, 1996, and the Whore of Babylon is driving the Queen of Sheba and Colonel Snodgrass to the airport so that they can catch their plane for Helsinki. At precisely 1.5 km from the exit to Halifax International, the Whore feels Homomobile lurch back and his gas pedal stiffen. The Whore’s losing speed. Without alarming his passengers, he starts moving into the slow lane. As he does, he notices through the rearview mirror that he’s leaving behind the thickest trail of oily blue smoke you could ever imagine. The cars behind him are not only peeping their horns; they’re keeping away in case the thing in front of them (to wit, *us*) blows up. Maintaining control of Homomobile, the Whore manages to get to the airport exit and crawl to the garage near the exit ramp, where, upon turning in the parking lot, all of Homomobile’s lights go on and he not only stalls, but seizes. As the Whore’s sexy neighbour commented a few days later, the Whore has a way of getting cars that are real drama queens.
So the Whore has managed to get the duo to the airport, although certainly not without incident, and he must then return to the city by shuttle bus. This is the beginning of the long weekend; therefore, no one deigns do anything with Homomobile before Tuesday. Already, the Whore figures that Homomobile is toast — not even worth the space he occupies. So a disgusted Whore finds his way to Stonehenge, where he drowns his sorrows in five DOUBLE gin and tonics, and gets the bartender to call him a cab home some two hours later.
Of course, I never forgot when Homomobile blew up; that story remains a fixture in the narrative of the days of the Queen of Sheba and the Whore of Babylon. But I had forgotten that it happened a week before my job at the time was ending and that I got drunk out of my mind that night.
When I was teaching, I/the Whore had no qualms in describing my colleagues as hot if hot they were, as in this passage I wrote to a dear friend with whom I studied in the late 1980s.
You wouldn’t know Gorgeous either; he completed his degree at our alma mater a few years ago, did a Master’s out West, and is currently considering a PhD overseas. But Gorgeous, who’s definitely (even defiantly) “family,” is nothing less than a Greek god: prematurely (short) grey hair; strong, angular Germanic features, pale blue eyes that make mine look like shit, and (based on my beach experience, although I regrettably have never partaken in the pleasure up close) a dick that grows hard and big and shoots like a freakin’ revolver. Gorgeous is generally extremely well liked by the students because he’s as challenging to them as was our own mentor in the program, with the added bonus that, unlike our mentor, he’s really not hard to look at.
And I certainly had no trouble telling friends of my escapades in the crudest words imaginable, like:
Yes, the Whore is back in Halifax after a dirty couple of days in Montreal!
Just got back tonight, actually. Fornicated with my rendition of a minor deity, a semi-Atom Egoyan lookalike, and then three guys sucked me off simulatenously in a dark hallway. I’m really tired today. Go figure.
I bumped into this guy at Infections, whom I did for a while in early ’97. To make a long story short, I found out that night that he just got a Nissan Sentra (same year as mine) and, later, I spotted it on the Hill. I waited around for him to return to his car and, no more than two minutes later, he “confessed” needing to be fucked in the worst way. So, what’s a whore boy like me to do but to oblige… There are plenty of guys who like to fool around, but fewer are those who want it up their ass — a particular delight for me to fulfill — pun definitely intended.
It’s with a considerable amount of shame that I admit now that reading some of these old e-mails reminded me of fuckbuddies and boyfriends about whom today I keep only an abridged and highly redacted recollection. That’s despite the fact that, at the time, moving on had been extremely difficult, but clearly when I finally did move on, I really did move on. And invariably, it was through writing and then shelving what I wrote that I was eventually able to escape from the pain. But reading some of this stuff many years later, I’m reminded of how long I’ve intrinsically known that I’m an “either/or” kind of guy in the sentimentality department: either a true whore, or a guy who, when he falls, falls completely.
Turning to Rachmaninoff. Seeing a carefully crafted sense of strength and self-reliance fall prey to so little. Heart pounding in my throat. An inexplicable sense of fatigue. No reproach; only a wish onto which I must hold, at least for now, to prevent myself from sinking into that pit I’ve once known. Bewitched, bothered and bewildered.
Alone in bed, deliberately lying on my back, fighting the urge to assume the fetal position I’d instinctually want to assume. Three sentences forming perfectly in my mind, with a sudden, irrepressible urge to send him flowers in the hope of expressing the different pains — his and mine — and the knowledge that our dilemma speaks more of our simplistic, adolescent immaturity …but that’s okay.
“You’re killing me,” he said to me as he was trying to leave my apartment that last night, his eyes locked into mine, and I echoed those words to him. And there stands the ellipsis.
Indeed, there it stands, amidst flashbacks and a few regrets, leaving a trail from intimate moments during which I committed the sin of sparing words for fear of irritating that unease within him that I sensed very soon after I first met him.
That afternoon the phone rings: it’s him, calling to thank me for the flowers. I can still sense that unease in him, even over the phone, just as I suspect that I might be adding another dimension to it. “Really nice card…” I hear him say. And then, neither knowing what more to say, what to do, if only, perhaps, speaking as though nothing more ever was. “What are you doing tomorrow night?” A play with a cast too large for the stage.
Looking back at this sampling of my writing from a decade or more ago, I find myself in awe of how much has changed and how much hasn’t changed, and how committing such raw thoughts and emotions in the moment not only allowed me to forge ahead, but quite literally forged who I’ve become. I both am and am not that person from 10+ years ago.
While I miss — or at least look back nostalgically at — that guy who wrote so constantly and so vividly, the last thing I want is to rebecome that guy. That guy was restless, never quite content, and very vulnerable. In fact, “vulnerable” is a word a then-friend of the Queen of Sheba used to describe that guy after she met him, and he took considerable offense to that description at the time. Today, however, the guy I am agrees that that guy was vulnerable because, for whatever reason, he refused to own and vehemently rejected his “or” part. To cut that guy some slack, perhaps it matters to recall he was bearly 30 at the time. But that hardly excuses the viciousness with which he would cut down others who aspired for the “or” he expended so much energy deriding, as when he wrote a friend about how quickly a guy he’d just dumped had moved on.
By the way, Dumped is head-over-heels in love with a shoe saleman in the town where they live who’s even younger than I am and who’s extremely eager to spit toothpaste every morning down the drain of Dumped’s bathroom sink. What a fuckin’ relief for me, but then JESUS! I get just a bit angry, to tell you the truth. Here I was worried about shattering someone, namely Dumped, and he had a Plan B all along. I’m now brought to admit that, in many respects, Dumped is about as deep as a puddle of two-day-old rain. Funny how I glossed over the shortcomings when I was in the thick of things…
Today when I read what that guy wrote more than 10 years ago, I think, “What a fucking, petulant bitch!” But then I think about how it was all just a façade and, worse, an elaborate (nor maybe not so elaborate) mechanism to make himself believe that he was right. And then, when I realize that I hardly recognize the guy who wrote that nasty passage even though that guy was me, I can’t help but conclude that I have changed. However, I have to own up — and am owning up — to the fact that the bitchy façade of old contributed to the change in some way. The passage of time and the acquiring of more experiences not only proved me wrong, but it helped transform me from someone who’s “restless, never quite content, and very vulnerable” to someone who’s basically happy, optimistic, and at ease with the notion of not being able to control everything.
Some of you might think that I’m saying that now because of the entry of El Poema in my life — a kind of distancing. However, with all honesty, I think that’s reversing the cause and the effect. It’s not that I met El Poema and that’s forcing me to deny positions I once took. Rather, it’s that I have been changing my positions well before meeting El Poema and it was that slowly evolving and more receptive person El Poema met in that park in Montréal in August. I truly believe that, and that belief is supported by an offhand remark BeeGoddessM made, coincidentally, just days before I left for Montréal: “I sense that you’ve changed in the time I’ve known you,” referring to her feeling that I wasn’t destined to be a lifelong bachelor.
I remember my reflex kicking in and receiving her remark with only a mild degree of skepticism, whereas before it would have been met with flat denial. But shortly before, I had written in this blog in reference to the Town of Truro’s refusal to fly the gay pride flag in front of town hall:
The thing I envy the most of heterosexual couples is how they can walk down any street hand-in-hand without it being noticed and without them feeling they’re making a public statement of any kind. I despise the fact that if two men hold hands while in a restaurant, they still stand the chance of being accused of “flaunting their sexuality” when the same would not be said of a man and woman.
Actually, that last statement just made me swell up a little. I’m realizing how, at nearly 42, I’m yearning for that little something that has nothing to do with appendages and orifices. All of this because the mayor of Armpit …I mean, Truro, NS, decided not to recognize my existence?
Just as this blog provides me points of reference in my past, so do my e-mails from so very long ago. Many think it strange when I tell them I still have e-mails from 1996. But what they don’t realize is that, for me, e-mail was my way of keeping a journal well before blogs came into existence.
Hence, after reading samplings of those e-mails last night, I indeed did laugh and cry a little. And then I spent this afternoon writing this blog entry. Because the whole experience hit me like a ton of bricks.