Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Rear View Mirror


Inspired by both Greg's and Aaron's touching posts, I decided to join the fray, and throw in a part of my own "coming out' story. It's funny how Greg and Aaron's posts came in sync with thoughts going on in my head lately.

As you may or may not know, the 20th anniversary of my high school graduation is fast approaching. Hmph. It'll be just another day, I suppose. Yet ,with how life has been this year, I find myself reflecting on the things that have been, both the good and the bad. Don't worry. I haven't gotten maudlin over getting older. Sure, like the commercial says, "life comes at you fast," but the journeys I've been on had enriched my life. Positive or negative, for what they're worth, have made me the person blogging before you now.

The paths you take, no matter the distance you've traveled, some things, some people, will always be close at hand. Like you never left. I heard a song from 1988 on WINK 104 the other day and had to laugh. I remember when the song was playing in regular rotation 24/7. It brought back memories, things I've done, people I haven't seen in ages. People ike my cousin Stephan.

My Aunt Nanna Mae's oldest son, Stephan (pronounced "steff-on" Please. Never, EVER, call him "steeeven") was one of my best friends in high school. Two years older than me, we used to hang out together often and do those things high school students were known to do in the 80s, cut class, go to the Mall, smoke cigarettes or pot, drink beer, talk about stupid shit and our future. From time to time his sister, my cousin "Darktomahawka" would join us, and we'd be the invincible three!

Those two were integral to keeping me sane back in da day. Many an afternoon I'd forgo going home to visit Nanna Mae's to hang with them. Our fun, innocent by today's standards, was defiant and aggressive, if not risky. Our little community was close knit and just about everybody we knew in the area knew er'rybody or went to one of the seven Black churches in our section of town. So, somebody did have an eye out. You knew it wouldn't be long for somebody had dirt on you! We almost never got caught. The few times we did, we'd be on "punishment" for a few days, then start actin' up all over again! We never learned. LOL.

We were so stupid then, I sincerely have a grin on my face now thinking about it. We'd often skip school to head down to South Street or the shops on 69th Street. 69th Street had all the good deals on clothes then. We'd buy those ridiculous two-tone pants or the stupid suspender pants, which you never wore up around your shoulders. Or there were the Adidas or Kogol or British Knights apparel Steph and I would waste our money on! Damn.

Oh, how God blesses fools and the innocent. Drunk off our asses or high from all the marijuana smoked, we'd ride SEPTA, all loud and obnoxious, daring anyone to challenge our defiance. We'd go all over Philly and neighboring areas. It was probably the greatest, and most cherished, memories I have from that time in my life.

Most of this time period was during my sophomore and junior years in high school. I wasn't having the easiest of times either. The year before, I'd returned to Philly after living several years with my father in Washington, DC. I came back changed and scarred. The DC years proved to be the most challenging in my adolescence. The sexual abuse was at an all time high. I'd become introverted and had started gaining weight. Yet, I managed to get decent grades in school. This was a condition set by both my father and mother before it was even considered I could return to Philadelphia.

I was so drained. I was fighting emotions and feelings I didn't understand. I felt lost, hopeless, and defeated. I was tired of living the "boojee" lifestyle and felt set apart from the Black community. Attending private schools with stuck up snotty politician kids, I wanted in the worse way to get back to the people I understood, even if they wouldn't accept me. I just wanted to go home, back to the 'Hood. Sure, I knew it'd be tougher than my little affluent neighborhood in Georgetown, but I couldn't anticipate it being any worse either. I had needed a sense of community, like I belonged to a niche. I never felt that living in DC.

Waiting for me when I did move back were Stephan and 'Hawka. The three us were tight and I'd quickly developed an intense, special bond with Stephan. He was the brother I never had. Steph was one of the neighborhood guys you didn't mess with and who people respected. He was taller than I, built like a brick shit house, and embodied everything masculine and Black I wanted to be. Yet, he was nurturing and kind. He protected me, often coming to my defense when others would speak unkindly or call me faggot or queer bitch or spread ungodly rumors about me. When Steph was around, I felt safe. Secure. Comforted, like someone really did care about my well-being. He taught me how to defend myself and how not to put up with other people's bullshit.

During my senior high school years, Stephan was the balm I needed to heal. Between late elementary/junior high school and high school. I'd suffered greatly. My sexuality was stirring, even if I wasn't too keenly aware of it. I dated girls. Did the guy things boys were expected to do and I lived my life as I lived it until I left for college in fall of 1988.Thinking of Stephan reminds me how close we were. I honestly don't know where I'd be with him today, if not for him.

By the time I was a senior, I'd settled down, and was prepping myself for college. I did rather well in high school, except for math, which has never been my forte. (Don't think I was out smoking up joints all the time. N-Please! My mother, I'm sure knew it happened occasionally, but she woulda beat my ass into oblivion had it transpired more than what it had.) I graduated a hot and humid June evening in 1988. Two months later, I left for college with the sky as the limit.

Fast forward life six years. Summer 1994. I'd had just completed a disastrous first year in Graduate School. Life was falling apart all around me. I was heavily drinking, smoking pot, dropping acid, skipping classes, and having careless, unprotected sex. I did some harmful stuff back then. I was still having sex with women, but by this point, men had entered the equation. Oh Hell! Lots of men! I was fucking around with any guy I could get my grubby hands on. Guys, who I couldn't remember their face or name if my life depended on it. My friend DoJo had introduced me to gay life and I was living the LIFE to the hilt. It was bad. Really bad.

Unfortunately, I made too many unwise decisions. One of the guys I slept with, will be forever etched into my memory. Why? Simply for the fact because he was the boyfriend of a very good friend of mine, someone I betrayed very badly. To my credit though, said "man" was gay curious and sought me out on several occasions. I'm not making excuses or tryin' to justify it. Betrayal is betrayal nonetheless. I'd done my friend wrong. W-R-O-N-G!

The guilt was driving me insane and I became more and more reckless, either drunk, high, or both a significant amount of the time. What many people from my life then don't know, including Hester and EJ, is the extent of how dangerous things really were. I don't think anyone knows the whole story. Sure Hester and E.J. know the details about what they saw, but there's a back story I've been reluctant to discuss.

They both knew by this point I was out sleeping with guys, but what they don't know are the who, where, or how often. I don't talk about it. Neither of them, thankfully, has asked for specifics. We tend not to broach the subject. We're all cognizant of our destructive paths years ago. MTV's "The Real World" had nothing on us. The stories we all could tell...definitely would be a page out of a Bret Easton Ellis novel.We're all adults now. All that is just in the Rear View Mirror.

But back to then. One night, I couldn't take the guilt anymore and I confessed my sins to my friend. Call it the calm before the storm. All HELL broke loose a few days later. One weekend night I was engaging in the typical substance abuse, when the room literally turned on it's ear. Somehow, the all the drugs and alcohol I was doing caused an induced psychosis and I had a meltdown of the worst kind. It was frightening. I don't remember most of that night, just bits and pieces, but from what people tell me, it was the single most scary event we experience together.

I had to be hospitalized for three weeks in the psychiatric unit.

Now at the end of that venture, you might think I'd admit defeat and go home, right? Ppht! WRONG! Like any addict, I jumped right back into the lifestyle and continued my crash course to destruction! The insanity continued for a few more months before the denounment finally came. I don't remember what happened, but when the party was over, home to Philadelphia I went.

This period in my life was one where I truly walked in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. God does move in mysterious ways. Since I'm in confession mode tonight, I'll step up to the plate and also say this. It was also during early'94 my drug use escalated beyond pot and acid to cocaine. I'd started doing it with a mutual friend, whose name I WILL NOT MENTION. To complicate matters further, we were occasional sex partners. Had I continued to live in the apartment in grad school, who knows what the dire consequences could've been?

Back home, with my tail between my legs, I was left with this incredible, overwhelming, sense of guilt. I'd damaged more than a few valuable friendships. Some irreparably. Stephan had the wherewithal to sense something wasn't quite right, ferreted me out the house. I'd been miserable and holed up in the house for days. We ended up in Valley Forge National Park, a favorite place of ours to get hammered in high school.

Why he chose to take me there, I don't know. Maybe it was for the serenity of it. Valley Forge is very peaceful at night. Relaxing. We didn't drink or smoke any herb, just talked. My life was in shambles and I was feeling suicidal. I hadn't talked to my parents about my college escapades. To this day, they think it was because I got mixed up with some bad pot. Please. Try alcohol, pot, coke, and 3 other illegal narcotics....but I digress.

I finally ended up confessing to Stephan. I mean, I told him everything. EVERYTHING. Not just what had happened in college, but the sexual abuse that had been going on from age 6 to 14, my sexual confusion and eventual sexual fuckfest, to the drug and alcohol abuse. After I told him everything, he gave me that look that usually signified he was pissed off. I wasn't sure if my cousin was going to throw my ass out the car or kick my ass. I had just told my, very heterosexual, cousin I was sleeping with guys. How was he going to react? How was he going to deal with having a "punk" in the family? I was scared as shit. Oh God! What's he gonna tell his mom? For that matter, my mom?!? I was 24 and I hadn't a penny to my name. I couldn't afford to be out in the street!

Stephan was quiet for a loooong time with that look on his face. He looked so angry. I'll never forget it. Finally, and I remember these words almost exactly, he said something.

"I thought I taught you better than that." Huh? What? I asked him to repeat himself. Steph did.

"As said, I thought I taught you better 'an that!" I was confused, but I listened. He reached over, I still thought he was gonna haul off and hit me, but he grabbed me, kissed me on my forehead, and gave me the biggest, tightest hug, I've ever experienced. At this point, I broke down, and lost it. I mean lost it. I cried in his arms for about 20 minutes non-stop. Perhaps the most vulnerable moments in my life, it was the balm I needed.

Stephan explained then how he knew, before I knew or acknowledge it, I was queer. And you know what? He was cool with it! I was his family and he loved me. That's what he meant by his question. We were tight. We were boys. Nothing should ever come between you and your boys, right? He loved me. He promised not to mention a word to anyone or my folks. He kept his promise. I wish I had been able to walk out of the closet once and for all that night, but I got back in not longer afterwards.

A few months later, I got my first professional job and moved away. Stephan was a blessing in my life when I really needed someone to depend upon. I still haven't told my folks yet, but I hope the moment will be as tender as it was when I told Stephan. I doubt it will be given how religious my family can be. I'm not exactly sure on their position on homosexuality, but it can't be good.

For those of you who don't know, my father was also bisexual (no he the one wasn't molesting me) and my mother had a tough time accepting her husband was queer. Can you imagine her grief when she learns her only son is too? To add insult to injury, imagine the pain she's gonna feel when she also learns my 22 year old nephew is gay! Eek! Let's hope the both of us don't come out the same day, week, or month!!!!

Sadly, my cousin died a few years back in a car accident. He was a year younger than I am today. I miss him terribly, but I know somewhere, he has definitely earned his place in Heaven. He was definitely the lynch pin that got me through the 90s. While he's in the rear view mirror of my life, I'd like to think of him as riding along in the passenger seat those days I'm alone and by myself.

Anyway, thanks for reading this long ass post!

1 comment:

Aaron Morrow said...

Ian...thanks for candidly sharing such an intimate part of your life with us. Great post!

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