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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Lovelight: Forty Years On

A compilation of the most poignant scenes from your Head Trucker's favorite movie:

Which makes me remember that I have neglected to mention here in the Blue Truck that last month on June 7th, it was 40 years ago that I graduated from high school. My, how the years rush away, the older you get. Perhaps some of you fellas will relate to how slowly time seemed to pass for me as a teenager - I used to feel like I would never be old enough to get my driver's license, and then it was another eternity until I finally got out of high school hell.

But the time did eventually pass, though not without some big bumps and detours along the road. I spent several months of the spring of my senior year in a state of suicidal depression - not for the first or for the last time, I might add - it all had to do with the gay thing, and the fact that I was in a militantly evangelical and extremely homophobic church.

All of which happened so long ago now, I don't remember exactly all that led up to it - though for the seven years I was in that church, from age 14 to 21, when I finally had enough and left, I was chronically depressed and often thought of doing away with myself - there could be no future for me, since I was such an enormously wicked sinner whom even God hated with fury.

I know some of you boys, even the ones who just lurk here at the Blue Truck and never comment, can relate to all that. Looking back, it's a wonder I got through alive, so alone and utterly isolated from any other gay people. Or at least - so I thought at the time.

Looking at the early scenes in the clip above of how Jack and Ennis met somehow reminds me in a vague way of my best buddy Pat in senior year and how we got to be close. I don't remember exactly how we met now, but we were part of a network of church friends and relations. We also both had close relatives in a major city 300 miles away, and I had a car, so it worked out nicely that whenever I would drive up to visit my family, Pat would ride along and share the gas expenses and visit his people too.

Our story was not outwardly like that of Jack and Ennis, who in the movie are already full grown and living all on their own. I was still living at home, though Pat had dropped out of school and was working construction jobs. He was about a year and a half older than me, so when I was 16 he was already 18. I was never much to look at in either face or body - the scrawy kid always picked last for teams - but Pat already had the body of a Greek statue from all that manual labor: if you can imagine an appearance like a blond Cherokee Indian with a sharp, sensuous face and rippled muscles beneath a skin that was always bronzed from working shirtless in the sun - well, that was Pat. The blond hair came from the Irish side of his family, I suppose. (Continued below . . . )

Another friend of Pat's, who I now think was as queer as we were, used to tease him about looking like 1950's movie/TV star Nick Adams, but although I can see why he said that, I never thought it was a close resemblance.
The Pat I knew was a lot sexier.

By a very curious coincidence, I just happened to find these pics of a current young star of Broadway, also named Nick Adams - and this, my friends, is much more what Pat looked like to me, though with surfer-blond hair.
He was hot all right, yeah buddy.  I tell you what.

And he definitely has Pat's body, which I knew so well - from but a slight distance.
Can you blame me, fellas, for being smitten?

Continued below the jump:

Even though our story was not like the one in the movie, there's something about the innocent, unknowing attraction between Jack and Ennis at their first meeting that is similar to what happened with Pat and me. You must understand that there was no possibility of fooling around, or even of discussing any desire to do so: our church preached the hell out of all those anti-gay "clobber scriptures," and we were both at that time very good, very faithful and obedient boys, religiously.

But I look back now and think that so many of the guys I ended up being friends with in my teen years must surely have been gay, only I didn't know it, or they didn't know it, or neither of us could bring ourselves to admit it. I certainly knew I was gay - that epiphany had come in the middle of a brutal year of bullying when I was 14, and realized to my utter horror one day that the bullies were right: I was indeed a homosexual, a queer, something horrible even to name or contemplate. And thus, even inwardly, in what should have been the refuge of my own mind, I had no defense against them.

That was a shattering experience, and the turning point of my life; although of course in later years I came to accept and embrace my gayness, the damage done at that time, deep in the silent places of the soul, can never be repaired in this life. The scars are thick but they cover deep wounds.

But it is amazing when I think back on all my good friends in those years and how they now seem so obviously gay or at least bisexual, and how curious it is that without ever even hinting at the subject, we somehow found one another, as if by gravitational attraction. Funny how that happens.

My senior year, Pat and I spent a lot of time together, or as the young'uns say now, hanging. And he was indeed hung. I know this because we often slept over together, which in that time and in that place, nobody thought a thing about: neither the adults, nor us boys. It was just taken for granted that friends would sleep over together, and in the same bed if need be; something quite unremarkable. And when we did, and there were no parents or other adults around, which was quite often, we wore only our underwear in the house.

I know it sounds very strange now that we slept together and "hung" together all those times and never once thought about slipping out of our tighty whities - but it's quite true, believe me when I tell you, guys. Which I sure could kick myself for now - damn, what happy opportunites were wasted, all those years!

Perhaps this is part of the reason why I now react so violently against "righteousness" as commonly practiced by the self-exalting heterosexual Pharisees all around us. I have lived long enough, and seen enough, to know that those superfine Christians are not nearly as "righteous" behind closed doors, or when they think nobody's looking, as they pretend to be. And how much grief and heartache is caused by their rockbound rules, how much innocent happiness is spoiled or never tasted. It makes my blood boil - they will have their reward - but I digress.

Though Pat and I never discussed the subject, never crossed the line, we were, I realize now, in love with each other: there was no gooey romance, no valentines or flowers, and most certainly no kisses - oh, what a pity - but the bond was there, and we both felt it I am sure, though we dared not speak its name.

(Okay, maybe I did write him a goofy purple poem or two with veiled, mystic references to something or other ethereal and unnameable - but I'm sure they were such wretched productions that they could hardly inspire romance in anyone, and are thankfully lost to history.)

My beautiful brand-new Malibu that we rode so many
miles in together looked very much like this.

We spent a lot of time together, the greater part of our free time, or so it seems in memory, weekends and holidays and trips to the big city, just us two shitkickers rolling down the interstate and along country roads through the night, singing along to "American Pie" and other favorites on the AM dial.
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry.
Them good ol' boys was drinkin' whisky and rye,
Singing this'll be the day that I die.
We went lots of places together: shopping malls, swimming pools, bowling alleys, skating rinks, eating out at restaurants and cafes, lots of movies (tickets at the cheap show were $1.25, I recall). A favorite was Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man, which if you have never seen, you should. There's a good-looking, half-naked Indian warrior in it, who also happens to be one of those two-spirit guys - you know what I mean, fellas?

For a long time afterward, when we were having a really good time together on a happy, sunny day - and there were many of those - Pat would say his favorite line, spoken by the old Chief in the movie: "It is a good day to die." (You have to watch the movie to understand.)

We couldn't be togther all the time, of course, because I had school and homework and a part-time job, and he was building houses full time, and we had other friends too; but seems to me for most of that year we were pretty inseparable, and usually sat together in church. Now if you saw a boy and girl doing all that, what would you conclude? And yet somehow so strong is the force of denial that though I privately was aware that my feelings for Pat overstepped the righteous boundaries laid down for us, it never really crossed my conscious mind that we were in fact acting out a love affair.

The thing we most enjoyed doing when we were alone, which as I said was often - my mom's business often took her out of town for weeks or months at a time - was horseplay and wrassling around. I know it all sounds so obvious now, but there we were, two guys rolling around on the floor in nothing but our underwear, legs and arms all entangled, our eager young bodies pressing one upon the another in turn - and still we couldn't say what this pantomime was, nor admit what we were up to, not even to each other.

Of course, since Pat was bigger and much stronger than I, every single wrassling match ended with me vanquished, and him sitting on my chest, his crotch nearly in my face. I wish I could tell you that such a scene ended with a long, passionate kiss and more besides . . . but no. Though sometimes when Pat had me pinned down like that, he would give me this strange, intense stare that I hardly dared interpret. And it may be that once or twice, I offered, with a wicked grin, to bite his shorts - but of course, he always inched back just far enough that my teeth couldn't reach him.

Such innocence, such ignorance, such denial. I can hardly believe that any two such lively boys now living in these United States could be so coy with each other - but that's the way we were then.

Somehow Pat's friendship helped me get through that dark depression I mentioned earlier in this post. I remember him calling up and coming over and taking me out various places, when all I wanted to do was sit home and brood miserably. I think I started to snap out of it when the weather warmed up that spring and we started going out on a memorable series of trips to the river, a small one deep in the woods, where we and some other guys we knew from churches in the area would swim in the chilly waters, swinging far out over the river on an old steering wheel tied to a steel cable secured high up in a cypress tree, and falling falling falling waayyy down into the clear, dark waters with a whoop and a splash.

There was also the big tubing expedition, where a dozen of us floated all one Saturday afternoon for miles down river, barefoot and naked but for swim trunks or cut-offs, which left us all sunburned from head to foot - there was no sunscreen in those days, just Coppertone or baby oil, but of course us guys didn't even bother with that stuff - and we finally arrived back at our cars broiled to a crisp and exhausted but happy after our adventures - like for instance, killing a rattlesnake who wanted to swim along with us, and stopping to walk across a railroad trestle, which was so hot in the glaring Southern sun that the creosote was oozing up out of the ties, but we hobbled across it barefooted nevertheless. At the other end of the trestle, the rails curved sharply off into a deep stand of woods. What we would have done had a freight train come roaring out of the woods at us while we were atop that damn trestle, a good thirty feet above the river, whose shallow bed there was lined with tons of sharp rocks and big boulders, God only knows.

Nowadays, this old man thinks with a shiver about all the dangers of that expedition and what could have gone wrong - but boys will be boys, you know. And damn, what fun it was. Those trips to the river with Pat were really exhilarating, and I think that helped a lot to bring me out of my dark ideations. It's good that he was there for me then - he was God's own angel, unawares. You don't always get what you want - but sometimes you get what you need.

Then I graduated, and things changed, we both went to live elsewhere for a time, then a year or so later I moved back and had a place to myself and Pat moved back, and needed a place to stay, so he became my roommate. I was going to junior college and working part-time jobs, he was working on a construction crew four days a week that had a project way to hell out of town that meant leaving at 5 a.m. every morning.

And without really being conscious of the big why, I found myself getting up at the same ungodly hour as Pat did every morning, and while he dressed and got ready for work, I would make sandwiches just the way he liked, and wrap up other stuff like chips and cookies and apples, and pack a big lunch bag for him. And then drive him through the pre-dawn darkness to the pick-up point, since he didn't have a truck of his own - didn't want the "responsibility," he said, of owning a vehicle. (Why have I always fallen for studly blue-collar guys who are irresponsible, financially and otherwise? Guess that says something about me, huh.) And when he came home with ripped work britches, I would sit down with needle and thread to mend them for him. He never asked me to do these things, they just seemed like, well, the right thing to do.

I know, I know, it sounds SO damn obvious now what the deal was. But still, we neither of us could admit it. Just like Jack and Ennis - but without the sex. Unlike me, Pat at least made the pretense of looking for a girlfriend - he would chat them up in church and other approved venues, and maybe went on a few dates, though I really don't remember that happening very often. Although we both had other friends that we did things with separately, we still went to church together, we still hung out with each other most of the time, going to movies or out to eat, or driving out to a wooded field to do some target practice with his new .22. And yes, we still wrassled together, and slept together in my double bed, quite chastely, even if sometimes a hand rested on a thigh over the covers, or against a bare back.

No kisses, no hugs, no sentimental romance - but what does it sound like to you, fellas? One night as we were lying in bed, spooned together as usual, I was awakened by Pat's talking in his sleep - he did that sometimes. But this time, he took hold of my arm with one hand and stroked it repeatedly with the other while mumbling cryptically, "But what will the townspeople say?"

Now Dear Reader, I suppose you would have carpéd the diem out of that situation, wouldn't you? Alas, I was such a good boy - brimful of the fear of God and so blinded by denial to all that was right in front of my face, that I simply froze and said nothing, did nothing. Much as I would have liked to. Eventually, he dropped my arm, turned over, and went back to sleep. And I believe he was truly asleep the whole time. Certainly neither of us mentioned it the next day, or ever.

It's hard now to remember the sequence of events, but I will tell you another incident that may have happened around that time. The bathroom opened directly off the bedroom, just a couple of feet from the foot of the bed, and I had gotten up in the night to take a piss. I don't think we'd been in bed very long, probably neither of us was asleep yet. Anyway, while I was draining the lizard, I got the idea that it would be fun to scare Pat by jumping on him in the dark. So after I did my two shakes, I turned off the bathroom light before opening the door, and then with a rush I opened it and leapt into the darkness - and in midair hit my head against something hard, cold, and metallic. Of course I yelled and probably even cussed a little, and groped for the light switch. What had happened was that Pat also had gotten a notion for a little prank, and thought he would scare me by pointing the shotgun at me when I came out the bathroom.

Fortunately, the damn thing wasn't loaded, and so I escaped with only a bloody, double-ringed cut on my ear. Another silly prank between horseplaying boys; we laughed it off. But looking back, I'm tempted to see something symbolic there, though I can't quite put my finger on it.

And then our house of denial, merry as it was, started to unravel. Pat started sleeping on the couch instead of in bed with me. At first he made some lame excuse, I forget what, the mattress was too soft or hard, or he wanted to stay up and watch TV, I forget now. But eventually it started bugging me big time, and I grew resentful. I invited him every night to come to bed, but he kept refusing, and his excuses never got any better. Finally, I literally begged him to come sleep with me - still thinking in my own mind that my motives were entirely pure - I promise you, I had not a single intention of molesting him in any way - but the answer was always no. Which messed with my head real bad: I suppose I felt abandoned, rejected.

So one afternoon, we got back to the house from a long, hot drive and more cans of beer than was good for us, and we got to pushing and shoving and wrassling. But the beer had gotten the better of me, and I turned it into a serious thing, not play. During these matches, there always came a point at which I was completely checked and mated, and that's when I just gave up and let him sit on me. But not this time. I fought like a wildcat, called him all kinds of bad names, and would not give up - when I was pinned down, I twisted and rolled, and threw some punches at him any time I could get a hand free, just like a crazy man. Exactly why I was doing that, I couldn't have told you. But at the time it just seemed like the necessary thing to do - I was enraged, and couldn't admit the why to myself.

Finally, when Pat saw that I would never submit to defeat, instead of beating me senseless with his fists like anyone else might have done - which is highly revealing - he pulled off his belt, and mine too - those were the days of the big, wide ones, you know - and tied me up with them. And left me hog-tied there on the carpet - or maybe he propped me up on the couch - while he went out for an hour or two to give me time to cool down.

Which I did, and sobered up a little too, and apologized to him. And we moved on from there, no grudges. But things were never the same after our "first fight." Because of course, don't you see, there was no way to kiss and make up - as lovers do, ordinarily. So the resentment just continued to fester in me, and as time went on I got to be bitchy and sarcastic with my bewildered friend more and more.

Eventually, I came to resent him mightily, for no real reason that I could name - and after some arguments and scenes, I asked him to move out. So he moved in with some other friends, started going to another church, and some time later I heard he went with some other guys we knew to go work on the oil rigs off the coast of Louisiana. Good riddance, I thought - and I never saw him again.

It wasn't until years later, long after I had left the church and come out in another city, that the truth of all that we felt for each other slowly began to dawn in my head. And then I felt really stupid, as you may imagine. Remorseful too, for all the ugly things I did and said.

I don't know whatever happened to Pat. I have no pictures, no souvenir to remind me of him except a hymnal that he once gave me, with his name written inside the cover. Did he marry like all the other church boys I knew back then? Or did he eventually come out, like me? Has he led a happy life all these years, or could it be he died in the plague like so many others?

I have no answers, no way of knowing. I've never tried to look him up - he could be living anywhere now, if he is alive, and his last name is a fairly common one, so there might be thousands out there with the same name, and it would like looking for a needle in a haystack.

And maybe I just don't want to know, one way or the other. And maybe it's just better to let memories be memories: all passion spent. But I am grateful for a friend who reached out and pulled me from the waters of despair all those long years ago - who shared his life and I believe his heart with mine - who I believe in some way at some level the two of us were afraid to name, loved me back as I loved him. Who was, in some real sense, my first lover - though we never shared even a single kiss.

Wherever you are, Pat - bless you, and thank you. Vaya con Dios.


Tim said...

Thanks for sharing that Russ. I think you should try and find Pat and thank him for helping you through troubled times; so it's a needle in a haystack, get searching!

Frank said...

Had a hundred thoughts while reading your love story. Strange and sad how our need to repress our true feelings back then resulted in a whole lot of "beating around the bush", frustrations, cryptic communications, misunderstandings and resentments.

I engaged in what I call "serial emotional (non-sexual) monogamy" and had several "best friends", one at a time with whom I hung around, mostly during my college years. I've lost touch with them all, but I know they all married women; I often wonder about them, because they were never the typical hetero stereotypes.

Now in a good movie script with a happy ending we would be able to reconnect, tell one another what we were really feeing back then, laugh about it and make passionate love or at least share a loving kiss.

Could happen.

Russ Manley said...

Tim - Mmm, I don't know about that. I was pretty ugly to him there at the last; his memories and feelings may be very different from what I've written here. And many oceans of water, of greater experience and love and heartache, have flowed under the bridge for both of us since those days. Probably best to leave the ghosts of the boys we were to rest in peace, I think.

Frank - I know just what you mean, I too went through that serial but celibate monogamy thing with several straight (?) best friends. It all seems so silly now, when the closet door has long since been ripped off its hinges and cut up for kindling - but while we were in it, the hold was powerful, wasn't it.

Your last suggestion makes me think of the ending of "Longtime Companion." It would be nice, wouldn't it, if Heaven were like that: one long, lovely beach party full of smiles and tears and kisses with those we love but see no longer here.

Davis said...

A lovely story, Russ. I can relate on many levels as I did profoundly relate to the film.

Russ Manley said...

Thanks buddy, glad you like.

Theaterdog said...

Russ the more stories I read, the more I see we all went through the same things.

Suppression is dangerous. We held so much IN so strongly, it is a wonder that we did implode, all of us.

It is a lovely story....and I thank you for handing it to me.

In pride, Tim

Russ Manley said...

Glad you like, Tim - and yes, it is almost amusing now to discover how similar our stories were. But we couldn't know that at the time, or at least not in my isolated case.

Have you read Leslie Jordan's autobiography? Very funnily told, but essentially the same story as the rest of us.

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