For several months now, your Head Trucker has been reading and re-reading a wonderful book, and struggling to find the words to describe it. The reasons for the struggle are various: for one thing, since late summer life here has been full of sundry and boring domestic, financial, digital, and physical crises that have kept me alternately upset or immobilized. And then there was the election, for chrissake. Sometimes life is just one damn thing after another, you know what I mean, fellas?
For another thing, despite the book's lovely, impeccable writing, it so often moves me to tears or makes my heart double-clutch with recognition that I have been able to read only a few pages at a time before having to close it up and set it down again. It's that good: them old Greek boys you may have heard something about in lit class between daydreams and snoozes held that art should be the mirror of life; and this book is a mirror indeed, polished to a high sheen and often casting a glaring, dangerous light into shaded nooks and crannies of the author's soul, and even into my own, it seems.
The book is Did You Ever See a Horse Go By? by my longtime truckbuddy Frank De Francesco, and though it is his first and only book to date, it is well worth the cover price: a little gem of a memoir that I recommend wholeheartedly to all my other truckbuddies and readers. Frank says, "While I'm not sure the world really needs another coming-out story, I feel deeply the need to tell it."
I think the world does need this particular story. In her well-known essay "On Keeping a Notebook," author Joan Didion wrote that the reason for recording her memories was to "Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point." Because, she said, "We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were." And of course we know what happens to those who forget the past.
Frank's book recounts in exquisite detail the fears and feelings and fantasies, the loves and lovers, the guilt and shame, the confessions and repressions, the one night stands and the long-term commitments, the lost and the found, the hopes and the terrors of coming out at age 36, after many years of sheltering in a devoutly Catholic closet in New England. How odd, then, that his memories, feelings, regrets, and joys should so well parallel all that I went through in my fundamentalist Protestant closet down in the Deep South. And yet not so odd after all -- what Frank is really writing about here is not merely his coming out, his life, his memories, but the human experience of being gay and alone and afraid of so many things: censure, rejection, failure, despair, the acid drip of loneliness. All men and women since the world began have endured, or at least feared, these things, for such is the nature of sublunary life: it is not good for the man to be alone. But certain exquisite pains and torments are reserved for the gays, or were.
And he writes about it all very clearly and concretely, with smooth, careful cadences that lead the reader through some fearsomely honest revelations, which normally one might confide only in one's closest friends. But that's what this book is like: a comfortable conversation with an old and trusted friend, patiently explaining the real reasons why he did whatever it was he did, trusting that you in turn will listen and understand, not laugh or turn away.
Frank is a very brave writer; I could never be so brave. It's not that I have forgotten anything, but that it's all still too close, too vivid in my memory. After all these years, the scars of battle on my soul and on my heart are still too tender to bear much touching. I admire Frank for the courage and the toughness of his writing, which I am sure was not easy. But somehow he was able to bare his soul to the reader, as all great writers must do sooner or later.
We who were born in the first decade or two after the last world war have been privileged to witness a remarkable period in human history, when homosexuality went from being "the love that dare not speak its name" to being publicly affirmed, even celebrated, by the President, the United Nations, and just about every major city and (who would have thought?) major-league sports team across the country, while same-sex marriage went from being a laughable fantasy to being enshrined in constitutional law by the Supreme Court: truly a breathtaking phenomenon when you stop to think about it, and all within the span of one ordinary lifetime. Sometimes I can hardly believe it myself.
Frank says of his motivation for writing the book:
For me, the value in telling my story here, beyond the healing, is to preserve a tiny slice of collective history--to document what it was to be gay and to come out in a particular time and place. I want to remember all the others who were there along with me, creating our lives together and defining our sexuality as we went along. My hope is that others find some value in that as well.I'm quite sure that everyone who reads the book will find that value. It's a fine book, beautifully written and deeply moving, which I hope will find its way into the hands of many readers.
P.S. I forgot to mention all the candid sex scenes, guys. Those are good too, yessir: real Adults Only stuff. No, I'm not putting you on; go buy the book and see for yourself.