©2013 by Jack A. Urquhart (1354 words)
Lately I have followed with interest, and no small regard, the various “When I was…” posts (also known as “My [insert number]” posts) that have been showing up on social media sites. For those unfamiliar with these posts, they typically offer a biographical snap-shot of the author at a specific point in time, say at age 21, or 39, or 85, etc. In most cases, the number explored (i.e., the specific age) is suggested by one author to another.
In every instance, I’ve admired the author’s courage in these mini bios, the sometimes brutal honesty evident in their retrospective self-assessments. Each of the posts I’ve read has seemed a liberating endeavor, and, unless I’ve mistaken the prevailing tone in them, a cathartic one as well—so much so that I decided to give the exercise a try.
My number—or rather, the ‘age’ I’ve decided to explore—is self-selected, I should point out. That is because, from jump street, I knew it would have to be 48—a milestone (in every sense of the word) I achieved in 1996. Nothing else, I knew, would do for this project save my forty-eighth year. So, to begin:
By 1996 I had been living in Colorado for nearly 18 years and was eking out a living as an adjunct instructor of rhetoric at the University of Colorado, Boulder (C.U.). Barely two years divorced and out of the proverbial closet, I had endured over the previous many months the loss of a much-loved best friend, who as it happened was also my former wife, the forfeiture of our Boulder home, and, worst of all, the removal of my teenage children and ex-wife to another state. Come ‘96, I was—at the scandalously tardy age of 48—a self-acknowledged homosexual (finally) and, for the first time in decades, desperately alone.
It didn’t help, of course, that I compared myself unfavorably to every male on the planet, or at least to those closest at hand—none more than Drew (not his real name), the man who had been my next-door neighbor during the last years of my heterosexual married life.
Drew was one of those gifted men who seemed predestined for success. Certainly he was blessed with good looks, and though younger than I, more successful professionally than my lack of ambition would ever permit. And he was positively, gloriously straight, not to mention happily married. In fact, Drew seemed more effortlessly heterosexual than I had ever managed to mime in forty-odd years of concentrated effort. For three of those years, I had observed Drew’s manly perfection across the dilapidated fence that separated my weedy backyard from his manicured, private Eden—all while experiencing the gradual failure of my marriage.
In short, I began my 48th year a bit of a mess, a man lacking in the assets that seemed to matter most in my new out-of-the-closet environment. That is because, to borrow from Ms. Austen, “it is a truth universally acknowledged,” or so it appeared to me at the time, that quite a few gay men were in search of the B-Y-B; be it the quest for a casual hookup or a life partner, Beauty, Youth, and (financial) Bounty seemed the prevailing currencies—which meant that I was pretty much broke. Barring a winning lottery ticket and/or the beneficence of a whiz-bang plastic surgeon, I couldn’t hope that my paltry “charms and allurements” would count for much in the market place.
Yet as gloomy as that sounds, I can truthfully say that even in the darkest days of that Rocky Mountain season, I remember knowing—a word I don’t use lightly here—that I would not remain solo, that despite a late start at more truthful living, I was bound to be partnered, meant to share my life, and that I would—absolutely would—find a good man.
To that end, I applied myself with perhaps more ambition and determination than at any time previous or since. It was difficult work. But I exerted myself. I moved into temporary housing in another part of town and entered therapy. An empathetic psychologist provided a short-term prescription for Prozac that helped to flatten my highs and lows (of which there were many). With his encouragement, I made some changes: I cut off my passé Robert Plant-esque locks and upped the ante at the gym toward adding some little substance to my scrawny frame. On the professional front, a C.U. colleague and I broke tentative new ground by collaborating on the design and instruction of a writing course entitled “Representations of Gays in the Media” that quickly filled to waitlist status. Volunteer work at the Boulder County AIDS Project provided a more thorough awareness of the issues facing the gay community and offered the unexpected benefit of new friends.
And, risking the market place, I went looking for love.
With that goal in mind, I joined a local gay men’s social group—Mature Gay Men (MGM)—that held monthly potlucks in various locations around Boulder County. It was a decision that, on a spring afternoon, led to one of happiest events of my 48th year. All these years later, I still recall the magic of the day.
It was mild enough that May for outdoor gatherings even in the foothills of Boulder County where a late spring snow is not all that uncommon. On the afternoon in question, the potluck was held at a private home that boasted a lovely Japanese garden. Rick, the man who would shortly become my first long-term lover, accompanied me. A total sweetheart, he was the kind of guy who made it his business to facilitate a newbie’s entrance into the strange new world of out-and-proud gay men. To wit, as we eased our way through the crowd toward the reception table that afternoon, he devoted himself to making introductions—so many introductions that by the time we approached the table, my head was spinning with a bewildering array of new names and faces. Perhaps you can imagine, then, the degree of shock, and, yes, confusion that flooded my senses when the handsome man at the table turning to greet me presented a familiar face.
As you’ve probably guessed, it was Drew. And, no, I’m not making this up. It really happened. There he was in the flesh, my idol and my nemesis, only recently divorced himself it turned out, yet already in possession of a beautiful, young boyfriend (B-Y-B scoffers, I rest my case!). But the biggest eye-opener of the encounter was that Drew seemed every bit as surprised as I.
I don’t remember the substance of our conversation that afternoon, the things we said to each other, what expressions of astonishment we might have exchanged. But I do remember our matching ear-to-ear grins, Drew’s and mine—as if we’d both received an unexpected, totally awesome gift. And I remember feeling that something tremendously heartening had happened; something that seemed to bridge the gap between the rest of the world and me. A sense of community, I think it was. And happiness at the wonder of being alive and connected in ways previously unimagined.
In the months that followed, I clung to the memory of the rapport I’d felt that May afternoon—held on to it for dear life as I made a fledgling start at coupledom with Rick. I was still 48 when we took an apartment together, bought furniture, gave and attended parties, played hosts to my children when they visited. And though our union didn’t last, it was nevertheless lovely and sad, encouraging and disappointing in the way that most relationships are bound to be. And oh-so worth it. Because it strengthened my confidence, my resolve.
Our time together, Rick’s and mine, proved that I could—even at all of 48—start anew; that I could forge a meaningful relationship, give and receive love, and do so in a manner that was appropriately fulfilling. And, as much as that is ever possible with us human beings, truthful.