What a difference a kiss makes. It took our first night together to another galaxy. The passion between us and the testosterone level was nearly palpable, as the years of pent-up everything had been released by us both. That tiny room had been filled with the collective sexual energy of a group orgy that was produced by only we two. We lay together until the sun came up, nestled into each other in a perfect fit, amazed by what we had found in the darkness of the night before. Without saying a word, we sensed that we had begun something that would take our lives on a totally new course. In a heartbeat we had become a couple.
From this point on we woke up either in my room or his, or possibly on the floor of someone’s apartment, had we crashed after a night of serious post-rehearsal partying. Guy hadn’t been a smoker before we met, but let’s just say that Tareytons were not the only smoke I introduced him to. We were rehearsing nightly and continued having weekend afternoon rehearsals on Saturdays or Sundays. We ate most meals together at the diner, the site of our first date, or the Student Union. I cannot remember ever cooking a meal in my apartment kitchen for him. About the only time we spent apart was for our classes in the day and if I could be with him, I often cut class to do just that. We were mutually consumed with each other, but not to the point of smothering. It was simply that we were absolutely nuts about one another and enjoyed laughing our way through university life together. It had always been enjoyable for me, but now, with the addition of Guy, it was heaven, because I wasn’t alone and had someone to care about and who truly cared for me. I loved to make him laugh and I believe I fine-tuned my sense of humor of today, by being my silly self for him all those years ago.
The play was coming together really well, after a lot of hard work on all our parts. We knew it was going to be BIG and it was also getting a lot more interest and publicity than a typical production because of the gay subject matter. So aside from being in this nearly constant state of ecstasy, I was enjoying a huge theatre high too. The entire cast had really bonded, so we also had a great group of friends to socialize with. Life was near perfect. I did worry, in a tiny dark place in the back of my mind, what might happen when the play was over. Would this all go away when the set was struck and the costumes were put into storage? Was this relationship just another part of the make-believe that comes with theatre? Every time that thought snuck out, I would push it further back, because I felt so confident that what we were enjoying was so much more than just a game of pretend.
And I was right; it wasn’t make-believe at all. Once the run of the play was finished and we came down from our hour in the spotlight together, we had so much more time to ourselves. We went back to being more vigilant about classes and schoolwork. I had papers to write and he had artwork to turn out. We enjoyed quality time together doing couples things: seeing movies, shopping, spending more time with our friends in the theatre department and meeting each other’s friends from our pasts back home. We even regularly visited his mom, a stunningly beautiful woman who adored her “baby” and luckily for me, anyone important to him. I wasn’t quite ready to bring him home to meet the folks, although my mother had come to see the play and spent time with the two of us afterwards. Without ever saying a word to either of us, both ladies were perceptive enough (and knew their children perhaps better than we knew our own morphing selves at the time) to read what was obviously going on between the two of us. For the first time in my life, I really wasn’t concerned what ANYBODY thought about me. I was so goddamn fulfilled.
There was a small town near the University called Hartville that had a flea market (every Monday I believe) and most weeks we would go religiously and dig through the tables of junk. Every once-in-a-while I found a piece of vintage clothing that I’d buy for him, like a shirt or a vest and he would buy a chotchke (knick knack) for me. On one visit I fell in love with a little framed miniature print that he secretly purchased then gave me for some silly anniversary, like three months together or some such nonsense. I treasured that tiny thing as if it were an original Degas.
He needed a portfolio of pictures for a painting class final grade that he had fallen behind on, so he was putting in late hours at the studio to finish. I would go and read while he worked. He decided the last piece was going to be a large nude of me. Of course I was thrilled. It was the ultimate in romantic-posing nude for your lover, to be forever captured in oils, seeing his fiery passion for me displayed on canvas. We would go to the studio at night, but there were still always lots of wonderfully weird characters around, working to finish end of the semester projects themselves. Guy wouldn’t let me see the painting’s progress because, he kept telling me, he didn’t want me to anticipate the outcome. “This was not going to be a traditional portrait” almost became his mantra. I had no idea what to expect. I only hoped he would capture his feelings for me visually. The student in the space next to Guy was a friendly kid. He always had a radio playing and I remember hearing Elton John’s YOUR SONG several times during the course of each evening. It was a huge hit that year. It always seemed to me, one of the songs in the soundtrack of my life, mirroring my feelings at the time as though I had written it myself. Little did any of us know that Elton was gay. I guess he may not even have known himself in those days. It’s ironic that this song was performed by a now gay icon. In those days, the only gay icons that I knew about were Oscar Wilde, or Alexander the Great. There were no contemporary icons, because they were hiding safely in the closet with the rest of the gay world.
So the painting neared completion and Guy decided I could finally get my first glimpse. It’s difficult to imagine what I thought it would look like, but what I hoped I would see was nothing like what I saw, as I made my way around the back of the canvas. Instead of my near-black, thick, curly mop of hair, I was completely bald with multi-colored wires connected to a box in the upper right corner of the painting. Granted, my profile was spot on, as was my upper torso and thighs, but my legs from the knees down ended at the canvas bottom. And shockingly, my penis was attached to my thigh, it’s beautifully formed head melted somewhere inside. So much for capturing his feelings for me-at least that’s what I hoped as I tried taking it all in, mouth gaping in disbelief. “You hate it. I knew you would”, he said breaking the silence which rarely existed between the two of us. And for maybe the first time ever in my life, I had nothing to say. But I got over it. He had no idea why he painted it the way he did, he admitted, other than hopefully appearing to be somehow provocative. And P.S. his professor hated it even more than I did.
Late in spring Guy auditioned for an original musical our mutual friend Dennis was directing and choreographing. Guy got to take his tap shoes out of mothballs and tippy-tap his little heart out. He even had a tap solo in one of the big musical numbers. I had committed to doing costumes for the show and so we were back being a theatre couple again. It was fun, but quite different, since I was out of the direct loop in the rehearsal process, and he had no talent and little interest in costuming. But we both thought a bit of a break from the 24/7 would be fine for us. And it was, until this boy named Michael (aren’t they always somehow named Michael?) rode in on his cute little Honda motorcycle from God-knows-where. He was new to the theatre department and was doing another show at the same time as ours. I seem to remember meeting him at a party after rehearsals just before opening. Evidently he and Guy noticed each other more than I realized. I remember him riding on the back of Michael’s cycle one beautiful late spring afternoon to my apartment to pick up a shirt or sweater or something because they were going for a ride. I can still hear the sound of the bike leaving the parking lot with the two of them on it, still feel my heart sinking in my chest, stomach churning and the tears rolling down my cheeks. I knew in an instant, in that same heartbeat in which it all had begun, that this was the beginning of the end.
It only got a little bit ugly. We both cared and respected each other enough not to ruin all the beautiful goodness that we’d enjoyed. Was I so naive to have ever thought it would last forever? Probably, yes. How could you ever enter into a relationship anticipating its expiration date? But a summer’s worth of tears and the loneliness of being away from my University life and back in my parents’ home working my summer job, finally began to ease my broken heart. That, and the knowledge that he and Michael only lasted as long as that summer did. When I came back to school the following fall, I saw him for the first time in almost three months. It was in the lobby of the theatre building which had been our second home for the entire school year before-our year of loving. This meeting was something I had been dreading, but it was as inevitable as the seasons’ change. He asked if we could go for a coffee. I think we must have gone to the Student Union; I wouldn’t have been able to bear a return to the scene of the crime that was our first date. At one point in our sombre reunion, he took both my hands in his, and told me he didn’t expect to ever find someone who’d care about him as much as he knew I had. It was a lovely compliment, and a truly tender moment, but it didn’t replace the gaping hole I still felt inside where something huge was missing. It was the place I’d made for him. What I didn’t know then was that it would be many years before I’d ever feel for anyone like I had for my Guy. We got along fine my last year in school, but we had become two very different people living totally separate lives. He didn’t even look the same to me anymore.
I moved to New York City the following year. He went south the year after to New Orleans, I believe, and got a fantastic, very creative job. I heard through mutual friends how he was doing, and maybe five years later, literally ran into him crossing an Avenue in mid-town Manhattan. We hugged like crazy. He was in town on a business trip and we arranged to meet for drinks one night. It was a very grown up moment, and we enjoyed a wonderful long catch-up chat. I don’t believe either of us even had steady boyfriends at the time. We exchanged phone numbers and addresses before saying goodbye, but time and distance and the years apart just got in our way and we never met or even spoke again. It was in the early 90s, long after I left the city and moved to New England, that I got the news he died-another victim of the plague. Like all the names in The Quilt, it was so sad, but even sadder for me because of what it once had been.
After leaving University I’ve led a sort of gypsy life, moving from Ohio to NYC (in four different apartments) to Atlanta for nine months then back to NYC (in another four apartments) then finally to Massachusetts (in three apartments and one house). In all that gypsying about I’ve packed and unpacked, accumulated tons of crap and lost or threw out even more than a small town’s landfill could hold, but I have always managed to keep that little framed miniature print.