When I was five years old, I couldn’t wait to be in double digits so I could reap the same benefits as my older brother. He got a twenty-five-cent a week allowance. I wanted in on the cash too. I had my own needs. Once I arrived at ten, I only wanted to be sixteen. Not so I could get a learner’s permit, but so I could smoke cigarettes. My parents decided to allow my brother to smoke when he turned sixteen. He’d been smoking down by the railroad tracks since thirteen. If it applied to him, family law deemed it would hold for me too.
At ten I didn’t want to smoke to be like my older brother. I never wanted to be anything like him. Smoking was cool because there was this young couple down the street, unlike any people in our neighborhood. They were in their late twenties and their names were Ray and Jeanne. He didn’t work in a factory like 99% of the men on our block. Ray worked in an office. He wore suits and ties everyday. On Sundays he didn’t wear a suit like the other 99% did because Ray and Jeanne didn’t go to any church.
They owned a dark green MG convertible. It was the first and only foreign car I knew until high school. Jeanne drove the car too. Not many ladies on our street knew how to drive. Why should they? They all had husbands to drive them if they needed to leave the house. Jeanne was pregnant and didn’t go to work. Sitting on a small screened in patio, she would wait for Ray to come home each night. Once he arrived she would go inside and fix drinks. I would visit with this young couple after school which is how I knew the routine. Jeanne would often ‘fix me a coke’ in a glass glass which I would sip like they sipped their cocktails. I would watch them sip and smoke their filtered cigarettes. How cool these two were. They were just like real Americans on TV.
My parents didn’t smoke cigarettes. They were too busy being ethnic and second generation. I was in third grade before I learned that I was American and not a Slovenian. What a shock. They had drummed into my head since conception, that I was 100% Slovenian-on both sides. All four grandparents came here from the old country. It was their mantra. Once I understood the difference between nationality and heritage, I yearned to be a WASP. I began to identify with pilgrim hats and collars and buckled shoes. I never asked them before they moved away, (once Ray and Jeanne had their baby), but I was certain their ancestors had all come over on the Mayflower.
After reaching sixteen all I looked forward to was leaving home/leaving town. I despised them both with all my being. To accomplish this I would go away to college. I chose Kent State, too far to commute from home. While there, enjoying some independence for the first time, I turned twenty-one. Yet another age-milestone was achieved. I was now an adult responsible for myself. My first major adult decision: move to New York City to become an actor. This manuever provided my total freedom.
In my early twenties I played extremely hard. I drank moderately, smoked weed nearly daily and practiced homosexuality clumsily. By my late twenties I still drank moderately, still smoked weed but had graduated to hedonism. I dated as though it were a full-time occupation. In between boyfriends I found time to experiment in all the sex venues Manhattan had to offer in the 1970s. It was exhilarating, beyond fun, at times frightening and often exhausting. It was also dangerous on many levels. Those of us sharing in this wild ride had no idea of the possible consequences our sexual abandon might bring.
Entering my thirties I was already coupled with my partner Alejandro. We’d set up housekeeping together. My third decade was spent discovering the bigger world. We traveled European capitals and Caribbean beaches. New York City became my jumping-off point. I learned to taste and cook new cuisines. It’s hard to imagine living in a world without Indian food, couscous and guacamole. During this period I changed jobs and careers like fashion changes seasons. I learned much about the man I am by sharing my life with another man. Nearly three years of psychotherapy was a productive source of self realization too.
As a kid, our insurance man always gave us one of those America the Beautiful Calendars every year. You know, the pretty picture ones with the cheesy shots of the Grand Canyon and Painted Desert. It hung in our basement rec room. The only month I was drawn to in each year’s edition was either September or October. It was orange and gold leaves strewn across some quaint New England town common. This is exactly the place where I turned forty, in Alejandro’s eight room Victorian on the common. I opened a toy shop in the front of the house and played store. It was great having my own business, but even better when it closed. Working for someone else is wonderful because they have to pay you every week, whether it was a good week or not.
From this same calendar page locale I finally graduated from college with a BA and began work on my master’s. Barely into my forties, a relationship of nearly thirteen years came to a halting end. I found myself starting over again in a studio in an old apartment building in a city in central Massachusetts. It was not easy being newly middle-aged and living what is typically a young person’s life. I made only a few stupid choices. I managed to enjoy some quality alone time in the process.
I feathered a nest, purchasing a tiny bungalow to call my own. David found me by the time I’d worked out most of the kinks in the house and my psyche. We had our commitment ceremony after six years together. A year later the Commonwealth of Massachusetts made it possible to marry so we did that too. For the life of me I cannot remember what year we first exchanged our gold bands on the beach in Ogunquit, Maine. They are the same rings we used for the succeeding ceremonies. We each buried our surviving parent in the same year, 1999, sharing official orphandom together. Our losses brought us closer.
Now I have reached ‘the sixth floor’, as a colleague of mine refers to it. Being sixty-something begs the weary question: “would you ever want to go back to some specific age?”. Five would be great, just for the naps. Wouldn’t it be incredible if your boss demanded you lie down for an hour each afternoon, then had a yummy snack ready when you woke up? I would not want to be twenty-anything again. Even the great times were painful on some level. My thirties were the most exciting. You’re old enough to appreciate everything that comes your way; you’re wise enough to cull friendships to discern which are worth keeping. The forties were final exams. You are tested on what you’ve learned so far and if you’re ready to go on to final jeopardy. And the fifties prepare you to let go of things and to practice saying goodbye.
Without having gone through the sixties, (as opposed to the 60s which I have gone through-decades ago), I’ve no idea what to anticipate. I can only assume it will be a slightly diminished version, a mish-mash conglomeration of the last few decades. Whatever time comes after, I look forward to as many episodes as I can grab ahold of.
* * *The picture is from my photo portfolio taken in NYC by IanAnderson. I always said it would be on the dust jacket of my first book. Of course I would’ve had to have been published by age twenty-six for the picture to be relevant.