Apologies for the late posting. I am sick and woke up later than normal.
Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball
I am the oldest of three. Though we since have put aside our differences, one of my sisters and I had a strained, turbulent relationship for a long time. Shortly after I graduated from college, she temporarily moved back into my parent’s house. I’d been back myself for a few months, after my latest week long stint in the hospital. It had been a long time since we’d both lived in the same house.
We fought constantly. My sister had become a militant vegan. Should I dare to cook bacon, I received a lecture about the disgusting smell of bacon wafting through the house. Though it took a while, she eventually reversed course and resumed eating meat. But that took years and a relocation to Portland, Oregon.
My recent admission of bisexuality had not been received well, either. I will always remember the look on my father’s face as he descended the stairs down to the basement apartment.
One of you is going to have to go. It will be either you or her.
Tensions had grown severe enough that I decided to make the decision to leave. My father implied heavily through our brief conversation that I was the one who probably needed to take off for somewhere else. I might have been more upset, but I’d experienced one crisis situation after another. The brain can only absorb trauma to a degree, then, in my case, it goes numb as a means of coping. Given a week and only a week to leave the house, I began to make plans to move elsewhere.
In therapy, close to ten years afterwards, my psychologist tried to impress upon me the folly and intolerance of my parents’ decision. I see her point, but I can’t hold any further anger in my heart for them. Trying to stay understanding, even if it isn’t deserved, I recognized that while I’d had years to adjust to my sexual orientation, they’d only had a few days. I wasn’t sure how long this separation was going to last, but I hoped the maelstrom would eventually blow over.
My father chose friends who were much older than he. These friends doubled as mentors. Dad was forever seeking wisdom and companionship, in that order. One of these men attended a conservative Christian church. One of his sons was openly gay. After the son came out, the two were no longer on speaking terms. With gritted teeth, I imagine, father and son struck a deal. The son was not allowed to live anywhere near his father if he insisted upon having a partner and living a gay lifestyle.
Dad had assisted his friend through the upheaval. His sympathies lay with the father, his friend, of course. My own father brought up this story when we discussed his feelings, shortly before my departure. Dad used the word “queer” as a pejorative, a term of high insult. It is for this reason that I’ve always found it a little difficult to use the phrase as a catch-all for everything that is not heterosexual.
I hear it used mostly by LGBTs in self-referential parlance. Heterosexual allies and the outside world may still hear it as an epithet, or at least an odd choice of words. I use it where I know I will be understood and do not use it when it can be taken wrongly.
My only real option was to turn to my church family. Following the Sunday service, I made very uncomfortable inquiries. Person to person, I asked the congregation if someone would be willing to take me in for a little while. A long time member, looking quite reluctant about the whole situation, informed me I could stay with her for a little while. This was in June. I intended to enroll and start grad school the following August.
Following that, I intended to live in a dorm on campus. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but it was cheaper than getting an apartment. Utilities were included and I'd always be surrounded by others, not left alone to brood by myself. Maybe I’d find a roommate eventually. I honestly wasn't making long-range plans at this state. Instead, I was trying to get through the day.
For now, I had a two month gap of utter nothingness facing me. Most of my friends departed for other parts of the country after undergrad, meaning I would pass the time mostly in isolation. Being alone was the last thing I needed, but it was the only thing I had. In place of interpersonal contact, I substituted whatever distractions I could manage.
The elderly woman with whom I now lived and I clashed and fought daily. Out of the frying pan, into the fire. She had gotten used to living alone and having her own space. Her husband had passed away a long time beforehand. She fancied herself something of an energetic activist and the newspaper columns written up about her selfless gestures showed her to be a saint. She was nice when it benefited her personally, but her patience for me did not fall under that category.
I left dishes to soak overnight and received an admonishment for not cleaning them immediately. Her words were condescending and superior, as though she knew absolutely everything. Our conflict was mostly a series of smaller incidents conjoined together over time. I never cut the lawn in accordance with her exacting standards, nor did I weed her substantial vegetable garden out front to her wishes. I was treated like the hired help, and although I more or less was, she had didn't much care to get to know me or see my perspective.
I knew, thankfully, that she would soon be leaving on yet another world trip. Once she’d departed, the house would be mine for a month solid. Not knowing what to do, and grieving substantially the loss, I recognized I'd have no connection to the outside world. I took daily trips to the library to check e-mail, but that was the extent of it. Nor did I have a cell phone. I was almost completely cut off from others, choosing to live a monastic existence for as long as I could stand it. Quite unlike a monk, I passed the time in a constant, chemically altered state.
In the basement, I discovered a case of champagne and a couple bottles of wine. It was impossible to determine age and quality. As I tried to remove the stopper, the cork of each bottle disintegrated into gritty fragments. I had to strain out all the bits to be able to drink even a single sip. In some ways, it was a metaphor for the house itself and everything I found within it.
The backyard was a wild, untamed wilderness. It was little more than a ravine. I’d descend into it two or three times to smoke pot. The likelihood of being discovered there was not especially high. Though marijuana always made me feel paranoid, my fears were assuaged by the spot I’d chosen. After finishing up, feeling sufficiently fuzzy-headed and confused, I made my way through the art studio on the lowest level.
I learned the hard way not to walk downstairs without shoes. An artist, she’d been working on a mosaic project that involved small bits of colored glass. They were scattered over the linoleum floor and cut the side of one heel. The disorganized nature of the room was a contrast to the rest of the house, which she kept meticulously neat. Or, should I say, I kept it meticulously neat as a condition for my residence.
She’d built a cult of personality around herself. It mainly included middle aged women who liked to take discount art classes. Because I was almost consistently present, I listened to their pleas and let them into the studio. Even in the absence of their teacher, they wanted to work on their private masterpieces. I doubt the woman was charging them much for the experience and the tutelage.
For a time, they brought me meals, aware of the reason why I was now living there. I appreciated the gesture, but I would have appreciated even more the warm presence of a friend. Those around me, usually present for only a few minutes at a time, couldn’t even begin to understand the breadth of my suffering. Perhaps they didn’t know what to do, but during that time I have never felt more alone than in the whole of my life.