Learning To Love You More




Assignment #14
Write your life story in less than a day.

Seattle, Washington USA



It seems that night after night, after too much wine or whiskey has been drank, I have told my life story a million times. The once illustrious high school music career, the kidnapping, the boys, the boys, the boys. Those are the big ones though. The small details often escape me. Or I hold those small memories very dear to me and visit them from time to time. My life is more interesting in retrospect than I could really understand while I was living it. So here's my life, my abridged memoir.
My first memory is my eyes fluttering open and I am lying across my mother's chest in bed. The brown safari print sheets (that I still have) are on the bed and the light is yellowish 40 watt. "Are you excited to move to tomorrow?" she asked me. I believe I was four then. My family at this time consisted of my mother, father, older brother, and myself. About five years ago, my mom told me that while she was eight months pregnant with me, my father had been in a near fatal motorcycle accident that put him in a coma for three weeks. He had to have his skulled drilled to release fluid on the brain. While my mom was preparing for my birth, she was suddenly preparing for what seemed like my fathers inevitable death. However, he did survive. Unfortunately he woke up a man who was physically 23, who mentally believed he was 13. And as a thirteen year old who had the life of a 23-year-old man he had to start re-learning everything-including his relationship with my mother and my brother. When I was born I was viewed as a gift-the tie that banded the family and made it whole--propelled it to survive in spite of this tragedy.
We lived in a two- story home on the North East side of Milwaukee. I had toy soldiers on my wallpaper. We had a dog named Tailspin-and life seemed fairly together for two parents in their mid-twenties. We got gifts on days that weren't Christmas or Birthdays. One day I got a Strawberry Shortcake doll and my brother got a Pac Man console. I started Kindergarten where I was called a girl more often than not.
The next year we moved again, and the year after that too. My dad began drinking heavily. He took this anger out on my mother and my brother-which just left me somewhere in the middle-protected-because I was still viewed as the one the thing that could possibly keep my quickly deteriorating family together. Eventually the plant that my father worked at closed and he lost his job.
We couldn't afford Milwaukee and had to move to our trailer in Western Wisconsin. The trailer was a long white aluminum can with brown shutters, positioned on 5 acres of somewhat pristine land. Another family lived in a green trailer much smaller than ours at the front of the lot. I entered the 2nd grade at Castle Rock. I had to take a school bus. We lived in the sticks now, which was a shock even to me at that young age. I don't know what my parents were doing for a living at this point. It was always dark in the trailer, which mirrored the feeling of that time quite well. I remember getting eggs for dinner and crying. My dad, drunk by dinner again, yelled at me and refused to let me leave the table. When I still refused, the eggs were placed in the refrigerator for me to eat tomorrow. My mother threw them away eventually. My brother stopped talking. My mom had bruises and I was so confused as to why we were living and camping at the same time.
Then one night my mom shook me from sleep. She said we were going to shine for deer (this is when you drive past fields at night with a spotlight because deer are apparently nocturnal and easier to find at night.) I did as she said and we quickly walked outside to my mom's white Datsun. My brother was in the front seat and the entire back seat was filled with boxes. 'Why do we need boxes to shine for deer?' I asked. My mother frantically shooshed me and wedged me into the back seat. She tiptoed back across the lawn to close the trailer door then started running back to the car. My brother started the car. In a hurried rush my mom was in the driver seat and the little Datsun jumped backwards, flying quickly into reverse. And in the headlights appeared my father running after the car in his white underwear. And then there was nothing. Just the empty road ahead as we drove quickly in silence.
We drove for about two hours until my mom turned the car into a parking lot where a big blue van, complete with an airbrushed night scene on the side, sat in darkness. We pulled up next to it-my mom giving my brother and I an exhausted yet pleased smile as she parked. Out of the van came a big man with a beard and a leather vest. He was like a young Santa in a rebel phase. 'This is Mark.' My mom said. My brother and I stayed silent. We unpacked the Datsun and put everything in the back of the van. I remember getting in the back of the van thinking it was so cool that there was a bed in back-the kinky undertones lost on me. Then we pulled out once again-this time bigger headlights shining in the night. I fell asleep. When I woke up I was at my Grandma's house, back in Milwaukee, which made me very happy.
The years after this are hard to distinguish. My Mom and Mark got married in a big time Catholic affair a year later when I was in the third grade. The colors were dolphin gray and dusty rose. My mom wore a big Southern Belle style wedding dress. I requested "Like a Virgin" at the wedding. My mom got pregnant and had my sister. Christmas' were spent at my stepfamilies house, not my grandmothers anymore. I remember feeling I was too young to start over. This new world, while nicer then the pain we endured before, was cold, reserved. My brother and I feared my step dad not because he was a violent man-we feared what was happening to our family. Whereas before it felt like our family was slipping away, now it felt like it was being taken from us. After my sister was born we moved to Onalaska in Western Wisconsin. I enrolled in fourth grade at Irving Perch.
There was a giant cement perch on the playground. My teacher was Ms. Ellifison who would call conferences with my parents periodically to express her displeasure with my overly feminine behaviors. My parents took my youthful gayness in stride-they could see something other than flighty, sometimes snooty way I would carry myself. Now I was getting in trouble for it. They shaved my head that next summer...and, no, it did not help.
We then moved into a small two-bedroom home in the neighboring town, La Crosse, WI, which is pretty little town on the banks of the Mississippi, home to THE WORLDS LARGEST SIX PACK. What it lacked in class it picked up for in charm. My parents still live in this tiny little house and it amazes me that 5 people used to live there. As the years went on it was just nice to not move. For the first time in my life we stayed at a house for more than a year.
It was here that I started establishing a connective history. I met a girl named Erica-who was this chubby button faced girl that always wore ESPIRIT. One time I went to her house and she played me The Doors and Janis Joplin. The wheels started turning. I also met Kristen who was a high-strung red head that lacked shame, humility, and sometimes class. So many people stick out from my 5th grade class because I grew up with all of them until we were 18. Kristen and Erica are still friends of mine. I didn't realize it then, but I was going to get that solid life that I wanted when we kept moving. Back in Milwaukee I was always so jealous of the bitchy girls who bragged about being friends since kindergarten.
Middle school started and everything went to shit as it tend to do at that age. I started going through puberty. My parents wouldn't let me sleep at boy's houses. I fell in with a bad crowd briefly in 7th grade-but I could never commit to being a problem child. My brother was doing a fine job of that.
It was during this time that I started claiming my friends as my family-even adopting numerous friends' parents so I could avoid home. My brother was losing it. He and my step dad fought constantly. He was thrown out numerous times. One night when he had just turned 18, he came home drunk to find all his things on the front lawn. He moved to Boston then-we quickly began to lose touch. My sister was just awful. Spoiled and enshrined. Where I was an emotional beacon for my old family-my sister was simply a symbol of this new middle class family structure my parents so desperately wanted. Cars we couldn't afford. Boats we couldn't afford. When my sister was too big to sleep in my parents room, me and my brother got moved to the basement to a ramshackle "bedroom' my step dad made-complete with a concrete floor and one heating vent that came from the ceiling. I had a hand-me-down waterbed that looked like the backseat of a Cadillac. I had to do all these bullshit chores like mowing the lawn and when winter would roll around I would have to get up at 5 am to shovel not only our walkway and drive but all the neighbors as well. I was a pimped out chore boy on our street. My parents figured my brother was a lost cause so dammit I was going to be the son they didn't have. Life was a series of these events all through middle school. But even through all the mundane growing pains and the stifling midwestern background, I did start honing a craft, an escape. I started doing plays and then made the show choir in 8th grade. Freshman year was yet another propulsion. I've always hated people that hang so dearly to the idea of high school and how it brackets change. But it does.
Freshman year was like going to the big city. Everyone was tall and beautiful and immensely talented. There were different tables, subcultures. My high school only had 1600 students but the lines were fiercely drawn and separation was blunt
I excelled at music and theatre at my school, which really was an unofficial arts school. I starred in everything and sang everything. Even when it was all me me me, it never was. My family, lost in their own quests to achieve greater things, didn't understand that greatness in you children is something that is admirable as well. While I know they were proud of me-they never supported me. When I won a singing competition and received a standing ovation by two thousand people my parents weren't there. When I told them, they thought it was nice. But while this is an explanation of my very public personae at that age-my private life was going through its own frightening accomplishments. So I can't get down on my parents too much if they didn't shower me with praise like other people's parents did.
There was a dull roar amongst the students, then teacher, then parents, that there was an openly gay student at the other high school. His name was Wells. He was 14, the same age as me. Every time people talked about this boy my heart would skitter-in excitement of meeting and also in fear that he would draw attention to us who weren't out. There was a group of MIT hopefuls at my school that were friends with him. Even then the things I would do for a boy, because I quickly initiated myself into their clique with the hopes that they would bring me closer to meeting this boy. I never really had a clique I belonged to-but it was certainly odd that I was hanging out with the physics kids. Katherine Burtoska was a 6 foot blond with a man chin and loud guffaw. Darly had a long greasy ponytail. I had nothing in common with these kids. They were weird to me. They listened to Tori Amos and Siouxie. They read Bronte for pleasure. I hung out with them for a month before even a glimmer of this Wells character was mentioned socially. But the whole time we were friends I was collecting bits of information that would bring me closer to my goal. Yes, it was a small town-but two different high schools can feel worlds away.
There was a coffee shop downtown, Jules. The only coffee shop. Coffee was three dollars. The floors were brown and black tile. The booths were high backed wood with green marble tabletops. The prerequisite dusty velvet couch was in the corner. I decipher through this groups excitable faced paced chatter that this was their headquarters. Wells was rumored to spend a lot of time there. I started going at 7pm every night. My parents thought I fancied myself bohemian-which I totally did. I started on Mocha's then went to black. I pretended to do homework-while every time the doorbell would jingle I would look up. One time it jingled and I knew.
Wells was, and is one ,of the most beautiful people to look at. He walked in wearing a brown tunic, bellbottom jeans and a tattered leather bag. His hair was greasy dirty blond that curled towards the shoulder, and his Cheshire face would poke through. I'm sure I was wearing a sweater vest and a pair of County Seat jeans. I felt overpowered immediately. He walked in and we both just knew-we had heard about each other and now finally this was the time. He did his best Mick Jagger over to my table and said "Well, Hello Bradford."
Our first date was a spaghetti party at Katherine's. I could barely talk and Wells couldn't shut up. She might as well have called it a "come ogle the blossoming homosexuals party" because that's all anyone there was concerned with. It was unseasonably warm night in March so we all took a walk after dinner. Wells and I let the others walk ahead. I just kept smiling awkwardly while Wells' smile was a bit on the sly side. I could feel this giant surge in me that something great and life changing was going to happen. Years of desire for boys were about to become reality. In a life where my emotions were constantly being dictated by people or circumstances out of my control, this was the first time I was getting to make a choice that concerned my happiness or sadness.
As we walked Wells took a red plastic comb out of his pocket. 'Can I comb your hair?' This request did nothing to quell my anxiety. He kept bringing the comb up to my hair and I kept jerking back. Suddenly I doubted my sexuality and this plastic comb was going to 'give me gay' if I let him touch my head with it.
We reached a tiny park on the edge at the end of Hass street. I wanted to run. I was only a few blocks from home. Suddenly it all became too much. I was going to make this decision and knew inside me that I could never change this one. And all the while Wells was just staring so intensely at me-twirling my hair, playing with the buttons on my coat. And when we did kiss my entire world exploded and collapsed.
For about six months we tried to behave like a normal couple, how any couple would act if their relationship had to be secret. Soon the jock contingent started talking while their girlfriends stuck up for us. Wells would have to call me from his bathroom because it was the room in the house that his mom couldn't put her ear against to listen. Wells on the other hand would engage my mom in conversation, which she said made her uncomfortable. "He seems weird." So eventually it got too much and we broke each other's young gay hearts. But it was official, stamped and inspected-I was gay.
Being gay was never a big deal to me growing up. I still have never come out to my parents. My sexuality was one of those facts that was never in contention. No one fucked with me, except the gay kids. They had this little group that Wells had started called GALAXY. They used to plaster my locker with their fliers for barn dances at the lesbian bed in breakfast outside of town. GALAXY wanted to see me suffer for my sexuality in the same way that many of their members had. They were mean little queers.
In my sophmore year I fell into a hippie phase. We used to steal pot from my friend leslies dads' underwear drawer, where we would also find little pieces of paper with phone numbers given to him by woman with names like "Tonya." "Leslie" actually was one of them too. I did well on the ACT's because I didn't care. I spoke at graduation. And then it was done.
I was supposed to go to a conservatory for acting in Chicago but didn't get in. Because my Grandma was sick, my mom wanted me to stay close. So I chose to attend the University Of Minnesota, which was just like my high school if the enrollment was 80,000. Right before I moved my Grandma died and her funeral was on my 18th birthday. I got to be a pallbearer. That birthday was not so great. I remember my mom and my aunt splitting a bottle of White Zinfandel and talking about the past. I had had two beers and was cut off promptly. When I drink I my gay gets cranked up a few notches, which is not lost on my mother. The family had enough stress with out me getting deep into a 6-beer flamer fest.
I hated college and I still do. I know this has to do with my choice of schools, but any attempt to make it better failed miserably. I majored in theatre. Then quickly found my self disenchanted with the whole thing. The fact that I couldn't quote" The Rocky Horror Picture Show" verbatim, ensured that I was never going to fit in with these people. They were outsiders, but in the most uninspired and outsider conformist way. I was also burnt out on theatre and hard a time being a little fish in a big jazz hand filled pond. I suddenly understood how those kids on "Different Strokes" felt. And I am almost certain the meth dealing boyfriend I had played a significant part.
Minneapolis was and still is amazing to me. I lived in the dorms, which really was a nice transition from home life to the real world. Dorms are crazy .The entire cliché of college life was actually real and I often stood opened mouth watching the fantastic predictability of it all.
From the age of 20 until now, which is 27, I find that the events get jumbled and overwhelming-there's certain confusion because so many events leading to today are still resonating, making it difficult to sum them up quickly or in snappy way. Do I talk about Tyler, who is my dear soul mate, the one who put a Dennis Cooper novel in my hand and Kim Gordon's voice in my ear and changed my life forever? That would take an entire week and deserves its own special moment. Do I try to delve into the damage that moving to Seattle two years ago has caused me? I mean, how could I considering I am struggling everyday to understand the how and why I moved from Minneapolis to this cold unfamiliar place. The fact that I have managed to salvage enough of my soul to be able to not only live today, but continue to create and not let the yawning mouth of empty hipster culture and bad break ups swallow me. So that does bring us to today, up to the minute, which is 4:30 am.
I started to write this piece about my life today and am exhausted. My brain hurts but my soul is super charged. I have never thought of myself and only myself for an extended period. I started writing at around 10 30 this morning-I have been in my room, to the coffee shop and back to my room, which smells like an overripe ashtray. I had the day off from bartending and woke up earlier than normal because I had drank heavily last night. I woke to a strange man in my bed, crippling dehydration. My bedroom mirror was off the wall-that means Seattle's favorite pastime, cocaine, was involved and I knew the empty feeling was inevitable. But somehow, instead of wallowing today-instead of saying, I'm just going to eat Jack in the Box and watch Lord of the Rings, I decided to try and see if I could heal a little bit. Maybe if I could look back today and link certain events, I could remember what it felt like when I was innocently happy or unaware of the magic that was happening in my life even in the dark shadowy times. I haven't liked myself for awhile, and for some reason I wanted to remember the times when I did, relive in time lapse all my smiles, my mothers sincere affections and the friends who's name pop into my head automatically when I think of the word, "sincere" or "awesome." Currently I feel numb, and my eyes sting from this computer screen. But when I get the feeling back in my life, when the tingle subsides today, I hope I feel excited for tomorrow.