"Eastern Standard Time" columns
By Lawrence Biemiller|
I was trying to draw the elephant from memory when Mark came into the kitchen. He looked quite cute. His hair was still uncombed and he had his glasses on -- he'd lost a contact in the lake a few days earlier. "Peeeep!" he said, in a voice as high as a bird's.
"Hey, boy," I said.
"Peep!" I've learned that when Mark peeps in the morning, he's in a good mood. He says it has to do with high compression.
He poured himself a glass of orange juice and lifted the plastic wrap off a mixing bowl on the table. "Peep!" he said, peering first into the bowl and then up at me. "Peeeep!"
"Pancake batter," I said. "Blueberries optional. Like my picture of the elephant?"
Mark looked at my notebook and then out the kitchen window, but it was still cloudy. You could barely see the opposite shore, let alone the elephant, a distant mountain with a pachyderm's head and shoulders. The elephant is the traditional measure of how clear a day at the lake is -- of whether it will be a dock day or not. This year we had only three dock days in two weeks.
"Plerm," Mark said, decompressing abruptly. "Anybody else up? I only saw Aunt Judi in the living room."
"No sign of Terry or Little George or Julie," I said. "Big George and Betty haven't come down yet, but they're awake." I glanced up at the ceiling. "In fact, passionately and feverishly and repeatedly awake." Big George, who is Little George's father and my former stepfather, had insisted on the bedroom right over the kitchen, even though he was bringing a date and the house is lightly framed. We all gave him grief. It's a big country -- somebody's got to.
The scent of frying bacon brought people downstairs in ones and twos. Big George set the table and then hovered beside Mark at the griddle, as if additional supervision would make the pancakes cook faster. "Take your boyfriend out to the dining room, will you, Betty?" said Mark, who has wasted no time learning how to deal with my family. "He's eating all the bacon."
Terry was the last to appear. When I came out of the kitchen with the third batch of pancakes, Aunt Judi was telling him about the night years ago when four of us challenged a maitre d' to guess how we were related. "He wasn't even close," Judi said. "I'm Big George's uncle's ex-wife, and -- "
"Fifth ex-wife," I told Terry. "If you must know."
"And Susan, who was with us that night, had been dating George. But they'd broken up a couple of months before -- "
"Because she had four children," I said.
"And then Lawrence is George's ex-stepson, by his second wife." Aunt Judi turned to Betty. "Lawrence's mother came right before Susan, if you're trying to keep track. We can write all this down for you later."
Big George and Betty started dating about the time Mark and I got back together, so for once we weren't the couple with the shortest track record. Indeed, the people around the breakfast table that morning represented just about every possible stage relationships could go through.
Aunt Judi was looking for someone to date. Big George and Betty, both divorced parents, had been together a few months but were making no commitments. Mark and I had broken up and then decided we shouldn't have. Little George and Julie are married and planning children. Terry's lover, the boy dancer, died of AIDS last October, and was there at the lake only in stories Terry told about him.
Actually, I'd been worried about how Mark and I would get along on this vacation -- worried that we might not enjoy each other's company for days on end. As it turned out, we had a great time. We cooked for hours, blaring Erasure and K. D. Lang and Siouxsie and the Banshees on the boom box we'd brought, dancing from sink to stove and back. We went running together, bathed together in an old claw-footed tub, and on cold nights fell asleep cuddled in one of the two single beds we'd pushed together in Big George's grandmother's bedroom. It was an idyllic trip, elephant or no elephant.
The only problem we had, in fact, was readjusting to reality when we got home. Here we each have bills to pay, bosses to placate, errands to run, friends to see, insecurities to tame. What we don't have is a model for doing all this and maintaining a relationship at the same time. Being Gay gives you an unlimited number of choices about the kind of commitment you want to have, but making these choices isn't necessarily easy.
The rules we learned growing up seem to apply mostly to straight high-school students, or to straight couples with children and dogs and split-levels in the suburbs. Meanwhile, Gay novels all seem to be about either coming out or dying, and Gay movies all seem to be about sex. No one says much about what to do after the first date or the first post-coital chat. What about the first month? The first year? You're on your own, and good luck to you.
What's even more frightening is something my art-director friend Joe pointed out years ago: As Gay people, we end up learning in our 20's and 30's the lessons about relationships that our contemporaries learned in their teens, while we were still trying to figure out why we were different. Frankly, the only advantage I have over the average 17-year-old is that I know how much better life is with Mark than it would be without him.
On our last night at the lake, Mark and I had the house to ourselves. We cranked the Pet Shop Boys on the boom box and set about turning a refrigerator's worth of leftovers into a five-course extravaganza for two. While I was making garlic butter, a phrase from one song caught in my head: It will be like this forever . . . If we fall in love.
Later, in the pitch-dark bedroom, that line kept coming back to me. It was neatly overlaid with the sounds of falling rain and of Mark's breathing as he fell asleep, his head next to mine on the pillow.