15 November 2008

The Fifteenth

It's rained through most of the day. The sun put in one of those appearances it makes when it's in the center of the storm, then the sky grew darker and heavier with the rain that resumed.

If this day were colder, it would have felt like the fifteenth of November. But this day nonetheless looked the part, with the sky I've mentioned and leaves that a week or two ago fluttered and swirled red and gold in the autumn breeze but were, today, brown and whipped about into brittleness by the seemingly capricious wind.

As warm as this day was--The temperature reached 69 degrees F, according to the weather report--it was unmistakably a prelude to winter. Even when the sun appeared, it did not light up the sky as it did even a few days ago. Rather, it--and all of the light of this day--seemed to be little more than a truce with darkness. And the cold.

Gertrude Stein once said of T.S. Eliot, "He looks like the Fifteenth of November." Whatever Fifteenth she was talking about must have looked like this one, for as warm as today was, it was an uncanny spiritual reflection of the poet who was forgiven (at least by me!) many sins for having written "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."

I grow old...I grow old..
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

The fifteenth of November is definitely a "precipice" date. You cannot pretend that you have just entered the fall; summer is a rather distant memory. And what are memories but the fictions our minds write for us?

And that is exactly the reason why people--I include myself, through most of my life--hold on to memories for dear life, sometimes at the cost of our own lives. I often feel that is the reason why people vote for reactionary politicians--or, worse, re-elect them, as they did with George W. Bush. (I can say "they" because I didn't vote for either of his terms.) Everyone wants to return to the Garden, whether of Eden of the Finzi-Continis, whether or not it actually existed.

On September 11th, everyone wished it was the 10th, or even a date before that. I've had Fourths of July (my birthday) when I wished it was the third, and any number of other dates I wished hadn't come to pass mainly because of the uncertainty that lay before them.

And on the fifteenth of November in 2003, Mom and Dad probably were wishing that it was the fourteenth. I'm sure they felt that way for many, many days afterward. Sometimes I did, too. Sometimes I wished for days even earlier than the fourteenth of that year, or an earlier year than that one.

Five years ago today, I came out to Mom and Dad. I didn't expect it to be easy for either of them: They knew, as well as I did, that we were entering a new and unsettled season in our relationship and in our lives. None of us knew what to expect, really: All I had was the hope that whatever I would have to endure in my transition would lead me to the happiness and spiritual fulfillment that had always eluded me, no matter how many people loved me and how many good things I did.

Even in all that uncertainty, though, I could sense that in some way they--my mother, at any rate--felt a sort of relief. For her--and for my father, too, although he did not express it overtly--my life finally made sense to them. I know it did for me, for the first time. All those relationships that didn't work--because they couldn't. The alcohol and drug abuse. The self-loathing. The things I started and never followed through. Of course. My mother said as much: "You had to spend so much energy fighting yourself."

For the first few months that followed, Mom, as compassionate as she was, seemed to feel anger that she couldn't quite place: Sometimes she was upset with me; other times she was upset with herself. Once she realized that it wasn't her "fault" that I am who I am, she chided herself for not knowing more and learning more quickly than she did. "I'm really trying to understand. Really I am."

"I know you are. And I'm not going to ask anything else of you. After all, it took me 40 years to figure it out."

I don't know how many times we had that exchange. But I also can't remember the last time we had it. The funny thing is that she had no idea of just how well she understood what I'd gone through, was going through and what I always wanted. I guess it's like that with the people who help you the most: They don't always realize what they've done for you.

The thing she didn't realize then, and perhaps she realizes now, is that she really was doing the best she could do, of herself and for me. And that I wasn't going to give up on her, any more than she would give up on me.

One thing never changed: We talked to each other every weekend, sometimes for an hour or more, by phone.

During those months that followed my "coming out," Dad was more enigmatic: He would send little gifts, such as pendants. to me but we'd barely talk at all. According to Mom, he also didn't want me to come down for a visit because there were friends and neighbors of theirs who knew me as Nick, and who knew how they'd react to me now?

But about a year ago, I noticed that I was talking more with him, though not nearly as much as with Mom. Still, it was an improvement from the previous three years. In fact, I'd say that we were--and are--talking to each other more than we did when we were living in the same house. He even congratulated me when I said I was seeing Dominick.

And he even took me shopping when I was visiting them in August. I never would have predicted anything like that. Yet in some way, it seems entirely "in character" for him.

Does he still sometimes wish I could be Nick, his namesake? Does Mom wish I could have been one of those eldest sons who makes his mother proud and who would have given her a grandchild who would probably be in, or getting ready to go to, college about now? Do they wish I could have pursued the careers, the lifestyles or anything else they had envisioned for me? I'm sure they always will. But they know they can no more wish that son into existence than I could be him. Actually, now that I think of it, I think they always knew that. Of course it would have been a more certain, and easier, road for them--and probably for me, too--had I been able to be that person they thought, or hoped, they had brought into this world.

They stayed with me on the Fifteenth of November, and the days that have followed. I could not have asked for any more. Out of the uncertainty has come joy that I never knew existed. And, I hope, that for them, a flower of that changing of the season is the understanding that while I may have become something they never could have envisioned, that I also love them in ways none of us could have understood on the fourteenth. Because I was honest with them, for the first time in my life, on the fifteenth.

No comments: