When the dreams come they’re of his mother. She’s usually in her kitchen; appropriate, as, in life, that’s where she spent most of her time. We have a conversation and, at some point, I realizing I’m intruding and need to leave. Greg is nowhere to be found but I know he left on purpose. I wake up with an intense feeling of melancholy, mostly because I never had a chance to say goodbye. Her death was conveyed to me about a year after the fact. I’d not seen her since the Eighth Grade.
Greg wasn’t a lover, unrequited or otherwise. He was my best friend, an inseparable part of my youth. We met in the third grade after a play-date was arranged, and became inseparable oddballs. We both loved movies and TV, not sports, and wrote and acted out our own science fiction films during recess. On Saturdays we went to double features. We remade the film Earthquake in an abandoned tree-fort, and, despite no Sensurround—you could call us “early indies” —knew when we could finally fund it we’d have a masterpiece on our hands.
On weekends we’d switch homes: One Saturday I’d spend the night there, with his loving, conservative family who said Grace before dinner. The next weekend he’d come over to my crazy, bohemian family, where yelling at mealtime was the best way to get fed. I was chubby and Greg was a geek. He went to catechism, I didn’t know the difference between the two testaments. And we loved each other so much nothing could ever be wrong.
There were no insults, no competition over other friends or clothes or test scores or what movie to watch on his family’s R-rated Channel 100 selection. They had every new gadget, toy, cereal brand. And they were kind to me in a way I’d never before experienced from outsiders. Until I met Greg I was the one who sat alone for every school lunch. Forced friendships never worked. Fathers didn’t care for me and fat, feminine kids aren’t invited to parties. Greg’s family used to see relatives each summer in Maryland, and he told me there was a hilltop where you could see the top of the Empire State Building. We both dreamed of living there someday. Together, of course.
After third grade, our parents insisted we have the same teachers for fourth, fifth, and sixth grade. Surprising everyone, our fifth grade teacher, Mr. Allen, called our mothers together to say that Greg and I didn’t make good friends. I was too domineering and Greg wasn’t allowed to realize his full potential.
I was devastated, then nervous the morning Greg’s mom came over, alone, to visit my mother; her hair perfectly coiffed, her outfit, as always, elegant. After she left my mom told me that it was decided Mr. Allen was full of bull. Greg was as upset as I was, and keeping us apart would have been like separating Laverne and Shirley. We didn’t work without the other.
I’ve been told romantic relationships can work the same way but I wouldn’t know from experience. I’ve never been with a man in which there wasn’t some sense of insecurity or self-consciousness on my part. Ditto my male friends. If you want to get on my trust list, fall all over me. Otherwise, you might be plotting my heart’s destruction. Because Greg still left, and with his departure my sense of self-worth in regards to male love. I haven’t fully trusted a man in 40 years.
A therapist once asked me who my male role models were, and, after a week, I came back with an answer: None. My father died when I was five and I wasn’t old enough to keep him on a pedestal after death. I couldn’t count Greg either because he didn’t leave as a role model; he left as a scar.
If your introduction to the world is full of men who don’t want you it becomes a picture trapped in your snow globe.
Greg and I went to different junior high schools and that’s when everything changed. He grew muscles and the attention of popular girls while I was bullied and attacked and took acting classes in the city. When we did “hang out” it was almost as painful as the “fag” chants in gym. We still went to the mall on occasion, and one time two girls got on the same bus as us. When Greg saw them he moved away from me and joined them. He didn’t say anything and I ended up at the mall alone, on occasion seeing him with the girls and their expanding group. He ignored me. He taught me how to smoke a joint, then had his older brothers rip me off when I purchased their pot. I knew it even then, but I couldn’t lose Greg. I had no other friends. Besides, he might have come back to me.
When we went to our favorite Amusement Park, Great America, he ditched me while we were in the line for the Tidal Wave, our favorite roller coaster. I searched for him and finally spotted him a row or so behind, with a group of friends all pointing at me and laughing. I spent the rest of that day alone, too, and we didn’t see each other again until our ride showed up. I tried to get him to go to movies with me and he wouldn’t say yes unless I paid. I used my allowance just to see him.
I vaguely remember our last conversation, which was over the phone, and ended up with me asking if he still liked me. He said yes, irritably, and I don’t remember much else, other than I’d lost the person I loved most in the world, and that I felt like a sad, overweight girl begging not be abandoned.
While Greg’s actions were cruel, when I think of him now I only see loss. There’s a fence between any other friend and me, and it’s often secured with barbed wire. I think I’m odd, that I’m saying the wrong thing, that I’m intruding or too needy. Sometimes I worry that my texts are invading their privacy. I’m self-conscious to a fault, and often wonder who’s speaking when the words are coming out of my mouth. In relationships, it takes about a year for me to believe I’m attractive enough and important enough to be their mate. I’ve never regained my childhood ability to live in the moment with another man. But I’m wonderful on my own.
Perhaps if I did have a dad, or if I were popular in school, or straight, I would have bounced back after our friendship ended. Instead, everything went into work; journalism and acting. My friends and role models were my teachers, and they were all women. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve learned to be more comfortable with men, friends or otherwise. My need to “rescue” men has also subsided.
When I went to my hometown three years ago I found an email for Greg and contacted him, telling him my mother was throwing a party for my new book and I’d love for him and his mother to come. He wrote back and told me of his mother’s recent death, and that he’d moved to another state.
I cried upon hearing the news of his mom and drove, by heart, to his old house. It looked exactly the same and I wanted to stay there forever. Every former inhabitant, including me, could be felt like rain. I almost told Greg of my visit but was worried that it would have sounded like an intrusion. He might have made fun of me to his wife and kids.
In his email, Greg wrote that he sometimes comes to New York and that, next time he did, we’d catch up. I didn’t believe him, but my heart skipped a beat when he congratulated me on my book.
At least I did one thing right.
This essay is part of an ongoing series by the author about issues facing older gay men. If you’ve got a “Daddy Issue,” I want to hear about it. -DRT
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