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He introduced me to Roberta Flack, Laura Nyro and LaBelle too, but Bette Midler was the one who made him gush.
Bette’s debut album, The Divine Miss M., was a favorite of Mark’s. We’d sing along to it at first. By the time we got to the second or third drop of the needle, we’d lower the volume and talk to each other while we stared at the ceiling, my right shoulder tight up against his left in that tiny twin bed. My physical preoccupations subsided during those hours in Mark’s room. I stopped worrying about my own awkwardness long enough to enjoy the emotional connection that I couldn’t have imagined sharing with anyone else. I think of him whenever I hear Bette Midler.
Maybe it wasn’t the rough-and-tumble male friendship of a football field or a hunting trip, but it was my first true friendship with a boy. It showed me that I could have a male friend. And it showed me that not all men were jocks or standard-issue Indiana guys – some were artists or just appreciators of art, and no less male for it. It took me longer to understand all the ways a man can be masculine, but it was my friendship with Mark that helped me see that male friendships weren’t defined by a slap on the back or a punch in the arm. Men could listen to music together and be physically at ease in each other’s presence.