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“You are never to be the Catwoman again!”
I hear voices…
Stand up straight.
Walk with your feet apart.
Chew with your mouth closed.
Your breathing makes me sick.
You’ll never be happy being you.
A real man doesn’t cry.
I hear voices…
Why are you always playing with girls? Why can’t you dribble a basketball? Why do you talk like that? You can’t be Catwoman, you’re a boy.
I hear voices…
Homosexuality is a sin. It’s the worst thing you can be. I can take anything but that. You can change. They are incapable of commitment. It’s an agenda. This is God’s punishment.
I hear voices…
When she asked me to tell her a ‘Farm Story’ for the first time I felt uncomfortable at best. I wasn’t accustomed sharing myself. Adjusting the cape around her neck and reaching for my hair cutting scissors, I wondered what does she want to hear? Who does she expect me to be? Our eyes met in the mirror she smiled.
With each Farm Story my voice became clearer. Slowly I stopped looking for others to define who I was. I stopped expecting others to show me what my purpose and life should look like. Those suffocating feelings of isolation and invisibility began to lift with each story. There is nothing worse than being invisible.
As I slowly began to embrace my voice and celebrate what was unique in me, my voice became stronger. The need to adjust my voice to please others evaporated. The desire to be what someone else thought I needed to be vanished. Uncovering my journey and revealing the truth of my narrative became easier with each Farm Story. Embracing my authentic self opened the door for a newfound sense of worth. And with that worth came happiness. And with that happiness came love. Though I still sometimes hear voices, they have become distant, fainter, and less urgent. Instead, I hear a louder voice- the voice of my own joy in my life…
Mom called me her “artistic child “ and never seemed ashamed of me. She never acted as though she noticed how different I was from other boys. While other boys talked about basketball or owning their first rifle, I loved to draw and paint and dreamed of wearing black capes and hosting my own variety show…
Because when it feels authentic you love it forever…
Mom was my very first girlfriend. And trust me when I say I’ve had A LOT of girlfriends in my 56 years! When people reminisce, they often like to celebrate the past by saying it was a simpler time. The past is easy to sugarcoat once you’ve made it to the other side to the present. There is a Melissa Manchester song I loved in high school called ‘One More Mountain To Climb’. I continue to love that song today. When I listen to those lyrics they somehow, in my mind, represent the extraordinarily complex path my mother and I took to arrive at simple truths. Teasing her, I tell her we both got more than we bargained for with each other.
Memory: Feeling the chrome legs dig deep into the linoleum floor I continued to rock back and forth on the stool. It was a nervous habit, and sitting or standing still was next to impossible for me. A quick glance at my homework spilled across the bar in front of me pulled my attention back into the real world. But just for a second. I stopped rocking long enough to listen as the theme to Gilligan’s Island played from the television on the shelf directly above my head. The divine Ginger Grant was a favorite of mine and I would rack my brain trying to figure out why she packed all those gowns for a three-hour cruise. A cabinet door would suddenly slam shut, and I would be jerked back to my purpose of sitting here in the first place.
Doing my homework also gave me a chance to watch Mom move about the kitchen preparing supper. This was a daily ritual for me, and as she opened the flour tin I took in a deep breath. The kitchen’s accent color of avocado green seemed a perfect backdrop. If I squinted my eyes just so, everything in the room appeared soft focus. I adored soft focus to the point of being obsessed. The beautiful women in the movies I loved were always shot in this magical haze. I felt it was how the world should be seen. Adults often questioned my eyesight as a great deal of my time was spent squinting. Sitting at the breakfast bar provided a view of the entire room. Pulling apart an Oreo cookie before dunking it into my milk, I would bask in the feeling of calm that fell over me. Just Mom and me.
Calm in this house existed only when it was the two of us. She closed the oven door and turned towards me as a smile illuminated her face. It was that time in the afternoon when the sun shoots brightly through the windows, and it poured over her long red orange hair. With milk white skin and sprinkle of freckles, she was beautiful. She was my Mom. Something special existed between Mom and I.
I remember feeling that as far back as I could remember. It always made perfect and unquestionable sense to me. I quickly learned, however, it didn’t always make sense to everyone else. While some boys grow up watching and soaking up all the ways of their fathers, for me it was all about my mother. The way she walked and dressed and brushed her hair. The sound her pumps made on the sidewalk as she rushed to the car on Sunday. Her perfume as it filled the air when she passed by you. The way she studied herself in the mirror while her hands smoothed down the front of her dress. As much as anything, I loved her small beautiful hands. Mom complained her nails refused to grow the length of Ma-Maw’s, though they seemed long and perfect to me. Standing next to her, nose to the kitchen counter I stood silent, I would watch as those small perfect hands worked the dough for her homemade yeast rolls. The smell from the baking bread had quickly filled the room, and as Mom pulled them from the oven, I quietly moved back to my bar stool to watch. Each mound of golden perfection had been inspected by mom’s critical eye as they dropped from the pan. “I should have left them to rise ten more minutes.” Mom always spoke in hushed tones when she baked- as though she were alone. After a few more seconds of silent examination, she would turn towards me with that smile once again flashing across her face. She knew as well as I did that those rolls were perfect.
Sunday mornings at our house were hectic as mom raced us through breakfast. Following her to my room, I watched as she carefully laid out my white shirt, red clip on tie and navy jacket across my bed. My favorite part of Sunday was getting dressed up, and my eyes trailed along a perfect pant crease as it fell over my black buckled shoes. “Eddie did you brush your teeth, top and bottom”? Without being told, my mouth dropped open and I blew out as she leaned her face into mine. Seeming satisfied with her inspection she would take a step back, smile and look at me. I didn’t have to be invisible when it was just the two of us.
Mom called me her “artistic child “ and never seemed ashamed of me. She never acted as though she noticed how different I was from other boys. While other boys talked about basketball or owning their first rifle, I loved to draw and paint and dreamed of wearing black capes and hosting my own variety show. Singing was also a passion, and as afternoons passed sitting on the rusted out tractor under the walnut tree, I would wail my heart out. Straddling the tractor with my hands on my hips, I sang “Half Breed” with such conviction I could practically hear the Indian drum beats echo across the field. Mom’s voice pulled me back to consciousness as she stood at the fence warning me I had five minutes to wrap it up before my father came home from work.
Mom also loved to sing, and we became well known in our local church community as a mother-and-son singing duo. As with her baking, mom critiqued herself mercilessly from rehearsal though show time. But up at the pulpit, she proved herself a winner. We both suffered terrible stage fright and would agonize over our performances to such an extent that you would think our performance was being televised. Standing in front of the congregation, I would glance over at Mom as she nervously squeezed a tissue in her hand. I would feel the perspiration from under my arms and my heart would feel like it was locked in my throat. Then the opening to “Reach Out To Jesus” began playing. As our voices reached out to Jesus my heart would reach out to Mom, and we would lock eyes and she would flash me that smile, and I would feel like it was just Mom and me. Calm… Music… Love… Mom…
He was perhaps the biggest man I’d ever seen. Hands so large that they were gigantic in proportion to anything he attempted to hold. We’d sit at the breakfast table watching in wonder as he slowly turned the lid off the honey jar. He was a bee farmer who prided himself over his fresh honey. After pouring a generous amount of that golden goo over his pancakes, I’d watch as he struggled with those wide fingers, attempting to pull out some of the floating honeycomb. Finally there was success, and after a nibble of that honey soaked wax, he leaned his head back with eyes closed, savoring what his hard work had produced.
My ‘other’ grandparents had retired to Florida when I was a small boy. My father had purchased their farm, a little box white house on a hill surrounded with acres of wide-open fields. Compared to our life on Pike Forest Road, Florida seemed like a far away exotic land. Thus our yearly trip to visit my ‘Other’ grandparents became a somewhat celebrated event.
Owning and breeding bees for their honey seemed completely foreign and frightful occupation to my adolescent mind. Particularly while watching my grandmother tweezing stingers out of my grandfather’s chest, arms and hands while scolding him over his refusal to wear protection. He laughed, waving those big hands in the air. If there was any pain involved with the bee sting removal, he seemed oblivious to it. My grandfather had irreverence towards life that was irresistible for my young church going ears. Sitting in his favorite chair chain smoking, he would flick his cigarette at the overflowing ashtray, sometimes hitting it and sometimes missing. His voice, with its deep throaty gravel, cracked the air as he affectionately called my mom ‘Red’. Something about him reminded me of Lee Marvin from the movie ‘Cat Ballou’. He called his extravagance ‘just following tradition’. Back in Indiana, he would go to our local McCandless grocery, and fill a giant cardboard box with bag after bag of candy. It was decadence like I’d never seen the likes of.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, my ‘other’ grandmother was articulate, choosing her words with care, rather than just talking. Even at my young age, I recognized this as being ‘different’ than everyone I ‘d come accustomed to. She was a writer and once wrote a short story whose main character was a boy named Eddie. It made me feel special and sort of famous. The other women her age that I knew from church wore their hair teased, sprayed and without a hint of makeup. In sharp contrast, she wore her hair very short. When she dressed up, she wore pearls and a healthy dash of bright red lipstick. In her black leather handbag was a supply of clove chewing gum – far from the ordinary juicy-fruit everyone else chewed. My ‘Other’ grandmother recognized my passion for expressing myself through watercolors and chalk. She didn’t just celebrate my efforts, but encouraged me in a special way by calling me artistic. She bought me countless illustration workbooks, paints, colored pens, and pencils. Imagine the excitement I felt when I’d pull out of our mailbox that package addressed to me in her pen. Breathless, I’d race up that long dusty rock driveway to my bedroom. Carefully opening the brown paper wrapping whose return address was faraway Tampa, Florida.
Near the end of my grandfather’s life, he kept talking about how he simply didn’t know what grandma would do without him. Who would take care of her? Everyone just looked at each other without worry as she had always been a strong and independent woman – ahead of her time. But after my grandfather was gone and the years passed, she became ‘different.’ She became distant and forgetful. She would get lost, once spending hours confused in a department store. Knowledge about Alzheimer’s in those days was limited at best. I thought I would have lots of time to tell her how much she influenced me and how important her encouragement had been. I’m sorry I didn’t have the opportunity to tell both of them how special they made me feel. As I get older, I understand more and more how precious these memories are, and how those childhood smiles – encouraged by our beloved elders – need to last a lifetime, as we remember those who have left us. I remember My ‘Other’ Grandparents and all the gifts of love they gave me. Pass it on.
What you wear doesn’t define you. Isn’t the cure for anything. Doesn’t make you better than others.
Perhaps a church choir feels empowered, validated and unified by robes, they will sing better because they feel good about their place in the world.
Khaki pants pristine, perfectly pressed or a fabulous black cashmere cape snapping in the wind. Does one represent success and the other artistic expression?
Labels are for jars…
Hopefully beneath the slap and crap we’re who we truly think we are.
That we don’t have to look, act or believe the same to show respect.
Reflecting love for each other… Because if it makes you feel authentic-You love it forever…
The show ran against The Wonderful World of Disney in the 7:30 slot on Sunday night. Standing there on her runway, half clad in twelve to fifteen costumes, Cherilyn Sarkisian Bono inspired more-and infinitely richer- fantasies than all the plastics of Disneyland.
Time Magazine, 1975
Yes, before Madonna and Gaga there was Cher…
There she was, picking up the pieces of a career that many show-business insiders considered hopeless after pop Camelot came crashing down with the divorce/demise of Sonny and Cher. But indeed, at 28 she had been elaborately packed. More glitz, glitter, bugle beads, and feathers. And as the camera panned in on her navel, the first ever-exposed belly button on national television, it seemed to twinkle as brightly as her sequins.
It redefined “Family Entertainment”.
Despite decade after decade of reinvention, this would remain my personal favorite. I was sixteen, hormonal and feeling completely different – an outsider looking in. Not unhappy just different. The tension between my father and me had reached a pitch point of being too much to bear. So I would disappear into my room and try to be quiet as possible; hoping he would forget I was there.
Trying to be invisible would become my art form.
And though my mother and grandfather would try to intercede, it was impossible for anyone to understand the problems between us. No matter how much love I felt from others, not receiving my father’s love somehow overshadowed everything.
Escape came to me once a week, through the incredibly lavish productions and even more incredible showmanship. Elton John, Bette Midler, David Bowie, LaBelle, and Ray Charles teamed with the likes of George Burns, Flip Wilson, Carol Burnett, Pointer Sisters, and Liberace. If it hadn’t been true, you could only make it up.
For one hour a week I was transported to this glittering, zany, glamorous world. Cher was like a futuristic space queen who, if nothing else, could be admired for her nerve. Bob Mackie once said she never refused to wear anything he designed and threw on a beaded dress like they were blue jeans. Who else had the complete nerve to dance the robot with Michael Jackson or sit and sing a ballad with Art Garfunkel?
At some point, Cher forced my hand. I either had to love her completely or, in the rigid masculinity required of me, forget all about her. But in all her sparkly confidence, Cher wasn’t a woman who was going to hide. And in watching her and loving what she was, I decided I wasn’t going to hide either. It was the first time I was ‘out’ in my life – I was out as someone who loved Cher. My open enthusiasm for her created a shared bond with my friend Mark. He and I would watch the show together in easy camaraderie – something I didn’t experience with other boys.
Cher didn’t save or even change my life. But for one hour a week she gave me an incredible, magical escape – and that was an hour of courage for me to be who I really was.
She made me smile. And having the chance to smile, even once a week on a Sunday night, meant the world to me.
She still makes me smile…