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Why do birds suddenly appear…
I was never the best at anything. Most of us aren’t. We try hard but more often then not, there is always someone better at everything. Which is why you can never compare yourself to other people. I worked hard to be the perfect boy. I even had an image of that boy in my head. I wanted to be Gary Elliott. He was older than me. He had everything — tall dark looks, charisma, smart. And he could play basketball – I thought if only I could play basketball then everyone would be proud of me. I was tall enough to play, it was true, but of course being tall isn’t enough. It takes skill and coordination and confidence – all the things I longed to have. But Gary Elliott did have all those things. He was the perfect boy to me and I fell very short of that. I could sing in church but Bill Hill sang better. I could draw in art but Mark Floyd was a true artist. Everywhere I looked there was competition.
Even when I began to do hair and make-up, Danny Feldsted was better. But as I work to transform those girls in my salon chair, I would talk to them. And I would listen. As they watched themselves in the mirror and talked to me about their lives, they would see themselves bloom. I realized I was the best at something. I was the best at finding beauty everywhere and in everyone. Whether it was their eyes, or skin, the curve of their neck, or their laugh, I always found something special and distinctive in each and every one of them. I realized, that with the right touch, it could be easy to make someone look beautiful, but so much harder to make them feel it and believe it. I was able to make each and every one of those girls feel beautiful, and believe themselves to be beautiful. Beauty is a gift, but being able to find beauty is a gift too. It’s a gift I’m grateful to have.
So even as I write this, I can’t help but think about how someone would say it all better, and write all perfectly. But perfection is a myth. We all need to embrace our own voice, our own talents, and our own ability to connect with other people. Being the best doesn’t matter. What matters is what you do and the lives you touch. Making someone feel special, even in passing, tosses glitter into the world. And glitter makes everything beautiful.
I’ve always had a weakness for girls with big beautiful soulful eyes…
When you’ve had good fortune making a friend who stood fearless…Embracing their glorious true self… You become challenged, encouraged and ultimately empowered- pushing forward discovering and then celebrating the same for yourself…
When they are authentic… You love them forever…
Male friendships came hard to me as a kid. I was all about the girls. Not only was I more relaxed around girls, but they always seemed to understand and accept me. I connected with girls easily and automatically, and in turn, they saw things in me that made my sense of difference bearable. But I still wanted to have male friends and find my way in to that brotherly world of boys. That world seemed to be filled with ease and self-assurance – things I longed to have but never felt.
In sixth grade, at the zenith of my physical awkwardness, I met the epitome of confidence. His name was Mark. We sat next to each other in art class, which was the place where Mark’s creativity could flourish. He was not a “cool” kid in the traditional sense of the term, but I envied him because he didn’t give a damn about what anyone thought of him. He knew what he liked, what he was, and what he wanted. Being artsy and a little eccentric might have thrown people meeting him for the first time, but I was immediately drawn to him.
Mark didn’t take to other male classmates the way he’d taken to me. We didn’t have a romantic attraction, but what we did have was much more than friendship. When I spent time with him, I was more comfortable than I’d been around any other guy. The first time he invited me over to his house was during the summer before 9th grade. His mother, Viola, met me at the door and walked me to his tiny bedroom. Viola was a sweet and timid soul. I must have been the least imposing person she’d ever welcomed into her home, but she appeared jittery in my company. She admonished herself for not having offered me anything to drink after we had taken only a few steps. I politely refused and she made sure I wasn’t declining just to be mannerly. Our duel of manners ended when we reached Mark’s room and she left me with standing order to make myself at home. I opened Mark’s door and instead of a greeting he asked, “Do you like the Andrew Sisters?” I’d never heard of them, which I didn’t want to admit. As I closed the door behind me, Mark put on Rum and Coca-Cola. Once the music started, without speaking, we both nestled ourselves side-by-side on his twin bed.
I came to know the song as Mark’s favorite because every time I came over to his house, starting in ninth grade and continuing through high school, he dropped the needle on that record. I’m not sure why it didn’t wear out the grooves, but each time I was over, that indestructible vinyl answered the call. We’d laugh, thinking it was hysterical. It was my first encounter with kitsch, years before I’d ever hear the word. When the Andrews Sisters cooed the line ‘working for the Yaankee dollah” we would just hit the floor. Mark had the high-low taste thing down long before anyone else I knew. 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.
I realized later that Mark too longed for easy male friendship, and had his own secret identity, much like mine. But in those days, I think he wanted nothing more than what I wanted – a friend to listen to music with; a guy friend who thought Bette Midler was great. We were too young to drink Rum and Coca Colas then, and adulthood would be complicated and at time, deadly serious, but at least during those years, we had that carefree soundtrack to our friendship. As both the Andrews Sisters and the Divine Miss M sang “Calypso sing and make up rhyme, guarantee you one real good fine time.”
Hold onto your breath
Hold onto your heart
Hold onto your hope
March up to that gate
And bid it open
I wanted to be the perfect boy.
A perfect boy would do exactly as asked.
A perfect boy would be loved by everyone around him because he was so perfect. But the journey to being loved had nothing to do with being that perfect boy.
Watching mom with her measuring spoons and vanilla extract was, in my young mind, like watching a chemist in a laboratory. Mom had it down to an exact science – every ingredient to mix and beat and stir. As the late afternoon sun would shoot across our kitchen, mom would look down at me and ask “would you like banana’s in your ice-cream today?” The memory has the sweetness of the treat, and the sweetness of my mother’s ways.
When it was just the two of us alone together in the kitchen, I could breath easy. I would smile and say yes. But when there were others around things were different. I would get ‘shy’. And my memories of those times are not sweet, but darker and more complicated.
Whenever my parents had friends over I knew what was expected of me. I would follow mom out into the back yard to the wooden ice-cream maker, and find my seat at the old picnic table. Silently, without a sound. I remember Goat coming over and leaning against me. I put my arm around him but didn’t dare utter a word. Like mom and her ice cream making, I too had perfected an art. The art of becoming invisible. The art of silence.
On this particular Sunday afternoon my parents had gone horseback riding. Even though I’d babysat my brother, sister and their friends’ child, I knew it still wouldn’t matter. I still wouldn’t be included. My father would still think I should keep my head down, not draw attention to myself, not ‘embarrass’ him by simply existing. And so over adult conversation and the churning of rock salt and crushed ice, I sat motionless. Praying no one would try to talk to me, as this would only make my father angrier.
My mom lifted the lid off the ice cream and instructed everyone to grab a bowl. I suddenly felt his thumb and forefinger push deep into my shoulder, and his breath hot against my ear. “Take your ice cream inside. You don’t want to make our guests sick watching you eat….”
And so I would flee. “He’s so shy”, everyone would be thinking. But it didn’t feel like shyness, it felt automatic. My father had been in the military, and this was his standard drill. I knew I was expected to remove myself from the group. Back inside the kitchen perched on a barstool, I could hear the voices outside, exclaiming over the taste, the texture. Mom’s creamy sweet confection was delicious, as always.
I had to continue to be invisible and silent. At least once finished I could find solace in my bedroom and bury myself in some music. But suddenly one of our guests stepped into the kitchen, and discovered me eating my ice cream alone. That distorted feeling came over me – when I’m seen in spite of being invisible, in spite of working so hard to be invisible.
“Eddie, why are you so shy? Come out with everyone!”
I was so embarrassed to be confronted, and terrified my Father would discover us talking. That I would be accused of trying to draw attention to myself when I should “know” that my mere presence was unacceptable to our guests. So I simply shrugged and looked down into my bowl. “Eddie, you’re so shy.”
Shy. Am I really shy? Or am I really just hearing a voice telling me that who I am is unacceptable? A voice telling a boy that the sight of him eating ice cream would make people sick. Just a boy eating his mother’s homemade ice cream. I became “shy” to keep my father’s voice out of my head, and to keep from hearing his hurtful words. I internalized my father’s unwarranted criticism – I hear his voice telling me that the sight of me eating ‘would make people sick’. I realize now that he was just grasping at his own anger – saying anything that would make me hide myself away. Where no one would see me, no one would ‘guess’ my secret. I had to learn to shut down his voice in my head. I know that his criticism wasn’t based on anything real. But sometimes when I least expect it, his voice can sneak up on me. I can be enjoying a meal with friends and suddenly my comfort zone wavers. I hear his voice. Even when wounds heal, the scar can remain.
But now I look back, and even though I carry some marks from the kinds of things my father said to me, I realize that ‘shy’ isn’t really one of them. Letting people think I was shy was my strategy – shyness is something people understand and they’re comfortable with that label. I am quiet, and I can be reserved, but I know that I’m not shy. I know that I have something to contribute to any conversation, and I know that I am valued, and loved. I know when someone seems shy, all they might need is a warm voice and a ready smile to encourage them to talk, to engage, and join in. And a bowl of ice cream doesn’t hurt either.