Wednesday, June 3, 2015
In which I Become the Mechanical Husband
It is odd how some memories are very sharp. One of mine is a noon-day crossing of State Street in Chicago with Kathy when we were nearly hit by a Cadillac Eldorado. It was one of the mid-60's models with knife-edge fenders. I said I would never own a car, that they were an abomination. Had I been telling the truth, I could have joined the little club membered by folks such as Tolkien and Lewis--admittedly a more convenient club in a country with trains--but I did not. Rather I did the car thing as a valiant effort to be a guy.
Truth be told, I was devoted to cars, starting with my first dark green Volvo 144. I lavished it with gauges and special tires, hand-stitching leather binding to heavy wool carpets. Too, my bodily marital devotion was as mechanical as changing the spark plugs or adjusting the valves on the Volvo. The Volvo actually gave me more sensual pleasure. Collecting tools, reading Road & Track, I felt like a real hetero guy.
But, another sharp memory: Kathy had invited one of the members of her anthropology class to come to our apartment to study. I opened the door and fell into the deepest blue eyes I had ever seen. Brian the skier. Brian the gorgeously beautiful. Brian the piercer of illusions. And fortunately, Brian the owner of an English Ford, so we could do guy things together.
The last months of 1969 were busy. I got my pre-induction physical notice, and went to Seattle to see if I might be unfit for service. The idea of being in a room full of hundreds of others guys in underwear was enough to worry me. I hoped some vague sinusitis symptoms and stomach instabilities might make me unfit. Of course the truth, that I was a homosexual, would have had some effect, but I was doing my best straight act. The draft doctors decided I was A1, and Kathy and I decided we would make one last trip to the states to see the family before staying in Canada for the duration. We drove the Volvo through San Francisco to visit a good friend from Chicago days, and back to Jonesboro for our last American Christmas. On Christmas Eve, there was a knock on my mother's door, with a telegraphed draft notice. My faithful mother-in-law had tipped the draft board, which would otherwise have sent for me in January, of my presence with a story in the Social Whirligig. In a hasty meeting with the draft board, they explained they would give me an exemption if I returned to the states and finished my degree here, and then teach in a special needs school.
I took their offer because I was too conflicted about Brian to go back to Vancouver. I spent much of that holiday literally in the closet upstairs at a grandmother's house. Ironically, when I flew back to Vancouver to pack up our furniture and such, Brian met me at the airport, and we spent the next few days together. They were the best days I would have for years, even though 'nothing happened'.
For the next twenty years, 'nothing happened'. I led a mechanical life, doing the things one is expected to do. There were certainly some enjoyable parts: gardening, building a pottery studio, running and swimming. But the idea that I could be in control of my life had never really seemed an option. Baptists are Calvinists, and I had left the Baptist Church but it still hadn't left me. There were years of new houses and dogs and children and new cars and new degrees and new jobs, but they all happened to someone who, at the deepest level, was not me. They all happened to the mechanical husband.