Today, the thing that made me think of you was having Queen’s “It’s Late” come up on my iPhone. You were always a fan of Queen. I remember when you told me that you liked Freddie Mercury’s music no matter what his sex life was like. That was in the mid-80s so that’s what a progressive liberal viewpoint was back then. It was all the more remarkable because you were then, and remained until you died, a generally conservative Christian, devout in your beliefs. Or maybe it only seemed remarkable to me because I had only noticed bigotry from Christians up until then.
I’ll tell you another remarkable thing about that conversation: it may be the effect of time passing, blurring and foreshortening my memories, but your comment about Freddie’s possible gayness might have been the first time I was told, or that I even considered, that he might have been gay. It wasn’t a big part of my context for him, or any celebrity, really. I didn’t think about celebrities’ sex lives. Wait. I take that back. I assumed they were straight, if I thought about it all. My privilege blinders. The only major celebrity I thought was gay was Elton John, and that’s only because my high school girlfriend, Amy, love him and knew all about him, including that fact. How did she know that? What were her sources back in 1980? Was Elton out back then? Or was it just gossip and hearsay? No internet back then, just magazines and liner notes and unauthorized biographies and talk shows. I don’t remember. I didn’t pay attention. It wasn’t important to me.
Back to Freddie. The song that kicked off this madeleine sounds to me like an apology. Freddie (or the singer, if you consider the song fictional and not autobiographical) is singing to a lover who appears to be fed up with the singer’s infidelity and wandering. It’s about pleading with a lover to stay, but being unable to promise to change. He can’t be loyal, if he’s true to himself. At least, that’s my impression of the lyrics. And thinking about the context, that he was possibly closeted, unable to be his true self in public, makes the song all the more sad.
Why am I writing about this? Why am I thinking about this song, and gay celebrities, and you, and being sad? The easy solution to why this is all on my mind and why I connect it to you would be that I’m closeted or self-denying, that I’m gay, that I loved you. Some stranger reading this, my letter to a dead person, might think all that. But as always, more context makes the picture clearer.
Of course I loved you. You were a brother to me. By blood, you were my nephew, my half-sister’s son. But an accident of timing, that put us exactly 6 years apart in age, to the day, and that my mom, your grandma, spent a lot of time at your mom’s, my half-sister’s, house, conspired to make us closer than the family tree would suggest.
You were my cheerleader. No one could motivate me like you could. No one complimented me or told me the positives they saw in me, like you did. There’s maybe 2 or 3 other people I feel completely comfortable around, as I did around you.
You and I could be on opposite sides of an issue, big ones like the existence of God, or divisive ones like taxes or crime or welfare, and we could talk it out and understand each other and not abandon the conversation in anger or frustration.
Now that you’re gone, I feel that loss daily.
If you were here now, you’d tell me… I don’t know. What would you tell me? Probably that you miss me, too. Probably that I should just write. Probably that I’m OK and that I should trust my instincts and that I just need to do what I love and it would all work out. Probably you’d make a joke about not being gay “not that it matters!” (Seinfeld reference) but that, seriously, you love me, too.
Not the same, imagining it. I’d still like to hear you say it. Will never happen again.
It’s almost like love is complicated. Love doesn’t automatically mean that sex is involved. Love is just connection, and time, and patience and understanding. And grief is all that being missing.
I remember my last day of high school, the summer of 1983, at Milwaukie High School. Everyone was going around signing yearbooks and making promises to stay in touch and feeling nervous about moving on, or losing touch with the seniors who were graduating. Fear of change. And there was a guy, a year younger than me, who was an amazing artist and incredibly funny, someone I had spent a lot of time around because we had been in Journalism class together, truly a bonding experience. And when he signed my yearbook, as he was handing it back to me, he said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but, I love you.”
I accepted that, but the thought stayed in my mind. My biggest question was, what could the wrong way be? What was his intention of the right way? Romantic love? Was it more like brotherly love? I am pretty sure I talked it over with my best friend, Terry, and the advice he gave me was, don’t worry about it, it’s a compliment. I did not feel any special romantic feelings for him. And honestly, the idea that he might possibly feel romantic, or sexual, feelings for me, more than anything else, was a giant empty space. It was beyond imagining. Confusing. A void. I filed it away as Terry suggested, a compliment.
I often feel the same way now, trying to think of someone else seeing me as attractive or sexually or even as someone to spend more time around or get to know. Even if it’s someone I acknowledge as attractive, the idea that they might return those feelings doesn’t connect. It’s a black hole, an absence. It doesn’t follow. The logic breaks, the story stops there. I worry that I’m too old to feel that again, the feedback loop of two people’s attraction looping around and intensifying until it’s all consuming. What an intense experience that can be. Can it really be gone? Is it dependent on age, on hormones, on energy and inexperience?
Sometimes I’m glad I don’t feel that, though. But not always.
But I also know that that’s not the feeling I had around you, my nephew, my brother, my closest friend. It was never passionate and enveloping and crazy-making. It was patient, and simple, and clear, and reassuring. And even now, years after you’re gone, I miss it, and I miss you. So forgive me if I write these letters you’ll never see.
I need to be who I am. You understand that, right?