Sunday, February 19, 2006

Cruel (to be kind)

His name was Chris, and he, like me, still had his high school gawkiness to shed when I first met him the day I arrived at college. He had braces and a shaggy head of hair and just seemed like a nice guy. That first night, he was hunkered down in my dorm room with me, my 7 1/2-fingered, wormy roommate Anne, and my next-door neighbor Roberta as we watched music videos on my tiny black & white TV. The local PBS station showed 80s music videos one night a week, with an educational twist: they would make a game out of each video's lyrics. The first video we saw, for instance, was "Wake Me Up (Before You Go Go)" by WHAM! Before the video started, a black screen showed the words "Long O Search" and the jitterbuggy (yeah, yeah, yeah!) song kicked in. They ran the lyrics at the bottom of the screen, highlighting each long O George Michael intoned. It was completely silly, but we ate it up. Oh, the low-tech innocence of 1984!

Chris followed me like a puppy in those early days, but I had my eye on the dorm's resident screwed up, but hot guy, John the Texan. Like many relatively sheltered fat girls, I went straight for the Bad Decision Dude, and I foolishly was his in-between girlfriends platonic friend. Nothing ever happened between us, except for me being stupidly available to hang out with him whenever he felt like not getting laid. Later, I figured out what a total jackass he was - and what a moron I was - when he started making out with a close friend in my dorm room.

Scratch that.

In. My. Bed.

Building a wall of relationship bitterness, one poor choice at a time!

Through it all, Chris was there, always ready to talk, always with a hug, holding my hand and offering me deep, as-meaningful-as-teens-get looks. He'd ask me out to movies, out to dinner. But there was something that always stopped me, beyond my desire to have the attention of the Texas Toad downstairs. I just knew something wasn't quite right. One night, he tried to put his awkward moves on me, and I just got up and walked away. It was weird. He didn't talk to me for a couple of weeks after that, but then, he was right back at my door, the puppy dog at my heels.

Christmas came along, and our dorm decided to have a "Secret Santa" exchange. I ended up pulling the name of the most terrifying and disturbed resident of the entire building: Linnet. Linnet was the daughter of a well-known mystery author and a child of relative privilege. She dressed in Scottish tartans and punk-rock-ish black jackets, held together with safety pins.

Linnet also believed she was a Vulcan.

As in, Leonard Nimoy, live-long-and-prosper, crazy-ass eyebrows and ears Vulcan.

Linnet, in fact, had shaved her eyebrows to make them as pointy as possible. (By her junior year, she'd added prosthetic ears to her look.) She kept a black & white photo of Spock on her dresser, surrounded by candles in a Star-Trek-meets-Goth semi-darkness.

Did I mention, she also claimed to be an anarcho-communist?

Lucky, lucky me. I couldn't get one of the girls would probably would have been happy with a stuffed animal or an illegally procured bottle of Malibu. Noooo, I have to get the resident freak-child. We were supposed to keep the gift to $10 max. I ended up buying her tartan-edged writing paper, a roll of tartan stamps and tartan-covered pencils (with little Scottie dog erasers on the ends), and, much to my amazement, Linnet loved them. First - and only - time I saw Vulcan McCommunist smile in our four years at Macalester. Go figure.

My Secret Santa gift was left on my bed. A mysterious envelope with no markings. Inside were two highly-coveted tickets to one of the annual holiday performances of the Nutcracker at Northrup Auditorium at the University of Minnesota. The tickets were expensive. Really expensive. And my brain, was, apparently, very small. I should have known it was Chris that bought these tickets, but I didn't make the connection. (D'oh!) I went next door and asked Roberta if she'd like to go. Of course, she said yes. Anyone in the Twin Cities would have been a fool to turn down one of those suckers.

Later that day, Chris came by and inquired about my gift. Did I like it? Really like it? I got slightly annoyed at how many times he asked. Finally, he coughed up the news that he was my Secret Santa. And, of course, he expected that we would be going to the performance together.

I had to give him the bad news - I'd invited Roberta. He should have just handed the tickets to me, rather than leaving them on my bed. He should have said, "Hey, I'm your Secret Santa, and we're going to the Nutcracker!" And you know, had I not still had that weird "Spidey Sense" tingling about Chris, I might have told Roberta it was a no-go. But something remained, something troubling, in the back of my head.

Turns out, Chris had asked around the building until he'd found out who really had drawn my name in the Secret Santa deal. He'd exchanged my name for his original draw, just so he could get those tickets for us to go to the ballet, so intent was his pursuit of my attention. But even then, I withdrew. He was kind and attentive, and I was, seemingly inexplicably, cruel. My defenses were up against a guy who wanted me. What was my problem?

After the Nutcracker Incident, Chris ditched me. No more puppy dog at my heels. Not even a greeting in the hallway. I was invisible, and, perhaps, justifiably so. Chris found his element in the Speech & Theater Department, doing just about every production they mounted. I'd see him coming back to the dorm after rehearsals or performances, his face still covered in stage makeup.

It would be months later when I finally put two and two together. Months after Chris had found another fat, gawky girl to be his girlfriend. My moment of realization came when Chris broke that girl's heart when she found him passionately locking lips with another boy backstage at a college theater production.

Yep, Chris wasn't straight. He finally came out at the end of that year. (I think his angry girlfriend's sense of betrayal may have helped accelerate his outing, frankly.)

That weird inkling I'd had all year, I think, was just my nascent gaydar finally kicking in. I'd been badly burnt in high school, when my boyfriend of a year revealed himself to be gay. He was a year ahead of me in school, and, just a week before he was set to leave for college, he drove past my parents house and threw a box of my belongings on the lawn. This surprised me, as we'd spent the previous evening strolling through a park together, hand in hand, kissing like crazy. He called me later that day, after I'd retrieved my bits and bobs from the yard. He didn't love me anymore. His class ring was to be returned via a third party.

I didn't understand. Neither did our friends. Then, he called one of our friends and explained that, while he was dating me, he was also engaged in clandestine sex with a 14-year-old boy who lived down the street from me. In fact, they had their liaisons in the same park where we'd been strolling the night before. Gee, not only was he really, really, seriously not into me, he was having sex with an underaged boy. Lovely.

That led to much ugliness for me, and a genuine wariness of any man who gave me more than a moment's attention. That's a wariness that's lasted a good, long time.

Twice, when I lived in Russia, I had gay men - one a Russian, the other one French - try to get me to marry them so they could get green cards and move to the 'States. These two were not kids trying to find their way, but professional, polished men in their 30s. It's as if I had a tattoo on my forehead reading, "Fat chick. Easy shot at a fake marriage!"

Not the case, buckaroos. Not the case.

I deeply empathize with the challenges faced by gay, lesbian, bi, and transgendered people in finding their way in our strangely puritanical society. I don't understand homophobia - I simply find it sad and pathetic. But I get downright angry with that small group of gay men who use women they feel are easy targets to help them hide themselves or who they feel are desperate enough for marriage that they'll take on someone who not only doesn't love them, but has no attraction for their gender. As someone who's been in that position more than once, let me say this guys: it's uncool.

Don't do it.

Grow a set and face the world.

I can't hide the fact that I'm fat. And that means that I have to deal with the cruelty and the stupidity and the bigotry of ignorant people all the time. And the last thing that fat chicks need are guys who want to use them as big societal camouflage tarps - especially guys who need to face the world the same way we fat chicks have to.

I used to beat myself up over not taking Chris to the Nutcracker with me. I used to think I was just a cruel kid. But my instincts were right, and I likely saved myself a lot of grief (that got translated into grief for another fat girl), but I hope that my moment of cruel rejection helped him take one more step to being out and content and who he really was. I'll probably never know if that's the case. But wherever he is, I hope he's happy.

My high school boyfriend? I found him online. He's a well-respected academic and a nationally known expert on statistics. He lives with a guy who calls himself "Chi Chi" and calls gay square dances. Chi Chi.

The two guys in Moscow? The Russian found a Dutch girl to marry him. I'm sure he's pretty happy in Amsterdam, but I'll bet you dollars to donuts they're no longer married.

The other one? My Parisian nightmare? Oy vey! He (much like my 7 1/2-fingered, wormy college roommate) requires his own blog entry. He's the reason I fled Moscow, despite having job offers to stay. I hadn't heard from him for ages, and then, four years ago, he sent me some crazy-ass e-mail saying that friends in New York wanted him to come open a restaurant with them. He still needed a green card. Was I still single?

Was I still single?!?!?

Some people never learn.

I deleted his e-mail.

Cruel to be kind. (In the right measure.)


Merujo said...

I love that picture, too. I found it on someone's website last year, and I've kept it in my files since then, waiting for the right time to use it.

Sudiegirl said...

OH very first male encounter at college was with a guy named Lon.

I don't know what I was thinking.

Where do guys learn their social skills? K-Mart?

We should write a book...maybe we already are.

Real Live Lesbian said...

Loved your post. As the fat lesbian chick....I've been the target, too. Especially since I'll never really "need" a husband anyway. Why should I care? Oh yeah, it's because I have feelings.

Um no, thanks. I'm still waiting for the woman of my dreams to come along on the white horse.

Scholiast said...

The only good thing - you make this issue an (or more to come?)excellent post...