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...but Needn't Be Any Longer
Recently, pre-sleep, I couldn't put down the "New Yorker" article on Tyler Clementi. Even as I felt voyeuristic, reading his various tweets and status updates, and those of his college-roommate Dharun Ravi, included in the piece, I still read on, hoping to confirm the complete rationale for Tyler's suicide. I have to believe it was shame and maybe just a bit too much fragility that caused Tyler to throw himself to his death, off the George Washington Bridge, after Dharun filmed Tyler via his webcam, making out with a man. The article didn't theorize, just reported sad interchanges and facts leading up to it.
To my knowledge, no one ever has ever filmed me, making out with anyone. Still, I have film-clips in my head from my pre-teens to age 20, of fantasies of such scenes, and in one case, of a fizzled kiss. To this day, a number of these scenes cause me shame about my shame, recalling how they wrecked a series of dear friendships due to my embarrassment about them. Fortunately, neither sort of shame has caused me to succeed at, or even attempt, suicide, but they still have the power to bring me to tears as a middle-aged adult, when I think of my vulnerable young self and compare her to the grown-up self who nonetheless still feels a bit vulnerable at the memories. Probably, I've detailed a number of the scenes in previous posts over the years --
Let Me Start Over
Do you remember your first experience of unrequited desire? I'm not asking if you remember your first experience of desire. Unrequited is the key word here.
Mine was with a best friend when we were 15. We lay in bathing suits on beach-towels on the wooden deck attached to the back of her family's home. We were nurturing our tans and sucking on ice to keep the heat at bay.
My friend asked me to get some more ice from the kitchen behind us. I sat up and looked over at her, lying on her back, eyes shut against the sun. She had a ballerina's body, full of grace, even while prone, and long chestnut hair tucked over behind one shoulder, calling attention to her swan-length neck. I leaned over, causing a shadow, and kissed her lips quickly. She opened her light-green eyes and looked at me questioningly -- not meanly, and also not encouragingly. I jumped up and bounded for the kitchen, bringing back more ice. We pretended it never happened. I wanted to die, but simply lay back down next to her and closed my eyes for more sun-bathing.
When sophomore year began, we saw less of each other and by the time my dad died during my senior year, we had all but drifted apart. At my father's funeral, my tears were paralyzed. I couldn't grieve visibly. My friend and her mother came over for the shivah and we sat side-by-side on the dark-plum rug in my room, leaning against my bed, trying to act natural, because my father was dead, and also, I was convinced, because she felt nervous around me because of the sun-bathing incident.
I didn't get up to walk her out and simply watched her leave my room. As the door shut, I flopped onto the rug and lay there soaking it with my tears. Finally, I could grieve the loss of my dad, and especially at that moment, the loss of my friend's and my innocent friendship.
Fast forward to yesterday, after lots of grown-up experiences: Five of her kids later, and after residences in Chicago, London, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Bangalore and Montclair between us with our male and female spouses respectively, and in the midst of successful careers, we were together again for the first time in a decade, which is when she last visited the United States.
"I never thought we drifted because of that [-- the kiss]," she said. "I didn't think about that."
"You didn't think about it?" After it happened, it's practically all I thought about, mostly from shame.
"No. I thought that most of all, college was when we had a hard time keeping the friendship going, since we were far away from each other."
All the wasted shame! If I had committed suicide from the shame I felt at the time from my experience with this friend and a couple of others who I fantasized about, I'd never have had the poignant reunions as adults, not to mention, my lovely wife and life. What wouldn't have happened had I not stuck around? I wouldn't have helped other lesbian, gay, bi and transpeople among my community, clients and global company. I wouldn't have found Pat with whom I've had a rich time, including our adopting two feline daughters. I wouldn't have helped our company's leaders to be more effective. I wouldn't have been a comfort to my mom in her old age and who knows what else?
Makes me want to say the "Shehecheyanu" - the prayer that thanks God for enabling us to reach this occasion:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ
Blessed are You, L-rd
אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֹלָם
our G-d, Ruler of the Universe,
who has granted us life, sustained us
וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה׃
and enabled us to reach this occasion.