We were well into the second half of the program when I looked over at Joe. My chair was back a bit so I could see him easily and I loved what I saw. I love him, of course, but I also loved seeing him thoroughly enjoying himself. He knows every word of “The Messiah” and followed it without once looking at the libretto. I had this overwhelming urge, absolutely overwhelming.
But let me stop for a second.
Joe and I became a couple 47 years ago. Times were very different then. Danger, real danger, lurked around corners. We could, if discovered, be beaten to a pulp by thugs on the street. We could, if found out, lose our jobs and incomes. We could, if someone talked, be kicked out of our apartment. We lived in the era of silence and caution and desperate fear.
We learned to live two lives. One a performance for the straight world who demanded conformity to its norms and worship of its values; one a real life as our real selves in safe places that we found in the LGBTI community. In the straight world we lived constrained wearing a straight jacket. At home we could rest and be ourselves. But what happened in the outer world entered into our inner world. We knew that our affection and love for one another was dangerous, people could see it and even if they couldn’t see it, they may sense it. It was our Achilles heel. And distance grew.
We learned to show affection in different ways, subtle ways that only we knew, we spoke a language of love without ever saying a word. It wasn’t enough, but it became enough. It’s something that still angers me. It’s something I still can’t speak about, even here, even now.
So we didn’t and don’t show public affection.
But the urge was overwhelming. I wanted to put my arm around him. I wanted him to feel my presence, my touch, and know that I loved him and that I loved being there with him. I wanted the moment to be ours. I wanted the moment to exists in real time, in real ways. There was a burning in my chest. I felt the fear of all those years. I felt the fear we felt when the bus we were in, at a gay event in another city, was surrounded and rocked by what seemed like hundreds of people. I felt the fear we felt when we were walking home in the dark, realizing we’d been followed from the bar, quickening our pace without showing signs of panic. I felt that fear. I felt it there.
“Ah, but we live in different times,” you may tell me. Of course we do. But times be what they may, people remain stubbornly people. Where can we actually ever really feel safe? Where will we ever know the hearts and minds of those around us? Where will we know that we are fully and completely safe?
The fear didn’t stop, but neither did the desire to put my arm around Joe.
I know people noticed.
I braced myself for an impact that didn’t come.
When the show was over we got in the car and drove home. We never talked about it. We had dinner. We went on to have a nice quiet evening at home. I said “Good night,” to Joe and went to bed, he stayed up to wait for the call that would tell me the time my bus was expected in the morning.
I had almost nodded off when I heard the phone ring and heard the message regarding my pick up time. Then the room darkened as Joe shut off the lights and came to bed. I felt him settle down beside me, put his arm around me and said, “I liked it.”