Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin
queerbychoice

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Meme from legolastn

The way this meme works is as follows: I commented on legolastn's post, and he gave me the age 18. If you request in the comments, I'll assign you an age, and so the chain of memes can continue.

At 18 (in 1994-95) . . .

I lived in:
My parents' house. It was a not-quite-1,500-square-foot house on a not-quite-quarter-acre lot on a dead-end street in Carmichael, California - a suburb of Sacramento. We had a swimming pool and a lot of redwood trees. I had recently (the previous year) repainted my bedroom from the yellow color it had been for all my previous life to a grand new color scheme in which the ceiling was magenta, the lower half of the walls were blue, and the upper half of the walls were a gradation of purple, gradually blending from magenta-ish at the top to bluish at the bottom. The carpet was olive green shag, left over from 1973 when my parents bought the house. It was new when they bought it, and had no landscaping whatsoever back then. They spent three years adding landscaping and pets to it before I was born.

I drove:
Nothing, because I didn't have a driver's license yet. California requires people under 18 to have at least 6 hours of behind-the-wheel driver's training from a professional driving instructor to get a license, and my school didn't provide behind-the-wheel driver's training, and my parents refused to pay for it (and didn't quite seem to believe me when I explained that I couldn't get a license without it). Now that I was 18, I was finally able to get a license, but since I wasn't going to be able to get my own car (nor any particularly regular use of my parents' cars) anyway, it wasn't a high priority. I didn't get my driver's license until I was 20.

I worked at:
Nothing yet. For my subsequent three years of college I had a work-study job in the English Department, mainly copying and collating papers, but sometimes also answering phones, sorting mail, or supervising the computer lab or the writing center. But during my freshman year I didn't have any job yet.

I wanted to be:
A Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist. And I was completely convinced that the novel I was already working on writing would be both finished and published by the time I graduated from college, and would be enough of a success that I would never need a day job.

I was in a relationship with:
A fellow student at my college whose name was Flame. My first relationship ever! I had an anthropology class with him in my first semester of college. In the elevator on the way to class one day, he noticed the rainbow-striped triangle pin on my backpack (which I put on every morning during the bus ride to school and took off again every morning on the bus ride home, because I wasn't out to my parents) and complimented me on it, and made reference to a queer event he'd attended. I inferred that he was queer, and was delighted; I took to regularly walking with him from that class toward my next class after that. He would also greet me warmly when he occasionally saw me around campus at other times of day - most often at the bus stop, because we both took the bus (though we took different buses). At the end of the semester he asked for my phone number, and I gave it to him, because by then I was very interested in him. Why wouldn't I be? He seemed to be queer, he seemed to enthusiastically support my queer by choice ideas, he seemed to be about my age (well, he looked it and didn't say anything to indicate otherwise, and I knew he was a sophomore), he seemed to be very smart and knowledgeable, and he was basically the first person to ever show romantic interest in me at a time and in such a way that I was both able to figure out that he was interested and not struck dumb with terror by the prospect of even having a conversation. Besides, I was kind of grieving the loss of my pseudo-Asian identity (having firmly established myself in high school as a member of the Asian crowd but finding that the college I ended up with was rather lacking in . . . well, it wasn't actually lacking in Asians, but it was lacking in my sort of Asians: it had street-smart Asians rather than nerdy Asians, and I didn't know how to befriend this new, unfamiliar brand of Asians), and he was . . . not actually Asian, but he had similar coloring, anyway, and that was better than nothing; it bothered me to feel myself perceived as just another white person, and talking to anyone at all who wasn't white helped to somewhat alleviate the uncomfortable sense of having been unwillingly subsumed into the general mass of white people around me. Anyway, when I eventually got around to asking him what his ethnicity was, because it was quite unclear, he said he was Native American. He was oddly lacking in details about what sort of Native American he was, but he didn't seem to want to answer any questions about it, and it wasn't as if I particularly cared what the details were anyway, so I didn't push.

When I talked to him on the phone between semesters, I asked him his age and he told me he was 35. This was a distinctly unwelcome piece of news, but I was sufficiently interested in him by then to not be very easily scared off. Besides, he added fascinating new information, such as that he'd previously been married and had taken his wife's last name when he married her, and kept her last name after the divorce. He did not offer any information about what his original last name had been, but I was quickly learning that it was best never to ask him any questions: anytime I asked him a question, he would decide that it was great fun to frustrate me by deliberately withholding the information that he now knew I wanted. I stood a much better chance of getting the information I wanted if I didn't ask, if I carefully made sure not to let on that I cared about knowing a particular thing, and I just got him started talking about a related subject and hoped he might randomly wander over to the topic I wanted to know about and happen to mention the thing I wanted to know. Anyway, I was impressed that he had taken his ex-wife's name. I asked why they'd gotten divorced. He said his ex-wife had started having recurring dreams in which he was a mad scientist conducting experiments on people in a basement and she started to look askance at him in her waking life because of this; she stopped being quite sure where the boundary was between real life and her dreams. I concluded that his ex-wife must have had mental health problems.

He asked for my address, and I gave it to him, and we started exchanging long snail-mail letters every couple of days. His letters were always typed, and really could not remotely have been called love letters: they were unemotional ramblings on intellectual topics, sprinkled liberally with arcane trivia and puns. But I was always interested to learn new things, so I didn't particularly mind. When the spring semester started, he asked me on a date, and I got my first kiss ever! Also I found out that he'd dropped out of college for the semester, though he assured me he would return to school the following semester. He just needed to take a semester off to save up some money. He was working at a minimum-wage food-service job and sharing a tiny, run-down house with five other people. (I would meet them later: they all had a slightly haunted, totally-flat-broke look about them.) He introduced me to the Internet, though: he was a computer science major and knew about these things before I did. He showed me the computer lab in the computer science building and taught me how to sign in and start using the Internet. The Internet was exclusively text-based: we were using the Lynx text browser.

We were in a relationship for the entire spring semester. Every Saturday we would take the buses together and he would show me some new and hitherto-unknown-to-me corner of Sacramento County. He would also meet me on campus from time to time, at the end of my schoolday. He continued to resist answering questions of any sort, and to shamelessly manipulate me in various ways to get me to do whatever he wanted me to do - or he would just do things to me against my will. Gradually I lost more and more sense of having any control over the relationship, over my life, over my body, over anything. I could not imagine leaving him, though. I was going to be a person who married the first person I ever kissed. This was important to me. It was necessary not to get married until after graduating from college, but it was also very important that when I did get married, it must be to the first person I ever kissed. So after three and a half years I was going to marry him. I talked to him about this, and he was fine with it. A hypothetical marriage three and a half years in the future did not bother him. I was happy about this. I tried to resign myself to the alarming lack of control over my life and inability to get him to answer questions. If I were just clever enough about it, I was sure I could eventually get all my questions answered: I just needed to be very careful never to let him know that I cared about knowing any of the answers.

One day near the end of the semester, he showed me his driver's license. He pointed out his birthdate on it, which revealed that he was actually 32 years old, not 35 years old as he had claimed. I had made the mistake of asking him a direct question about his age, so it figured that he had only answered by giving me false information. He seemed to expect me to be bowled over with joy at finding out he was three years younger than I had thought. He was still 14 years older than I was, though, and I didn't understand what was supposed to be thrilling about finding out he'd been lying to me for our entire relationship. At around this time he also clarified that he didn't actually regard himself as queer: "Well, I've only been attracted to two men, and they were both named Steve, and you know, I don't think men named Steve are really men exactly." This distressed me greatly; I had not intended to date a heterosexual, not even a rather heteroflexible one. Also at around this time he legally changed his first name from Flame. I didn't like his new first name as much as his old one and didn't take to using it. (He didn't seem to care whether I used it or not.) Also at around this time he mentioned in passing that his mother had been schizophrenic. It vaguely occurred to me that his own mental health might not be great. I may have let slip slightly more information about him than usual to my parents, because my mother started asking a few questions. She asked me how old he was. I told her he was 32. I did not mention that I'd only recently learned this and had previously been led to believe he was 35. Despite my omissions, I was informed that my parents now needed to meet him to determine whether he was an acceptable boyfriend for me or not. So I arranged for him to come to dinner at our house.

When he came to dinner, he talked nonstop and made no sense and was wildly socially inappropriate. Behaviors that had not seemed that weird when he was alone with me seemed suddenly much weirder when he demonstrated zero ability to adjust them and present himself differently for my parents' benefit. He made dirty jokes about me to my parents. He rambled bizarrely. He dodged questions. They were better at pinning him down and forcing him to answer questions than I was, though, and also better at reading between the lines and picking up on things that I didn't, so I got some answers. I learned that his family was from Mexico: he was "Native American" simply by virtue of being Latino. I learned what his birth name had been. (It turned out he'd legally changed his entire name when he got married, not just his last name, and in so doing, he transformed himself from an identifiably Latino person with a standard Hispanic name to an ethnically unidentifiable person with a vaguely plausibly Native American name. I didn't understand what he had against his Mexican heritage, but I suppose he didn't understand what I had against my white heritage.) I also learned that he'd been homeless in the past. After he left, my parents said they thought he was schizophrenic. Since I knew (and they didn't know) that his mother had been schizophrenic - and also since they had substantial professional experience working with schizophrenics, because they were both social workers - I realized that they probably had pretty good reason for thinking so. They forbade me to see him anymore. I realized they were right, and telephoned him and broke up with him.

I feared:
I'm not sure I can put into words quite what I feared, but most of it involved Flame. Well, and my parents: I feared coming out to them.
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