This was written and first published in 2008. I've spiffed it up just a little. It pairs well with the piece I shall post tomorrow, Seeking love and finding only beads. I suppose I could have combined them into one chapter, but in my mind that wouldn't have been the right thing to do.
The photo is from an interview I did with a reporter from the school newspaper at UCA sometime in the early 90s, when I was still transitioning.
Sixteen years ago, when I was 44, I started transitioning. Oddly, forty-four years ago, I was 16. It was also a transitional year, in many ways. I have spent the week trying to remember it, perhaps with hindsight that is quite more myopic than 20-20.
It was a time...
It's hard growing up knowing that there is something so terribly wrong that it must be hidden from everyone. It would have been best at the time if I could have hid it from myself as well but, as I've said before, ideas cannot be unthought. I was, in my mind, a pervert. Nothing was going to change that. The best I could do was to try to hide it.
On Wednesday I posted my poem about my obsessive-compulsive disorder.
in the English
if you play poker
in the UK
the most words
four to eight
can be produced
I know these things
because I read
cover to cover
A paper match
can be divided
a razor blade
if you are
and extremely patient
Am I cured?
10 8 7 9 9
--Robyn Elaine Serven
--March 2, 2006
I spent an equally absurd amount of time trying to disguise that.
Thus began a freakingly weird progression of choices and compulsions. In junior high school I had to have a girlfriend. Someone my age who played sports had to have a girlfriend or people were going to talk. I could possibly have passed it off like Mike Smith did by being even smarter than me and therefore allowably asexual. Maybe it helped that he didn't play baseball. He was the best shortstop around, but no junior high school coach wanted a left-handed shortsop. I heard at my tenth high school reunion in 1976 that Mike was gay and working as a waiter when he committed suicide.
It didn't matter if someone was queer or not in high school in the mid-60s. Perception was everything. I had stopped hanging around Terry Bean, my nemesis at intelligence challenges at Forest Hills Elementary School, because people knew he was queer. (I'm not outing Terry here: he's one of the founding members of the Human Rights Campaign Fund). I was not like Terry. I was, however, still a pervert...in my mind.
But as long as I didn't do anything about it...
And I needed a girlfriend. Junior high school was so hard.
In elementary school the majority of my friends were girls. I don't know how it appeared to other people, but my best times were with Lisa Summers, Kathy McGuire and Suzy Phemister, Carol Duddleston or Sharon Royal, Toni Rushlight or Lloyce Sefton, or hanging with Trudy Settergren when I went to visit Terry.
And I played sports. There was no choice in that...my father lived his life through my brother's and my sports accomplishments. My brother was much better than I.
And I needed a girlfriend. Did I mention that junior high school was hard? I made some friends. We were certainly not the popular kids, but we formed a group. WHAFF. Western Hemisphere Association for Fun. How lame is that?
I went to some parties. At Nancy Marmont's house and Pat Kirkpatrick's and Carol Keith's and Sandy Steen's. And I met Bonnie.
Bonnie Rose. The girl I wanted to be. Smart. And athletic. She later became a member of the tennis team in high school. And we managed to become boyfriend and girlfriend...for whatever that was supposed to mean.
I also wanted to be Shirley MacLaine or Debbie Reynolds, but Bonnie was more of an actual person.
I have since heard that she was tossed out of Brown with the lowest positive GPA ever (her words, I'm told), but managed to become something like Director of Academic Computing at UCLA, or so I heard from another friend at another reunion.
Bonnie became the name of my sorrows...through no fault of her own.
At least I don't think so. I wish I could remember our time together. But that has all been replaced with memories of my obsession with her.
I remember the day our relationship ended. I was goofing around and she gave me a strange look and said, "Don't walk like that."
And high school became so very much harder.
I was still a pervert.
I spent as much of that time as I could in my room. It's not like my brother Jack was home much. As the years passed, I chose not to spend very much time at home myself. I'd spend the time walking the streets of Lake Oswego, especially past the homes of the girls who I wanted to be my friends, just hoping to run in to them "accidentally." And I dated a few of them, sort of (you know, study dates, hanging out together at the after game dances. There are memories of Sue Dehner and Joy Cronn, Nikki Tangen, who was a year older than me, Hester O'Malley, and Marylou Green.
But they weren't Bonnie. Even after Bonnie moved away to the Bay Area, they weren't Bonnie.
I wanted to be their friend, whereas I wanted to be her.
And it became so all screwed up.
I won a scholarship to Penn...with the understanding that I would row lightweight crew while there. The family went in hock for that. So I was taking a class in Eastern Religions taught by this visiting professor named Alan Watts. I concentrated on that because German class involved reading pretty depressing stuff by Berthold Brecht, Hermann Hesse and Franz Kafka. And I was a physics major who couldn't stand going to physics labs, who should have been a math major but there wasn't a 2nd semester calculus class available for first term freshmen. I ended up more screwed up.
I might have held it together if I had let Coach Harter steal me from the crew team to play college basketball. But I didn't. So I had to spend large portions of my time obsessing about getting my 6'4" frame down to 145 pounds (which, come to think about it, might very well have influenced the fact that I became such an overweight older person). And I shouldn't have started drinking, but that happens when one tries to pledge a fraternity in order to "fit in."
College was hard.
I made a huge mistake because of my obsession. I traveled to Providence and visited Bonnie at Brown, staying with a classmate of ours named Craig Carr. It was a nearly terminal path, which ended with me trying to step in front of the Norristown train in Bryn Mawr a couple months later, after what can only be described from this vantage point as a nervous breakdown. In between I wrote to the women I dated in high school with existential apologies for my having taken advantage of them, which were liberally sprinkled with what I thought I had learned from Alan.
Returning home after having been such a failure that I couldn't even kill myself effectively, I couldn't stay. I had squandered my existence, for a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises. And the family's fortune.
I saw Bonnie once again...in Golden Gate Park, probably after she flunked out of Brown. I stalked her until I lost the trail leaving the de Young museum, when I thought she had noticed the dirty, long-haired hippie freak following her. My second suicide attempt was later that night. Fortunately I was too stoned to successfully accomplish the feat.
Life was hard.
And I was still a pervert. And nobody should ever know that.
Distortion on a Gray Day
With any luck
the ragged people
discover how to sing
on the countless
which occupy time
between those occasional
days of sunshine
In a better world
one not consisting
of lies and jest
is not necessary
or even desired
--Robyn Elaine Serven
--February 22. 2008