Wearing my mother’s full-length rabbit-fur coat, I headed out the door that Halloween night. I was a nine-year old East Palo Alto boy, trick-or-treating for my bag of candy.
“Look at this fellas,” said the young man answering the door down the street. “Who are you? A gorilla?” he asked as the others laughed.
“I am not!” I snapped. “I’m a fur-trapper from the North.” If he knew anything about the history of the Northwest, he would have known that.
Who the heck did he think he was—some Stanford University frat boy? Yes, he was. And for the rest of my life, I’ve had ambivalent feelings about that place.
Fat chance I would ever accept a full-ride scholarship from them. They must have known that, too, because they never offered.
I wasn’t good at re-inventing myself for Halloween—or any other time for that matter. Years later, invited to a gay Halloween party, I slipped a trash-bag over my head and went as solid waste. I was the life of the party. Or more accurately, the death of it. Things got ugly until they “outed” me as the hetero-spouse of the woman who brought me.
Now that I think about it, it hasn’t always been easy being the spouse of the woman who brought me. For 20 years, I was Nina’s spouse until suddenly this summer—I lost her. Then, to her family, I was the squatter living in her house. Too bad they missed how much I loved her.
To say that her death has left me in limbo would be an understatement. In similar times, I would have sought my loving mother. But I had already lost her too. Such is the peril of growing old—when “limbo” is a way of life.
“How could I live without teaching?” I would ask myself as I puffed up the hill to my College of the Redwoods classes. Soon enough I would learn. One day they told me I was doing a good job but shortly thereafter discontinued my class. Part-timers like me, the majority of the workforce, have had a rough time there. In fact, the only way to make sure you get recognition there is to be bitten by a shark. An English teacher friend of mine did and I’ll bet he still worries about job security.
But rather than re-inventing myself, I have found loving people to help, especially around here. You just have to give them an opportunity.
One day, I was visiting the sick as a volunteer when an elderly agitated woman snapped at me. “Holy Mackerel! Who are you, a priest? What parish?” she growled.
“Holy Mackerel,” I responded.
In subsequent visits, I found her equally ornery and combative. It happens when you are 90 and you hurt. Finally, one day she began crying, saying she was mad at God and she wanted to die.
I told her that wasn’t my call—and either way, I would love her now and forever. She quieted and let me kiss her hand.
It’s amazing what love can do—how it allows us to reinvent ourselves. Or maybe it helps us to realize who we really have been all along.