We all do it; follow that line we set up for ourselves. We plod a course, the straight and narrow some might say, and then walk that line toward a particular destination we’ve imagined we want. And every so often we twist the knobs, and set out on a course of curves and newness, moving in a direction we hadn’t thought of before, but it’s a slow curve, not dangerous, you can still see where you’re going. We might not like it, but we can always go back.
But what about shaking the Etch-a-Sketch? What about saying, screw that line, damn that curve. Let me hold on tight, both hands, and shake things up.
See, I was an Etch-a-Sketch person. I followed the line that I thought I was meant to follow. I didn’t stray too far off the path; who am I kidding, I never strayed off the path. But then it hit me, follow the path, that straight line or that gentle curve, and where are you going? Toward another straight line, one more gentle curve? What was that all about?
My first shake was telling my parents I was gay. That was a big shake at the time, although now it seems more of a ‘so what.’ But I thought it was a big deal because I didn’t have a real life reference point on what it meant to be gay. What were the rules? Was there a uniform? Did I have to pay dues? What was it? See, in my family there were no ‘funny uncles’ or ‘aunts in plaid’ that I could see; that I could say, “Hey, I’m like that, so it must be okay.” The only gay men I knew were the limp-wristed types on TV shows and in the movies. They wore ascots and paisley jackets, were sarcastic and alone. Terry-Thomas? No, not me. Uncle Arthur, I was not….at least I didn’t think so.
So I shook the Etch-a-Sketch and came out. No one died. No one fainted. My family didn’t disown me. I lost a few friends, but then I think they weren’t really friends to begin with if “I’m gay” causes them to disappear. I’m gay…..Poof…..you’re gone. It’s like a homo David Copperfield. Now, of course, I was gay and yet I still followed that straight line that had been set before me; I’ll save you the horror of joking about me following a ‘straight’ line. It’s been done.
Then about eight-and-a-half years ago, I gave the Etch-a-Sketch a gentle nudge. I got a computer…..yes, I was late to the game…one step behind. But I got a computer and then started looking around the Internet. I was on AOL and went into a chat room–Gay Lifestyles, I think it was called. It was a fun chatty room where you could be gay, where you could step off the line a bit because no one really knew you.
Then I met Carlos in that chat room. And we started to online chat. The lines jogged a bit off-course for me. We began to call one another; he was in Miami, I was in California. Then I bumped the Etch-a-Sketch and told Carlos I wanted to meet him . He was thrilled and plans were made for me to fly to Miami in July. JULY? IN MIAMI? Oy! What was I thinking?
But I bought the tickets and readied myself to take a sharp turn. I’ve split my life into Old Bob and New Bob. See, Old Bob would have bought the tickets to Miami, told everyone he was going, and got on the plane. But then when it made a stop in Houston, Old Bob would get off the plane, find a Motel 6, and spend the week there. Then he’d return home and tell everyone that Carlos was ‘okay.’ The trip was ‘fine.’ I’d ignore Carlos’ phone calls and stay off the computer. I’d go back to following that line.
But New Bob didn’t do that. New Bob flew to Miami and met Carlos and spent a wonderful week in Florida. New Bob fell in love with Carlos and cried at the airport when he had to go home. New Bob’s Etch-a-Sketch was shaking. And it was okay; twists and jogs in the oath weren’t anything to fear.
A month after I came home, Carlos came to California and we did Meet The Family. I was so happy to have him there; so happy that my family liked him; my friends, too. But then he was gone home again and I wondered what would happen next.
It wasn’t but a few weeks before I hurled the Etch-a-Sketch across the room and chose to follow the path I chose, not one that was arbitrarily set out for me. Carlos and I made plans for me to move to Miami. I sold a car, some furniture, some knickknacks; I got rid of my apartment and quit my job.
Every once in a while, you gotta Shake the Etch-a-Sketch.