Monday, October 12, 2009

Lela

Tony was one of those guys who always had a girlfriend but never kept one for more than a few months. He was smooth and charming, and he slid one woman out of his bed to make room for the next, and most women who knew him knew the odds of Tony being faithful were pretty much nonexistent. Some tried to reform his catting ways and it always seemed to work in the beginning, but there was always some event that led to Tony slipping off the chain and back into his old habits.
Honestly, we thought Theresa had as good a chance as anyone alive to settle Tony down. She was sweet, caring, and she kept Tony on a short leash. We, the Fraternal Union Of Drinking Buddies, resented one of our own being cut out of the herd and being treated like an adult, but we realized Tony would soon escape, so we didn’t make much of a fuss. Besides, Theresa looked damn good in a bikini, and the woman loved the water. The threw great pool parties at Tall Tree apartments, and there was an old saying if Tall Tree wasn’t destroyed by burning brimstone soon god was going to have to apologize for Sodom and Gomorrah. But we had a great time, and no one got seriously injured, though there were some divorces.
The one big drawback Tony had when it came to Theresa was her brother Alan. Now, remember this was back in the mid 80’s, and being gay in South Georgia was still pretty much something that no one did openly, at least not around the crowd I ran with. Alan was one of those guy who would have been dressed in a football uniform and just standing there and the first thing anyone would think was “Gay”. Had he wore a neon sigh around his neck it could not have been more obvious.

Of course we kidded the hell out of Tony. We accused him of double dating when he was out with Theresa and Alan, and he hated it. Alan didn’t have a lot of friends of his own, and Theresa didn’t put up with anyone messing with him about being gay. For a woman her size Theresa was fiercely loyal to her brother, and we respected her for it, too. Alan was a bad person just to hang around, but he was, for the lack of a better word, sissified. Tony told us Alan like to be called Lela when they were at Theresa’s place. Lela wore long dresses and make-up and would help Theresa’s female friends get fixed up for dates. He wanted to move to Atlanta as soon as he graduated from Valdosta State, and open a restaurant. The man could cook, from what Tony told us, but we kidded him about the “secret ingredient”. We were like that then, but so was everyone else. That’s the weakest excuse for who we were, I know this, but none of us had ever seen a life lived any other way. We suggested to Tony he fix Alan up some an easy date, a woman of course, and none of us could understand why that wasn’t a workable idea. We saw Alan as a product of choice, and a product, perhaps, of a kid raised too soft by his mother, or something like that. I think one of the things alcohol does to a person is it kills off, or at least deadens that part of the brain where compassion lives. Most serious drinkers lack empathy because they’re accustomed to not feeling any. It gets to be a habit, even when a person is sober, to still feel that sense of deadness that being very drunk brings. Worse, even if Tony had felt some sense of compassion for Alan’s plight, his friends, me included, were constantly putting him on the defensive about his own manhood.
After Theresa and Tony broke up, we were all down at Blue Springs drinking one day, and Therese and Alan showed up. The breakup had been a brutal and vicious thing, and it had been public. Tony got caught putting his hand on another woman’s butt, and Theresa had called him on it openly. Tony, instead of thinking about what he was going to say, instead said, “Hell, you ought to try it, maybe it runs in the family.” And Theresa had dumped a candle’s hot wax into Tony’s lap. Tony slapped her, and she hit him in the head with the candle holder. We broke the fight up, but not before both were bleeding. Tony was still seething over that, and we knew it, and he was fair game for us to poke at him about breaking up with Theresa to date Alan. Tony saw Alan, and meant to embarrass Theresa in public. He went over to Alan and started telling him he was going to kick his ass and before we could think to do anything, Alan popped him. It wasn’t some half hearted slap in the face but a punch thrown hard and accurate. Alan had spent over two decades as a gay guy in South Georgia and had been stomped on more than once. Years of having to defend himself in situations like this trained him to hit hard, hit first, and hit often. Alan damn near killed Tony before we could break the fight up. To make matter worse, when Tony was on the ground, Theresa kicked him in the mouth, splitting his lip.

Months later I saw Theresa and offered to buy her a drink and she shook her head. “After the things you’ve said about Alan, you want to try and fuck me?” I really didn’t understand the problem. Alan wasn’t a product of choice or bad parenting, but to a degree, Alan was a product of people like me. People like me grouped together while drunk and defined him, voted him as someone undeserving of the compassion we were drowning in ourselves. We made Theresa defend him against us, and we made sure that anyone who felt any differently than we did was made fun of, and mocked, until they gave up and joined us.
I saw Theresa yesterday at a book store and when I stopped to say hello she walked right past me.

Take Care,
Mike

4 comments:

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    1. No. I was as much a part of the problem as anyone else. Looking back, I wish I had been a better person back then but all I can do is hope to be a better person now.

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  2. I remember that my parents had a friend who was the superintendent of my school in the 50's (I started in '62). The friend was a "bachelor". Years later, as an "adult" my Mother and I talked about him and the fact that he was probably gay. I have always admired my west Texas parents for their friendship with Mr. V.

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    1. One of my closest friends is from Texas and she is gay. It is not easy being in this part of the world for her and her partner but it is a lot better than it was and it is getting better, too.

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