I didn’t stop wetting the bed until I was 9. I didn’t lose my baby teeth until I was 17 years old. I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 20. My first French kiss was in college (from a girl). I didn’t have my first alcoholic drink until I was 23. I waited until I was 25 before moving out of my mother’s house. I didn’t come out of the closet until I was 33. I waited until I was 41 to visit a foreign continent.
This week, I had my first oyster.
I am a Latebloomer. Don’t know why, exactly. I think it’s partially because I have never been in a hurry to accomplish anything, I’m just not blessed with a sense of urgency or maybe I’m blessed, instead, with an overactive patience. Unless I had a need to be or do something, I simply didn’t do it. And my body seemed to understand that and acted in a like manner.
Wetting the bed is a strange and annoying habit. It wasn’t that I wanted to do it, of course, it was simply that I wouldn’t wake up until I experienced a very warm, very wet feeling (which was actually, now that I recall it from sense memory, rather pleasant) and then, oops, I did it again. So I had a rubber liner on my mattress, my mother would be angry and upset with me, I’d be angry and upset with me, and when at last it stopped, it stopped for no reason. I might still be wetting the bed to this day, but one day my body decided to wake up before I pissed myself rather than after, and it’s been midnight trips to the toilet ever since.
Driving was simply a matter of practicality. I didn’t own a car, so why did I need a license? I would bum rides from friends with rich parents, I could walk to the store if we suddenly ran out of toilet paper or milk, there was nowhere I really wanted to go that was farther away than a bike ride and, frankly, the idea of driving sort of scared me.
I took Driver’s Ed in High School like everyone else and, at the time, the idea of getting behind the wheel seemed fun and exciting. That was when I was sitting in the driving simulator in the dark trailer watching movies of driving. You know the ones, with the pleasant voice-over and the calm instructions and almost no way of actually hitting anyone or anything, unless you count reaching out and swatting your best friend in the next simulator over when they laughed at your use of the wrong turn signal.
Funny how everything you do incorrectly in High School is the end of the world.
When it came time to sit behind the wheel of a car and push the pedal down and look in the rearview and remember all the rules and regulations, I thought, eh, this is certainly overrated. And I probably don’t have to remind you that even now I am a bike rider and don’t really enjoy sitting behind the wheel and driving anywhere. As a car-free pedestrian, I am blithely unaffected by all the idiots out there who got their driver’s licenses when they turned 16 and never advanced beyond those skills. They still all drive like that.
My first French Kiss was a mess. I was deeply closeted and trying, in college, to pretend that I could be straight if I believed I was. No one else did, of course, but would I let something so insignificant as reality get in the way of fitting in?
Her name was Shannon and I had known her since we were both in the Mentally Gifted classes at Roosevelt Elementary School. Her father was a geophysicist or he invented rocks or he owned a steam train or something. She had vaguely Asian features, though she was not Asian, and very long, very blonde hair. She was smart and funny and had large breasts. If I was gonna turn straight for anyone, it would be her.
She had invited me to a party at her friend’s house. I had literally not been to a party in years, such was my closetedness. I was doing all I could to avoid sex and sexual situations and the possibility that my true nature would reveal itself. College was a horrible place to be gay, because it was so easy. The teachers all left you alone, you spent a lot of time with others your age in small, dark, smelly rooms with nothing to do, and people were exploring their sexual natures with abandon.
For me, that meant a lot of sneaking peeks at Playgirl magazines and long, long, long showers.
Shannon and I went into a room by ourselves and she, without preamble, pulled me to the floor and stuck her tongue in my mouth. Two things occurred to me immediately: Firstly, golly, I’m so gay that all I can think about here is how ugly the carpet is and why on Earth did the decorator think that wallpaper would work anywhere? Secondly, it would have benefitted me to have had something to drink before this was happening because Shannon’s tongue tastes like Tequila and cigarettes and ass and I am going to vomit directly down her esophagus.
Luckily, my gorge held, and all I ended up doing was a lot of gagging and retching and sweating. She never said anything to me about it as she kept on Frenching me, and it made me think that the next time it happened, I really would vomit. Consequently, I didn’t do it again until I managed to pry the closet door open and step outside and verified that, yes, I am definitely gay because a man’s tongue in my mouth? So, so good.
And not even a little vomiting.
I didn’t start drinking until I had a reason to. The whole concept of peer pressure just never made sense to me. Or maybe I had no peers, or the pressure was of a different sort. At any rate, I never really wanted to get drunk, never liked the taste of alcohol and couldn’t see the value of losing control of one’s motor skills and falling over a lot.
The kids in High School that drank, we called them the Parking Lot Crowd. These were the naughty boys and girls who skipped class and made fun of the teachers and were all surly and morose and condescending. Turned out they were right all along and just peaked early. I wasn’t surly and condescending until much later, and I’m glad I didn’t waste all that dark energy on something as trifling as High School.
I still don’t really enjoy drinking. I drink socially, and I do like the little buzz now and again that allows me to think I’m this amazingly attractive man with excellent taste and charm coming out my ass. But I’ve also recently discovered that I get very tired very fast with only a little alcohol in me, and I don’t actually enjoy the company of inebriates since they tend to be obnoxious, stupid and loud.
I stayed at home because I was lazy, and I was poor. Simple as that. My mother was mostly gone anyway, having a full time job and out at the bars dating guys and living it up. Come to think of it, she was having the life I was supposed to be leading, while I stayed home vacuuming, dusting and watching soap operas. I spent my money on records, a color TV, a really good stereo and, eventually, an ugly old car to get me to college and my two part time jobs. I left home only after my mother raised my rent (I think she wanted me out more than I wanted me out) and my first apartment was a studio with high ceilings and air conditioning that I never turned on because I couldn’t afford both the rent and the electric bill at the same time.
My uncloseting is well-documented, I think, and probably not worth revisiting all over again. Let’s just say that if I knew back then what I knew now, I would have exited that stupid, dark, horrible little room and been prancing around like a nelly when I was 19. Or 18. Or 16. When I think of all the time I wasted hating myself and wishing for everything to be different instead of just, you know, living my life…
I went to London a couple of years ago. I don’t travel much because I’m not the sort to just go out on my own and explore, and I’ve been on my own for years and years and years. So I tend to visit places where friends live, so we can go to restaurants and museums together and I don’t have to contend with being a single person out at dinner reading a book by myself.
I went to London on business. I enjoyed the city immensely and keep planning on going back, but it never quite pans out. I always end up back in NYC. And I’ve been planning a trip to Paris for literally three years running, each year vowing that “this will be the year for Paris,” and each year, it isn’t. This year it’s happening again. I’ll get there some day. You’ll see.
Oysters are amazing. Have you tried them yet? I recommend that you do.
The thing about oysters is that they look like huge boogers bathing in mucus. They are not an attractive food. Plus, I have an aversion to mussels, such that if I eat only the tiniest piece of one, everything inside of me will start rushing to get outside of me using the most convenient bodily orifice available, meaning all of them, at the same time, for hours. So I wasn’t excited about hopping on board the oyster boat and sucking back a few big gobs of snot.
But I’m also in a fun place right now. I’m learning new things and trying new things and trying to be open about ideas and opportunities and… suchlike. I lived a very long time in the land of assumption. I thought I was this other guy, see, and it turns out I wasn’t actually him at all. I made him up! Funny, isn’t it?
Now, the hard part is that I sort of tattooed him to me rather than just wearing him like a suit. He’s very hard to erase. Some of him, that’s still me. A lot, probably. But a lot isn’t, and a lot of him was built out of fear and avoidance. So sometimes I’d just decide that something was true without any evidence and then build it up until there was no way I was going to be talked out of it. It had become a part of me, and I would defend my right to be wrong until my face turned blue.
But I was sitting at dinner the other night with a new friend of mine, someone who’s been teaching me a lot about myself (whether he knows it or not, and he probably does because he’s pretty fucking smart) and there, on the menu, as a appetizer, were some oysters. I explained to him that I don’t like oysters and he asked why and I said, well, because they’re like mussels and I can’t eat mussels.
Now, I understand logic in theory, and I can apply it to all sorts of things. But when he asked if I had ever actually tried oysters, explaining that they are delicious and, really, why not just try one, my internal reaction was, oh god, I’m being challenged, this may get through my shields, how can I cope with defying expectations? Lance doesn’t like oysters! Stop!
But what I did was nod my head and agree to try one. Just one, mind you. After all, I could still explode from every bodily orifice and we had a birthday party to attend.
The oysters arrived all gray and unappetizing, sitting in their scalloped shells on a silver tray covered with crushed ice. There were six of them, they were very small, and each had a small dollop of something red sitting on them. We were given small, cunning little forks that were darling and precious and I wanted to wear one in my lapel, and the waitress told us what type of oysters they were and wished us joy and happiness, in so many words.
I think I actually went first. My friend is the sort who enjoys the joy of others, and he may have wanted to see my reaction in full without having any distractions. I took the cunning fork to loosen the meat and, lifting the shell to my mouth, slurped the mess inside.
I was immediately struck with the following: My mouth has the ocean in it. It was like licking a beach, but much less sandy. All the flavors and scents and feelings of the ocean began filling my head as I chewed on that tiny, tender morsel and swallowed it down, savoring the briny, luscious flavor all the way to my stomach.
I reiterate: If I knew back then what I knew now.
I am now an oyster fan. I fucking love oysters. I spent literally my entire life up to that point hating the little buggers, thinking they were slimy and gross and would make my gorge rise and flood from me like a red tide. All that was based on entirely nothing.
My point is probably obvious to everyone but the former me I keep tattooed to my ass. Try everything once. Abandon fear of the unknown and the new. Strike out and do. Take chances, taste things, try on that jacket you could never wear in public, buy those shoes, go to India, talk to that guy you see every day and wish you could talk to, take off your shirt and pants and visit the nude beach, sing on the street, arrive late to work, dance your heart out, be foolish and brave and foolhardy and amazing.
Eat the oyster, children. The entire ocean is in your mouth.
April 2, 2004