The next nine years were pretty stable. Mom got a great job in yet another town. And while I spent that summer before my third grade year with my grandparents on their farm, mom worked to fix up a tiny house for us. I arrived at our new home just before I began the new school year and lived there until I graduated from high school.
After entering my new school, I did everything I could to fit in. I became the class clown and was liked because I mocked my teachers and was generally pretty silly much of the time. I also put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best student in the class. I was so driven to be the best that I even cried if I lost a game. I had to be the winner. I had to be the best.
In high school, I decided to take Latin to help with all those medical terms since I was planning to become a veterinarian. The teacher was amazing and fun…..and obviously gay. And he knew I was too, way before I was willing to admit it to myself. We ended up becoming friends outside of school. He used to compare my mother and I to Alice and Tommy of the television show, Alice. We both collected beer cans, so we would would take trips to find new and different brands to add to our collections. We ended up getting into a strange one-sided physical relationship for a year or so. I did not feel abused at the time, although there was some psychopathy involved on his part. In the end, I was getting something and so was he. It wasn’t until after the affair ended that a strange interaction happened with a teacher whom I didn’t know very well. He stopped me in the hall one day to tell me that the Latin teacher was in love with me. I just kept walking. How was I supposed to react to such a revelation? I never told another soul and just pretended it never happened. After all, my true self was stuffed so far down inside, what else could I have done?
I was fairly popular during high school. I kept busy with extra-curricular activities like the school radio station, a class play, Honor Society, Student Council and the tennis team. I was considered part of the “intellectual” clique, but was adept at bridging the gap with other cliques in school too. I was even voted, “Most Likely to Succeed”. All the while I was stuck in my very own safe place: my own mind.
I continued to do what was expected of me. I went to most all of the school dances, taking a different girl to each one. I think my classmates assumed I was quite the ladies man. The reality was that I couldn’t stick with the same girl for too long for fear of having to go all the way, which I found to incredibly stressful just to think about. So I figured out a way to play the game to my advantage.
Three weeks after graduation, I gave up a full scholarship to the state university of my choice, which I had earned by default. I was the top male student in my school because the real top male student in my school was going to Yale. I had decided to move to Arizona, where my dad and his family had moved several years before due to my stepmother’s arthritis. My aunt, who had kept in contact with them over the years since the divorce, was instrumental in setting up the offer. The agreement was that dad would pay for college but I had to move there immediately in order to get residency. I agreed, as I had wanted to leave the stifling mid-western state where I grew up since I could remember. Plus, I felt that dad owed me for never being available. I lasted a month and came back. It was family culture shock. I had gone from being trusted and relatively free of oversight to many new rules and way too many people to interact with on a daily basis. I was sharing a room with my half-brother making my privacy a thing of the past. My dad, of course, blamed my mother for my departure. But it was me who called her to ask if I could come home. Somewhat ironically, as I was originally making the decision to go, she questioned whether I was going for the right reasons. Was it to get to know my father and his family or was it to get financial payback for all the years he wasn’t around? As it turns out, even though I was living with him, he still was unavailable. And even though I immediately began lobbying for my own place, I could quickly see and understand that was not going to happen anytime soon. There wasn’t much money. And there were four mouths to feed besides my own. I was no longer the center of the family. It was the beginning of my pattern to flee whenever the discomfort grew unbearable.
After returning home, I had to rethink my life. I had given up on the scholarship so I got a part-time job and enrolled in a small local college. After two quarters of school, I moved again to attend a huge state college about 100 miles away. Within two months of arriving, I had my first experience with another man, who was one of my new roommates. Additionally, the store I transferred to from my hometown had a manager who was gay. We soon became friends and he began to be my gay mentor, showing me the local gay subculture. The closet had exploded. Yet once again, it felt like my choices were only logistical in nature. My life had become predetermined as I learned what it meant to be a gay man in the early 80’s. At the time, I knew no other way to fit into my new community.
When I was barely a university junior, I quit school and began working full-time. I was on the hot list to be promoted so it was an easy decision. I could continue to be miserable as just another number in school being forced to take classes in which I had no interest. Or I could eliminate the looming debt of 8+ years of college and the stress of having to work and study by moving directly into a career. Besides, I had to support my night club and party habits and salvage what was left of my grade point average. It was my first act of defiance against what I was supposed to do. Or so I thought at the time.
All the nightclubs and drinking and drugging led to some poor choices during a time when a single decision could lead to your death. I was not immune. In September of 1983 I became very ill. It was a wake-up call for me to make a decision: do everything I could to survive or to keep doing what I was doing and die. I chose the former, thus inspiring me to rethink my life yet again.
This was a pivotal moment in my life. I had met a wonderful man who became my partner. Together, it was time to re-evaluate who we were and what we wanted, for he too was HIV positive and struggling with the demands of medical school. It was my first glimpse into becoming aware that what I had been taught and told life was supposed to be all about was not really my story at all. I neither fit in as a college student nor as a gay man. It began the most difficult part of my life. I had to search deep within myself and find a way to become Scott. I had to de-program myself. I had to de-compose my story. It was time to reinvent myself and find a way to survive and thrive in the world as the real me.
The question was, how?