Copywriter Eric Poole uses his way with words to pen memoirs in the style of Sedaris and Burroughs. In this excerpt from his newest book, Excuse Me While I Slip Into Someone More Comfortable, Poole documents a gradual realization.
"Oh, my GOD!"
My girlfriend Deb held up the ring, a marquis-shaped ruby encircled in stunning pave cubic zirconias, as tears formed in her frosted blue eye-shadowed eyes.
"Yes! Oh, yes!" She hugged me tightly.
I was alternately delighted and mystified by her response. She obviously liked her Christmas present, but I hadn't asked her anything. As I began wondering what question she could possibly be answering (Would Wham be the new Beatles? Is Dominique Devereaux actually a Carrington?), she flew up the stairs.
"I have to tell Dolly!"
Dolly Martin, a brassy combination of Mama Rose and Ma Kettle, who farted at meals and made announcements like, "I'm saving myself for my fifth husband" (in front of her fourth), was Deb's mother. Bawdy, liberal and rich, thanks to a thriving dental practice and good divorce lawyers, she was a fifthyish blond who was built like a buxom linebacker. And she was unlike any maternal figure I had ever met. She had kept the surname of husband number two, wisely figuring that, by number three, all bets were off.
I heard squeals from across the house. "Get your ass in here, mister!"
Dolly grabbed me and hugged me tightly, rocking back and forth as she began to cry. I knew that she adored me, as I did her, for she treated me like one of the family. (When Deb and I had sex in Deb's downstairs bedroom, Dolly would throw open the door at the top of the stairs and scream "Go, team!")
But this reaction to Deb's Christmas present, albeit an expensive gift, seemed over the top even for her. What was I supposed to do, I wondered? Bow? Curtsy? Pass around a tip jar?
"What do you think about the Westborough Country Club?" Dolly said, handing me a glass of Asti Spumante.
"Well," I replied, "I'm not really dressed for it, but maybe they have a clip-on tie I can borrow...?
"I mean for the reception."
My smile froze.
Dolly pulled out a photo album and opened it to pictures of a lodge-like home. "You can honeymoon at my brother's vacation house in Lake Tahoe. Isn't it gorgeous? Six bedrooms, two hot tubs, indoor pool. It's so big you need Sherpa guides."
I felt dizzy. And nauseous. I had somehow climbed aboard a runaway train, and Dolly was driving.
I called my friend Kurt.
"Cheers, queer, what's up?"
In the couple of years since he had come out, Kurt had somehow decided that I was suppressing my true self, and now felt obliged to start every conversation with this greeting, which - as a good Christian - I was constantly called upon to forgive.
"I think I'm getting married," I whispered, so that Mother and Dad wouldn't hear.
"What?!!" He dropped the phone. "Hold, please," he bellowed from a distance, "your call is very important to us." He fished around and picked up the receiver. "Don't even kid about that. You just about gave me a coronary, and girl, I'm too young to die."
"Stop doing that 'girl' thing."
"So, who's the unsuspecting bride?"
"Deb. Who else?"
"Oh...my...God!", he barked in his best valley girl imitation. "How did this happen?" He paused. "Ohhhh, it was that ring."
"It was just nice enough to qualify. Although who has a ruby engagement ring is beyond me, but hey, there's no accounting for taste."
"It was just supposed to be a Christmas gift. I mean, I love Deb..."
"And I love toaster strudel, but that doesn't mean I want to screw it."
"I have sex with her all the time," I said defensively.
"Yeah, after a bottle of booze. Do the math."
"What am I gonna do? I'm not ready to get married."
"Well, you're not getting any younger," he replied. "Or straighter."
Forgiveness was exhausting.
"You have to tell her the truth," he said. "And fast, before they start taking measurements for the straightjacket."
I desperately wanted Kurt to come over and commiserate, but, since I still lived at home, this was not an option. His tragic inability to hide who he was meant that he could never meet Mother and Dad.
I hung up the phone and paced the room in a panic.
"Please, God," I pleaded quietly, desperately. "Save me."
Suddenly, it occurred to me: perhaps the problem was that Deb wasn't - as our bomb-throwing Baptist minister T. L. Thompson called it - my "right woman". As this thought raced across the landscape of possibilities, I recalled a moment some weeks before, when, in an effort to understand Kurt's lifestyle, I had allowed him to take me to a gay bar, Faces, located in a delightful area of East St. Louis best known for its crime rate.
As we sat in the parking lot drinking a Franzia White Zinfandel box of wine, and I tried to summon the courage to go in, I had asked him a question.
"So, how do you know when you're gay?"
He thought about this for a long moment. Finally, peering thoughtfully out the window at the nightclub, as though counting the Commandments that were being broken inside, he replied with great conviction: "You get a letter."
"Some people's letter," he explained, "comes FedEx. For others, it arrives third class. Some people read the whole letter right away. Others read a paragraph, then put it in a drawer. Some people's letters are long and complicated. Others just say, "Welcome to the club."
What was I most worried about, I thought, as I turned this conversation over and over in my mind: That Deb wasn't my right woman? That emulating my Dad's life wasn't, somehow, the life I really wanted? Or that I had gotten a letter?