24 October 2019

Sifting

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The fog rolled in yesterday and I kissed Yoko goodbye in the dark as I left early. There are too many things going on day-to-day, the girls swimming and choir and my work things and dinner here or there. But we still stand for a moment in the kitchen, in the blue light, and stop, like we are young again, like we are saying goodbye when we were young. Like our love is the same love as when we were young, that night we walked down to the Sea of Japan in the dark. We sat together in the sand, didn't we, without the words to say whatever would come from that exact moment when you lean into a lover for the first time and trust your weight against theirs.

I competed in mock trial club when I was in high school. Mock trial was the sort of brainy performance sport that appealed to me as a fourteen year-old — appearing clever, regardless of whether or not I was actually clever. We were homeschooled, and some critical mass of us attended the same church, so we managed to field a team in the regional competition. They did it one year before I was in high school and I watched jealousy, then when I was a freshman and my brother was a senior, we teamed up with another family in the church, a family of thirteen that had three or four of them in high school — all the same sort of brainy performative types that my brother and I were.

Being homeschooled, I was never quite sure how brainy I was — we took standardised tests as children that told us we were brilliant, but when it came time to go to university, my scores were average at best. I didn't get into the most competitive school I had applied to, having bottled the interview. They asked me about how I understood my role in my community and I didn't have any answer. I had never thought of my community.

The mock trial competition pitted us, the homeschooled team, against a larger Catholic private school called Cathedral. At the time, the political nature of this competition was lost on me, but we were, the homeschoolers, representing an ideology more than anything. That yes, we were intelligent in spite of being religious and our parents could teach us as well as any private school could. Fourteen year-old me didn't have any sense of this struggle in a real way, even though I was participating actively in it. I wrote to the El Paso Times once chastising them for not referring to evolution as a 'theory' in their reporting on some story, and showing this printed letter with a broad, contemptuous smile at Sunday School when it appeared. I had shown them, hadn't I.

One of the sons from the family of thirteen was my best friend. We did the things that brainy best friend homeschoolers did: listened to Phantom of the Opera on CDs and had sleepovers and stayed up late talking, although about what, I can't seem to remember now. We spent the night once in his family's van when we were driving back from a Promise Keeper's rally in Dallas and parked at his aunt's house in Midland. We visited Tony Evans' church on that trip too, I remember, and there was a skit about masturbation, a word that I had never heard, and I remember leaning over to ask Gabe what it was and he said, it's like when you do it with a bed, and I nodded like I understood, but wondered what it was exactly.

That year, the year that I was on the mock trial team, we won the regional final against Cathedral. It was close, I think, a few points out of fifty, but we were intensely proud and went on to the State competition in Dallas. I don't remember much about that trip to Dallas except that there were strip clubs lining the freeways and we did very poorly — we didn't manage to make it out of the first round, even though Cathedral got to the semifinals or something, I think. It didn't matter though — we had made our point. The Christian kids, the ones who supposedly lacked social skills and the intellectual benefits of public education could perform as well as their peers. Even better.

I ended up leaving for Chicago that next year. I don't remember saying goodbye to Gabe when we left, or if I have felt any sadness going. I don't think that I did. I remember that an adult from the church gave me Green Day's Dookie and I put it in my CD player in the back of car as we left — I'm not growing up, I'm just burning out — and thought that I needed to keep this to myself if I was going to keep it.

I saw him years later in New York City, when I was doing my PhD and had two small children and was chasing some odd, stray connections with researchers who had invited me for one-off talks to undergraduates. He had gone on to NYU law school and was working in corporate law in the city. We had dinner in a sushi restaurant in midtown with dark lighting and he looked many years older, tired in the way you are tired in your late twenties, and paid for us. He had left the church like me and he and several of his siblings had come out. It all seemed obvious as I thought back on it, but hadn't occurred to me when we were kids talking all night. That was before there was sex, before I would talk the same way with my girlfriend a few years later, lying on her bedroom floor waiting for curfew to come. He showed me some pictures of him with his partner in Mexico and we said goodbye and I went back to Milton Keynes in England where Yoko and I were living.

What is love, I think now, I am now able to think. It must be many things. It must be things of which you can't even conceive, can't articulate, at the time you experience them. I tell my students that our conceptions are tied to words, and without words, we have don't have concepts. What is love. Naomi hugs me as she leaves and I kiss her head and watch her walk away, down the street, into the fog. I love you, I say. I say, I love you, but it is a love more than I can conceive. You let your weight lean into someone for the first time, you hold each other up and a life cascades out. Years and years, children, a list of things you can never articulate. All you can do is stand and watch it. Perhaps you'll name it when you're older.
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