There were so many things that drove me crazy about my mother; wanting me to be partnered was one of the big ones. She would constantly nag me about finding the “right guy.” One day, some thirty odd years ago, I gave in to her constant badgering.
I was in my late 20s, visiting my family in Salisbury, North Carolina. If you have never been to Salisbury, you’ve no reason to go. I lived there in my late teens for a couple of years, and visited family after I’d moved away. I have blocked most of my time there from my memory. This memory I cannot shake.
I was sitting at the kitchen table with my relocated northern momma. It was 110 degrees with 100% humidity and my guard was down. Mom was describing her gay hairdresser and insisted that he would show me a good time. Mind you this is before camera phones; actually most telephones had a 30 foot stretchable cord. She didn’t have a photo and I had an idea that Lou (mom) was overselling. I was beaten down by the heat and mom’s insistence and finally agreed to a blind date with Beau, the hairdresser. His name made him sound sexy. Careful not to fall into that trap.
Mom made all of the arrangements . . . I dreaded night fall. She assured me that Beau had fun plans and that I was in good hands. I couldn’t imagine which Waffle House he would choose or if the local drive-in allowed Yankees in — oh yes, in the south, in the 80s, I was a Yankee. I’m cynical now, but in my 20s I was much more so and a bit rebellious.
If you know anything about my mother, you will know that she always had an ulterior motive. Sure she wanted me to be happy, but she also knew that if this set-up worked out, she’d have free dye jobs for life. Mom had four daughters who went to beauty school (that’s what they called them back then); at the time one lived in New York, another lived in Tennessee, one was estranged, and the last didn’t do the kind of dye job my mother appreciated; I’m being kind. I was fairly outspoken back then and I almost shared my suspicions about her motives. She would have just laughed and said I was right.
Beau showed up right on time. You would have thought he was my mother’s long lost son the way they gushed over one another. I won’t lie, he was handsome. He was also smelled of cigarette smoke and if I’m going to be honest, that just didn’t sit well with me. Admittedly, I came really close to claiming to have suddenly fallen ill. I even thought about sending my mother in my place.
We said our goodbyes to mom. She insisted we drive carefully and she even said, “Y’all don’t run off and get married.”
I almost had to remind her that she was born in Brooklyn, not the deep south. Why couldn’t I have had a mother who rejected my homosexuality. But seriously, I jest. I was tickled that she cared enough to set me up with her favorite gay in Salisbury. Beau hugged and kissed her and promised to get me home safely. All the while I’m thinking, two hours tops.
Beau was peppier and more southern than I would have liked. By “more southern,” I mean that he truly worked his drawl. He told me that we were going to a barbeque and that I was going to meet some of his redneck friends; he didn’t actually say “redneck.” I didn’t get the sense that he was interested in me; however, he was friendly and seemed harmless. I looked forward to meeting other gay people — Salisbury is a small town and the gay boys had been elusive.
For me, a barbeque means hot dogs, hamburgers and outdoor picnic tables; this barbeque, not-so-much. We got to this double-wide mobile home and there were three guys slouched on a torn-up sofa. They were either high or drunk and hardly noticed that people had joined them; southern hospitality my ass. I waited to be introduced, but clearly I could tell Beau’s manners were nowhere to be found. I walked over to the sofa and extended a hand. Only one of the three acknowledged my introduction; the other two were indifferent. Beau left the room to put the beer he’d brought into the refrigerator.
Have you ever been somewhere where you wanted to leave the moment you arrived? I was uncomfortable and uneasy. This wasn’t New York City where I could just make excuses and hop on the subway. I was in the middle of nowhere, before cell phones and Uber. I looked for a clean spot to sit down and I tried my best to blend in with the furniture. Beau had either forgotten that he brought me to the party or he had begun partying without me. He finally did walk into the living room with two beers. He offered me one and made no apologies for his rude friends.
I stayed seated hoping that people would arrive and liven up the party. At one point, I leaned over to ask Tim, the one who had spoken to me when I introduced myself, if he was from Salisbury.
“Yes, we’re all from here; we went to high school together.”
I wondered if he was going to inquire about where I was from, but he didn’t. In fact, the conversation ended there. I patiently sat on that disgusting sofa waiting for the party to get started . . . it never did. At one point it became clear that Beau wanted nothing to do with me and his friends were indifferent. I stopped wondering about their sexuality two minutes after arriving; there was nothing appealing about this crew. The anger I felt toward my mother for putting me in this situation still resonates. Someone had to take the blame for this.
An hour in, I decided enough was enough. I had not seen so much as a potato chip, the music was a cross between heavy metal and pots and pans clanging, and the smell had me gasping for fresh air. I walked around the house searching for Beau. I finally found him outside smoking. I approached him with a smile, hoping to disarm any resentment he may have felt for having had to drag me along.
“Would you mind taking me home?” I asked.
“What? We just got here. Relax man.”
To be honest, I didn’t expect him to instantly agree to cart me back from wherever the hell I was. I asked if there was any food and he said another friend would be there with pizza soon. Although by this point I was starving, pizza in Salisbury was inedible and there was no way I’d eat it. I started feeling anxious and self-conscious. Perhaps I was the problem; entitled, stuck-up snob that I was. I decided to try to make the best of it and use my Sociology degree to study this group of four southern men — I just observed.
It was oppressively hot and humid outside, so I decided to go back into the house where it wasn’t much better; a little less buggy if I recall. I negotiated a time limit in my head. Another hour and I was calling a taxi; that’s if I could get one to pick me up in bum-fuck nowheresville. I considered calling mom, but that would have been way too comical for this party crowd and my brother worked the night shift at the cotton mill,so he was unavailable. Perhaps Beau would start to feel sorry for me as the night wore on. I sat with a second beer and prayed for a reprieve. A reprieve never came.
I can’t say if it was close to midnight or after midnight when I had finally had enough. Food never arrived, Beau’s friends never warmed up to me, and the party goers were all baked and enjoying a different stratosphere. I asked Beau about a taxi, but he shrugged me off. It was clear he was not going to take me home or help me get home. I saw a phone on the wall, however, the address where we were was still unknown to me. I approached Tim, the one guy who would speak to me, and asked if he knew the address. He told me we were on Deer Run Road, but he didn’t know the house number. I walked outside and saw the number on the house and decided to call a taxi. I dialed information (remember when that was a thing) and got the telephone for the only cab company in town. I had to memorize the number because there were no pencils or paper, within plain view.
I miraculously got the taxi company on the phone. The dispatcher was nice enough, but he said he only had one driver that night and that he was on his way to Charlotte airport and it would be an hour or more before he could get to me. It was one of those this can’t be happening to me moments. I again thought about calling mom, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I knew Deer Run Road led into town and I knew we couldn’t be more than a couple of miles outside of town because of how long it took us to get there. I decided to walk; a decision I will always regret.
I left without saying a word to anyone. They didn’t deserve a goodbye and I knew a confrontation would be fruitless. I began walking in what I thought was the right direction. I walked for a long time without a single car passing me. After a while, I knew that I was headed in the wrong direction. I looked at my watch and it was after 2:00 a.m. I turned around and headed the other way. The road was dark, but the stars offered enough light so that I could see a few feet ahead . I stayed close to the edge just in case a car were to come by. I feared a car might plow me down, but I also hoped one would come and stop for me. It was hot and sticky and I walked for hours until I reached town. Downtown Salisbury is not that big and I knew where the taxi office would probably be.
First a stop at the Waffle House for a cold drink. I was hungry, but food would not have stayed down. By this point I was beyond exhausted and sort of in a state of disbelief; relieved to be out of that horrible situation and knowing I would soon be in my bed. After rehydrating and a few minutes of rest, I found the taxi companies base and had their lone driver take me to my mother’s house.
She wasn’t waiting up and I wasn’t surprised. I showered and crawled into bed. As I pulled the sheet up to cover my head, dawn was breaking. Fortunately, my mother had a loud window unit in the spare bedroom and I knew it would drown out any noise my mom would make. For a brief moment I wondered if the rednecks I left, had noticed I was gone. I vowed to myself that I would never again go on a blind date and that I would take note of where I was going when headed to a new location. This was never going to happen to me again, but cell phones have taken care of that.
I walked into Lou’s kitchen sometime after noon; she had that Cheshire cat smile she often wore. I’m not sure why I had made this decision, but I told myself that nothing good would come from telling her my date story. I waited until she was in her early 70s to share what happened. By then we had dealt with any issues that came between us throughout our lives. She was of course shocked and angry with me for not telling her back then. She told me that she would have given Beau what for.
I said, “That’s exactly why I didn’t tell you.”
We laughed and she actually asked me if I’d been attracted to him. I guess if I’m going to be honest, it was one of the things I loved about Lou; she genuinely would have been happy if it had worked out. My sexuality was not a problem for her, but being alone was.
My adopted pooch has been with me for six months now. He is healthy and happy, save for a strange skin issue. As you know, I have no idea how long he lived in the woods before he was found. I know that he had numerous bug bites that pestered him long after he was rescued. I think that even though these bites have healed and he no longer has any skin issues that I can detect, he still believes something is there or biting him. He doesn’t casually itch a spot, he jumps up and attacks the area. It seems to be getting a little better as time goes by. When I see him irritated this way, I usually rub the area and reassure him that there’s nothing there. The vet tells me that Yorkie’s are prone to phantom skin irritations. Our bond is strong and the love we feel for one another is deep. I am grateful to have had a quarantine companion and a furry friend for life.
Paco the hipster