My high school sweetheart drove from State College to Three Springs on Saturday to visit me. It’s a one hour trip over the winding mountain roads of central Pennsylvania between the two towns. I was surprised when she showed up at my family’s bar-b-q hours after everyone else had eaten. It was already dark when she arrived. Older aunts and uncles who believe that alcohol is the water of the devil had left the party. Beer was flowing freely. She always has had impeccable timing. There were plenty of leftovers, so I made a plate for the girl who stole my virginity when I was just seventeen years old. We sat on the swing on the front porch, away from everyone else, where we could talk openly about our sexuality, lost loves and the things that have gone wrong and right in our lives since high school.
I haven’t seen Aileen in almost 10 years, and if it were not for my blog, I may have lost touch with the woman who converted to lesbianism shortly after our teenage affair. She found my e-mail address in my blog, after she googled her own name and read a story about how we once had sex in a laundry room in Brooklyn.
“Charlie Taylor, you are such an asshole,” she wrote. “How dare you write fiction about me.”
I learned of her lust for individuals of the same sex when I came out to her while I was still in the military. I wrote her from my duty station in Germany, long before there was e-mail—
“Aileen, don’t take this too hard—I’m gay.”
“Oh really?” She wrote back. “So am I. As a matter of fact, while I was dating you in high school, I was sleeping with my best friend Dorella.”
We knew then we were soul mates, but time went on, and again, we lost touch, until the invention of the blog.
I learned on Saturday that Aileen has changed again. She’s back to practicing heterosexuality and has a daughter now and lives with the father of her child, but the two are not married. Her little red headed child, Nina, is so pretty.
I e-mailed Aileen hours before departing New York on an Amtrak train—
“I’m going home to Three Springs this weekend for a family reunion. It would be great to see you if you have the time. My mom’s number is (814) 448-5555,” I wrote. I e-mailed her then because I didn’t want to give her an opportunity to start a string of e-mails about times, what to wear, who will be there, etc.
Aileen was not the most attractive girl in high school. She was slightly overweight and had a big mouth, so most young men in that little town found prettier, shy girls to develop crushes on. I dated her because I didn’t have a choice. I had to do something so that people would not discover the secrets that were hidden deep inside my developing sexual fantasies.
My beer bellied uncles and horny young male cousins all turned their heads when Aileen stepped out of her SUV, revealing a body that would make Linda Carter look like Superman. There was not an ounce of butch left to the aura of the former lesbian. Her hair was long, parted on the right side and when not flipped dramatically to the back, it slightly covered her left eye. The baby fat was gone. She was quite thin and strutted across the limestone driveway of my parents’ home like a runway supermodel just to give me a big hug.
I kissed her on the cheek and whispered, “You look so fucking hot. Thanks for doing this for me,” I said. I knew she would realize what I was talking about—a visit by a pretty girl would create havoc in the minds of relatives who long ago had written me off as a flaming homosexual, queer boy.
We took turns pulling her little girl Nina up and down the driveway in a little red wagon as we talked about my diagnosis of Paranoid Schizophrenia while she filled me in on the drama following the birth of Nina and her terrible fall into the grips of post-partum depression.
“It was hell, Charlie. I thought I was going to die.”
“Me too. Jesus Christ, Aileen, who knew it could be so painful.”
“We made it though.”
“Yes we did. You look so good.”
“So do you.”
“We were such ugly ducklings in high school. Now look at those fat, fucks just sucking their teeth at us.”
“Who is that guy with the long beard? He looks so familiar.”
“That’s my cousin Denny.”
We pulled Nina past the lawn chairs filled with my almost forgotten relatives when Denny spoke up.
“Where do I know you from?” He asked my gorgeous high school sweetheart.
“I don’t know. What year did you graduate?”
“You may have known my sister Molly. She graduated in ’80. She was a meanie,” Aileen said.
“Yes, that’s who I was thinking about. You look just like her.”
“I do now,” Aileen said while flipping her hair at Denny and stealing a smile at me.
“Oh God, I remember him. He was so in love with Mollie,” Aileen giggled.
Aileen didn’t touch the roast pork from the big bar-b-q machine that Bob built. She ate just a little potato salad and a square chunk of finger Jello. She reminded me of when I was as thin like a runway model. She beamed of the pure sexual energy that only anorexics and those who fast can accomplish spiritually. My body type is that of a football player– big where it matters– the ass. I ate what she didn’t finish from her Styrofoam picnic plate. Bob never liked to see food thrown away. I remembered his paranoia of wasting food from my childhood. His lectures were not mere reminders of children starving in Africa to get his kids to eat what was put on their plates–
“Eat, you’re going to need it. We’ve got two truckloads of wood to split before bed tonight.”
My childhood instincts kicked in when I noticed Aileen wasting food at my childhood home. Despite my desire to be thin like Aileen again, being back around Bob caused intense hunger pains, so I finished her three thin slices of roasted pork without bar-b-q sauce in less than six bites.
I liked the portion of the pig cooked without sauce. The natural flavoring of the freshly slaughtered animal cooked in its natural juices was far superior to the part that was roasted while drenched in a concoction of Kraft Barb-b-q sauce and .99 cent Paprika seasoning. He had the hog de-boned. There was no ugly face with a snout to look at when making plates. He cooked only the good parts of the pig, not like in the 1970’s when we made cracklings (pork rinds) in those large black kettles.
“This is just a grill,” I said to Bob when I first took inside the large contraption he built. I thought a roaster this big would cook the entire pig on a rotisserie. This is a gas grill. I remember pig roasts being done over open fires. That’s what I have a taste for,” I said.
“I still have the rotisserie, but you’ll see, this thing cooks some damn good pork.”
Aileen’s daughter Nina fought with my nephew Austin over a tricycle with a rather large front wheel. I was impressed with Aileen’s motherly instinct when she told her daughter to wait her turn and that Austin was only showing off to her.”
“I want to go visit Bonnie Hiles while I’m here,” Aileen said soon after running into a garage where the two children, just over three years of age, got into a terrible squabble over the souped up bike with three wheels.
“Oh, I want to come with you.”
“She’ll freak out when she sees us.”
Aileen was ‘Dolly’ in our high school musical “Hello, Dolly”, I played the part of Cornelius Hackle and Bonnie was the choir director. Next to Regina Hicks, our literature teacher, Mrs. Hiles is the most beloved of all the world’s school teachers.
She taught me to play clarinet at a public school during the summer when I was seven years old. Once a week, the high school teacher traveled between three area grammar schools that make up what is the elementary division of Southern Huntingdon County High School to teach music lessons. Those summers were so special to me– they were an escape from Bob’s discipline and hard-work ethic lifestyle.
It was, and still is, optional for parents with children in public schools to enroll their children in Southern’s musical instrument instruction curriculum. Parents were only required to purchase financed musical instruments. My parents bought me a clarinet, perhaps because of their strict nature.
Mrs. Hiles was a mother to me during those times.
Later on in life, after I entered high school, I had her for a teacher in choir and music.
I couldn’t wait to see her again. I thought of her often over the years. Going there with Aileen would make me feel less intrusive to her. Teachers like Mrs. Hiles must get tired of grown adults who come to see them to thank them for what they had done to change our lives, I thought. Mrs. Hiles has been retired for at least 10 years. She left Southern shortly after I graduated from there. “The Music Man”– the musical of my senior year when I played the part of Harold Hill came flashing back to me while sitting on that swing with Aileen. I couldn’t wait to see her again.
I picked up that clarinet after my bad case of Schizophrenia. Music was very instrumental to my recovery. If it were not for what Mrs. Hiles taught me as a child, I may have never cast out the demons. I wanted to thank her for the gifts. So did Aileen.
“Should we call first?” I asked.
“No, let’s just go.”
I knew she was right. She was like a mother to us.
“Let’s go now, Aileen.”
The drive to Orbisonia brought back lots of memories for both of us. Aileen showed Nina our old high school.
“Get a good look at that place, Nina,” I recommended from the front seat to Nina who was strapped in a child seat in the back. “Your mother was a star in that school. Not only was she incredibly smart, but she was like a Broadway star.”
Aileen blushed. “So was your Uncle Charlie,” she said to her daughter. I did feel like family to them.
“Is this the house?”
“No, it’s the stone one with the porch light on.”
“We should have called first,” I said, noticing that there was not a door bell.
“You haven’t changed a bit,” Aileen said while knocking hard.
Bonnie’s livingroom was just as I had remembered it. Antique furniture that was old when I was a kid remained well preserved and polished. Her husband Nin answered the door.
“Hi Nin, it’s Aileen Querry,” my highschool girlfriend said as he slowly opened a white screen door.
“Hi Nin. It’s good to see you again,” I said while stretching out my hand for a shake. I assumed that he would immediately know who I was, simply because in high school, Aileen and I were inseparable. Nin recognized me when I smiled at him. The gap in my two front teeth appeared and despite the fact that I’m much more masculine than when I was as a child, the husband of my high school music teacher remembered me. He should know who I am. People from back home have always said that Nin Hiles, Jr. and I look just alike– it’s that gap in our front teeth that made us appear to be twins separated at birth when we were both going to school at Southern.
My Alfred E. Newman smile may be one of the reasons why Bonnie Hiles gave me the lead in our high school musical, “The Music Man” . I cannot sing that well and although the part of Harold Hill requires one who can ‘rap’ melodies like “Ya Got Trouble”, as opposed to singing them with vibrato, when I hear myself sing in the bathtub as an adult, I realize that I got that lead because of these God forsaken Nin Hiles gaps.
Nin, Jr. was two years older in me and went away to college when Bonnie was teaching down at Southern. His performance in “Fiddler on the Roof” put our high school on the map for something other than high school football. Southern musicals were not mere plays. Professional costumes were rented from New York City, and several advisers, including the art teacher, Marcia Slates, and English teacher, Virginia Robinson worked hard with the kids to create high-quality, professional stage performances, worthy of critical acclaim. There was even a live orchestra for Southern’s musicals comprised of the best from the band in addition to several adult musicians who played for fun and free in the pits.
To Bonnie, seeing me up on that stage in the lead role may have felt like her son was still with her during those sold out performances in a high school auditorium that seated 450. Nin had perfect pitch. He could hear notes in his head and sing them on key without having to hear the right pitch, prior to belting. I was nothing like her son, yet, I always felt special to her.
Bonnie stood from a Queen Anne chair in front of the television and was surprised to see Aileen again.
“Oh my heavens– Aileen.”
“It’s so good to see you.”
I smiled so that she would know who I was.
“Charlie Taylor? My heavens, I thought you were Aileen’s husband.”
We all laughed.
It was odd to me, standing in my high school music teacher’s living room in Orbisonia, that my brother Barron did not attend the Smith Family Bar-b-q on Saturday.
Barron, my little brother– how dare he! I wanted to see his third child and second son face to face. His wife Crystal sent me photographs of the children, dressed in black-tie, standing at a miniature baby grand piano, in top hats, holding flowers in front of a camera.
Caleb, the oldest, reads a lot, Barron tells me.
“He’s really smart, Charlie. They want to send him away to a special school.”
“Does he want to go?”
“No! He likes to go fishing with his Dad.”
“He’s got that love for literature like his Uncle Charlie.”
“They have special classes down at Southern for gifted kids. It’s pretty good. I was in it with Aileen Querry.”
“Yes, they wanted to put me in that class. I told them no and mom didn’t make me.”
“Good for mom!”
I figured my kid brother is as fed up with Mom and Bob, as I am. That’s why he didn’t come to the reunion. Even though he was away from his wife and kids for three weeks in Colorado, hunting elk with a bow and arrow with three of his butch friends; there was no excuse, as far as I was concerned, as a big brother, as to why, after I traveled for five and one half hours on a train, he could not load up his expensive SUV and spend a few dollars on gas to drive just under an hour, so that I can see the offspring of my flesh and blood.
The abuse must have worn him thin too. That’s why he didn’t come to Bob’s Bar-b-q.
Yes, I want a kid now after this last visit home, and even if I have to imagine other things while making love to a woman, I will follow through with it, because I want to will my literature to my own child.
I try to stay away from Three Springs. I blame my lack of visits to my hometown on ‘homosexuality’, but in reality, my straight brothers feel just as unwelcome there as I do.
I wanted to meet his most recent creation– a little boy who most certainly carries that Miller jean– the Amish innocent facial features and those persecuted eyes. All the kids in the family are absolutely gorgeous. While pulling my sister’s fourteen month old daughter, Madison in a wooden red wagon all afternoon, I realized just then, under scorching rays of a September sun, that I have so much going for me at 40. My peers are spreading at the thighs due to the deep fried Oreos they cook in the same grease used to make funnel cakes. After seeing Robbie Eisenberg, my teenage crush, flood over a lawn chair, I knew it was not too late for me to officially claim my bisexuality. I’m ready for a kid. I’m tired of men like Robbie who never change in their straight ways.
If I meet a girl now, who wants to make love to me, our child will carry these genes. Barron’s kids do. It’s not all about good looks– it in their eyes. They say, back home, that the eyes are the windows to the soul and I know that by being part of them and looking into their eyes, that life has meaning and purpose. I want a kid now. Aileen has one with hair as red as the leaves on an oak tree, in late October, on the rolling hills, of Central Pennsylvania.
Why be so damn sad all the time when I got the same genes as these kids, not to mention my cousins– who all beam, dressed in a genetic glow of Amish hand me downs.
During my senior year in high school, I worked hard as matchmaker to hook my brother up with Bonnie’s daughter that was his age and in the same grade. Of course the two never became highschool sweethearts. Barron went on to date Crystal, who he of course married after graduation– the woman who brought us Braden, the most recent addition to the Taylor name and bloodline.
Bonnie’s daughter was in a terrible car accident near that old high school. She was taken from her mother, the selfless music teacher, a few years after I graduated from that school. How much I felt for Mrs. Hiles when I heard the news of her daughter’s death. I was in the Army at the time, and wished I could hug her as she had me, many times, when I cried, as a child, at school.