Devo Diary Chapter 6:
I've been coming out as a devotee to just about all my friends lately. Rachel was right--if I had talked to my friends, that whole thing with the con artist would not have happened. Or maybe I would have fallen for it anyway, but it wouldn't have been as awful.
The first people I call are Kara and Nam, my best friends from college.
Kara's reaction: "Thank god you're finally admitting it."
"What, you mean you knew?" I'm astounded.
I hear a sigh on the other end of the phone. I can just see Kara rolling her eyes. "It was pretty obvious. You know, the way you were with K."
Like the totally crazy obsessive way I was around K. Yeah, I guess she's right. I really did want to tell people back then too, but without knowing there was a word for it, that it was a real thing and not just some mystery, some twisted part of my soul, I literally couldn't express it. There was a moment when we were all living together, me and Kara and Nam and several other friends, when I tried once to tell them. K wasn't there, but most of my closest friends were. We were all sitting in the living room and I don't remember how it came up, but suddenly I was trying to explain my feelings for K. Nam has this Lolita fetish thing, and I tried to frame it in those terms.
"Like, you know how you feel about women pretending to be all young and girly?" I tried.
"But that's just something I latched onto. If that image wasn't around, it would have been something else," he argued. Huh. I'm not going to delve into his psychology, but that definitely wasn't true for me. Another friend suggested that I was just repressing my true lesbian desires. Nope, not that either, but once I said no, she was even more convinced that I was gay.
I tried again to explain it, but the more my well-meaning friends quizzed me, the more exposed I felt, and I just shut down. I never did utter the words. Without knowing about other devotees, I literally didn't have words to express it. But I guess Kara remembers all that too, and not being stupid, connected all the dots. Still, it's a tremendous relief to talk about it openly with her, even with all the fucked-up things that happened with K, to hear her say it's alright. I met Kara on the first day of college, and even though we're not so close now that we're living on opposite sides of the country, her opinion matters a lot to me.
"I just want to tell everyone now," I tell her. I've heard that gay people who come out often go through a phase of wanting to drape themselves in rainbow flags and tell the entire world they're gay. I definitely get that.
"Eh, that's maybe not the best idea," she says hesitantly. "This might just be a phase, and then you would be sorry that every person you work with knows the intimate details of your sex life."
Thank you Kara, practical as always. So I am reigning in my desire to tell strangers on the street, and limiting my coming out to close friends, the people I would talk to about sex anyway.
The only people I absolutely can't tell are my parents, not after the way they freaked out over K. Although I admit a big part of that was my fault.
It was the weekend that Kara and I graduated from college. Nam and our other housemates were a few years older and had graduated already. Over that long graduation weekend, there were many awkward hours spent sitting around our dingy living room, my parents and my brother, and Kara's parents and grandmother, attempting to make bland, inoffensive conversation. I had invited K over one afternoon, because I was determined to introduce him to everyone, but I could not bring myself to tell them that he was blind before he showed up.
Instead, I pulled out a stack of photos I had taken of him and passed them around without comment, mere moments before he was supposed to arrive. In the photos, the flash of the camera reflected against the scar tissue covering his eyes, making them shine a brilliant blue, but my parents and Kara's parents glanced over the photos without noticing anything. It wasn't until my brother looked at them that the truth came out.
"Is he blind?" my brother asked incredulously. I just nodded, blushing.
"Wha-a-a-t?" My mother was horrified. "He's what?!"
A moment later, K knocked at the door. He lived on the other side of College Town, but he had lived there his entire life, so it was no big deal for him to walk to our house. I let him in, made introductions, and we sat down next to each other on the sofa. Always charming and talkative, he couldn't understand why no one was returning his friendly overtures. Dad responded in monosyllables while Mom sat at his side, looking daggers at me. I squirmed in embarrassment and everyone else just watched in appalled silence. After five minutes, Mom started gesturing toward her watch in hugely exaggerated, silent pantomime.
"What!" I burst out. "Mom, what are you trying to say?"
"We have to get back to the hotel now," she said through gritted teeth. There were hasty goodbyes all around. I could tell K was annoyed to have walked all the way across town for a five minute visit. I wanted to apologize to him for how shamelessly rude my mother was being, but that would have to wait. My parents expected me to go back to the hotel with them, leaving K and Kara and her parents and everyone else at our house. I rode next to my brother in the back seat of the car my parents had rented, feeling like a child trapped in their world again.
"Is he your boyfriend?" Mom demanded.
"No," I said, hating the way my voice sounded like a sulky teen's.
"Are you sure? He really seemed like your boyfriend," Dad insisted. They pestered me with this question all the way to the hotel, but I insisted he was not. Not because he was blind, no, nothing would have made me happier than to say, "He's my blind boyfriend." But the other shit, the more complicated parts of our relationship, that I would not tell them. It was just easier to lie.
"You were sitting too close to him on the couch," Kara admonished me later, when I finally returned home. "It was obvious there's something between you."
Well, none of that matters now, it's all long over. But I will never tell my parents about being a devotee.
So now that I am officially out and proud, I really need to meet some disabled hottie. After what happened with my personal ad, it seems the local paper is not the way to go. I've turned instead to the internet. Rather than casting a wide net and hoping a real disabled person sees my ad, it seems to make more sense to find someone online. I've been searching all the groups and listservs for devotees and disabled people, trying to find a guy close to my age who lives in Raser City. It's a big city--there has to be someone, right?
I meet Tovia for dinner at a Mediterranean place by the water. As we're walking outside on a boardwalk overlooking the bay, I update him on my internet search. Tovia is one of the few people I told all the details of everything that happened with the con artist, and my subsequent online quest. He's been moderately sympathetic, for a guy.
"I have a date tomorrow," I inform him, as we stand side by side at the railing, looking over the water.
"Really? And he's disabled?"
"Yeah, he's missing both arms at the shoulder."
Tovia looks at me with a mixture of concern and horror. "That's a lot."
"I know." I giggle like I've just announced I have a date with a movie star.
He sighs and rolls his eyes. "You're so weird." Strangely, it doesn't bother me when he says something like that. I am weird, but he's my friend anyway. Just the fact that we can share a laugh over it feels so freeing.
Over mezze and several glasses of wine, I fill him in on the details of my date.
"His name is Bob Potter," I begin, and Tovia bursts out laughing.
"He has no arms and his name is Bob? It's like a terrible joke," he says. I don't get it. "You know, like a one-legged woman name Eileen?"
I give him a dirty look. "You're such a child. Anyway, his name is Bob and he lives in Marysville." That's like three hours south of Raser City, which kind of sucks, but compared to all the other guys I have seen online, it's practically next door. He's thirty-five years old, almost ten years older than I am, also not ideal, but I can be flexible on that. He works for the city of Marysville, gainfully employed--not bad, right? He sent me a photo of himself at work: a small, balding man sitting behind an office desk, wearing a tie and short-sleeved white button-down shirt. Metal prosthetic arms, the kind that end in a hook, are clearly visible.
"So at least I know he's not faking," I conclude, laughing.
"Sounds ok," Tovia says with a shrug. "Do you like him?"
"I don't know, we haven't really talked that much. But he just happened to be coming to town for work tomorrow morning, so we figured we might as well meet up." I don't mention that he looks like thirty-five going on sixty in his photo. I had said he looked cute anyway, just to be nice, and he was ridiculously flattered.
"So does that kind of disability do it for you too?" Tovia asks.
"Yeah, sure." I think about it some more. "But it's still not like K."
"What the hell?" he says incredulously, tossing an olive pit back on the plate. "I thought you were over that guy already!"
I look at him with big, tragic eyes. "No. He was just so perfect for me! I mean, we had so many things in common. We were even part of the same group of friends. It wasn't like I had to go online to search for him, we just met naturally. And his eyes! Those blue, blue eyes, oh my god, it got me every time, just looking at him. He was handsome too, and that's not just me saying that. Strangers were always saying so, and girls would flirt with him. I'll never meet anyone like him again." I set my wine glass down. I'm a lightweight when it comes to drinking, and I've probably a little too much.
Tovia grimaces at me, a look halfway between pity and disgust. "I thought Carmen was perfect for me too," he says, "but it doesn't work that way." Carmen is his ex-girlfriend from before we reconnected. I never met her, but I know he's still a little hung up on her. "You know, she's part Cherokee. She has the most amazing long fingers. I'll never meet anyone with hands like that again. But you have to get over it and find someone new." I don't see how liking someone's hands has anything to do with me being a devotee, but whatever.
Bored with listening to my stupid problems, Tovia changes the subject. "Did I tell you I met a girl who's in a wheelchair?"
I perk up. "No! Tell me."
"Her name is Elisa and she's a paraplegic from a car accident when she was a teenager." Apparently they met at a party, through mutual friends. Tovia goes on and on about how cool and smart and interesting this Elisa is.
"So are you going to ask her out?" I ask.
"What? No." He seems surprised.
"Oh come on, you clearly like her. Ask her out!" But he just shakes his head. He likes her as a friend, he doesn't want a relationship right now, he's not interested in her in that way, blah blah blah. I think it's because he still isn't over Carmen.
The day Bob comes to Raser City, he spends the morning doing something work-related at City Hall, then comes to pick me up near my apartment in the early afternoon. I say hello to him awkwardly though the window of his ancient, beat-up Honda Civic, then get in on the passenger side. He turns to face me and extends a hook to shake hands. I shake the hook, but it feels strange.
"Hi, I'm Bawb Pawddah. How aaahhh you?" he asks.
"Wow, you really have the New England accent," I blurt out. I know he's from back East, but on the phone his "pahk the cah" accent hadn't been so prominent. I know it's hypocritical and un-PC to be so judgmental about an accent, but seriously, that accent is like nails on a blackboard. Most people who ever plan on leaving the area don't talk like that, or get rid of it.
Luckily he doesn't seem to mind my comment, but just laughs. "Yeahr, my family moved out West when I was twelve. I dunno why, I'm the only one who still has an accent."
As he's talking, he puts the car in gear, while I watched attentively. It's an automatic, and the gear shifter is the old t-shaped type with the button on the side. He pushes the button in with his knee then yanks the shifter back with a hook. Once the car is in gear, he fits the hook into a small metal ring attached to the steering wheel. He steers with just that ring, rather than trying to grasp the wheel like an able-bodied person. He notices me staring, but doesn't seem to mind. He knows all about me being a devotee, so I guess he's prepared for my interest in this kind of thing.
"I'm afraid to get a new cah cuz they changed the shape of the shiftah. I dunno what I'll do when this one finally dies," he explains. As he eases out into traffic, he asks, "So do you wanna go downtown? There's an exhibit at the aaaht museum that looks intresting."
I had assumed we would just go get coffee and spend the requisite 45 minutes gauging whether there is mutual interest, but apparently not. This was going to be an actual date with activities.
"Sure, why not," I say, trying to sound enthusiastic. I'm always up for a trip to a museum. I am a huge nerd, after all.
I soon regret agreeing to this. Normally I can find something interesting in the most dry, academic topic, but this exhibit of architectural drawings tries even my patience. Also walking around a museum is not the best way to talk to someone, especially someone you don't really know. The silence in the big echoing exhibit hall inhibits any kind of serious conversation, even though there aren't many other people around. Once inside, we kind of split up to look at the exhibits. Once I realize how dull the drawings are, I blow through fairly quickly, but Bob moves at glacial speed, poring over every single drawing and placard excruciatingly slowly. I dawdle at the end, then walk through the hall again, hoping he might catch up, but no. The entire exhibit is only one large room, but after an hour he still isn't even half way through.
Trying not to let on too obviously that I'm dying of boredom, I sidle up next to him. "So what do you think? Pretty interesting, huh?"
"I dunno, nawt really," he says.
Biting back a more colorful response, I asked in as neutral a tone as possible, "So if you're not interested, why are you spending so much time on each thing?"
He gives me a serious look. "Since they went to all the trouble of writing it, I feel like I have to read everything."
"But if it's not interesting, maybe we should just go," I suggest. "You know, like to a café where we can talk or whatever."
Bob looks regretfully at all those unread placards and acquiesces with a little sigh. Soon we're ensconced in a Starbucks in my neighborhood again. Despite my impatience at the museum, I really do want to make this work, so I do my best to engage in conversation.
He tells me all about his childhood, happy by his account. He's the oldest, but his parents had four more children after him, which according to him is unusual. When a child is born with a disability, most people don't have more kids after that, he declares. I don't know if that's true or not.
Well anyway, even as he's talking about how wonderful his parents are, it seems to me they were kind of overprotective. I mean, he wasn't even mainstreamed, but went to a special school right through high school, and it sounds like he spent a lot of time at home even as a teenager. That seems excessive and unnecessary to me, but I don't say anything. Who am I to judge the decisions his parents made? But it probably explains why he's so awkward and dresses like my dad.
As we're talking, a little boy, maybe four years old, wanders over toward our table while his mother is distracted with placing her order. The boy gapes up at Bob, his eyes wide.
"Are you a robot?" he asks.
I burst out laughing, but Bob is very patient with him. "No, I'm a person just like you, but I was born without arms. These are just metal arms I use instead," he explains. "They're connected with a strap over my shoulders, and when I pull forward, it opens the hook, then when I pull back, it closes." He demonstrates, pinching the rims of the hooks open and shut. The kid just stares at him until the mother comes to take him away, apologizing.
"That was hilarious," I say. "You were mistaken for a robot! How cool is that!"
Serious as ever, Bob only says, "I don't mind explaining my disability to kids if it can make them moah open-minded. I do counseling too, for recently injured amputees. They're still mourning the loss of the limb, but I try to help them see the pawsitive."
I didn't say anything in reply because I'm stuck thinking about how different my world view is. Mourning the loss of the limb. As soon as he says it, I understand, of course that's what a person would go through. But I never saw it that way, for me it's just exciting, what makes a person special. It's not something to mourn. I don't fantasize about the injury or rehab, it's the normal life after all that which attracts me. But how could I explain all that to him?
After the café, we go back to my apartment, and I invite Bob in. Even though I'm getting bored fast, it seems like the friendly thing to do, and like he expects me to. Except that in my tiny studio apartment, there is nowhere to sit except on the bed, so that's where we sit. He gives me that look, and I know he wants to kiss me, but I'm not feeling it. To deflect him, I start asking more questions, which he's happy to answer. He tells me how he learned to do everything with his toes as a kid, and even now in the office if no one is around he prefers to take his shoes off and write with his feet. He even asks me for some paper and pencil and demonstrates.
As he's doing this, I'm distracted by a movement at the big double window. I jump off the bed and open the front door, which is right next to the window, just in time to see a homeless-looking guy take off down the walkway.
"What the fuck!" I shout. "You better run! Next time I'm calling the cops!" Seriously, what is wrong with this town? When I first moved here, creepy-looking guys tried to follow me home twice. But did this guy follow me, or Bob? What was he after? The front windows face right into the main room, and they're only covered with mini blinds, so it's not that hard to see in around the edges. Ugh, from now on I'm changing my clothes in the closet. And I'm getting some proper curtains.
I'm seriously creeped out by the peeping tom, but Bob is unconcerned.
"Wanna see how my prosthetics work?" he offers. I nod. He unbuttons his shirt, revealing a white undershirt. The straps web over his shoulders, meeting at a metal ring in the middle of his upper back. He demonstrates again how they work, then slips them off.
"I don't usually let people see me without my prosthetics," he says, waving his tiny residual limbs up and down. "I feel like Chicken Little." They are very short and thin.
I watch him with clinical interest, but I just can't get into him. I'm not feeling turned on at all. "I, um, hate to be rude, but it's getting late, and I have to work tomorrow," I say. He gives me a strange look, then lies back on the bed to slip his prosthetics back on.
Once he has his shirt and jacket back on, he stands awkwardly by the door. "I had a nice time today."
"Yeah, me too," I say. "Thanks for driving all the way up here."
"So, can I have a hug?" he asks.
"Um, no, I don't think so," I blurt out before I even realize what I was saying. God, I'm such a bitch.
"Well can I at least call you?"
"Sure, ok." And he leaves. I heave a sigh of relief. I should never have invited him to my apartment.
Bob doesn't call me, but the next day I get an angry email.
I drove all the way up to Raser City to meet you because I thought you were a genuinely nice person, but you just used me. You're only interested in my disability. I deserve better than that. I want to be with someone who can appreciate me for my personality, and not just my body.
What the fuck? A hundred angry responses come to mind. How dare he accuse me of using him, when he was the one who waved his stumps in front of me! I never asked him to--that was all his idea. Did he think that because I'm a dev, he had to? Then that's his problem.
And what am I supposed to say to that email? He's accusing me of only seeing his body, when it's his personality that turned me off. I so want to write, "Actually, your dull-as-dishwater personality prevented me from even noticing your body."
Part of me wants to really tell him off, but another part of me feels guilty. Even though I didn't ask him to take his shirt off, I shouldn't have invited him into my apartment. I shouldn't have lied and said his photo looked cute. I shouldn't even have met him, but how could I know what he was like until I did? He wants me to like him for all of him, but I don't, and he blames me for it. There's really nothing I can say that will make him feel less hurt.