I’m From Johnson City, TN.

by mark ellis
Johnson City TN

I’m lying on the sofa, dead tired after work. My eyes are closed, and what I see is a gray stone path, a fog shrouding what lies on either side and hiding everything beyond twenty steps ahead. At that time, I’m 57 years old. I live in a small city in Tennessee. My mother had died two years before. She was 87, and I had taken care of her during the last years of her life. I called her every night. She would ask, “Are you ok?” followed by the same question regarding my wife and my son. I’d lie and say “yes” after each question. During her final six months she was in a nursing home, I visited almost every evening. By then I was able to leave my house in the evening because my son had overcome his processing disorder enough so that he could do his homework without my help. From the time he was in about the third grade, we had spent hours every night going over his homework and what he had learned that day.

I’m lying on the sofa with my eyes closed because my mother is gone, and my son will soon be gone to a university across the country, where he’ll make it on his own terms. The gray path lies before me often when I close my eyes. What am I going to do? I’m 57. I have no interests, no friends, and now no purpose. My marriage of 25 years is basically over, a victim of neglect.

I start surfing the Internet: “men and aging”, “retirement”, living in Europe”. And then when I’m alone other things like “gay pornography” and eventually “male masseurs”. That’s how I meet a guy who calls himself a “sacred intimate”. I have no idea what a sacred intimate is. I email him, and he calls me. I say something he takes offense at. I can’t remember now what it is. We hang up, but then I email him again, and we set up an appointment.

At my appointment, I’m terrified. He helps me take off my clothes. I lie down on a massage table, and he blindfolds me. My senses are hyper aware. My mind is rushing from one fear to the next. “Are there other people here?” “Is he a murderer?” “Is he going to film me and post it on the Internet?” He begins to chant and do other things like ring bells, wave what sounds like bird wings over my body. He massages me, my arms, my shoulders, my chest, my legs, my penis. Then he climbs on top of me in the 69 position, and he sucks me and places his penis at my mouth. I start sucking him, holding his firm buttocks. I think to myself, “I’m gay, a fag, queer.” After a while he moves around and caresses and kisses me hard, my neck and mouth, my face, my eyes. I’ve never been kissed by a man, so hard, so deep.

Eventually he takes off the blindfold. We’re sitting up on the table. I try to touch him, but he pulls away. I tell him I’m not sure about what we did. He says he isn’t sure if he can help me, but I ask him if I can come back. I go back a number of times that fall. Somehow I need to get this right. It’s the only thing I really look forward to.

It’s the Friday before Thanksgiving. I’m home after work. My wife and I are planning to fly out to see my son for the holiday. She’s in the den on the sofa with her feet up. I want to go out to eat, to do something. I still have to escape sometimes that vision I see when I close my eyes. She doesn’t want to go anywhere. I’m feeling the hopelessness, loss of purpose, lack of feeling. Impulsively, I call her into the living room and ask her to sit down. The words flow out of me, “I think I’m gay.” She looks at me in shock. She asks some questions I don’t remember. Then she goes back in the den, leaving me sitting on the sofa. I don’t know what to do. After a while I get up and walk into the den, and we watch some episodes of the Sopranos. We had been watching it for several months starting with the first episode. Neither of us says anything. We make ourselves something to eat, and later we go to bed.

Four years pass by fast, but when I look back it always seems longer than just four years. Much has happened. I move into an apartment. I tell my son. I move back into my house. I quit seeing the sacred intimate. I start writing poetry and short stories. I publish some of them. One even gets posted in a popular gay online magazine. I go to gay men’s retreats. I find out about dating apps. I date. I have hookups. I become promiscuous. I have a boyfriend. I do drugs. I break up with the boyfriend. My entire gay adolescence occurs over the course of less than three years.

The gay life for a man my age is not an easy life. I have a lot to work through. I see a therapist every week. Sometimes I’m desperate for friends, for sex, for someone to listen to me. Will it get better? I don’t know yet. The past few months have seemed bad, but maybe things are getting better. I’ve started to tell people, in particular other gay men, what I want, what I expect, who I really am. I’m certainly settling down from how I lived for a while. And when I close my eyes, I don’t see the gray path anymore.

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