Friday, April 14, 2017

#theniceguy

"How was the disco?"
"Amazing!" I said.  "You really should come to Tiffany's sometime.  I know you don't like it because it's only 18 and under, but it's hella fun."
I put my hand on his shoulder, my face was within kissing distance of his.
"You should have seen us dancing," I said as I did the Pac-man with my feet.  "And guess what?!? They let us get on the risers!"
He was just staring at me, so I continued.
"Mia was trying to stay and hang out with some guy, but I told her we had to get out of there by 11:30..."
He lifted his right hand so swiftly I thought he had a sudden left-side face-itch that needed scratching.   Suddenly everything turned slow motion.  The air around me turned to jello.  Surrounding conversations and laughter faded away as I realized I was looking into bloodshot eyes.
Michael...?
I heard the smack-sound before I felt the numbing sting against my cheek.  The back of his hand had hit me with such force that I could feel the imprint of my teeth against the inside of my jaw.   My ears rang like I was underwater.
I remember being surprised that my feet remained planted where they were.   My hand automatically shot up to hold my injured cheek and to protect it from a second blow.
A scream pierced the air around me.
Is that me?
No, it was a higher-pitched voice than mine.  I observed that while my teeth remained clenched from the blow, this was an open-mouth scream.
"Michael what did you do?!!"
"Mia!"
Suddenly Mia was in-between us, her neatly cuffed, dark-washed, Levis 501s pushing me backward as she pummeled Michael's chest with her tiny fists.
"Michael, don't you hit her.  Don't you DARE hit her. What's wrong with you?  What's wrong with you!!?"
Michael stepped back from me.  His face was suddenly flooded with remorse as if he were just coming back into his body.
"Laura..."
"No!" Mia yelled pushing me out of "harm's way".  Mia and Kris flanked me and navigated us girls down toward the corner -- away from the Northside Giant Burger that was our midnight gathering spot on the weekends.
"Are you okay?" said Kris after we were safely out of sight.
I rubbed my face and nodded.  I had never been struck before.  I was marveling at how it felt like thousands of little needles poking me as the feeling returned to that side of my face.
"I'm okay," I finally managed.
"He's got a lot of nerve," said Mia.  Her eyes were blood shot too.
"He shh-ot a girlfriend!"
Shot who?  
"What?!"
"Heesh GOT a girlfriend!"
Oh! She's slurring!
"Can we please not bring HER up?" I said folding my arms across my chest.
I didn't want to launch into a whole thing about how this might be my fault,  as I was basically Michael's 10th-grade side chick.
"And he's mad at you," she continued, "becaush you danced with that NICE guy...what's his name?"
I looked around to make sure that Michael hadn't followed us down the hill.
"Mark," I whispered.  I could feel my lip starting to swell. "His name is Mark.  And Michael's not mad because I danced with Mark.  He's mad because I kissed him."
"You kisshhed him?!"  Mia looked surprised.  "When?"
"On the dance floor.  I knew I saw Jonny there.  Figured he would run back and tell him!  I just wonder how he got all the way back here from Walnut Creek before we did."
"Yeah...Jonny," Mia drifted off for a moment as though she was trying to figure out which Jonny I was talking about.  Suddenly she shook her head fiercely.
"Whatever," she said. "Michael can't say sh#& about what you do! You're not his woman, so you're a free agent, you know!?"
Mia was close enough for me to smell the beer on her breath.  Lovingly, I put my arm around her tiny waist.
"Thank you, Mia." I said, squeezing her.  "You always have my back."
"You'd better believe it!" She said squaring off like she was about to punch someone.
But all at once, she looked up at me and put her head on my shoulder.  She was about that same height.
"What about that nice guy?" She sounded sleepy.  "What's his name again?"
"Mark," I said.
"Mark," she repeated.  "You should allll-ways be with a nice guy like that."
I laughed a little.
Of course I should!  So why is it that I still want the other guy too?
"Probably," I admitted.
"And he shhh-uure is a good dancer!" she put her finger in the air.
"Yes he is," I said smiling, as we walked back up the hill.  "Yes, he is."

*  *  *

I looked at the strange looking email for a few moments.  The subject line rang a bell far away in the back of my head.
Tiffany's Walnut Creek
Tiffanys?
It was Sunday.  Scottie and I were laying in bed.  I was reading the Sunday New York Times, but I had my phone next to my pillow.  The buzz had alerted me that an email came in.  
I marveled for a moment at how my iPhone has trained me to know the sounds of the different alerts.  One short buzz was an email, 2 short buzzes was a text, one long buzz happened when someone played a word on me in Words With Friends.
Scottie looked over and reached for my free hand, "What should we do for breakfast?"
"Ummmm," I responded without looking up.  
Who is this from....?
"Hon?"
"I don't know," I said still staring at the subject line.   "Maybe Le Pain?"
I clicked on the email and held my breath.
Tiffany's! Walnut Creek.  Oh my God. 
"Hello Laura..."
I quickly scanned down to the signature.
Is it Mark?
"Take care," it said.  "Mark Chambers."
Oh my God, it's him!

Suddenly memories of Mark showing me how to dance that night at Tiffany's burst into my head.  I could see myself trying on Dari's cream-colored prom dress.

"He asked me!! I'm going to prom with Mark!"

 All at once, I could almost hear the low-to-high wail of cars whizzing by us on the freeway when my mom's Rambler broke down on our way to see Mark in Vallejo (35 miles from our house in Berkeley).

"Mom, we have to get there!  Mark will be so worried!"

Mark, who was so sweet.  Mark who grew silent and whose lips pursed with anger when I confessed that I'd been backhanded because of our kiss on the dance floor that night.  Mark who had never pushed me further than that kiss.  Mark...

"Whatchu got there?"  Scottie was peering over at my phone.
"Umm, it looks like a guy I used to date in high school found me on Facebook and emailed me."
"On Facebook?" Scottie sounded incredulous.  "How'd he get your email?"
"I don't know," I shrugged.  I took off my reading glasses and turned to face him. "I guess there must be a way to grab your email address from Facebook?"
"Let me see," Scott moved closer to me and read over my shoulder.

"See," I said, trying to distract him from the first paragraph.  "Right here, he says he found me on Facebook."
Scottie turned away and began typing purposefully on his lap top.  His expression was unreadable.
"I haven't seen him since high school," I said dreamily.  "Oh my God!  Did I tell you that I was his prom date?"
Scottie glanced my way, before returning his gaze to his laptop.
Are you angry?
"I don't think we ever did anything but kiss, Hon."
Scottie stopped typing and turned to look at me. "You don't think you ever did anything else? You don't remember?"
"No!"
Did we?
"I mean, no we didn't — for sure.  Mark was always a gentleman.  When I spent the night at his house, all I ever remember us doing was talking."
"Talking, huh?  How old were you? 16?" He started typing again.
"Yeah, 16 or 17."
"And at 17 you spent the night at his house — just talking?"
"I only stayed there because it was such a long drive.  My mom picked me up the next day.  Look if this..."
Suddenly Scottie burst into a wide grin as he turned to face me.
"Hon" he said apologetically.  "I think you should see him if he wants to meet.  He sounds like a really nice guy."
"He is a nice guy..." I said, puzzled by the sudden change of heart.  I spied a Facebook profile on Scott's laptop.
"Wait!  Is that him?"
He turned it away from me with a mischievous look.
"Yup!"
Now I could see that it was Mark's Facebook profile.  I craned my head to get a better look.
Oh wow!  It's really Mark!
"What's that say under his name?"
Scottie's smile widened as he put his index finger under the words I was trying to make out.
"You'd better put your glasses on and look him up."
I pulled up Mark's Facebook Profile on my phone while I felt around for my glasses with my free hand.  A Facebook message had popped up from Mark! I clicked it open, put my glasses, on and read the words below his name.
"Founder, President at NGBA...?"


National Gay Basketball Association?

Scottie gave me a sheepish look.  "It doesn't matter that he's gay, Hon.  I still wouldn't have had a problem with you seeing him." He winked at me, "but it doesn't hurt!"

*  *  *

He saw me before I saw him.  He was seated at a table near the cash register. He jumped up and scurried around the table to greet me.  We hugged for a moment then I straight-armed him away so I could look at him.
“Mark!”
It was so surreal to be standing in front of him 33-years later.  He looked great!  Handsome (even more handsome than I remembered him), healthy and happy.
“Do you want something?” he said, gesturing toward the counter.
I didn’t know if I wanted anything, but I figured I’d get my old standby.
He steered me toward the counter, his hand casually on my shoulder as though we’d been getting coffee like this for years.
“What’ll you have?” asked the barista.
“Matcha green tea latte,” I said.
Mark's eyes got wide.
“No way!” he smiled.  “That’s my order too!”
Beverages in hand, we sat down and looked at each other with huge smiles.
“You look great,” we both said at once.
“I wish we had more time,” I said looking at my phone.  “I only have about 45 minutes.”
“I know!” he grinned.  “I’ll take it.”
He knew a lot about me from Facebook and my blogs, so I had more catching up to do on his life.
“So….” I began.  “I remember you as this sweet, romantic, tender, young man.  I remember our kiss on the dance floor that night."
"Me too," he said.
"And the prom! " I squealed.  "Do you remember the prom?!"
"Do I remember the prom?!  I still have those pictures," he said confidently.
"I need to see those pictures!" I laughed.
"You look the same Laura," he said looking me up and down.  "Actually, you might even look better."
His manner was disarming.  I felt myself blushing.
"Why, thank you Mark," I smiled.

Just then, a friend of mine startled me out of the moment by tapping me on the shoulder.
"I just wanted to say hi," she smiled.
"Oh hi!"
I quickly introduced them, hoping she'd be on her way so I could learn more about Mark -- the clock was ticking.   I could tell she was curious about me having such an intimate-looking coffee-date with a handsome man.  When she finally said goodbye, I turned back to face Mark.

"And now..."  I paused.  I fumbled around in my head for the right wording. "Tell me what’s been going on since then.”
His eyes danced.  He knew exactly what I meant.

“Well, I wasn’t ever expecting to ‘grow up’ and have the life that I have now,” he started.  "I stayed in the Bay for a few years after high school, spent a lot of time in 'the city'" (that’s what we Bay Area folk call San Francisco -- the city).  "In '86, I ended up meeting this man with whom I had this really easy, crazy connection.  When he decided to move to LA in 1988, he asked me if I would go with him.  Even though I was kind of like 'WHAT!?!', I  found myself saying yes.  I had no idea what would happen.  I had no idea that this would be the rest of my life.”

“You mean the two of you are still together?! ” I could feel how wide my eyes had gotten.  I blinked  to bring them back to their normal size.
“We’ve been married since 2015.  But we’ve been together for over 30 years.”
What?!?
“Wow!” I said out loud.  “30 years! That is a lifetime!”
He nodded his head. “We still can’t believe it.”
"I actually moved to LA in 1988 too!”
He shook his head.  “It’s crazy that we’ve both been here all of this time.”
“This is unbelievable,” I said. "Tell me more."

He told me about his husband, Stephan.  He told me about his home in Lakewood.  He talked about all of the different jobs/careers that led him to building homes for a living.  I listened, spellbound, all the while my head going:
This is Mark Chambers!  You’re sitting here with Mark Chambers!  
“So tell me about your sons,” he said.
I prattled on about how Miles was graduating soon and moving to New York and how we were starting to do college tours with Justin.  He listened with laser-beam focus while I talked, his eyes rarely leaving mine.  When I talked about how Miles was going to culinary school, his eyes began to fill with tears.  I finished my last sentence slowly, trying to gauge what was happening, then I grew silent.

After taking a couple of breaths, he began to talk about his children.  I had to recompose myself because given what he’d just revealed to me, it hadn’t occurred to me that he had any children, let alone three.
There was such tenderness in his voice when he spoke of them.  I found myself welling up as he recounted how they came into his life and how lovingly he and Stephan parented them.
I reached across the table and grabbed his hand when he finished.
"You haven't changed at all," I said.  "And that's a really good thing.  I'm so glad you are the way you are.  You were my first really nice guy."
We sat like that for a minute.  My hand on top of his.  His gaze became dreamy and his brows knit together as though he were trying to recall something unpleasant.
'Yeah, there was that other guy..."
"Yeah," I said. "There was -- but I'm with a really nice man now."
"I know," he nodded, brightening.  "How long have you guys been together?"
"Almost 9-years," I beamed.
"I want to meet your Scottie," he said.  "Actually, thanks to Facebook, I kind of feel like I already have!"
We both laughed as I rose from the table.
"This won't be the last time," he said.
"No, it won't," I said as he held the door for me.  "Thank you for finding me, Mark."





















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