Jude Totsian, Age 34, March 2012
Time flies. Nearly two years ago, David and I broke up. Well, he initiated the split. I agreed I couldn’t see any alternative that would have kept us together, but I never told him so. Never responded to his request to meet halfway, to talk it out, to figure out a way to remain friends. I never wrote him back or called, just swallowed the pain down my craw like a pelican does a fish, put my head down and worked harder and longer. Busy, busy, busy. Stuff the guilt and pain.
Today, Lacie McGuire’s the reason I’m driving north on I-39, in late March, headed toward Minocqua, Wisconsin. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly. I discovered that included me when she said, “So Jude, have you communicated with David yet? You’ve been avoiding it for two years.”
She called to catch up, something we did every month or so. She and Sanjay planned to announce their engagement in early June. She loved her job supervising case managers who worked with disabled children and adults. Her brother moved back home and was working part time and taking classes part time. She thought he was bored living at home.
I’d prattled on about working seven days a week, nothing personal. Then she hit me with the question.
I stammered a bit, but she interrupted me. “Jude, you’re frittering your life away trying to avoid David. Get your butt up there. He may yell at you, he may not want to see you, or he may want to. The important thing is that you face your fears, deal with this and move on with your life. If you don’t, you’re going to be some nice little old gay workaholic who runs around fixing things for everybody else and has no life of his own.”
David bustles into the gallery and gives me a look I can’t read. He hugs Bart, hands him some portfolios and tells him they need matting and framing. Bart heads toward his frame shop as David locks the front door and flips the sign to Closed. He motions to two chairs. “I’m glad you came. I’m pretty much over my anger and frustration that you never contacted me. It was rude. You finally coming up here tells me you are sorry. I accept your apologies. I have moved on, but not completely. Now I think I can.”
I start to speak, but David raises his hand to quiet me. “The most important thing now is that we learn and not repeat our mistakes. I’ve become much better at figuring out my needs and expressing them, rather than sitting on them. I hope this visit means you have recognized your issues with avoiding conflict and change.”
“I am so sorry. I agree. I didn’t want to come to grips with everything. I was so wrapped up in my life I didn’t recognize, or wouldn’t, that you were changing. I assumed you would always be around, the same old you. I now recognize how you supported me, but I was blind to seeing your needs, to see how you needed my support for your interests.”
On Monday, May 14th, Lacie emails me, wondering if I want to have dinner with her, Sanjay, and her family this Saturday in Lake Forest, after my shift at the clinic. It would be at Francesca’s, one of her family’s favorite places. She wants me to meet her family and to share their engagement plans. I also get the sense she wants to introduce me to her brother, Nate. I’m not opposed to meeting him, in fact, I’m intrigued by the idea, but I already have plans to meet David and Bart in Madison for a weekend art show they’re showing at. Both joked they were sure I could meet some gay artist. I did consider changing my plans, meeting Nate seemed like a surer thing than the possibility of some gay artist, but I’d already cancelled my work shifts and a weekend away sounded great.
The following Monday, I receive another email from Lacie, inviting me to attend a new gallery event on Saturday afternoon, June 2nd, in the Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood at the Rooming House Gallery. Her cousin and his partner inherited an old rooming house and converted the upper floors into an art gallery and studio space. I check out their website and discover it’s similar to what David and Bart are doing, yet with more community focus. The event is private. I reply that my parents are coming in for the weekend, so I won’t be able to attend. She responds—orders me—to bring them. She’s sure they will love it as well as it’s a great opportunity for our families to meet. Typical Lacie.
Two emails in two weeks. Two personal emails about meeting her family seems a bit much for someone like Lacie. I think her efforts at introducing me to her family are sincere, but it also feels like there is another underlying motive. I think his name is Nate. The next week, she texts me.Family can’t wait to meet yours on the 2nd!
(At the Gallery)
I wander around, studying the art. I notice a small painting of a young girl cuddling a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. I pause. The girl looks so familiar.
“It’s me.” Lacie stands behind me. “He’s pretty good, isn’t he?”
I step closer to see the initials of the artist, N M.
“He didn’t come today.” Her voice is soft with disappointment.
Meanwhile, I’m thinking, her brother’s a gay artist? I don’t need another one of those.
I turn. She’s already introduced my parents to hers, they stand near the middle of the room, talking with Sanjay, Josh and Andres. “Umm, Lacie. Subtlety isn’t one of your strengths, is it?”
She laughs, and tugs on my arm. “He will be here tomorrow. For sure, I promise. We’re having an extended family engagement party here tomorrow. You and your folks are welcome. It’s a bunch of Polish, Irish and a few Indians. You will fit right in. We don’t measure family by blood. Once we’ve met, you’re adopted anyway.”
“I would love to come, but…”
“Are you worried because Nate is disabled? It’s okay if you are, but once you meet him…”
“I’m not opposed to or worried about dating a disabled man. Should I be?” I feel my face flush. Did I say date? She laughs at my embarrassment. “Listen, I’m interested in meeting your brother, okay? I mean, my arm is getting sore from you twisting it. The issue is, I have tickets tomorrow afternoon for a community theater production with my folks, then dinner. I don’t see how we can do both.”
“Great! I can’t wait to tell Nate about you.”
“No, please don’t. That will make it more awkward when we do meet.” Surprised I said when instead of if we meet.
Nate and Jude do meet. How?
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