Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Always With Me

It doesn't seem to matter how old I get - I feel as if I'll always remember so many individuals from the past, especially those who have influenced my identity. Jay was someone I hero-worshipped in high school. I wanted to be like him.

I had met Jay in church when I was 16 and our family had moved to a new town. He was a year older than me and a straight-A student. Immediately, I looked up to him. He went to UCLA after graduating as the class valedictorian. He had also been the school mascot, dancing and jumping around at football games in a cougar costume, like a giant, cuddly stuffed animal. I thought that was the coolest thing.

But best of all, Jay was a dancer, or at least, more of a dancer than me. He had taken some classes, and he knew the different ballet positions and French terms. He knew to turn out his foot while pointing it, and he could do split-leaps in jeté.

During the summer break, when I was still the new kid, Jay told me about "New Generation," the show choir he was in at school. It was the local version of 'glee' and I was desperate to become part of the group. After months of pining to be like the kids on the TV series "Fame" I finally had the chance to become a singer-dancer!

I also wanted to develop more of my rugged individuality, taking advantage of a fresh start at a new school. No one knew the old Peter from before, the band geek who was still afraid of taking a chance to stand out from the crowd. At my new school, people would take for granted any unique expression I used as part of my outward appearance, including the bandanna headbands I wore on a regular basis.

I loved being in "New Generation." I loved singing in four part harmony and wearing the same show choir outfit as the rest of the guys. Once, on a Sunday, Jay and I agreed to wear our matching pin-stripe shirts and knit ties to church, looking like twins. I had longed for such camaraderie as a teen, and I reveled in the solidarity.

I applied to UCLA (and didn't get accepted, initially, before appealing my rejection) because Jay was at UCLA. I pledged the Christian fraternity on campus because Jay was already a member.

Our friendship didn't last much longer after my freshman year. I dropped out after being put on academic probation (I had been cutting my math class to attend dance class instead). I also did not get accepted into the conservative fraternity, even after toning down my rugged individual ways. Part of not keeping in touch with Jay was that I felt ashamed, probably, for being a college dropout and a fraternity reject.

I wasn't able to keep up with him, on more than one level. I wasn't able to be like him after all.

Jay had always wanted to get away from California. In the yearbook, under senior goals, he had listed "To live and work in New York!" Even as a junior I had already felt abandoned by Jay, saddened by his future departure.

A couple of decades after high school, a mutual friend ran into Jay in New York. It was pure dumb luck running into him on a busy public sidewalk, years after having no contact. Jay didn't seem thrilled by the impromptu reunion, my friend told me. He made no effort to provide a phone number or email address, no mention of wanting to stay in touch or even meet up later to catch up.

Jay is not on facebook, as far as I can tell.

I kind of get it. In a strange way, I respect Jay's desire for wanting to get the hell away from everyone. Jay came out of the closet before I did, in the mid-80's, even while he was still a member of the Christian fraternity. Since I had always looked up to him as a big brother figure, I really thought that it would make us closer, and that he could continue to be my role model. But it only seemed to diminish our friendship, maybe because we had always been such good, Christian boys while growing up.

I think the increased distance between Jay and I, from coming out, was part of his overall defense system.

I would like to be in touch with Jay today, to tell him how much he influenced me in a positive way, and to tell him that I eventually became a dancer. I want to share with him that I got cast in a production of "A Chorus Line" once, the way we had always dreamed about in high school.

But I understand his need for maintaining distance from his old life, and the need to escape from all of the disapproval we came to expect from our parents and church and society while growing up. Even though I wasn't as accomplished as Jay was, I understand wanting to get away from all of the expectations of being the perfect student, and of being the well-behaved son . . . being the perfect, blameless Christian man.

Hopefully, Jay feels he is finally free of all of that, now, living and working in New York. Hopefully, he has been reveling in the fact that he accomplished his high school goals.

The photo above was taken during a rehearsal for New Generation in the choir room. Yes, that is me on the far right, the dork in the headband. "Let's get physical!"


karenpurplequeen said...

may I copy this & send it to Lisa?

Peter Varvel said...

*gasp* No, don't. It will go even more viral, then, which will increase the chances of Jay seeing this and recognizing himself!

karenpurplequeen said...

oh, dear - that would ruin EVERYTHING!!