There are no pictures of him from the front.
Not there, not in that home anyway. We were all kinds of crazy about our new camera that year, but there are no pictures of him. Not from the front.
There’s one – just the one. Both men leaning with their elbows against the railing of the back deck. The picture is taken from behind at a bad angle inside the house. In the print, the unlit interior of the home blurs out into grainy sameness. The men don’t know the picture is being taken. It seems strange that anyone would bother taking it.
It also seems strange that it should have escaped expurgation. I mean, someone must have culled the photographs. Who?
Dad. Probably Dad. Dad throwing away pictures of his lover – so what? I mean, so that what? So that it was like he was never here?
To whom? To mother, I guess. Who could have?.. I mean?..
To mother. Back again from her spirit journey. From her misty shawls that smelled like opium, and her empty, hungry, kissing eyes.
There must have been pictures of him. Why wouldn’t there have been? Who could have?.. C.J. was almost like my Dad. C.J. could have been my Dad.
Prickly little baby dyke I was. Proto dyke. Not quite dyke. Too young for me even to have a name to call it, but C.J. always knew.
Think that’s why mother let me see him a few times after… well…
He took me to Red Lobster a couple of times after I came out. He had what I now realized was disposable income from being a grownup who didn’t have kids. Which basically seemed like magic money to me, even though he was just a fiscally responsible security guard. He grilled us all up steaks back when he was still Dad’s ‘roommate,’ at least in name. Steak-s. One for each of us. If you need to sell your kids on your secret homosexual lover…
There must have been pictures of him. I wish I had even one. I really have just my impressions, and this one picture from behind I don’t think anyone could explain.
I wonder if I took it. I wonder if it meant something. I wonder if I thought it would survive. I couldn’t have. Wouldn’t I remember?
I was always snapping pictures. Playing around with the different camera settings I didn’t in any way understand. Maybe that’s why all these pictures are over-saturated and old-looking. Or maybe it’s because they’re 20 years old. I guess it could be that.
Not a shock to anyone about me. Think I wanted to be more surprised even than they were. Mother probably thought she had beat this.
What must she have said to my father that night?
Mother suddenly became very familiar with the contents of certain Bible passages. Even though she called the Bible a heresy against the Goddess right before dropping us one morning to follow her guru to Taos in a van.
Given the free spirits in this case, I’ll take the secret fag who stuck around. Not that anybody asked me. Not that I could tell.
Certain things were just gone one morning. The little rainbow flag in the succulent planter. The Tori Amos tapes and CDs. Both the pet tarantulas, and the one adult who never got a chance to fail me.
Mother came back in a greasy black haze. A fog settled in the valley between the house and the quarry, and although the dew on the grass lapping at your feet felt nice, you noticed more the stinging edges.
The things we counted on seemed wrong now that she was back. Nor morally wrong. Uncanny. Eldritch.
The ones that were still there at least. A haunting implies a presence.
I missed the spiders. Somehow I really did. They were weird and wonderful, and C.J. helped me not to be afraid anymore.
C.J. taught me about music that didn’t suck. A lot of it by girls who liked girls. “Gay people can be real sweet and funny,” I remember mother once saying on a walk, “but you don’t want to be one of them.” I was maybe six years old. Funny how those contrasts will just show.
I can see her dancing in the near dark, lit by her candles and trailing a lacy black shawl. The quarry had knocked out the power again and she called to request they play Fleetwood Mac on the local radio station. She came alive and twirled around the house, singing along only in parts. I think she mostly wanted to listen. To hear.
C.J. liked Fleetwood Mac, but his favorite was probably Tori Amos. He had a poster of her from the Dew Drop Inn Tour up on the wall of the room they said he slept in back when. Tori leaning close to a mic, tousled hair around her shoulders, fixing the camera’s gaze with her glossy bottom lip. That poster made me feel funny things, not the least of which was respect for C.J.
He was a good dad. Or would have been . You know?
Was Dad a little gay? Did he just fall for one man? Did he need someone in that time and that someone was C.J., no matter what else?
I don’t care. I don’t know why it should matter. I don’t know why it was a secret, and I don’t know why he’s gone.
Either of them. Dad down some icy ditch off I-70 by Silver Plume. And C.J.?
Who even knows?
I heard he was moving to Great Falls, Montana. Did he tell me? Shit, did he take me to Red Lobster one last time to tell me? Why can’t I remember? It’s not like I was right in the grapevine to be hearing that.
Maybe Dad told me. That means he talked to C.J. Maybe they talked to each other about me. Maybe that makes me a selfish ghoul.
I can’t believe that… that C.J. would come back for me. Could I do that? I don’t think ever! Go back to my “straight” ex-lover’s house to pick up the kid I used to teach about piano rock and arachnids cause she turned out to be a queer, too? Take her out for dinner and never once ask about the ex?
C.J. was a security guard who liked scary animals and women rockers, and he was a goddamned saint to me. You have never seen suffering with grace. You have never seen generosity from poverty.
Or… well, I hope you have. Every little lesbian child deserves a C.J. To teach her about Tori Amos and different kinds of spiders.
I wonder if she knows about this picture. Certainly once in 20 years, she’s gone through this stack of photos.
Wouldn’t she have wanted to have know what we had been up to? What we did on mom’s new-age family-abandonment vacation?
I tuck it in the inner breast pocket of my coat. Some things deserve a good home.