MELTING THE SNOW by Wendell Edward Carter CHAPTER 2
2 My Iceberg Runneth Over
After graduating from U Penn with an English degree, I got a four-year fellowship to study for a PhD in literature at Stanford University. California was golden, wasn’t it? I dreamt of shirtless white boys playing beach volleyball. Surely in California I would find my perfect (white) man; educated, handsome, naturally liberal. Enough of these uptight east coast types. I went. Maybe the rest of California was liberal, but Stanford wasn’t. Or maybe it was where I lived: the graduate engineering dorm (I can feel you nodding your head). After two weeks, I’d heard enough fag jokes to fill an HBO comedy special. I decided to strike back. I covered my dorm room door with gay stuff: pictures of gay subjects, statistics on gay people, a running list of famous gay people in history. I added a new name to the top of the list every Monday. My favorite picture was an Inca clay statue of two male figures, one’s dick stuck up the other’s butthole for eternity. I’d be in my room, and hear somebody stop outside my door to read. The stranger would say something like “No way, man!” when he found out Socrates was gay. I laughed a lot over that door. The door got me some unwanted attention, too. A pair of well-meaning, bible-toting Born Again Christians I knew descended on me one day to explain the evils of homosexuality. They didn’t know I called myself a Born Again Christian in high school. I knew the bible inside and out. For three hours we cited bible passages at each other. Nobody was going to budge. Finally I told them to read Jonathan Loved David and kicked them out. I went to the campus student lounge to shake it. The tables were full of students studying and socializing. I joined one guy at a table and we struck up a casual conversation. I unburdened myself about the Christian attack. He pulled a bible out of his knapsack. I heard eerie music. I thought I was in the Twilight Zone.
I got a lot of play in California, but not the kind I was looking for. I was still trying to be virtuous, in those days. My friends Tom (a burly blond) and Ray (Raymundo, a Chicano from Sacrimento) and I used to go to this club in San Jose, the Stingray. About 12 miles from campus, it was either that or 35 miles up to San Francisco.
I went out with two guys the whole year I was at Stanford. One was Cliff Brewster. I’d organized a gay volleyball game every Saturday, and it became very popular. I showed up late to the game one day. There was a new guy playing. He looked like the most waspy guy I ever saw. Even though he was built I didn’t even think once about him. I was a snow queen, but I liked Hagan Daaz, you know what I mean? The stuff that’s best when it’s half-melted? I rarely went for the pure-bred white types. They rarely went for me. The game was very competitive. White Boy was very good. He was tall enough to spike a mean volleyball, plus he knew how to move. We struck up a teammates’ camaraderie. Later, a lot of us were heading to a play about AIDS. Walking across campus, Cliff and I wound up chatting about the game. Before I knew it, he was inviting me to sit with him. I went. We sat together. The play was boring. We spent most of the time whispering, making jokes. White Boy was looking better and better.
After the play, Cliff and I exchanged numbers. I found out Cliff had his own business, and was buying a half-a-million dollar house. I wasn’t impressed by possessions ordinarily, but Cliff was somebody you couldn’t ignore. He’d recently split from his lover after three years. He said he wasn’t looking for a serious relationship. He was the talk of the gay part of campus. Cliff was the type all the white guys wanted to date; uppercrust, cultivated, a former high school quarterback. Every white gay man with at least one foot out of a relationship was after him. That was funny, since he seemed like he was after me. A few days later, Cliff called. We went out to dinner. He loved Thai food, so we drove the ten miles to Los Altos (where his house was) to his favorite Thai restaurant. We had a very good time. We went out a couple more times. Nothing spectacular, but much better than life had been before. My friends said it was a romance. I wasn’t too sure. Another month and I was ready to agree with them. Nothing sexual had happened between us, but we’d held hands a few times. He’d bought flowers and cards for me. At his suggestion, we’d even gone on a picnic. That was really great, sitting on a hill on a bright sunny day under the shade of a gigantic tree sharing bread and cheese and wine. He bought a wicker picnic basket just for the occasion. He even had the food catered. And he had that look in his eye. We all know ‘that look’.
One night I went to a dance on campus. Cliff was supposed to meet me there. I’d been there an hour and a half and he wasn’t there yet. I asked somebody who knew him if they’d seen him.
“Cliff Brewster? What are you looking for HIM for?” Chad was a thin white man, late thirties, balding and generally uncompromising. He’d been a graduate student for like 20 years and still hadn’t finished his dissertation. He sounded like he couldn’t POSSIBLY imagine any reason for such a thing. He fixed beady eyes on me.
“I’m supposed to meet him.” I was annoyed. Was it so impossible I might be seeing Cliff?
“But what for?” Chad kept looking at me like it damn well WAS impossible. “For your information, I’ve been seeing him for a couple of weeks. I take it you haven’t seen him.” I was happy to set his little feathers ruffling. “No. Sorry.” Chad’s sour mouth snapped shut. He might as well have said he’d been wishing Cliff would ask HIM out. The mix of frustration, insolence, and outrage on his face said the same thing. And that he couldn’t BELIEVE a highly desirable white guy like Cliff would rather date a black man than him.
I walked away, mad as hell for a minute. Then I just let it go. That’s the kind of thing I was very good at pretending never happened. Cliff finally came, but he was clearly distracted. This was the first time we’d been seen in the gay Stanford crowd like we knew each other well. He didn’t spend much time with me. I left hurt and angry. He made it up to me the next couple of times we got together. Then came the night he invited me to his house for dinner. He was going to cook, so it would be something special. He picked me up around seven. We drove to Los Altos. The house was near the top of one of the hills (that’s what Los Altos meant in Spanish: the hills). Cliff opened the door.
“Come on in. I don’t have a lot of furniture yet.” He smiled, shy. He ushered me inside.
The house was beautiful and modern. There wasn’t really any furniture to speak of. I didn’t mind the least. I was happy to be there with him. Cliff showed me around a bit. He was especially proud of a huge floor-length window in the dining room. You could see for miles down into the valley. Breathtaking. He was so proud of his home. It was cute. Cliff went into the kitchen. He’d already been getting dinner ready. Food lay on the counter, cut up or marinating. I was really touched. Noone had ever gone to such trouble for me. I was impressed with the quality of this man, with his caring and wholesomeness. He cooked as I made conversation.
“I don’t have a dining room table yet. We’ll have to eat on the rug in front of the fireplace.” Cliff’s eyes flared with wry romance for a second. “I’ll turn on the fireplace if it’s chilly. Are you warm enough?” “I’m a little cold,” I said. I never got used to the way it cooled down in California in the spring.
He started the gas fireplace in the living room, then lit scented candles he had placed all around. You could bump into the romance in the place. I did, several times. I don’t remember what we ate. Some kind of chicken? We ate on the floor. The wine was terrific. Soft jazz played in surround sound. The fire licked our toes. This was the most romantic dinner I ever had. We sat afterwards, my head on his shoulder, his arm around my waist, both of us looking out the big window at the stars. We kissed. I was losing it. Then he came for me, and we kissed deeply. We undressed each other on the rug. It was a beautiful thing (not THAT thing, I mean the experience). He was exactly the right size in every way. We made love on the rug in front of the fireplace, in the light from the candles, from what filtered through the window outside, among the shadows cast by the fire. In the buzz of the sweet jazz and the candle-scent. A strange thing happened. No matter how our bodies strained toward each other, no matter how closely we touched, there was a distance between us. I watched everything from above, as though I were out of my body. We kissed, and there was a place in my mind that remained detached, only moderately awakened. Nipples were bitten and licked, but it might as well have been a St. Bernard glued to my chest. We sucked dick, but it was just sucking and slurping. We fucked each other, but it was just appendages going in and out of orifices. There was no passion. I didn’t even know it, was only vaguely aware that these sensations weren’t reaching me anywhere inside. At 27 I was already accustomed to living my life at second hand.
When it was over, we lay there for a time enjoying the slowly evaporating heat of our bodies. He took me to bed in his queen-sized four-poster with the stuffed comforter. I was happy as shit, a snow queen up to his neck in pure white drifts.
The next morning he took me back to campus. Things seemed great for the next few days. We talked on the phone, made a plan to see each other on the weekend. And then what happened? You guessed it. The weekend came and Cliff never showed up. He didn’t call and all I got when I called him was voicemail. We never went out again. Thinking back on it, I decided he really wasn’t ready for a relationship. I mean, that is what he said. Maybe I needed to think that. I couldn’t explain what happened any other way, unless I went in another direction. I was still years away from all the self-help psychology books that helped me understand it usually wasn’t ME, it was usually THEM that was on another wave length. At the time though, the only thing I could think of was…the ‘r’ word. No. I wanted to keep that door bricked up, like my own private vampire that would never, ever see the light of night.