Oscar Wilde once said; “It’s an odd thing, but anyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco.” (and Billy Graham said “The Bay Area is so beautiful, I hesitate to preach about heaven while I’m here, ” a feeling we wish he honored more often.) Nobody visited me in Minneapolis, but the longer I live in San Francisco, the more people I see from my past. Such is life in a destination city.
The first time I got sober, I was nineteen and still living in Minneapolis. There was a guy who got sober about the same time I did. People used to say we looked like brothers, but I often felt like the ugly sister in his company. Guys loved him. Hell- girls did, too. Though we both worked out, his body just took to it in a way that mine never did. It seemed overnight that his muscles grew; a speed so disheartening to me; the eternal skinny boy. He was truly stunning. Eventually he met a man equally good-looking and they became the unofficial Beautiful Couple of Minneapolis. They were whisked off on one of those gay cruise ships to be photographed frolicking in the surf, kissing in the pool, laughing over dinner on the Acapulco Deck. It was impossible to open a gay rag and not see pictures of them splashed all over the ad pages.
I developed a slight jealousy problem. Because his boyfriend was an economics professor, I nicknamed my friend “Mary Anne” behind his back (as in “The Professor and Mary Anne” of the 3-hour tour fame). I had some insecurities. But I was also human. After one hundred men asked me about my friend, the one hundred and first had his head ripped off. Metaphorically, of course. It became easier to spend less time with M.A., especially as he became lost in the first throes of a perfect romance. The jealousy never sat well with me (does it ever?)
That was when a certain segment of the gay population held an allure for me; a segment that was pretty and shallow and seductive despite its shallowness, maybe even because of its shallowness. The Beautiful and the Buff; an exclusive club tantalizingly out of my reach. M.A.’s membership was a given, and through him I saw doors open that for me had always seemed shut and locked. I saw rooms of men shift chemically at his entrance; I saw his modest awareness of his beauty, and the modesty made it worse; harder to like him, harder to hate him. Yes, the club too closely resembled popular high school cliques. Yes, I disdained it. But I desired it more. This is the club that we think of as mainstream, when really it’s only a sliver of our population; a sliver photographed far more than its fair share. I wanted membership. If only, I told myself, so that I could revoke it. Torn between pretty and punk, I became neither.
Eventually I met the man who would become my Ex, and we moved to San Francisco. When my mom got sick and I moved back to Minneapolis for a few months, I ran into the Professor. He told me that M.A. had fallen spectacularly off the wagon, ran off to a treatment center in Dallas, and then vanished into the city without a trace, leaving the Professor alone and confused. That was five years ago, and the last I had heard about M.A. I’ve thought about him frequently, wondering what became of him, feeling my bitterness wither and die.
Last night I looked around the fluorescent-lit AA meeting and spotted, under a flannel shirt and baseball cap, my Mary Anne sitting alone in the back, no longer buff but still cute and uncertain. Turns out he came to San Francisco last month to visit a friend who then got him admitted to a treatment program where he’s been ever since. Things do change. “Look how big you’ve gotten!” he cried, pinching my cheek. Serendipity is more than a John Cusack movie.
It certainly felt like something came full-circle last night, just in time to test me or teach me a lesson. Which is silly, because it’s not all about me. But still. Residing within me is a creature that I think of as my Inner Child’s Evil Twin Sister. It demands total attention from men. It whines and wheedles and pouts if someone gets more than me. Granted, I’ve made enormous progress in exorcising this Demon Child. I don’t want everyone’s attention, and I don’t want a club membership; just some good friends and maybe a hunky man with a good heart somewhere down the line. But I felt her stir and kick when I saw Mary Anne, like an angry little fetus, like the ghost pain of an amputated leg. I may never be completely rid of her, but I’m getting better at seeing her for what she is; a whiny brat who needs to go to her room.