I was getting a pedicure at a new salon the other day and as I allowed myself to relax (while getting a fantastic calf massage). The opulence of the Grecian themed establishment had statues of Goddesses looking at me, and a water fountain that lulled me. As I melted away suddenly I had a memory, pop into my head, that washed over me. I thought about Billy and Richard. I followed the memory deeper recalling a 7 year old me, meeting a gay couple that resided in our family.
My grandparents resided with us in a full apartment my father had constructed in our two story home. In all this excitement I was able to spend far more interesting times with my Granny and Grandpa than with my parents or at school. I was a precocious child, energetic and a tad shy with a streak for adventure (that big people didn’t know about at that time). One winters day my grandparents decided to venture into Chicago to visit Uncle Billy and Richard. I had an Uncle Billy? I’d never met him, so naturally, I’d coaxed my grandparents into taking me with them on this grand outing! Apparently Uncle Billy had become sick, his partner Richard, caring for him. I got the down low on the long ride into the city from my Granny. I was to “not make a big deal out of Billy and Richard as they were a couple and I shouldn’t ask questions”. I was to “be quiet! and don’t say anything to anyone!” OK! Got it! Quiet!
Upon entering the beauty salon it was filled with crystal chandaliers and guilt gold sconces, the most decadence I’d seen in all my seven years of age, within the turquoise blue walls.
When I met Uncle Billy he was very happy and outgoing, but had become sick. He needed an oxygen mask to breathe which I thought made him look more interesting. What would happen if I used it? Anyway… his partner, Richard was much taller and broad shouldered with a very nice grey feathered hair style. I just looked all around me at all the women getting their hair done as the adults chatted away toward the back of the salon. I felt I could visit there for hours. I remember Billy as being the most expressive man I’d ever met and I couldn’t figure out why he was so upset. Regardless as Richard was by his side I felt, in no way did this bother me. They two men were delightful and kind. I made sure I spoke to no one else…and the one stranger asking me if I wanted something to drink had me looking at my Gran, for what to reply with. Anyway my time in the salon with this extended family was normal as is breathing and I almost felt as if they were some sort of famous couple (I had a bit of an active imagination). They owned a salon! It was extremely pretty! Do they live there??! I would live there.
It was years later I realized I’d met my first gay couple. Again, this didn’t bother me. Sitting in the present day salon, my other leg now getting it’s massage, I allowed the memory to wash over me. I don’t really know which side of the family Uncle Billy was from. I never seen or heard of them again. Nevertheless, my mother was adopted and really it doesn’t matter.
I think, in reflecting further, the experience left me with something that was the very hush hush attitude I was to take with me in my life. Yet, I didn’t understand the reason for secrecy (I still don’t) but to each every one’s own and I know the path to be very difficult. Why did we have to pretend that everything was ok? Were we being spied on? Were evil men lurking, taking notes? Will we be on the news? When all I saw it to really be, was…OK!
So what I’d realized too was that my grandparents were keeping that skeleton tightly closed in that closet. Yet everyone around seemed to know Billy and Richard (who were famous in my mind) and all the ladies getting their hair done were happy! Billy and Richard were happy isn’t that all that matters? They held hands, my grandparents didn’t even hold hands.
I think it’s societies fault for so much of the stigmas that same sex couples have faced. They wrestle with such turmoil within and I know it’s hard enough when you cannot be true to yourself, let alone live a lie. I questioned my sexual orientation severely at one point as well.
Anyway, I thank Billy and Richard for opening my very young eyes and filling them with such a sense of togetherness when I saw these two together, holding hands. We cannot choose who we love or who our hearts seem to fall into. This I know to be certain.