Portraits and Snapshots

FOR NELL

My first — my virgin surgery you might say —

was a hernia repair, sewing shut a membrane

that had been ripped open. In that sense the

opposite of first coitus. You drove me to the

hospital. Napped in the waiting room. Nursed

me at your parents’ house while they were

vacationing in Mexico. Watched a Hitchcock

marathon as I drifted in and out of anesthesia

feeling a lot like Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo. I

fretted about the tarantula in a terrarium in your

father’s room. Through a fog of deadened pain,

I heard your explanation of how Hitch got Cary

Grant to look so scared by running a spider across

his arachnophobic hand. The second surgery lifted

a lump from my breast — gynecomastia, which has

nothing to do with being transgender but seemed

the appropriate ailment for a total bottom like me.

Spotting you in the waiting room, the doctor wanted

to know if you were my wife. “No, that’s my bosom

buddy,” I quipped. I don’t think he got the joke.

Illustration by Tim Robbins
Illustration by Tim Robbins

THE WOMEN

I’d like to remake the George Cukor film and cast it with women I’ve known. My mom, with her
unwitting genius for portmanteau. (“This medicine makes me droggy.” “Your cousin hated his
stinch in the Army.”) My late grandmother. In my dreams she has never forsaken the room where
we watched TV together as she assured my Dad I was snug in bed. My cousin Stephanie. She put
my brother and me in dresses one day. You can see in the picture Bruce was quite sulky whereas
I didn’t mind in the least. Aunt Maggie, whose cakes graced half the weddings in the county and
who never forgot my favorite was lemon. Suzanne, who stepped right out of the Leonard Cohen
song of the same name. Nell (her dad called her the poor man’s Streisand). I once saw her quell a
fist fight simply by putting her arm around one of the combatant’s shoulders. The Callahan
women, three generations living on Barachel Lane, a haven for the arts in my redneck town. Beth
(the granddaughter) was the first person I came out to. Shelley, who is famous for dousing a
neighbor’s midnight john bellowing in the alley below her flat. Her “first time” was backstage at
the Bean Blossom festival with a mandolinist whose fingers worked wonders on the narrowest
frets. Before accepting her first marriage proposal at the age of 54, Miss Talyor (the high school
choir director) asked her students for permission. She was a staunch Methodist and yet when
certain outraged parents tried to stop my friend and me from singing, “Imagine there’s no
heaven…” she also proved herself a staunch defender of the First Amendment. Angela and I were
guards at an art museum. When the galleries were empty we’d swap stories about Bullwinkle’s
(the local gay and lesbian bar, so named for having once been a Moose lodge). Angela had the
greenest eyes. I couldn’t picture myself between her thighs. But I was enamored with those eyes.
Judy divorced her husband for trying to crush her college dreams. Nadine’s husband left her for a
younger woman, a witch whose spell Nadine lived to break. Both claimed their happiest moment
was yet to come and I think one of them was right. As for myself, I think I could be happy in this
epic movie with its all-star cast and men who never appear on screen. But then who can tell?

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