Pay It Forward

Once more we delve into the past of Wildcat.

Growing up on the south side of Chicago, in the neighborhood of Bridgeport, my life was fairly controlled.  We were allowed to play outside the house but had to ask permission to go down the street to play, and weren’t allowed to cross the street without an adult.  We often would play in the back yard as well but weren’t allowed to linger in the alley behind the house and the parking lot back there was out of bounds.  We were in by nightfall and only on special occasions allowed to play in front of the house at night.  We weren’t allowed at all if a funeral was going on at the parlour next door to us.

Our education was grand.  We were walked to the school which was a few blocks away, and picked up as well when it was done.  Once we were older, and I’m talking the last three grades of grammar school, were we allowed to go and come back on our own.

Bridgeport was primarily Italian and Irish, with some Polish, Luthuanian and Mexican thrown in.  We had Chinatown to the East of us.  And being this type of community, we rarely, if ever, would see a person of color.  The only black man I ever met was a bread deliver man who we called RD.  We had none in the school, and no Asians.  When I entered 6th grade, the Chicago Public Schools started a Magnet School program which meant that students from other neighborhoods could be bussed in.  How they made the selections I don’t know.  But suddenly we had all kinds of different kids in our school.  It was probably one of the most amazing times of my life.

So as you could imagine, people in my neighborhood were fairly provincial and extremely bigoted.  Obviously, being a gay boy, that wasn’t all that great for coming out.  The only gay person I knew was the man who was abusing me, though I didn’t know it at the time.  I just thought that he was helping me figure out who I was.  I think we can say that my personality was already screwed up by then as he’d been doing this since I was 10, that I can remember.

Once I was in my teens and going to high school, I was able to travel on my own.  I got up before the light of day, got ready and headed to the bus to get to school.  Before this, I attended college lessons while still in 7th and 8th grade at Loyola University and University of Chicago but I was carefully monitored in my travels there.  Coming and going to and from school was refreshing and I began to take long walks at night around the neighborhood.  Just me and my music for hours on end wandering around the streets.  I started to isolate myself then, probably due to the fact that I wasn’t being quite who I was suppose to be.  Supressing my sexuality made me ashamed and I displayed this by withdrawing from the family more and more.

When I was finally out on my own, I discovered the Horizons Gay Youth group and started to go.  I made some great friends there and everyone there shared their stories, helping each other figure out life.  That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?  I also started to wander up north now, in the Lakeview area.  Being a rather cute gay teen meant that I attracted the attention of real gay men now!  I did make some friends with them and occasionally I did manage to sneak in a little fun as well.  Now at this time, I was on my own, as I said, so I didn’t have a decent place to live.  A kind man who I met while I was wandering told me about the work he was doing on his house.  He had work to do on the basement to make it truly habitable but if I wanted to live there and work for him by helping to fix it up, then he’d charge me very little.  How could I pass up a place to live and a job all in one?  I took the offer, regardless of feeling that he was interested in something more than my building skills.  His name was Peter and he got me started on my own, to which I’m always grateful.

I had my first boyfriend when I was very young, though we never thought of ourselves as boyfriends.  Alas, that ended tragically and I didn’t take another boyfriend for years and years.  After getting my first apartment, I got involved with the Rocky Horror Picture Show performances at the Music Box theater.  It was there that I met Bob, one of the greatest loves of my life.  This man taught me a lot about being faithful and how love can shape a person.  Even to this day, I have deep love for him, though we’ve both moved on with our lives.  And I’m always glad to see he’s doing well.  Yeah, he’s Facebooked.

One of the greatest influences in my life was a man named John Wolff who was our roommate when Bob got an apartment on the Northwest side.  We originally had a roommate named Roger who was our age but he skipped out on us.  John Wolff was the quintessential older gentleman.  He was funny and caring, patient with me, and very active.  And he was one of the greatest losses in my life because he passed away from AIDS.  I remember the day I came home from work and lay in front of the television.  John was on the sofa and looked disturbed.  I asked what was wrong and that’s when he told me that he had AIDS.  The diagnosis floored him.  He carried himself with a natural grace though, never letting the condition take him down.  He worked, and he lived!  He didn’t complain though it was taking away his strength.  He didn’t seem to want to be a burden.

Another great influence was my grandfather, who was an additional force of utter grace.  He was quiet and unimposing but you knew that when he had something to say, he meant it.  No one ever wanted to anger him.  He was the most honorable person I ever knew.

Additional credit to these people who picked me up when I was in a low spot:  my friends Beth and Billy who took me in when I had to give up my apartment in Florida and was awaiting my divorce and eventual move to the UK.  They didn’t know me from Adam, having only talked on the internet and they took me in for as long as I needed;  the people who I met on the BBS boards in my youth for showing me just how dangerous the gay community could be;  Billy K, sysop of Risquilly BBS,  who taught me to live every day to the fullest.

As you can see, there’ve been quite a number of people who’ve contributed to my life.  Last but not least would be my mother, who stood by me even when I was being a complete asshole.  And since I had this network of support in the past who shaped me and helped me to figure out the path I walk now, I’ve always stood ready to help others.  I’ve done this in the past while living in Chicago.  As I wandered around Lakeview, I would occasionally take a homeless person to dinner and listen.  When I was older I would sometimes hire a rent boy and give him a warm place to sleep, meal and a little respect.  When asked by a curious lad about being gay, I try to help.  When a friend falls into hard times, I’m there at their side.

I have a wealth of experience under my belt.  I’ve been through hell and back with a slightly singed ass.  I’ve had abuse and I’ve had love.  Hells bells, I HAVE love.  Yeah, the husband rocks.  Anyhow, the curious and the confused can always take advantage of the offer to ask me for advice.  I’m basically an unknown in the world, and sometimes it’s better to get the opinion of someone outside the situation.  As long as I get the facts, I might be able to help point the way, as had been done with me in the past.

I’m just paying it forward for all the people who propped me up when I fell down.