Monday, September 5, 2022

Marbles and Love

Sunday began with the big community dog walk. When I got home, I was walking around the house like a zombie. I had no energy, no ambition. I decided to watch television and just a lie on couch, but I soon fell asleep and had a long nap. Checking my email when I got up, I was excited to read that FedEx expects to deliver my new computer today—sometime before 8 PM, and I must sign for it so I’ll be staying close to home so that I don’t miss the delivery.

What a bonus! Apple said that it wouldn’t be here until Friday. I’ll be thrilled to be off this iPad. The pad’s great for emergencies like this, but it doesn’t let me have multiple tabs open which is really important when I’m doing research for the clinic. I’ll be really relieved to receive the machine today. I can hardly wait to boot it up and get back to normal.

Yesterday, late in the afternoon, the sun came back. Everything quickly dried, and so I took advantage of the bright afternoon to take Sheba for a second walk for the day. I wanted her tired when I left her home to go to The Surf for dinner with the boys. It’s supposed to be back to summer sunshine for the next several days. It’s amazing, but I looked around the park and I don’t see anything needing doing. I’ve done all the pruning I need to do and so all that’s ahead of me is recreation.


When I was in elementary school we used to play marbles. It was gambling with marbles. Boys would sit down on the dusty hard surface of dried earth, back erect and legs spread wide apart. They’d have a bag of marbles at their side, and from it they’d draw their wager—cat’s-eyes, a large crystal, steely’s, whatever—and they’d place their wagers between their ankles of their outstretched legs.

Players would pass by, looking at all the wages offered by the boys on the ground. They’d mill around, pondering which wager was worth the risk, and then they’d go to one of the boys, kneeling down on one knee in front of him. He’d focus intensely on the wager and then he’d fire his single shot. If the player hit the single marble or one of a series of marbles of the wager, he’d win the entire wager and take the marbles home. If he missed, the boy kept his marble, caught by his spread legs.

When puberty hit, I felt a force burning inside of me. But my father didn’t talk to me about anything, let alone anything sexual. Learning about sexual expression and dating was impossible for me. I was a closeted gay Catholic boy who believed he, himself, was a sin. I knew that I was ‘conceived in sin.’ I was taught that. The only places that I knew of where I could meet a gay man was in what was called a ‘cruising’ place. It was learning by experiences, and many of the experiences were nasty or sad.

Remember, I had no siblings and no cousins to council me on the ways of sex and dating. And I didn’t want to out myself as gay, so I couldn’t ask my friends. I went to these cruising places and played a passive role. Never once, in my whole life, did I approach a young man. I just put myself where there was a bunch of gay guys and hoped someone would approach me. And then one of them fell in love with me. When he told me as much, I couldn’t reply that I felt the same way. I had no clue what Love would feel like.  All I knew about love was what I learned from novels.

A few times, I would try and engage the strangers that I met in cruising places; I sought a thoughtful and insightful conversation about sex. But they weren’t interested in talking. As I slowly acquired a few gay friends I’d ask them, too, but my questions would often lead to jokes. I couldn’t engage people in a meaningful conversation about sexual practises and, particularly, about love.

Remember, mother was in an institution and not herself, and dad was busy with in his affair with her nurse that kept him away from our home all the time. I had no one to ask about the questions in my head—especially about love. As time passed, and cruising didn’t lead to anything like a relationship, I remembered the boys with the wagers between their legs in the playground, trying to seduce the passers by to play. I tried to find parallels between the game of marbles and the game of love. 

One thing that I knew was this: no human being could make me feel the way Alec, my cat, made me feel. Alec come from a neighbour who never let him in the house. He would sit on the sill of the kitchen window begging to get in. I’d watch him from across the street and feel for him. They never let him inside, and I felt deeply for him. So when the neighbour gave him to me when the family moved to California, I found an intense love. Two unwanted souls found solace in each other. 

Steve and I got together in a cruising place, and it was a passionate union. He was my first boyfriend, and eight years younger than me. He had considerable experience with men, and I had little. It wasn’t easy. I’d never experienced being with someone who had expectations. I did not know how to negotiate. I had no experience whatsoever with intimacy. But he stuck with me for 14 years and we’re still exceptionally close friends.

I can barely remember the alphabet let alone most of the thousands of ASL signs I learned last year. I realized I couldn’t learn ASL unless I was using it with others every day. That was the way I learn French. I moved to France and took a job that required that I was bilingual. It isn’t enough to just take lessons. And then I thought about how lucky it is to be born deaf, rather than to acquire it. Your first and only language would be signing and you’d grow up to become magnificent at physical communication. One learns best in community. The only way I could become good at ASL would be to move to where there’s a community of welcoming deaf people.

And now I understand that it’s the same with love. You have to learn it in community—family. So it doesn’t surprise me to conclude that if you grow up in a community without any love, you’re going to be confused about love. You’re going to have issues with it. You’re gonna wind up single. Maybe on an island. With loving pets.

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