Monday, July 23, 2012

A Sexual Education: Mr. Goldberg, Part VI

(This is the last of the Mr. Goldberg series. It is not necessary, in your comments, to point out the appropriateness or the legality of the man's actions, or lack thereof. I think it's plain to everyone that they were neither. Thank you in advance.)

I’ve kept a journal since 1983—that’s nearly thirty years, if you don’t want to do the math—and I’ve always intended to write about Mr. Goldberg. I didn’t when I was younger, because I feared I didn’t have the language yet to do justice to how I felt for him. I’m still not sure I do.

In more recent years I’d avoided reflecting about him on the page because writing is, for me, an exercise in commitment. Once it’s on the page, my thoughts and fears and yearnings leave that realm of the unspoken and become documents. How could I document something so far past and so confusing?

I feared that if I wrote about Mr. Goldberg, whatever audience I had would totally miss the message I very much wanted to say about him, namely, No matter how inappropriate his attentions, this man was very important to me. He helped me take first steps toward becoming who I am today. When I walk among my memories of him, I tread on hallowed ground.

Writing about something in my journal anchors it into the narrative of my life—it makes the event more real, in a sense. I don’t mean to imply that the things I don’t record in my diary exist in some it’s-all-pretend Neverland, but when something makes it into the pages of my journal, it’s because I want to remember it, or because I feel it’s significant enough to warrant recording. Vanishingly few people in my life have known about Mr. Goldberg. I could probably count on two hands’ fingers the number of people over the last thirty-odd years to whom I’ve confided our dalliance. Inappropriate as it was, and seamy as it might be to some, I think my life, and this record of it, is the better for giving the man his due.

Conversely, sometimes when I have something in my head that eats away at me—a fear or an anger that won’t dissipate—writing about it in my journal feels like opening the windows and doing a spring cleaning of my brain. It blows away the cobwebs and chases away the shadows. That’s what I did with this series of entries, all because of something that happened some months ago.

Here goes.

One of the things that makes me squeamish on Facebook—my real Facebook account, as opposed to my sex blog presence—is receiving a friend invite from one of my old school friends. Part of me is grumpy because, after all, if I really wanted to remain friends with someone from fourth grade, or high school, or college, wouldn’t I have attempted to keep in touch with them all these years? Another part of me gets grumpy at the grumpy part, because he’s such a curmudgeon, and why is there any harm in getting back in contact with people I liked a hundred years ago when I was young?

A while ago I accepted a friend request from Gus Greer, one of my old grade-school acquaintances. I knew Gus from the fifth through the seventh grade; after that, his parents took him out of the public school system and sent him off to boarding school. (So many parents of my friends removed them from the public schools before they hit ninth grade.)

Where I was quiet and bookish during those years, Gus was a boisterous boy. He was loud, mischievous, and if we’d had a prescient-enough poll, easily would have been voted Most Likely To Be On Academic Probation His First Semester Of College For Drinking And Screwing To Excess. I was a little bit surprised that he hunted me down and added me as a friend at all, because I always remembered being a little bit afraid of him, with his flannel shirts, his muscular Pennsylvania Dutch build, and his messy thatch of surfer-blond hair. I may have visited his house a couple of times since he lived in my neighborhood, but we certainly weren’t the bestest of buddies.

Well, he talked as if we were. In his memory, we seemed to have been inseparable during those three years. Through email we talked about our old band days, and mutual friends, and I grinned at some of the really horrible photos from our yearbook he posted. Whether or not our memories of how close our friendship had been were in synch, Gus seemed to have grown into a genuinely nice guy—married and with a little girl he obviously adores—who seemed not only glad to have found me again, but also seemed pleased that I had a career and relationship that made me happy.

Emboldened by the correspondence, I asked Gus about Mr. Goldberg. We’d both been in sixth-grade homeroom together, and I was hoping I could, with a couple of sidelong questions, find out something that had been bothering me for years—I couldn’t remember Mr. Goldberg’s first name. I’m absolutely certain I knew it at some point, though I never used it. In my head, I always thought of him simply as 'Mr. Goldberg.' (And I should have learned my first lesson about relationships from that alone—never get involved with someone you can’t call by his first name, right? From a practical point of view, how can you Google-stalk them decades later if you don’t?)

Oh wow, Mr. Goldberg! Gus wrote back. I always thought he rocked! He seemed old when we were kids, like all adults, but he was really so young! I remember at the beginning of the year he would give me rides home after school and the music he liked to listen to on the radio was the same as the stuff we all liked. Once when he stopped to get gas I snooped in his glove compartment and found an old joint and thought he had to be the coolest teacher ever.

Now, when I’ve heard the old saw about seeing red before, I’ve always accepted it as some kind of figurative metaphor. However, when I read Gus’s note, for a good thirty seconds my blood pressure elevated to such an extent that it felt as if I was peering at the world through a scarlet gel. My temperature rose. I sweated slightly. My throat went dry and my lips worked as I gargled out sounds of incomprehensible outrage.

Mr. Goldberg gave Gus Greer rides home?!

It honestly felt for a few minutes as if the ground beneath me had dropped away, leaving me teetering in some kind of gravity-free void. I was upset. No, I was more than upset. I felt betrayed. I hadn’t been the only boy Mr. Goldberg had lured into that beat-up hatchback, the fucker. “I’ve always liked blonds.” Well, fuckin’ Gus fuckin’ Greer was about as blond as a head could get. What, had Mr. Goldberg letched after every tow-headed little shit in his sixth-grade classroom and met with rebuffs until finally he had no other recourse than to borrow my fuckin’ Timex? Was I just sloppy seconds? Thirds? Fourths? How many other boys was Mr. Goldberg juggling in his fuckin’ pubescent fuckin’ harem?

I was angry, and hurt. For decades I’d assumed that I was special. Now I felt like the mere flavor of the month. That feeling vanished of uniqueness and of being needed that had sustained me during my friendship with Mr. Goldberg. Those memories no longer existed on hallowed ground. At that moment I felt like a huge chunk of my life, melodramatic as it may sound, was a lie, THANK YOU VERY MUCH, GUS GREER.

My rage lasted for oh, about a half hour. Then it burned itself out with a suddenness I didn’t expect. After a moment of consideration, I chuckled at myself for being an idiot.

Gus wasn’t at fault. He was clueless about the impact his words would have on me. All he knew when he was in sixth grade was that Mr. Goldberg was a rockin’ guy with an ancient joint in his glove box. Had Mr. Goldberg recited the one hundred and sixteenth sonnet to Gus? No. The nuances of Shakespeare would’ve gone right over his head. I laughed it off and genuinely thought I was over it.

But I was still a little bothered. So when I decided to write about Mr. Goldberg, I set to write myself out of a corner—to shine light in the dark places, and chase away the shadows. Writing is therapy, sometimes.

And in writing about the man I think I discovered a few things. Forcing myself to sit down and record my relationship with Mr. Goldberg helped me remember him more clearly than I have in years. Some of the details I resurrected—the football pool, the hatchback—were things I hadn’t thought about in decades. Remembering the way that Mr. Goldberg looked at me so that I could record it—the nervous glances, the moistness of his eyes when he’d hold my hands, that bright spark when our eyes would connect across the empty classroom—convinced me that no matter how many rides Mr. Goldberg might have given Gus, I genuinely did mean something to him.

Remembering my teacher’s smell, the warmth of his hands, the way he’d call me ‘sport,’ only endeared him to me once again. I was able to recapture and appreciate that first flush of possibility he awakened in my life. I might have thought that Gus had rendered barren the grass on the fields of those memories, but where I walked there, it flourished once more.

I had several relationships in the second decade of my life that I ended up mourning. There was Mark the friend I lost when I saw something I should've have. And David with whom I couldn't bring myself to connect I used to think that what they all had in common was my yearning for what might have been.

I’m pretty convinced, though, that it’s regret for my own actions—or my lack thereof—that I’ve been afraid to examine. It’s impossible to build a solid foundation on If only I coulds, or If only this had beens. Life’s made of This is what happened, and This is what I have now, and This is what I should celebrate. I can’t help but think I didn’t offer enough in those relationships, or reach out at the right time. I thought I knew what Mr. Goldberg wanted, and was ready to give it to him, but somehow I missed the mark. I regret that.

Poor Mr. Goldberg. How could I not feel a mix of pity and affection for the man? Handsome as he was, he was a gay Jewish man living the South, hardwired to desire blond boys in the throes of puberty. Even when he had what he wanted right in front of him, willing and eager to please him, he couldn’t bring himself to enjoy it.

How can I begrudge him for trying to find his happiness, when all he did was make me feel supremely special? I’ve never harbored any illusion that I’m a handsome man; I never thought I was a beauty of a kid. For a few months, though, at a time of my life when I needed it most, Mr. Goldberg made me feel not just special—he made me feel beautiful.

While writing these journal entries, the one thing I hoped more than anything else was that when we knew each other, I might have returned at least a small portion of the intangible gifts he gave me.

I fear I didn’t. I can only hope I did.

24 comments:

  1. Whoa!! What an ending. Dare I say that outrage passed onto me the moment I read Gus's note. Dear Lord, infuriating. In the end though I will agree completely with you. Mr. Goldberg is to be pitied for being entrapped in that world of fear. As for you, that might have been the biggest lesson you ever gained in life the way I see it.
    p.s.
    I loved the "Mr. Goldberg" series. Made me remember my very own and how strange that it seems to be so similar in the fact that nothing more than kisses and caresses happened...

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    1. Thommie, your gift of empathy is all I could ask for. Thank you.

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  2. Amazing. In the spirit of making sure to return gifts, I would like you to know that reading your blog enriches my life. The thing that stops me from commenting here is my concern that anything I say will sound pedestrian set so close to your lyrical prose. But that's no reason not to let you know how much enjoyment I get from reading your work which is so often powerfully erotic yet always a genuine pleasure to read even when it is more contemplative. Thank you so much for what you do.

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    1. Drscorpio,

      Wow. Thank you. If anything, I'm the pedestrian in town here. But that was an amazing compliment, and I am extremely humbled by, and grateful for it.

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  3. This was a great series that brought back all sorts of memories for me. I never had a Mr. Goldberg in my life, but had a great number of crushes on other boys and male teachers. I think we all have those wonders of "what if this had happened". They make excellent fantasies, but the truth is whatever was meant to happen DID happen. Your reflections on it all here remind us all that we need to think back, reflect, remember, learn from it and move forward.

    Much love,
    Tom

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    1. Tom, that's the thing. Whatever was meant to happen, did happen. I wish more men would look at their lives like that.

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  4. While finding out you were not the 'only one' might have been hard, you now know he make you feel special enough to still feel that way today.

    And while there may have been another you...another Gus, maybe Mr Goldberg wasn't out to get his own jollies, but saw in you, Gus, or anyone else a kid who needed a mentor in away they didn't know they needed. Maybe with Gus it was to tone him down to become what sounds like a better person today then he was back then. Maybe for you it was to crack the shell around you and to bring you out into the world to make you who you are today.

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    1. Thank you, cyberi4a! Everyone is in our lives for a reason, if we look hard and long enough to find it.

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  5. I really enjoy reading everything you write. Your writing flows, and is so thought out. I think that there are so many men that have a Mr. Goldberg out there, if nothing else as a youthful fantasy. I do think those experiences when we were growing up have made us who we are. I know that for me my sexual experiences with those close to me have formed who I am today, and sometime writing about them is raw, but give me freedom.

    Thanks for sharing your life.

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    1. Thank you, Not Alone.

      We are not our pasts, and our histories are not all we are. We build a foundation upon what has happened to us, and move ever upward and onward.

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  6. "I can’t help but think I didn’t offer enough in those relationships, or reach out at the right time. I thought I knew what Mr. Goldberg wanted, and was ready to give it to him, but somehow I missed the mark. I regret that."

    You were twelve years old. It's hard when we look back now to process what we remember, what we felt, what we think we felt, as the boys we were then and not color those thoughts through the filter and context of the men we are now. I've struggled with that with my own experiences.

    For years afterwards, I was filled with regret. (It started when I was in fifth grade, continued and was consummated when I was 16. I broke it off abruptly when I was 17—I just couldn't handle it.) I finally made peace with it when I was 32, the age he had been then. But that raised the unanswerable questions of: What was he thinking? How could he? I still felt badly for what happened and for what must've been more of a struggle for him—but I realized I couldn't've "fixed it" or made it better or done anything but what I did. I wasn't equipped—then. Neither were you with Mr. Goldberg—no matter how mature you were for your age. No matter what you think you might've done differently as you've replayed it and replayed it for thirty years.

    You have processed this (now) thoughtfully and kindly, with respect for and gratitude to Mr. Goldberg, and you've done it justice. And through this series you've helped me re-frame my own experience and understand it better. Thank you for that.

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    1. Throb,

      Thank you for sharing your feelings about your experience, as well. I think it helps me—and others—to know that my story is not the only one.

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  7. As does all of your work, this entry rings with truth. I'm especially nodding my head over what you say here of what happens when we write things down. The process does all of the things you mention - refresh our memories, provide a new perspective on them, help us respond to them, free and strengthen our hearts by taking the risk of opening to others, and concretize them - putting them into bodies that through words have specifically textured shapes. Thank you.
    ---jonking

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    1. Jeez, Jon. Way to out-eloquent-ize me. :-)

      Thank you. You have a way with words.

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  8. Did not want this one to end. Wonderful story and so eloquently written. Thank you.

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  9. As if you didn't already know, this is a wonderful reflection on what was and might have been. Bottom line, I continue to admire Mr. Goldberg for (1) his genuine affection for you, and (2) having shown a degree of restraint. The restraint that you chafed at -- in a way it honored you and what he imagined was your (at least partial) youthful innocence.

    We all sense where his libido would have LIKED to have taken him, but he didn't cross the line of actual intercourse with you.

    If I'm doing the math correctly, and if Gus is right that Mr. Goldberg was "really so young" at the time, I imagine that he might have been born around 1940. If so, he may still be alive (unless he didn't practice the above-noted restraint when it came to guys his age, and as a result died in the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s).

    Assuming that he's still drawing breath, it would be great if you could track him down and tell him directly what he meant to you. He has probably had some moments where he has worried that he could have been accused and even convicted of corrupting a minor. It would probably be a relief to him to know that he did not corrupt you, and that you have always loved him.

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    1. Thank you, Jay.

      I think it more likely (unless you meant to age me by ten years!) that he was born between 1950-54. I think it unlikely I could track him down directly, but perhaps he'll read this account on his own.

      Everyone else I write about from my past reads about themselves and tells me after, it seems.

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  10. The writing in this series has been amazing, truly your best work. Each week I've looked forward to it. I appreciate your genuine and honest prose.

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    1. Thank you, Clint. Your use of 'genuine and honest' really touched me.

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  11. Rob,
    Thanks for this last installment. I always come away from reading your blog amused and entertained but today I came away with another feeling.
    You hit the nail on the head with your statement of "It’s impossible to build a solid foundation on If only I coulds, or If only this had beens. Life’s made of This is what happened, and This is what I have now, and This is what I should celebrate."
    That statement really hit home for me.
    The last year or so has been one of a lot of internal emotional struggle for me and after reading that sentence( a number of times I must admit) I was really hit with the truth of it. I sort of want to print that up and keep it somewhere that I can see it daily.
    Thanks

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    1. Zeppp,

      I'm not saying anything original there. It's just one of those universal things we all recognize and need to hear from time to time, right?

      Peace to you, my friend.

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  12. Those that we have had, we have had. Those that we did not have, we always have the luxury and pang of wondering about. There is that strange feeling of cosmic wrongness ("but it *should have* happened with him!"), simultaneous with the knowledge that, had it happened, he might not have meant as much. And that nostalgic rationalization of replacing desire with the comfort of being special to each other... Makes you sad and at the same time very shrug-your-shoulders appreciative of how your life did turn out.

    Only you can be the judge of whether you did Mr. Goldberg justice with your writing. As a reader, I saw a lot of tenderness, almost as if you wanted to wrap this story in cotton to protect it, and how important it was to put this narrative together at the right time, in the right way.

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    1. Chris,

      Your second paragraph is so spot-on that I'm a little taken aback. Thank you for recognizing it.

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