A Mulligan – for all of you non-golfer types out there – is a do over.
The Mulligan was my do over.
David was my second boyfriend after coming out to myself as gay. It would still be another five years or so before I completed the coming out process: telling my family, not making discomfort over my sexuality other people’s problem and then ultimately being able to discuss it as a non-issue. However, after my first boyfriend – who hit me and cheated on me – David was my chance to have a right relationship.
In other words, he goes back quite a ways.
Back to the days when people were officially “not dying from AIDS”.
Back far enough that when he didn’t die from AIDS – years after we broke up – I wrote about it on MySpace.
We had met at Ripples. Yup, another Long Beach story!
It took a while. I had to watch him from a distance for about 18 months before I worked up the nerve to casually bump into him at a Beer Bust.
Yes, I’d been going to Ripples before I was actually legal..
He was so cute. To me, at least. I liked the way his underbite made his head look like a peanut from the side.
I’m willing to admit that that might be an odd attribute to find attractive. But having watched him from afar for so long, I found that his mannerisms were also quite endearing.
He would flutter his eyelashes when he spoke.
The way he gestured. Casual and intimate, but not flamboyant.
I learned later that these mannerisms were part of his southern upbringing.
Perhaps not the most masculine adjective for a guy, but for me, this worked. It made me feel comfortable.
At first, I thought those fluttery lashes were more like bitchy eye rolls. This incorrect assumption was part of what intimidated me and kept me from approaching him. Later, I learned that they were just a conversational tic – y’know, the things you learn bar stalking people. Even later, I would learn that this was also a way for him to camouflage his disease when talking about things that made him uncomfortable. Effectively breaking eye contact so that he could assert himself when he was insecure in doing so.
It was interesting to get to know someone so well, on that intimate a level. Well, for me, anyway. Remember, I was probably 21-24 when we were together. Realizing that I could understand and know someone that well was new to me.
How could I not love him?
God, we did everything together.
Beach, movies, errands.
Wait, almost everything. He didn’t work out.
Still, the beach was the most important thing. This was SoCal, after all!
He was in the Air Force. OMG…seeing him in his uniform.
His roommate was an older guy and a civilian worker for the Air Force and they’d met and eventually begun living together when Rick’s original roomie moved out. They shared a two bedroom townhouse. Within six months, I was living there.
There were only four units in the row house, but they had the end unit which provided them with a small yard area where they’d have barbecues on the weekends or just chill with a cocktail after work. It was at these gatherings where I’d met many of their shared friends and eventually been adopted into the group. Les, Randy, the Billys Black and White…I’m still socially connected to some of these mutual friends through the magic of Facebook. These were good people to know. They helped me to nurture my identity as a gay man.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have three chosen families in my life. Groups of gay men and people who supported me emotionally and enriched my existence through theirs. Relationships that transcend simple presence.
This group of men was my first.
We had a neighbor in the row house that The Mulligan dismissively referred to as Bitch Tits. He was quite a little doughboy, but it was learning months and months after meeting him that the two had dated that made me understand the true emotion behind the moniker. This was quite a while before Fight Club came out as a book and Meatloaf’s character in the movie took the nickname mainstream. I sometimes amuse myself imagining The Mulligan crossing paths with Chuck Palahniuk and somehow influencing that character.
There’s a legacy…
One of the difficult things that I learned about The Mulligan was that he was super insecure. This manifested itself as an irrational jealousy.
At one point, he was even jealous of Bitch Tits. Usually, though, this was an issue for us after an afternoon at the beach or evening at the bar…when I spent the evening not talking to other guys.
I mention this because learning this about him allowed me to learn something about myself: I’m capable of being all in in a relationship.
The Mulligan was mustering out – does the Air Force muster? – and one of his benefits was being moved basically wherever he wanted since the Air Force has dragged him away from home. One of the other discharge requirements was a physical, which was when he learned that he had HIV.
His discharge from the Air Force was a pretty emotional time for this gayby. But I was so ga-ga in love with this guy…when he said he wanted to be closer to his family back in Mississippi, my thought was basically “Let’s get out of this place and away from your damn triggers”.
We’d been back to his hometown of Long Beach, MS a couple of times. We had been to New Orleans for Mardi Gras with his best friend and Long Beach was just a couple hours away by car. It didn’t hurt that in some strange irony, his best friend’s grandparents were snow birds that spent their winters on the Gulf Coast.
Neither of us were keen on living as a gay couple in Mississippi. We settled on the gulf coast of Florida. The beach lifestyle was one we were reluctant to give up, but the east coast was too far from his parents.
So…off we went.
We lived together for about a year in Florida before I learned something else: people don’t change because I sacrifice.
I realized this when I’d “done laundry” with a neighbor that he’d met actually doing laundry. The three of us had hung out after they became friends. Meeting up in the laundry room with a four pack of wine coolers to do laundry made the time pass quicker.
Being accused of having a crush on this friend he’d made kind of negated the joy that situation presented, so I stopped.
Funny, I hadn’t noticed him packing his jealousy when we left California.
Must’ve been in the trunk of his car…
A while later, he’d gone to visit his parents for a weekend. I couldn’t go because I was working. When he came home and asked me – what’s the opposite of nonchalantly? Challant? – how many times I’d cheated while he was away, I tried to make a joke out of it. It’s my way.
“Just the usual three-way”, I said, waggling my hands.
When women persist, it’s empowering and creates a political call to action.
It’s not usually so cool when men persist, especially insecure men.
This was when I learned something else about relationships: you can’t let someone else’s happiness erode your own.
I was so nuts in love with The Mulligan. I think part of that was me fully accepting myself and another person for who we were; good, bad and ugly. But I came to realize that I couldn’t bankrupt my own happiness in the hopes that it would infuse his. He wasn’t unhappy, but he was making himself situationally miserable by letting his jealousy ride roughshod over his emotional well-being.
And his relationship.
Realizing that a relationship should enhance my own happiness, I broke up with him. He couldn’t be happy with me – or anyone – until he accepted and got happy with himself.
Luckily, we had a two bedroom.
I felt like the biggest shit in the world for dumping a guy with HIV. It was pretty much still a death sentence in the early 90s, but my mental well-being wasn’t any more of a cure than the drugs available to him.
I was offered a promotion at work – well, at work in Houston – and took it.
I spent a year in Texas before getting promoted to California. Effectively working my way back to SoCal and my second hometown.
In late ’95, my boss offered me a lateral promotion to Portland. I passed, reluctant to give up my situation in the LBC. I was back in touch with old friends. I had a cadre of new friends, too. This was when I was living across the street from Ripples on one corner and the gay beach on the other. I was just a few blocks from where my dad lived.
I had it really good.
Made, one night even say.
My boss, being a pretty damned good salesperson – or one hell of a manipulator, depending on how you looked at it – somehow leveraged being close to my grandparents and a $5000 a year raise to get me to reconsider.
Sorry, Dad, gotta go!
I moved up to Portland in late January of ’96. I had rented a place on the river.
…just in time for the big flood of ’96.
Oh, well, life is lumpy.
This is what I wrote about on MySpace.
I’d gone to bed one night and was dangling between consciousness and sleep. As I lay there, I heard someone whispering my name.
Now, this was not an unusual thing for me. I had experienced this many times in my life.
Usually, I heard my Mom’s voice.
A couple of strange times, my Dad’s best friend.
I had heard the phenomenon summarized as an awareness that you were on someone else’s mind. They were thinking about you or worried or some such.
Mom = awwwww.
Let’s not go there on Dad’s best friend, m’kay?
Hearing The Mulligan saying my name wasn’t weird…but it went on so long. I rolled onto my back to get comfortable, not really thinking about it.
Floating above me was The Mulligan.
The ceiling of my room was gone and there was The Mulligan, looking down at me, smiling and casually moving his arms and legs like he was treading water.
He laughed at my alarm.
I asked – without speaking – what he was doing. He told me he wanted me to come with him.
Nice non-answer, buddy.
I asked again, adding, “Come with you where?”
Again, he didn’t answer me directly, just repeating his invitation by way of replying to my question.
This went on for quite a while, him drifting above me like he was floating on some current just above my ceiling. Well, where my ceiling should have been.
There was this enveloping sense of warmth and joy throughout. It was surreal.
I’ve never experienced anything like it.
You’ll be glad to know, though, that in true early onset grumpiness fashion, I eventually told him that I had to get to sleep because I worked early the next day, rolled over and closed my eyes. I squeezed them closed so hard that I could feel them shielding me from that warm light emanating from The Mulligan.
I remember before I “fell asleep”, checking with one eye over my shoulder to make sure the ceiling was back where it was supposed to be.
The next evening, I got a call from Black Billy. As soon as he identified himself, I blurted out, “He’s dead, isn’t he?” When Black Billy asked how I knew, I told him the story from the night before.
I could hear him thinking he should have called me before happy hour, but I was stone cold sober as I recounted the prior night’s experience.
That was almost 22 years ago. It’s still one of the weirdest and most amazing experiences of my life.
Occasionally, when I’m out having a drink by myself, I’ll think about him. I mean Ghost Mulligan, since ghost-him is old enough to drink now. In my mind, I’ll ask him what would have happened if I said yes.
He just smiles that peanut-headed smile and bats his eyelashes at me.