The Winter of My Discontent
THE YEAR WAS 1980. The Hepatitis-B vaccine was developed. Michael Jackson’s Walk With You was a number one hit. John Lennon was shot and killed by Mark David Chapman. Ronald Reagan was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year. CNN Headline News debuted in Atlanta Georgia. Ordinary People won the Oscar for Best Film—and I? What was I doing in 1980?
That year ushered in a period of my life filled with introspection and, what seemed at the time, a likely and prolonged stretch into unlimited loneliness. I was all of thirty-two. What appeared at first to be a curse turned out to be a gift. I was forced to look at myself and decide, without the distractions of romance and the obligations that relationships impose, what I wanted out of life and what I was willing to put into the effort so that I could reap its benefits.
It was during the year 1980 that I began to taste, and ultimately sate myself, in the “gay” scene as it was presented in what turned out to be a self-absorbed decade that declared with unabashed scorn, “I’ve got mine, now we’ll see about getting yours—maybe.” I had been genuinely naive about gay relationships. It wasn’t until the nineteen seventies that I had my first kiss with a guy. Until then I didn’t even know guys kissed! I was delightfully taken aback. See what I mean by naive? However, being an eager student, I learned quickly that I like to kiss. The notion of “lovemaking” was totally new and most welcome. I met Jack in 1975. As some of us do so often, I fell in love with the first guy who said “I love you.” Jack had said, “I love you, Christopher.” I believed him.
I also believed our love was perfect and that it was destined to be forever. We’d bought a large vintage Edwardian house that came with maid’s quarters and a butler’s pantry. It was very trendy and drafty, but I didn’t care. Jack and I were happy. That was all that mattered to me. Then, on a snowy Christmas Eve, Jack said he didn’t love me anymore. Even after all this time, it still hurts when I recall standing at the foot of our bed, saying in between tearful sobs that I loved him. His reply was short and very bitter, “Sorry, Christopher, that’s not enough. Our relationship used to be all about us. I’ve replaced us with me.”
My happily-ever-after romance had collapsed in less than an hour. Five years of what I had believed would be a lasting love was washed away in a stream of tears.
For me the year passed slowly following that miserable Christmas. I began rearranging the pieces of my life as it had been before I’d fallen in love with Jack. Most of the pieces no longer fit together. Some were lost or mislaid. I thought back to those first exquisite pangs of new love. I wanted to feel loved again. I wanted that very badly. Of course, as anyone would be, I was impatient to renew a good feeling, but as was so often said to me in those early days, before you meet your prince, you have to kiss a lot of toads!
After Jack and I parted ways, I rented a studio apartment that was way too small for me, and so I went in search of new digs. Then I found a condo apartment I could afford in the stately Rivoli Arms; a building built in a fine art deco style of the nineteen twenties. Being an aficionado of Napoleonic France, the name Rivoli appealed to my sense of grandeur. The structure, occupying a full city block on an elevated plot ten feet above street level, was belted with a herringbone brick sidewalk. Mature beech trees etched the perimeter behind a green granite wall. At night, huge bronze lamps flanking the main staircase forced the dark back into the shadows with a steady glow.
Now alone and free to go where I wanted and do what I wanted, I put away my broken heart and plunged into—what? I couldn’t define my direction then. It has taken decades of hindsight to make any sense of it, even now. By the way, if you’re curious about what I looked like in those days, I was, and still am, five feet seven inches tall with brown eyes and auburn hair. My hips were slim and my stomach was firm, gravity had yet to pull my chest down. My heart? It wanted to be in love again.
So there I was, living in a one-bedroom bachelor apartment at The Rivoli, and for the first time in my life, I was on my own in every sense. I had bought my own apartment with my own money. The rooms, which the sellers had painted an inoffensive ecru, had nine-foot ceilings and six-inch-wide moulding painted a glossy white. The living room was closed off from the dining room by a set of double French doors. Both of these rooms faced the main courtyard and a fountain. I’d furnished my new digs with a thick wool Persian carpet woven in dusty rose and yellow silk threads. On this, I placed a sofa and loveseat upholstered with a dark green velvet cloth. Between the sofa and loveseat, I hung a large Dutch master style oil painting by the not-so-famous Philadelphia artist, Frank Kirkpatrick. My favourite reading chair was an antique, said to have been built for a long-deceased Chinese mandarin. It was painted a shocking red lacquer. The mandarin provenance was probably bogus but I didn’t care—I liked it. My bedroom was situated at a right angle to the living room. This room had two tall windows that looked out onto the fountain and courtyard. The bedroom, carpeted with an Oriental rug woven in deep blues and brilliant reds, was just large enough for a chest of drawers, a mahogany nightstand, and sleigh bed. The bed was made in France when Napoleon Bonaparte still dreamed of imperial power and was just big enough for two. No threesomes, if you please. The kitchen boasted all the modern appliances urban types need to feel whole. It seemed even luck was on my side. I had won a cordless telephone and answering machine in a bank raffle. It was very useful and I tested it regularly to see if I’d gotten any calls. The only other thing I ever won was a rosary. The rosary’s usefulness has yet to be tested.
The summer afternoon I moved in was quiet in the drowsy way city apartments are when most of their residents decamp for wet ocean breezes. I felt as if I had the whole building, street, and city all to myself. The clip-clop of a mounted police patrol was the only sound to break my daydreaming. Later in the week, I met some of my fellow inmates. Most were as friendly, as people are when they are curious about a stranger in their midst. The next time you see them, they pass by looking as if they’ve lost a contact lens somewhere on the ceiling. The old lady down the hall from my apartment was one of the original Rivoli tenants when the place was opened in 1919. She was well over ninety years old at the time I met her.
“Anybody who was anybody used to live here at the Rivoli,” Mrs. Fabiano said our first meeting.
I assured her that with my arrival the tradition would carry on. The days slipped by. Summer bled into autumn. I was absorbed with my job, with little time for seeking romance. After a year or so of recouping my emotional balance, I felt ready to re-enter the dating world.