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To See Ourselves as Others See Us

Louie Clay




I had not seen him for a year and a half,
and he liked catching me by surprise
in the middle of the campus quad.

Usually he had at least three girls in tow,
each aware of what a catch he’d be,
gorgeous, black, dressed as a campus cop,
shoes and brass always shining.

That job helped pay part of his tuition.
I was glad that he was surviving
regular courses.
He had struggled
in his ’remedial’ class from me.

He’d bring each paper to my office
and carefully re-work it as best he could.
At last, fair and square,
he earned a ’C-’, his ticket
into the regular curriculum.

We’d grown to be friends as well.
He was comfortable in his own body
and seemingly not threatened by my difference.

But I did not like our reunion.
He’d sneak up from behind
hold my shoulders, turn me around,
and kiss me.        I was in a real fret
the second time he did this
and on the third I told him to step away
with me from earshot of his train.

“What you’re doing is not appropriate,”
I said.
“I have never wanted to seduce your body,
only your mind. There are boundaries,
and you’re sending the wrong signal
to all who observe us....”

I’m an Episcopalian and I know all about such things.
I did a smart sissy’s rebuke with all stops out.

I do not understand straight men;
they can be so cool.
I am never cool.
I don’t know how to be cool.


Through my scold he kept a gentle,
rueful smile, and when at last
I had nothing else to say, he said,

“Doc, if you don’t want me to do it,
I won’t, but do you mind if I tell you
why I do it?”
                “Why you do it?!”
I thought to myself in exasperation;
“you mean you think this is a reasonable
thing to do...” but I had the grace to say
only “Surely; that’s okay.
Tell me.”

“I had a brother four years younger than me,
and much sharper and more talented.
I was captain of the football team
in my senior year, but he was captain
his last three years.

I did not go to college
immediately, but he did, to NYU,
on an academic scholarship.
In the middle
of his first semester, over dinner at home,
he said to the family, ’There’s something
you need to know.
I am gay.’

“’You what?!’ I said.
No bro of mine’s a fag!”

“Dad joined in, ’No faggots in this family.’

“Mother said something milder but negative
and he left early for his dorm.

“A few weeks later he brought a boyfriend home
and we locked the doors and would not let them in.

“Doc, my brother fell in love with Jack Daniels.
Within a year he had AIDS, the quick kind.
He died after I left your class.

I like to think
that if he sees me kiss you in front of the whole world
he’ll know I am sorry.
If we had been better to him,
maybe he would have married his boyfriend
and like you and Ernest they might be living together
for decades.
                “I miss him horribly and want him back.”

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.



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