Still Learning how to Fly ~ Chapter Fourteen: "The Cowboy in Me" (Pt.2)

Ken Painter By Ken Painter, 23rd Oct 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Biography & Autobiography

I recall all of the thoughts, images, emotions, and events leading up to my strange back-handed, mishandled coming out on St. Patrick's Day 2005.

Working with Out Gay Men

I realized early on that a few of the male actors and dancers in the stage revue whom I worked with on occasion were gay. Most of them were young, but all of them were well-respected and apparently out as was the older man who oversaw the stage revue and appeared to be about my age. And then there was the fellow who ran the food and beverage department. I was pretty certain he also was gay. A few years younger than me, but nevertheless. I wasn’t looking for anything, it was just that all of these guys were gay, out, and nobody seemed to . . .well . . . notice. Or care. If this had been my hometown in Michigan there would have been snide comments behind the back even in 2005. Must have been something about this western air. Had I suddenly stepped into La La Land? I thought that was Los Angeles?

I would later find out it was pretty much that libertarian, live-and-let-live spirit that permeates Arizona especially central and southern Arizona, that spirit which was made so famous in the words of the late Senator Barry Goldwater who once said about gays in the military, “You don’t have to be straight to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight.” Thank you Senator.

All this freshness, all this freedom, all this liberty started working on me, started stirring in my innards really, really fast. It starting producing in me a sort of heady effect, something I wasn’t expecting. Could I? Should I? Do I even dare? And the thought of my coming out was given a seed of germination.

Recall I mentioned earlier my muses. My number one muse, of course, was and still is Rodney Crowell. During this time period that I was working at Old Tucson the song playing unceasingly in my CD player was Shame on the Moon, an old Bob Seger hit from the 80’s, but which was written by RC. I had the Rodney version on one of his discs which I played constantly, but I had come to focus on one portion of the lyrics particularly because of events surrounding my dad’s death, events which I’d been piecing together for the past couple of years, events which had been eating at me, nagging at me, and which were all coming to a head RIGHT THEN.

That's His Story and He's Sticking To It

My dad had always said that his father, my grandfather, Elmer, had been put into the Ypsilanti State Hospital when my dad was 13 because of epileptic fits which would then send him into uncontrolled rages. This would have been in approximately 1934 or early 1935 at the height of the Great Depression when the loss of the primary wage earner would have been a supreme tragedy to any family, and that would be putting it mildly. My grandmother, Hazel, had signed the papers which had him committed to the hospital (which incidentally was a mental institution in those days) where he remained until his death in 1955 when he was 65 years old.

On a visit to my Aunt Mildred’s a couple of years before my dad’s passing in 2003 and before her own stroke just 18 hours before his which rendered her somewhat debilitated for the last year and a half of her life, we got to discussing her dad and my grandpa. And we got to discussing the why of his departure from the family. She would have been just about 15 when he was sent away. Her words still chill me to this day as I see the look of horror and disgust on her face. “Oh, that’s Irvie’s story to tell,” she said.

I replied, “Well, he always told me it was because Grandpa had these epileptic fits that would send him into rages.”

“Oh no,” My aunt replied. “Papa never had epileptic fits,” she said emphatically. “But it’s Irvie’s story to tell. You go ask your dad.” And with that she went silent with a look of a solemn secret-keeper on her face.

And so on that very same summer vacation home from Chicago when Nancy and I were over at my parents’ house visiting, by prearrangement Nancy managed to get my mom off by herself and my dad and I were alone for just a few minutes, and I managed to steer the conversation around to Grandpa Elmer, and I brought up my prior conversation with Aunt Mildred, gently, of course. I asked if we could talk about it, and I noticed that this time he went to a place of hurt, a place in his eyes I’d never seen before, and I saw it flicker and linger there for only a few moments, but then he went back to the family dogma and repeated the same-old-same-old, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Epileptic fits. Okay Dad, it’s okay.

The real truth died with both of them.

Though I think I figured out what really might have happened.

What would make a Christian mother sign her husband, the principal wage-earner and source of provision during the height of the Great Depression, into the state mental institution because of a situation involving her handsome 13 year old son in a family where the fruits were already hanging from the family tree? Think about it.

And though the truth died with my dad and my aunt, I often wondered just how much my mom really knew because of her seemingly maniacal words after my sister and I announced to her that our dad had passed, “Thank God, I’m free at last.” Further elaboration on the subject during the days immediately following went on to show that she was additionally talking about freedom from the entire Painter family; she was talking about all of them. There was not a one of them she held above contempt. What did she suspect? What did she know? I never asked her anything, because I would never have been able to trust any answer that would have come from her mind especially at this deteriorating stage of her life. Nevertheless.

Some Men Go Crazy

So now I found myself in Tucson working as a cowboy rides attendant/actor extra on a movie studios back lot having the time of my life, and yet I was really internally having a crisis of identity. And I was repeating over and over and over again in my head the words of my muse, Rodney Crowell from his song Shame on the Moon:

Some men go crazy
Some men go slow
Some men go just where they want
Some men never go

And I realized this passage had come to mean EVERYTHING to me at that point in time. It had become my mantra.

Up to that point in time I’d certainly been a man who was going slow. While in Chicagoland I’d occasionally experimented with going just where I wanted (to the Bijou Theater a couple of times or over to the neighborhood porn shop to look at the male magazines on the rack and even so far as purchasing a couple occasionally). At the moment the war going on inside of me was causing me to go absolutely crazy, and I knew that if not soon resolved I would know no peace. I would at some point go off the deep end, and what that would involve, I wasn’t yet certain. But some men never go. That was the line which chilled me to the bone. That was the still unanswerable. Should I or shouldn’t I?

I kept hearing and reading stories online and from other various sources about men who came out in their 70’s after their wives had died, and I’d often figured that would be me. And then I knew that there were also men who never go, those who remain closeted till their dying day, those who took their secret to the grave. Would that be me? All of these questions kept swirling around in my head, dizzying my consciousness, delaying my progress during those days and weeks and obfuscating the necessary resolve I needed to find.

Ultimately the answer came down to our relationship. Basically the truth of that relationship I came to know was that I had emotionally distanced Nancy tremendously in the last half of our marriage. You see, after I realized that I’d fallen in love with Mike and admitted to myself who I really was, even though we moved to Chicagoland, when I began stepping out to explore my gay side behind her back by visual stimulation, I’d begun my emotional distancing from her. Realizing now what I didn’t know then, it would have been far better to end our marriage at that time and come out as a gay man. I didn’t, and by not doing so, my delay inflicted far greater emotional and even physical damage on her and emotional damage upon our family than was necessary and for that I can never be sorrier. This is my biggest regret, but time is a one-way street, so what is one to do?

Technical Glitches and The Answer

It became this stark realization that led to my decision to finally tell Nancy. But gathering the courage to do so was another matter. And during the three or four day dance in my mind about choosing exactly the right words to do this God and Microsoft took matters into their own hands.

Microsoft had uploaded to my computer a brand new Service Pack (I forget now which version), and I had no idea whatsoever to do with it. I’d read the instructions quickly, but they made little sense to me. I was still a few weeks new at Old Tucson Studios trying to acclimate there with the war going on in my head and in my heart coupled with exactly how I was going to break all of this to Nancy. And the great unknown was how she would receive the news and where we would go afterward. How we should proceed. I tried to do something with the new Service Pack punching a few buttons and nothing happened. I decided to leave it for a couple days until my next day off when I had more time to fully examine it.

Well, in punching some of those keys I must have unlocked my password protection, because the next day while I was at work became the day when Nancy discovered my guys . . . my naked guys. And when I got home . . .

“Are you gay?”

My wife had asked me this question once some years before . . . jokingly, and since she wasn’t completely serious in her asking of the question I hadn’t felt compelled to tell her the truth as I understood it at the time. However, I always felt dirty for not having done so, and I had vowed that if ever asked the question again I’d be honest. She wasn’t joking this time.

“I believe so, gay or at least bisexual.” I answered this last part to help soften my answer, but in all honest truth, at this juncture I still wasn’t exactly certain myself where I stood on the Kinsey Scale since I’d never even so much as kissed a man. All I knew of me was in my head and heart.

Up to this point her voice had only been quiet and shaky, but now the tears had really begun to flow, and the scene I had been playing only in my mind and had been cowardly avoiding for years began unfolding before me in our den.

“But how can you say that after all these years? And why do you have all those pictures of naked men on your computer? How can you do this to me?”

Ah, that’s what finally prompted this! My computer password must have failed somehow, or I got careless, but then she really didn’t have to look if she didn’t really want to know. Some wives don’t, so I understand. Oh well, perhaps it’s better this way.

“I’m really sorry, honey, that you had to find out this way,” I mumbled.

“Do I have any diseases? Do I need to get checked or anything?”

“No. You may not believe this, but I’ve never cheated on you. Not once! Never even so much as kissed a man. That’s why . . . all the pictures. Oh yeah, I want to! But I never, I swear!” I even held up my right hand in the Boy Scouts sign, but I didn’t say ‘Scout’s Honor’ even though I was thinking it.

“So you say!”

“Well, I can’t prove it to you, I know, but God knows.” I felt it necessary to invoke the Almighty here, because it was true, and I had nothing to lose, because I was on solid ground. I was not lying. “And if it makes any difference to you, to prove my point I’ll get rid of the naked men pictures.”

I’d been sitting in the computer chair during this entire ordeal while she’d been sitting a mere eight feet away on the den sofa. I simply turned around to the desktop screen, punched a few keys, and less the ten seconds later a half dozen folders of nude male photos were gone for good. Trashed and smashed.

“How do I know they’re gone?

“Come here and I’ll show you.” I showed her, and I showed her the Recycle Bin.

“That still doesn’t change the fact that you’re gay.”

“Yeah, well, what am I gonna do?

Her face remained swollen and red, but her sniffling had slowed. “I’ve got to think about all of this.” She ran out of the room to the other end of the house and our bedroom. “Do NOT come in here,” she yelled behind her, and I did not. I wouldn’t have dared! She shored up in that room for the next three days.

I cowered in the guest room.

(In the next installment, ah . . . sweet coming out! How do we break this to the kids? And what about that Mediterranean Cruise we're supposed to take in November? Uh-oh!)

Link to next installment . . .

Link to last installment . . .

Link to beginning of book . . .


Autobiography, Coming Out, Coming Out Of The Closet, Gay, Gay Community, Gay Experience, Gay Lesbian And Bisexual, Gay Men, Gays, Glbt, Lgbt, Memoir, Memoirs, Memories, Non Fiction, Non-Fiction, Nonfiction, Serial, Series, True Experiences, True Stories, True Story

Meet the author

author avatar Ken Painter
Retired Chicago public school teacher. Singer, songwriter, musician, author, & opinionated old curmudgeon. Married to my husband & living in Colorado, USA. Also a father & grandfather.

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author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
10th Nov 2013 (#)

Hmm, yes it does leave many questions about your father. Too bad nobody made a death bed confession or left a note - clearly they could not talk about it.

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author avatar Ken Painter
10th Nov 2013 (#)

There Is still one way left to prove it though I don't want to go there. Under the Freedom of Information Act, I believe as one of the next of kin I could petition to review the hospital admission records from when my grandfather was admitted way back then. It would have the reason clearly stated on it. My ex-wife and I have discussed this, and so have my husband and I, but have decided against it, however the option is ALWAYS out there. It's the one last great unresolved family mystery I'd like to know, because of all the people in my family other than the early principals it came to affect me the most.

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author avatar Painter
14th Jan 2014 (#)

Shame on you for putting your suppositions of the family's mental health into print for all to see.

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