Chapter 63: A Sense of Place

I just got home from home…

First of all, you have to understand that home is a complex term for me.  It’s more a feeling than a place- or it’s more of a sense of a place….

I just spent the weekend in Lexington, Virginia where I went to school at Washington and Lee University.

And I just realized it was also my first home…

I never felt at “home”, as in feeling safe and belonging, in my birth city of Danville, Virginia– not like I do now with Steve at our house in Greensboro.

Now I truly feel at home with Steve and the pets.  Home really has a meaning to me- both as a place and as a sense of a place.

Until Steve and I made our own home, though, home was mostly a foreign concept to me.  Or at least some Hollywood idealization that I couldn’t relate to….

See, my birth place was never “home” because I never felt safe there or like I belonged there…

Well, maybe briefly, when I was very young and staying at my Grandmother’s house in  the Mill Village, but never at my parent’s house in what was then post WWII suburbia in the plastic familial ranch house, the physical home of my youth, where my parents fought like a Southern version of George and Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”

Looking back, I didn’t really have a concept of “home”.

Maybe that was the reason I had forgotten- or blocked- the good parts about Lexington and Washington and Lee University.  I didn’t realize it was “home” at the time…

Now I realize, the first time I ever really recall feeling at home was in Lexington, Virginia when I went away to college at W&L.

It was the first place I ever really remember feeling I belonged.  Feeling safe.  Feeling at home…..before it all went so terribly wrong.

I just realized I just got home from home.

It took years for me to realize, that while “home” is a place you feel safe and where you feel you belong, but that doesn’t exclude the possibility that bad things may happen there.  It also doesn’t mean the memories aren’t complex.  They almost must be by the context and definition of “home.”

In reality, for it to truly be home, it has to be complicated, but the vibes also have to be predominately positive.  Home may be a romanticized concept, but in reality, it is never easy or simple….

That means, to me, Lexington was my first home.

For a long time, I was happy in Lexington.  It took me 25 years and reconnecting with my friend Carolyn to really remember all that….

Somehow, the bad always seems to override the good in our memory banks.  At least when we are young….

I arrived there at W&L young, secure, insecure, scared, sure of myself, full of hope, full of dread….

In other words, I was 18.

I had never been South of Miami Beach, North of Washington DC or west of Lexington, Virginia….

It was a new beginning.  By plan.  I specifically chose a small, Liberal Arts college where I would know almost on one…

I was tired of being judged by my family and my family’s past by people who knew everything there was to know about us- or thought they did.  I wanted to be judged by who I was myself.  I wanted a new start….

When I went home to Lexington this weekend and it all came flooding back….

It always does….

Maybe I’ll talk about the bad on this blog in the future.  If not, you’ll have to buy the novel- if I ever finish it.

Anyway, I went back to Lexington this weekend a different man than when I was there 30 some years ago.  But it was still home.

One of them, anyway….

And it was a very different place…

When we lived there in College, the only “fast food” was Wendy’s and all the restaurants were local.  All 6 of them.  I remember driving 45 minutes to Lynchburg just to go to McDonalds.  That’s probably how we avoided the notorious Freshman weight gain….

Now every chain restaurant and Big Box Store imaginable is there.  I found that vastly disturbing….

My partner, Steve, and I pulled into town and parked behind what had once been Mrs. McCormick’s Guest House.

Back in our day, when W&L was an all boys school, our dates from Sweet Briar always stayed there.  It was unheard of for a young lady to stay overnight with her boyfriend.  Girls who did that were “rack dates,” or easy, and thus not appropriate potential marriage material.

We had a lot of rules at W&L, just like Danville, but we accepted them in Lexington without the angst, didn’t question them, and just lived by them.  It was easier that way…Believe it or not….For a while….

We were Southern Ladies and Gentleman, no matter where we were originally from,  and followed the rules.  You may not have taken your date back to Mrs. McCormick’s until 3:00 am, but you took her back.

If she didn’t go back to Mrs M’s, it was the equivalent of a “Tramp Stamp”.

When Steve and I parked behind Mrs. McCormick’s house Saturday afternoon, I first saw the phantoms…

Being Gay, I have to equate life to Musical Theatre.  Whenever I go back to W&L, I get this feeling I’m trapped in the musical “Follies” where the younger versions of the characters appear as ghostly figures behind their present day, middle-aged personae’s.  That may be why I love that show so much…

Anyway, when we parked behind Mrs. McCormick’s all I could think about where the girls we once knew who stayed there.  Carolyn.  Anne.  Julia.  Sandy.  Rachel….I could almost see them on the porch in Pendleton Kilts and Fair Isle Sweaters in Winter and with Poppagollo bags and matching espadrilles in the Spring….

I almost saw those girls, at age 19, standing on that decaying porch.

And that made me think about the boys….

My friends….

My first real male friends….

I hadn’t been that close to many guys before I went to W&L…

I walked by where we all lived at the building we called The Corner Arms
and almost saw the phantoms of a young Shakey- the perfect host and classic Southern Gentleman, Ralph-my idol and friend who was the personification of the “BMOC” with an insecure side few saw, Doug- funny, smart, quirky and the one I wish I had known better, Landon and Hunt- the perfect, entitled Southern Golden Boys with their lives planned from birth, Bruce-so sweet and endearing and totally his own self, Andy- the guy who seemed like the High School football hero, but his machismo hid a soft heart….

And the one who never lived there but spent so much time there with us- Bob- my best friend from Freshman Year who was like a brother to me- in both good and bad ways.  Another idol, and the guy we thought most likely to be a U.S Senator or President one day- who was so blinded  by how  he thought things  “should be” that he missed how they were.  That was a trait we shared…But he was the one who stood by me during the bad years, who I leaned on, visited and talked to after too many cocktails and who I stayed in contact with the longest…We traveled the post-W&L road together until about 15 years ago before we, too, drifted apart…

I still miss them all….

And I still see them all through some sort of gossamer Fitzgeraldian filter….

Phantoms….I remember the other girls from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College and Mary Baldwin….Deane, Elizabeth, Linda, Van, Cammy, Debbie, another Linda, Chris, Mary Lynn, Margaret…

We all talked and danced the nights away, drinking bourbon, smoking cigarettes and trying to be 30 at 20.

We were oh so smart, so cool, so sophisticated, so sheltered, and so very young….

We had hopes and dreams we sometimes shared, but mostly, we were just happy to be together–to be young and foolish and having a ball in Lexington, Virginia.

Since most of us weren’t having sex, we really were all just a weird little unconventional family- at home– we just didn’t know it….

Then it all went so wrong for me. The illusions were shattered.  But that’s for another time….

Over the years, I left Lexington and Washington and Lee behind me…

I shut that door, locked it and threw away the key.

But light crept in….

My favorite professor, Dr. Jefferson Davis Futch, III, introduced me to some of the fellow Gay alumni- Andy-another Andy, chief among them, became my friend.  He introduced me to some of the other Gay Alumni.  He first brought me back home to Lexington by reminding me how safe and good it felt to be among friends who liked you for you and with whom you shared a sense of place….

Doug and I reconnected and chatted on AOL…

I reconnected with Carolyn on Facebook.  Then Shakey and Julia, Anne, Ralph, Bruce, Doug, Sandy, Rachel…Van and Deane had always been there, but Facebook made it easier….

They weren’t just phantoms, they were real again.

And not so very different….

I gradually remembered the good times and the good people we were.

And still are….

And I could go home….

No matter where I was….

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4 Responses to Chapter 63: A Sense of Place

  1. Douglas Ckegg says:

    Beautiful. Great memories.

  2. Pennie says:

    Write the book Scott. I want to know.

  3. Van says:

    Waiting for the book! Yes…this brought back many memories!

  4. Tom Suydam says:

    So glad you’ve had this experience of reconnection. And I hope it continues. I delight in the many reconnections I am having. I feel my life being made whole. I have always felt this emotional connection to Lexington, from the first time I visited. I have to say I never felt “at home” during my years at W&L (because of this “terrible secret” I had) but I think I could feel at home now…well, except for when the Confederate flags are being paraded around town. I still hope one day our homecomings coincide.

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