Chapter 64: After The Fall

I’ve had a couple of glasses of wine…

I had to…or this chapter would never been written….

If you want to be an honest blogger- or storyteller-the hard part is telling the truth even when it hurts.  Or when it requires you to remember things you would rather bury…

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized nothing trumps honesty.  Tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may…

This is one of those moments….

If I’m to continue to write in any format with any honesty, I have to tell this story….

I’ll hit “send” and clean this up later, but I won’t delete it.  It’s necessary to write this to move forward with this project.  And nothing is more important than moving forward…


How do you talk about losing your “home”?  That’s my quandary.  I lost all concept of home both gradually and in one brief encounter and it took me several years to find it again.

And thirty years later, it is still hard to revisit those times when it all went wrong….

But I will.  And to do so, I’m going to break some promises and break some confidences, but this is all too important to me…

And, this time, it’s all about me….

Now that I have found Home again and feel safe enough to look back….

Washington and Lee University had become my home.  I was happy and secure for the first time that I could remember.  I had wonderful friends who were much more important to me than family.  We were alike enough and different enough to make life both safe and interesting.

But I knew the Rules and knew I could never let even them know me too well.  I had one secret I had to protect…

I’ll never forget, one Christmas vacation, leaving Danville in the middle of a snow storm to go back to Lexington.  I was the last car they let through on Route 60 before they closed it due to the snow.  I was heading to Lexington to meet my friend Ralph and escape my family.  He had come back earlier and was there alone so, of course, when I called to check, he told me the road were “fine” in Lexington.  He wanted company…

I had a bottle of Jack Daniels that I sipped all the way across the Virginia mountains until I was safe at W&L with my friend Ralph….

I was home…

Unfortunately, Ralph and most of the rest of my friends were a year ahead of me….I was left behind with people who really didn’t like me, but had tolerated me because of my friends.  And my friends had made enemies…

I can’t tell you how strongly I believe Colleges should outlaw Fraternities and Sororities.  Most of my troubles at W&L would have been survivable had I had friends outside of Lambda Chi Alpha.

Looking back, the boys at Lambda Chi acted an awful lot like the women in the Temple Terrace Woman’s Club that my Mother presided over in the 1960’s.

If you were different in any way or they sensed any weakness, you did not belong and they went out to get you.  And different actions wanted desperately to define who belonged and who didn’t and all were subject to their arbitrary, often conflicting rules and judgment.

I had watched the Lambda Chi’s run out other guys- including some of my dear friends-  because they were perceived as “different”.  Now, that my friends were gone, it was my turn.  The guys left behind seemed to instinctively know I was different, maybe Gay, even though I  had not yet done anything to act on it…

There was one group of guys my friends fought the image wars with for a couple of years.  These guys all lived together in a little house in Rockbridge County and whenever they pulled up to my Frat House, I always felt like both the LL Bean and Orvis catalogues had exploded from their jeeps in the parking lot.  I’ve never seen so much false testosterone outside of a Leather Festival.  Especially since one of them was rumored to be Gay himself….

These guys were mainly Northern guys who hated the Southern Prep lifestyle in Lexington and at W&L.  My question always was:  “Why did they come there in the first place?”  I never understood this….

I just went along at this point in my life and tried to play by the rules whether I liked them or not.  I wasn’t big on questioning then….but that wasn’t enough.

My friends and these guys were intermittently at war.  Toward the end of my Junior Year, they seemed to be the first ones to detect I might be Gay and they went after me.  I was the weak link among my friends.  And my friends who were still there didn’t really go out of their way to protect me as it all started to get to me and I weirded out a little…  I guess they thought I should deal with it on my own if I was to survive my Senior Year…They began to distance themselves from me without me- or them- realizing it.

It was not fair and it was not pretty….especially my Senior Year when I was totally without most of my friends and some other things happened.  My Father’s cancer returned and money got tighter…

W&L was no longer home.  It was no longer safe.  It was another place where I was threatened because I could no longer understand, play by the rules and fit in….I didn’t even know how or when things had changed….

But…I was determined to get through my Senior year and move on from there…

I could take losing my W&L family as long as I had the support to get through 9 more months of 1981….

It was not to be…

I lost my only other concept of home that same year….

This is the tricky part…I come from a long line of Drama Queens…I’ll only say it involved my Father, who was dying from cancer and desperately trying  control any and everything he could.  And my sister being involved with what he considered an “inappropriate” boy friend.  Cars being reported stolen and people running all over Virginia in the middle of the night…Drama building by the minute…

To make a long story short, my sister hid out at my apartment in Lexington at W&L for one night.  I fed her rib eye steaks, let her sleep on my sofa and arranged for one of my other friends to “hide” her at another college the next day…

The next night my Mother and Father showed up at my door at 1:00 a.m.  My Father searched my apartment and said:  “Where is the little bitch.  Tell me or I don’t know you and you have no family and no more money from me.”  I told him, I had no idea what he was talking about…

He didn’t say another word, but stormed out of my apartment.  My Mother hesitated for just a moment….

I asked her:  “Why are you going along with this crazy shit?”

She replied:  “A woman belongs to her husband and he comes first.  That’s what the Bible says.”  Now, I had never known her to be terribly devout, so I knew this was an excuse…

I said:  “So you are saying you would sacrifice your children for your husband’s wishes?  Or are you just afraid he’ll cut off your money, too?”

One look said it all…it was all about money and survival and we were expendable…

In that moment,  I lost any remaining illusions about my other home….

And I lost my Mother….Or at least the one I thought I knew…. I would never think of her in the same way again.

Southern Boys are raised to idealize their Mothers.  To put them on a pedestal and worship them until death- or betrayal.

Her carefully crafted image had cracked and I saw her as she really was for the first time that night,  I no longer saw the pretty, Jackie Kennedy-look-alike, ex-cheerleader Goddess I was raised to unquestionably love and support.  I no longer saw the woman who painted herself as my Father’s victim when they fought.  I saw the manipulative, selfish woman she really was under the layers of charm and ladylike grace.

For the first time, I saw an over-weight,  forty-something woman who was scared out of her mind of going against her husband and perhaps losing him even sooner than expected.  She was  putting her financial survival and his will over that of anyone or anything else-including her children.

That was the night I lost my birth family….or at least I began to slowly let them go and push them away-consciously or unconsciously- because I realized they were emotionally toxic and emotionally reckless.

They would get over this little drama in a few weeks.  I never would…

But “the charm of the defeated is not mine.”  I eventually got my degree from Washington and Lee University and moved on…


The next morning, I called my Grandmother.  She was beside herself.  She said she had never seen my Mother so cold and so scared and unreasonable.  She could not understand their need for control or their choices.  Granny loved.  Period.  She could not deal with this complex a situation.

To her, you solved every problem by going home.  She knew that would not work here and for the first time in her 80 years, she was at a loss…She did not understand family acting this way…

She told me to call my Aunt Goldie…and I did.

There is more to come about Aunt Goldie.  It’s hard for me to write about her because she meant to much to me, was so complex, and in many ways, I feel I have become her.  That story will follow….

I called Goldie…She said:  “Your mother never had any goddamn sense and your Father is an bully on a power trip.  I’ll send you a check today. You and I are the only two people who’ve ever stood up to that man.  Never think you are alone as long as you have me. Both your parents are spoiled children.  Don’t let them screw up your life….”

Goldie was right.  They were spoiled children and, after a lot of work, they didn’t screw up my life…..mainly because of Goldie’s unwavering, unquestioning love.  And checkbook….

Love and Money were always tied together in my Family….Money, Family and following the rules meant so much at W&L and at my home in Danville….

This was the beginning of my realizing Love and Family are not predefined concepts.  And that not everything fits within “the rules”.

And that friends, like family, can let you down, even when they don’t mean to do so…

You have to be very careful to determine which “friends” and “family” are of a time and place and which are “forever”.  It’s really our choice in both cases….

But, ultimately,  Family is really all we have…so it’s best to choose very carefully who you let into that circle and how you define it…..

And I have.

With No Regrets.

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10 Responses to Chapter 64: After The Fall

  1. Whoa. Hang in there, man. Makes me appreciate my dad even more.

  2. Karla says:

    Oh Scott, this was one of the most beautiful, honest and sad tales I have ever read. You have, as always, make me wonder about the human condition, and have hope about us all at the same time. Thank you.

  3. Susan Ozmore says:

    I just found my way here from your other blog. This is so moving. Thank you for having the courage to write about the painful aspects of your life. I guess I need to go back and read more to place it in context, but just wanted to say that I appreciate what you’ve written.

  4. Blair Gilmore says:

    Ray, I really enjoy your blog. You have summed Danville up to a “t”-Southern Gothic. I do not think it is by accident that you chose the title that you did for your blog. That polyvarnished veneer that holds so many nasty little secrets and pain in “perfect” Southern families. I am sorry that the idealism wore off for you. However, I am glad that you were honest with yourself and saw thing as they were for the first time. Now, the only way is up, and you will continue to grow. I identified the love, money, and family connection at a very young age in Danville. It became even more prominent when my spouse and I married. For with love, money, and family comes unquestionable loyalty (which is usually demanded). Even if it means hurting others to keep control and maintaining that polished veneer. Welcome to freedom and a life where you can create and choose your rules. Regards……

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