“Seminary Avenue: A Flash Memoir” was published in the eBook We Make Our Own Light, edited by Dudgrick Bevins and published by Kintsugi Books, 2021.
A flash memoir. Suitable for all readers.
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is
̶ Lieber & Stoller, Is That All There Is? 1968
How many treasured memories began with the photograph, with the old black & white Polaroid Swinger? A sexy, affordable camera, with film that didn’t need developing by a third party – it kept so many secrets safe.
A street in the heart of Washington DC – it’s Spring. A vacation – no, an assignation. Two almost unbearably handsome white men from Virginia, mid-30s, both tall. Wearing the au courant short London Fog trench coats of the era. Smoking cigarettes. Laughing for the camera and just so sexy. Far from the city where everybody knows them.
I’m the niece, down in Virginia visiting from up north, nearly 40 years later. I’m looking at the breathtaking Polaroids of two fully-clothed men, oozing masculinity while falling in love with each other, and I’m getting teary-eyed for the past. One of the two men from those photos – two men who became long-time companions after that handsome sexy Spring of ‘68 – has died.
In the Polaroids, the stately home on Seminary Avenue in Richmond has not yet been bought. From my perspective of looking at the photos, 40 years on, the house was sold long ago. In between those bookends of time, when the house was a palpable, breathing, joyful thing, percolating with unstoppable life even though the house had been built back in 1917, some of my happiest moments were contained. Memories now. All of it. Even the death is nearly 15 years ago.
Yet, once, the house was theirs and filled with cooking and clattering dishes and art on the walls and over the fireplace, and the sound of showtunes came from the record player. Taking up most of the elegant front room, there was a grand piano that was rarely played. And the house brimmed with antiques – on all three floors of it, as well as in the basement, and even out in the old un-attached garage. Antiques were everywhere – more and more of them bought cheap at flea markets or at estate sales, every weekend after Sunday brunch.
And on Saturday nights, there were dinner parties. The fondest dinner parties I can recall, where all of the guests around me at the elegant old dining table were men. We dined by candlelight and there were so many fresh-cut flowers from the garden and too much drinking, too much smoking, plenty of laughter and snide remarks; thinly veiled innuendo that even a young girl like me could follow, buoyed on an undercurrent of comradery and understanding.
There were “sugar problems” and heart attacks lurking down the road for most of those men at that table. And it broke my own much younger, more quickly beating heart when, one by one, news would reach me up north that another of the men was gone. But before they left this Earthly realm, in those years at the old house, I learned from each of them – through their lively conversations, their passions, their favorite plays, music, films, books – how to be brave and to take that boldness with me back to New York. Even though whenever we were out in public in Richmond, the men were never demonstrative with each other, keeping an acceptable distance from one another and always giving the appearance of being just friends, not long-time companions, or devoted lovers who, nonetheless, had to maintain separate bedrooms in their own homes in order to give straight visitors the comforting impression that they were unmarried roommates, bachelors or divorcés who just hadn’t found the right women yet.
With me, when we were tucked deep into that grand old house on Seminary Avenue, safe from the inquisitive looks of the neighbors with their 2-car garages, 2.2 children, their ordinary-thought-infused ordinary lives, the men were joyful and at ease about everything they were – mainly, in love with each other. And sarcastic without measure when the liquor flowed, but adamant that I should live live live my life while I was still young, while dreams were still up ahead of me. Through them, I found my courage to simply be.
Back in New York, already 15 years beyond the riots of Stonewall, I knew I could walk the streets with my arm around the girl I loved. I could kiss her out in the open, on the mouth, in broad daylight, right there on St. Mark’s Place if I wanted to. I usually wanted to; I loved that girl more than my own life and there was no need to hide it. Even though she needed heroin, which ultimately kept her from being too available for love, it was just one of the streams our lives flowed down – unhidden, out in public – and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, my years with her. Because a girl even partially in love – one who kissed with her whole soul, lit her cigarette off of mine, whose legs parted so willingly, and whose laughter was easy and genuine – that’s a memory that reigns, all these decades later, over the dimmer remembrance of her always disappearing down to the street to score.
I’ve since learned that it’s all about the love, period. No matter whether it’s hidden from view, or out in plain sight; whether it’s a 1968 Polaroid preserving the dignity of two sexy young men who fell in love in stylish London Fog trench coats, or a 1983 photo, reveling in the delirium of two half-naked girls with raccoon eye-liner, various piercings and tattoos; love is the current that sustains it all as the world flows out and away, and then back in again, forever continuing its magnetic pull towards change.
© 2020 Marilyn Jaye Lewis