The other day I decided to get lost. I decided to drive. Going into the unknown for a day, I wanted to travel far and stop when I needed, see what I wanted, and just keep going. As I drove with the radio on, starting around 10 a.m., I passed by the familiar. In L.A. the freeways are like doughnuts, with occasional breaks in them. You can go and go and go, but eventually you end up in a hole.
I drove for two or three hours and stopped at some beautiful places, but I couldn't seem to get far enough away. I'm not sure what it is I was running from, but I needed to go, and it simply wasn't working. I wanted to get lost. Truly lost. I wanted to find myself somewhere and be able to find my way back without the use of anything mechanical. I wanted an adventure.
I drove along the coast. I drove through some of downtown, and I drove past some gorgeous beaches. At one point I stopped along the Pacific Coast Highway, probably one of the most scenic and amazing sights of the ocean on record, and I walked toward the edge of a cliff. I have a terrible fear of heights, so I wasn't able to get too close, but I did the best I could without wetting myself. The sound of the water against the cliffs and the feel of the sun beating down on the top of my head brought me back to memories of childhood summers in California with my brother. Being raised here, my life can be found in the ocean. I can hear something, smell something, taste something and know exactly where I was and who I was with the first time I encountered that sensation. And as I stood on the edge, looking out into the face of forever, I wanted home. It was as if someone had handed me a picture and placed it in my hand. I'd never felt anything like this before, and I even held out my palm.
I went back to the car, which was parked by the edge of the street, and made a decision: I was going Home.
I then found myself -- and I mean this literally -- driving around the streets of L.A., turning when I felt I had to, and stopping when I felt the need, all while music blared from the radio, evoking glimpses of my childhood. Although I know I must have driven in three or four more circles, the places I passed by began to resonate. This beach, that marina, something-Del Rey, and as these places whizzed by me, I'd turn right, I'd turn left, and eventually I ended up on a street whose name I remembered from when I was 7 or 8 years old. And as if from out of the fog of an old MGM musical, a white, three-story apartment building appeared, 10 feet ahead of me. Surrounded by trees and a newly renovated neighborhood, I drove toward it mindlessly yet clear and ultimately present. I had absolutely no idea how I had arrived, and absolutely no idea when it happened, but I was now sitting in my car in front of the building I'd grown up in.
I sat staring at it for 15 minutes, as if I was waiting for it to speak.
I parked and got out of the car, my knees weak and my feet feeling as though I was stepping on ants. I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd been guided there. That somehow, all morning, as I planned to lose myself and simply go, this had been in front of me all along.
I then began to walk around the building, and images crept toward me, slowly and with a quiet grace.
Growing up a little boy in the 1960s, I knew that dolls and make believe were forbidden for me. In our house, emotions were strangers, and things were better left unsaid. I was usually "too dramatic" or "too much." Boys didn't weep, and boys didn't pretend. My brother loved sports. My brother was a loner. My brother did what he was supposed to do, and my brother knew how to be a boy. I spent years trying to figure out those rules. I felt like I was the only one who didn't get the handbook. I never did understand what the guidelines were, and I tried relentlessly to accept the reflection in my own bathroom mirror. I knew what people saw. I knew what people were talking about when they called me "Scott," and "he," and "him." I wasn't insane; I was just confused. I saw what I saw, and I knew what I knew. But this was 1971, and the world and my parents had just come into their own voices. People had only recently started speaking what was true for them, and the parental generation of the 50s was perplexed and sickened. People on TV were rioting, burning everything from draft cards to bras, and homosexuals were "converting children." So like most of us do when change is in the air, my parents rejected anything that even remotely looked like a threat.
And that was me.
I never dared tell anyone what I saw when I looked hard. I never dreamed that anything like me could exist. I was a unicorn. So I kept silent. I tried to throw a football, and I joined the Boy Scouts. I tried fixing cars, and I only cried alone. I tried understanding the boys on the playground, and I tried to stay away from my mom's closet. I was constantly doing anything I could to be anyone I could except who I was. I ran. Constantly.
And as I walked around our white building, the sun began its descent. There was a sliver of light peeking out from the roof, and as it hit my eyes, I paused to shield it. I found myself directly in front of a short wall of bricks on the north side of the building by the garage door, where my best friend Jeff and I used to play together. The first time I met Jeff, with his electric-blue eyes and wavy, dirty-blonde hair that he constantly tried to keep out of his left eye, he said to me, "Girls don't hafta play football. They can if they wanna, but they don't hafta. So you don't hafta if you don't wanna."
One afternoon I sat by the wall quietly waiting for Jeff to come back from baseball practice. That day had been particularly difficult, as my mother had pinned a note to my shirt that read in large, red letters, "I am NOT allowed to play with girls today." My mother feared that I was spending too much time with the girls and not enough time with the boys, so "the threat" head reared up. I wore the sign all day during class and then outside at recess. I tried that day to hide behind a water fountain that was tucked away in a corner of the playground, but two boys found me crouching in the sun and dragged me out, kicking and screaming. They laughed, they called out names, and a small circle collected until a teacher finally broke it up. As the circle disbanded, the teacher helped me up off the ground, advised me to go to the nurse's office, and then reminded me that I wasn't to play with the girls.
I waited for Jeff by our wall. I sat crumpled in a heap with the sign, now tattered and worn, still pinned to my shirt. Finally, I heard the clomp of rubber cleats coming from the walk, and my eyes popped open.
"Jeff?" I whispered over the wall.
He stood in front of me, his hands and knees covered in dirt over his white baseball uniform, and his hat cocked to the side. He smiled, took off his hat, and brushed his hair out of his left eye.
"Hows come yer sittin'?" he asked, smiling. He held out his hand to me and lifted me off the ground. "What's this?" he asked, ripping the sign from my shirt. "This is stupid. Girls are supposed ta play with girls." He smiled again and jerked his head back to get that loose strand of hair out of his face.
And the memory of Jeff stayed as a rush of wind went past me. I looked up, and the trees bent over as it flew by, and in what seemed like a symphony I could hear my mother calling me for dinner, my father driving to pick me up for music rehearsal, my brother yelling at me to change the channel, and at the tail end, a whisper of a little girl begging to seen.
I walked around our building until I came to where I'd parked the car. I glanced down the street, and there in front of me was the straight line I'd walk every morning to go to school. For four years, before we made our move out of California to Illinois, I walked as if I was going to jail. I could feel it in my bones. I ached. I shook. My belly was weak and filled with terror. But on those mornings when I could, I'd walk with Jeff, and the day would turn around. We'd laugh and pretend, and he'd bring me one of his old, white T-shirts to wear on my head so that I could finally have that long, luxurious hair I'd seen in Breck commercials. He would hold my hand, and he'd look both ways before we crossed the street. On those days the walk was beautiful. It was filled with hope and newness. And as I stared at it again that day, as it loomed over me, I made one last decision: I would go down it.
So I did.
I got in the car, turned on the radio and breathed. I inhaled. I drove slowly and methodically down the street, the music lighting my way and the wind pushing me forward. I shattered, and I took another breath. I giggled once or twice, and I tried to find my breath again. I looked both ways, and I shook my head like a Breck commercial when a second wind came. And as I approached the school playground, I stopped. Patient and frightened, I got out of the car and went to the steel gate. There were children there, getting ready to get picked up, still playing their last game of handball, and chasing each other around the sand lot. I saw them. I saw me. And I breathed one big breath.
I'd decided that day that I was going to get lost. And when I was good and lost, I'd decided that I was going to go home. And when I found it, I realized that that home had never left me. It's been with me all along. All I had to do was open my eyes and go toward it. I am who I am because of my past, not in spite of it. And the gifts I've collected along the way are because of the angels I've met who've given them to me. I am an amalgamation of all the things I used to be, and all those things live in me still.
I can't wait to get lost again.
I have complete confidence that I'll be found.