Sunday’s Child: Chapter 10 – Hope Rises

At a social hour after Mass, Peter asked Gregory if he bowled. He told him that he hadn’t in years, but had practically grown up in the Penn Daw Bowling Lanes. Peter and a few others from Dignity were members of a gay bowling league, through DC Sports, who bowled at those very lanes. They needed a sub whenever one of their regulars was sick or out of town. Gregory thought it would be fun to bowl again, so he agreed. He substituted for the guy whenever he was asked and even made “turkeys” on several occasions.

The time finally came for him to substitute for someone else. He was finally to meet the infamous Denny. Gregory had heard stories about the man, but they didn’t do him justice. He was cute, hairy, a little shorter, and a little bit older than Gregory, but that was okay. He liked older guys anyway and he had what could only be described as the perfect butt. He had a cute nose and nice arms, but his ass was amazing! Denny enjoyed every strike he made, jumping up and down and clapping his hands. Gregory liked watching him. He was smitten right away, but Denny didn’t seem to feel the same way. He didn’t seem to know what to make of the guy with the ponytail and earrings. He didn’t seem to pay much attention to Gregory at all. So the question was, “What do I do to get him to notice me?”

He decided to show up at the bowling alley each week, even when he wasn’t playing. He just hung out, drank beer, and watched. He figured he’d be there for moral support for the team… and for Denny. His sheer persistence must have worked, because out of the blue, Denny showed up at mass one Sunday evening and he wasn’t even Catholic.

Gregory saw him on his way out after mass was over. He was sitting in the back and he was wearing a pink button-down shirt. Gregory smiled and he smiled back. He made his way to the back of the hall and waited for Denny to walk through the doorway. Gregory waved him over and told him that it was a nice surprise to see him there.

“Would like to go get a drink?” Denny asked.

“Yes. I would.”

They went to Mr. P’s, a piano bar on P Street. Denny knew the bartender and ordered them a couple of beers. They made some small talk, which somehow led to kissing. Gregory couldn’t believe how fast a conversation could turn to smooching in a public place! Finally, Denny had had enough. He asked Gregory back to his car for more kissing and some heavy petting (if the reader doesn’t know what that is, Google it). That was November 5th, 1990.

They made plans to get together after bowling that weekend. Gregory followed Denny back to the townhouse he shared with Peter. They needed a shower after having spent hours in the smoky bowling alley. Gregory loved exploring Denny’s body and vice versa. While getting clean they got a little dirty and then they got clean again. Gregory made a big discovery; he found that it was more fun to shower together than alone.

They saw each other as often as possible. Then Gregory invited Denny home for Thanksgiving and Denny did the same. Gregory had never done that before and neither had Denny. It was nice to have someone to share the holiday with. Both families accepted their new significant others with grace and charm. They made plans to do the same for Christmas.

A week after Thanksgiving was the one year anniversary of his sister’s suicide, so Gregory called Denny and asked him for some time alone. He said,

“I’ll explain everything when I see you in a few days, okay?” Denny didn’t seem too happy about the idea, but what could he do? He had to honor Gregory’s request. When enough time had passed, Gregory called Denny and asked,

“Can I come over?”

“Sure,” Denny replied, trying not to sound too enthusiastic.

“Then I’ll see you in a few.” He arrived at Denny’s about twenty-five minutes later. Denny let him in and they went downstairs. Gregory sat down on the couch as did Denny.

“A year ago my sister, Susan, committed suicide,” Gregory started. “I just needed to be alone to deal with the first anniversary. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you before, but it’s still hard.” Denny hugged him and said,

“I’m sorry. You wanna talk about it?”

“Well, she was more than a sister, she was my friend. When we were younger we could finish each other’s sentences; we were that close. My mom told me that Susan was so happy to have a little brother. I was her real, live baby doll. We only had one falling out. My mom was in the hospital, the first time, and Susan offered to give me money for gas, because I was the only one who lived close enough to visit every day. Perry lived in Leesburg and she lived in Southern Maryland. I didn’t ask for money, she offered, and then I never saw a dime. I was so pissed! We didn’t speak for almost a year. I really missed her, ya know?

“Anyway, I guess enough time passed that we were able to move past it. Eventually we forgave each other. She was dealing with her MS, but the brain surgery really messed her up. Then she went and killed herself and I was pissed off all over again. Only this time she was dead and I felt guilty for being pissed at her!”

“Wow! I had no idea.” Denny remarked. “That must have been so hard on you.”

“I’m doing better now. Thanks for letting me talk about her and for understanding about my needing some time to myself.”

“I thought it was something I did. I was really upset and then I wrote some really bad poetry about it.”

“Can I read them?” Gregory asked mischievously.

“Definitely not!” Denny said rather loudly. “I guess it’s time to tell you something, though.”

“What is it?”

“I have MS. I’m good right now, but it may get bad someday. I’ve been worried about how you’d take it.”

“Is that all?” Gregory asked. “I did plenty of research on it when Susan was diagnosed. Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere because… I love you.”

“You do?” Denny asked. Gregory just nodded.

“I love you!” Then they hugged and Gregory spent the night once again.

By now Gregory was spending all his free time at Denny’s, when he wasn’t working or studying, that he was starting to get on Peter’s nerves. Gregory apologized and thought maybe if he gave Peter his statue of the Infant of Prague and the vestments that came with it, as a replacement for his plain one, that it might make things better between them. Peter thanked him for the generous gift and admitted that he had been jealous of their relationship, because he was currently between boyfriends. They hugged and everything between them was okay again.

Gregory decided to surprise Denny by driving over to his house in nothing but an overcoat and a pair of cowboy boots. The whole way over he just hoped he wouldn’t get pulled over. It was exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. When he finally arrived and rang the bell, his adrenaline level was through the roof. Denny opened the door and invited him in. As soon as the door was shut, Gregory opened his coat and yelled, “Surprise!” Denny took it all in then pounced, kissing him passionately, then released him and dragged him upstairs to the bedroom. The sex was unusually intense and amazing as always.

Gregory’s next job was at Gold Leaf Studios. They did restoration, framing, and gilding. Gregory learned a lot about stripping bronze paint; gold leaf, gilding and burnishing; and framing while he was there. Gilding letters on the outside of a federal building was the most interesting project he worked on. He even learned how to make casts of broken or missing pieces of a frame, replace it then gild it. When the monastery needed a restoration team with expertise in gilding, Gregory recommended his employer and they got the contract.

For Gregory’s senior project at CUA, he decided that he would create a mixed media installation piece. His theme was “The Artist as the Christ.” He combined paintings, neon, a kneeler, and graffiti. He thought it was a great piece, but some thought it was a little too controversial for the Catholic University of America. He wanted it to be thought provoking on the idea of “Jesus Saves” vs. “Jesus SLaves.” Several times when he came by the gallery, though, the neon cross had been unplugged by the secretary. The third time was just too much for him. He was so pissed that he pulled his car around, dismantled it, and took it home before the end of the exhibition.

In May of 1991, Gregory graduated Summa Cum Laude from the Catholic University of America with a Bachelor’s Degree in Studio Art and minors in Religion and Anthropology. He would have to settle for six Bs among all his As; four Bs in Philosophy and one B each in Italian and Art History. While he had been a C student in high School, he graduated from college with a 3.82 grade point average. He was pretty darn proud of himself. The baccalaureate mass was held in the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception with the commencement ceremony held on the side steps of the Shrine. The speaker was Roger Staubach, a former quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Gregory couldn’t have told you what he said though. He was listening to his Walkman, a present from Denny, the whole time. Gregory’s family, and of course Denny, came to his graduation which was nice. His father had missed Gregory’s high school graduation, because he was attending his step-daughter’s, so it was good that he could make this one.

Now that Gregory was out of school, he and Denny decided to get a place together. It had to be near the Metro to make it easy for Denny to commute downtown each day. They settled on Dunn Loring, because it was within walking distance of the end of the Orange line. They chose Memorial Day weekend to move which turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year! They rented a U-Haul and borrowed Gregory’s dad’s truck. He had never driven a vehicle with “three on the tree” before, but he got the hang of it pretty quickly.

They had chosen a two bedroom, one bath apartment on the third floor. Hauling all that furniture and all those boxes up all those stairs on such a hot day was a real challenge. It took its toll on both of them and they swore they’d stay there for quite a while, just so they wouldn’t have to repeat the process again anytime soon. They had to buy a sofa and a dining room table but the latter proved harder to agree on than the former. A little table in the kitchen would have to do for quite some time.

*****

Matteo went back into the hospital in November, but he didn’t make it back to the monastery this time. The funeral mass was a moving tribute to a good friend.

*****

Gregory was working in Falls Church now at an art supply store called Adcom. He liked working there, because he got to put furniture together among other things. He got commission on certain items and he got his art supplies at a discount. There was one coworker who had a knack for stealing his customers, so that she could get the commission, but he just kept his eye on her. The store went out of business within the year, so Gregory took some time off before looking for a new job.

Gregory had been working on restoring the catacombs at the monastery off and on since he left the brotherhood. The first thing he had worked on was restoring a faux marble column after water had damaged it. They were so pleased with his work that they asked him to fix one damaged area after another. He liked working down there all alone. He listened to Enya and felt closer to God when he was among the chapels and the relics.

His most ambitious restoration project, for the monastery to date, was repairing a hole put in a painting, of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, by a ladder. It was going to be a challenge, so he called a contact he made while working at Gold Leaf. She gave him suggestions and when he was finished, you couldn’t even tell that there had ever been an “L” shaped tear in the antique painting. Then they asked him to do some repainting and gilding on the San Damiano crucifix in the Portiuncula Chapel outdoors. That was easy compared to the painting of the Annunciation above it. The canvas had deteriorated so much that it was beyond repair. He told Bro. Caleb that he would have to paint a new one. Gregory was unable to save much of the original, but what he could save he used as a reference. He found a holy card of the painting and used it for the rest. When it was finished it measured 5’x 4’, was square at the bottom and pointed at the top in a gothic shape, mounted on wood, and covered in plexi. The friars were pleased with the results.

*****

He needed a job after Adcom closed, so he chose to work at the local multiplex there in Dunn Loring. He started working at the concession stand. He got to see movies for free, but it wasn’t a really great job, so he started looking again.

He had had a chance to learn sign making on the computer while working at Adcom. He had to plot everything on the x and y axes, but that would come in handy in his next position as a sign maker at FastSigns in Tysons Corner. He started out in production, but moved up to design and layout. His boss even sent him to Connecticut to learn more. He loved that job and would remain friends with everyone after he left despite his having lost his temper with the boss on more than one occasion. He blamed his quick temper on his father. It would be years before he learned the real cause.

*****

Gregory’s step-sister, Cindy had met and fallen in love with a great guy named Jim, so the next step was to get married. They were married in Gregory’s dad and step-mom’s garden. It was a beautiful ceremony that almost didn’t happen, because Jim was in a biking accident the week before and broke his neck. Luckily, all that was required was that he wear a neck-brace until the break healed. Of course, his fiancé would not have a neck-brace ruining her wedding and the photos afterwards, so she gave him permission to forgo wearing it that day only.

While Denny and Gregory were living at the apartment in Dunn Loring, the A/C went out on one of the hottest days of the summer. It was a Saturday, so there wasn’t a maintenance man on duty to fix it. As their apartment was facing full south, it was even hotter than usual. Gregory couldn’t take it so he called Cindy and asked if he could spend the night. She and Jim said yes, but Denny wanted to stay home. So Gregory spent the night alone in the sweet, cool breeze of borrowed air conditioning. When it went out the second summer, they resolved to move.

They found a place in Pentagon City. It was the two lower floors of a townhouse and they only got it because the landlady’s dog liked Gregory. It had two bedrooms and one and a half baths. Finally, Gregory wouldn’t have to wait to use the bathroom! He would also have a good-sized studio now. They didn’t stay there as long as Gregory would have liked because the landlady was a little crazy and she and Denny didn’t get along at all.

Gregory’s dad’s friend, Paul, died and left his house to his daughter. She lived in California, so she asked John to find a renter. He asked Denny and Gregory if they’d like to see it. It was in North Springfield, was a three bedroom, one and a half bath ranch, and it was on a good-sized lot. They took it and moved out of the townhouse and into their first house. After a year, Paul’s daughter, Pamela, decided to sell it. Denny and Gregory had first crack at it and so they were then able to purchase their first home together. Denny was finally able to indulge in his love of horticulture and thereby improve the gardens on the property.

Now that they were in North Springfield, Gregory was able to attend mass at St. Michael’s again. Denny wouldn’t join him, but that was okay. St. Michael’s was Gregory’s home church, so he could go by himself and feel perfectly comfortable. There was also the Chapel of Perpetual Adoration. After his mother died, he was able to take one of the 168 hour time slots, now that he had a job he couldn’t, but he could still stop in anytime for a visit with Jesus. He could say a prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament or say a Rosary. It was the only church that he knew of in the area that was able to remain open 24 hours a day, because someone was always there.

When he heard that St. Michael’s catechism program needed a teacher for the high school students, he volunteered, because he had previous experience with high schoolers. He ended up enjoying that year very much. The students were great and the director was easier to get along with than the one in Valparaiso had been. He tried to make it fun for them by supplementing the curriculum with puzzles, games, and word searches. He even gave each one a religious gift on the last day.

Gregory’s next job was at Pearl Art and Craft in Alexandria. The position was as Floor Supervisor which was a step below Assistant Manager. It was a salaried position and his boss tended to take advantage of it. He worked every Saturday and every other Sunday. He had to attend Mass on Saturday evenings when he was scheduled to work on Sunday. Mallory, his boss, was a little crazy, but his coworkers, for the most part, were terrific to work with.

He made some longtime friends at Pearl. DaRell had a particular fascination with Gregory despite his insisting that he was straight. Gregory did tease him every so often about it, too. Jason was Mallory’s son. He showed Gregory his full back tat of aliens and a spaceship, so Gregory showed him his tats. He got his first after leaving the monastery, then another while at Adcom from Nan, a coworker. Denny called them his “decals” and of course Gregory just laughed at that and got more.

He had a blow up with one or two of his coworkers and he just couldn’t seem to keep himself from doing it. He really didn’t know where the anger was coming from. He was also starting to notice some obsessive compulsive behaviors cropping up. He had to go back and check to see if he had locked a door more than once or make sure the fringe on a rug was straight, objects had to be at 90 degree angles; weird little things like that. But it was getting ridiculous. He wondered if there was a medication that he could ask his doctor for to help with the problems he was having.

He ended up postponing the doctor’s visit because he was thinking about showing his work now that he had plenty of pieces to exhibit. He looked for opportunities in DC, Maryland and Virginia. A group of Gay artists was his first foray into the local art scene. Lambda Soleil and the Male Nude Figure Drawing Group were having a combined drawing/nude pool party. Gregory thought it would be a good way to meet other artists and draw the nude male figure at the same time. He met some really nice guys that day and got some pretty good drawings out of it as well.

The Triangle Artists Group was the next group he joined and he was made aware of shows where he could enter his work. There were be juried shows and Art Fairs, but he wanted to be represented by a gallery. So he did something unconventional. He took out an ad in a local Art newsletter and it worked! A gallery in Georgetown wanted to represent him. He went in, signed a contract, and after awhile he was given a solo show. He was able to get the vinyl lettering for the wall cut at FastSigns in Tysons Corner, by his old boss, for free. He was glad he hadn’t burned that bridge even with his bad temper.

When he had the opportunity to get a pick-up truck, he sold his Celica and bought a used Chevy S10. It would be great for hauling his overly large paintings, furniture and the like, and when not doing that, he could haul plants and such for Denny’s landscaping projects. It ended up working out great.

*****

The following is an entry from Gregory’s online journal:

April 13, 1999

Uncle Yutch died last night at 6:55pm.

He breathed his last just as the priest was finishing Last Rites.

He had been sick for a while now, and in a coma recently.

I was sad, but it was a blessing that he was finally free from the pain.

The thing I will remember him for the most is the time when I was a teenager;

he took me aside and told me that it was okay to be different. It was okay to be me.

I will always love him for accepting me for who I was, long before my own parents could.

May he rest in peace.

He would miss that man.

*****

Pearl had a policy in place that if a customer wanted to pay with a check, they had to fill out a form to apply for a check card. Most customers had no problem with it, but one woman in particular did. Gregory had the misfortune of working at the customer service desk that evening. Her husband was in the military and she didn’t feel that she should have to fill out the form like everyone else. Gregory informed her that there were no exceptions, so she cussed him out.

“You really shouldn’t talk like that in front of your children,” he admonished.

“Don’t you worry about it. They’re used to it!”

“I’m sure they are,” he mumbled under his breath.

“You know I should have my husband come back here and kick your ass, you little faggot!” Gregory kept his cool and said,

“Have a good evening.”

After the irate customer left, Gregory asked Mallory if he could call the police. She told him, “No.” He had been threatened with bodily harm and insulted, yet was not allowed to call and report it. He couldn’t stay at Pearl working for a boss who didn’t have his back and he was itching to do something else anyway. When asked, he said he wanted to teach, but he went back to sign making next.

He found out that FastSigns in Alexandria needed someone to do their computer design and layout. The franchise was owned by two women and he found he got along with them very well. Pip was a larger than life coworker who lived in DC. They would have a love/hate relationship, probably because they were both gay artists. Two drama queens trapped in a small space together.

The ladies sold the business to a nice man who knew nothing about the sign making business. He was a really good guy, but Gregory knew there was no chance for advancement, so when he saw an opportunity to make a change he took it. Gregory left that job to become an art teacher, something he’d wanted to do for years.

Denny and Greg

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