I live two towns over from the town where I grew up. Yesterday, I decided to do my four mile run in my hometown of Amesbury, Massachusetts, rather than my present town. When I run someplace, I usually spent time plotting my route online to make sure I get to the right number of miles. When I run in my hometown, I never need to. I know that town by heart, and I know it by foot. Adults will usually measure distances by how long it takes to drive it. Things are five minutes away or 45 minutes, but who knows how many miles? Runners do. And kids do, without knowing they know it. Since I traveled every mile of Amesbury by foot or by bike as a kid, I just know how far apart things are. I know every house, and every sidewalk, so I don’t have to think about my route. This leaves time for the mind to wander. Since I’m here in my hometown almost every day, I am inured to the kind of heart piercing nostalgia that strikes when you haven’t seen a place in years. My nostalgia is less intense, and tends to hone in on particular items.
Yesterday, I was thinking about a friend of mine who said she gets a bit irritated when people ask her “when did you know you were gay?” After all, she says, no one ever asks, “when did you know you were straight?” And as I ran by my old elementary school, and by my childhood friends’ houses, Amanda’s, Jessica’s, Aaron’s, I embarked on a memory tour of men, and I realized, I knew I was straight when I was nine. I was nine and in Mr. Cassidy’s class, and I didn’t know what a crush was, but I had one on him. I never had to endure what a lot of gay kids go through–feigning straightness, risking ostracism–but I think I kind of understand it. From 4th grade on, I was feigning interest in New Kids on the Block, and in supposedly crush-worthy middle school classmates while secretly, I pined over a parade of teachers, one for each year. Running by those friends’ houses, I thought of all their fathers. The goofy, corny-joke-telling ones; the distant or mostly absent ones; the soft voiced and kind ones. I tried to recall my friends’ mothers, and they were mostly vague, blurred figures at the fringes of my mind. Christophe jokes that he’s fortunate that our marriage has survived this far, since he’s now about at the minimum age required for a man to catch my attention.
As I rounded a corner downtown, past the Catholic Church where I was an altar server, past the library that was my second home, I was jarred out of my reverie by the flat voice of my phone announcing mile 4. Having planned my route not at all, I had measured out the miles so precisely that I slowed to a walk not ten steps from my car, set to drive part of the same route I’d just run, but no longer in the company of all my ghosts. It seems they too prefer to travel on foot.