Wednesday, December 30, 2009
#38 – PUBLIC SPEAKING
At first it has been impossible to talk at the meetings. Then a couple of weeks before Christmas an advertising guy had come up to me after the Saturday meeting at the Quaker place and asked if I would like to join a weekly men’s meeting that, unlike all the other ACOA meetings, was by invitation. I did not like the idea of segregating the sexes – the way it has been long ago at boarding school and college and the draftee army – and yet I found it easy to start talking here. I thought this was more because I has been invited than that it was a men’s group. I spoke now of my misadventures with the blonde photographer in the Bahamas – part confession and part subtle boasting that I had such a life. She had just called me from Puerto Rico complaining that I had not called her.
I also spoke of my years of roaming the world, and this was when it became clearer to me how I had been drawn to extremely dangerous places. Boasting again, yet something else happening when I brought what I was boasting about to light.
One of the members of this group was a disturbing gay guy who in meetings screamed “get out of my bed” as he described his mother getting into his bed. The advertising guy spoke of wrestling with relationships with women. There was an actor who spoke of depression. It seemed that everyone here had suffered from horrible depression.
The actor spoke at length one day saying we were not really going deep enough. It made me angry, using a session of this group, it seemed to me, the way he would use some confrontational actors' group exercise. Worse, he singled me out for the way I just sat there taking notes and talking very little. The next week he apologized to me and the whole men’s group. At the last meeting before Christmas he suggested we all stand and sing Joy to the World, which, to my surprise, felt pretty good.
So I was talking a little and getting some laughs. But now I was scheduled for what felt like a full performance.
This public debut was at St. Vincent’s. It was not the writing meeting but rather a much bigger meeting, currently chaired by Jenny who scheduled me to speak. The venue was a large conference room across Seventh Avenue in a building that before St. Vincent’s took it over as an annex had been the headquarters of the old seamen’s’ union. It was very close to where I had lived between Greece and Asia.
In this darkened conference room Jenny, seeming soft and happy, introduced me. I spoke from the head of a long table at which ACOA people were seated. And there were many more ACOA people further out in the near dark on folding chairs. Beforehand I was as nervous as I had been at 15 at Boston University before the finals of the New England championship tourney for high school and prep school debaters.
But this was no mere competitive debate. And, unlike a debater, I was not prepared to argue either side of anything. This was life and death, and here in this darkened room I spoke of how after my brother and I left home my parents got two kittens, named one good cat and the other bad cat. I talked about family pretensions, like the fake British accents. I went heavy on my brother, the good twin, and his colonial English wife and how they called the part of Virginia they lived in “fox country.”
With what I thought was quite good timing, worthy of one who had been a champion debater, I let it be known that my brother lived where he lived in Virginia because it was an easy commute to his job at the CIA – mention of which brought gasps in the audience. I talked about how when I was a child they had gotten angry at me when I was mourning the slow death of my floppy, silky brown dog named Brownie. And just as important, how they put me down for giving him such a regular person’s name. Brownie was hit by a car, came home to lie in our yard, had more and more trouble breathing, then after several days, died. I somehow related this to the motorcycle death long ago of Cousin Paul, and the cancer death in the past summer of Cousin Margaret, who said she wanted to die because of what they had done to her. And to the precarious state of all the other cousins.
And I felt I was getting closer and close to darker things than these deaths.
Jenny said afterwards it was one of the best meetings ever.