“I’m just Dominic.” Polyestered, corduroyed, and playing gleefully with the pre-school phone booth. This is what you remember me proclaiming when another kid asked me, “What are you?” While I don’t recall this declaration, I believe in it still.
“I’m just Dominic.” The same Dominic who “fell in love” with a ballerina and coveted a canopied bed from J.C. Penney’s for himself and his future wife, still only in first grade. I kissed her sixty times (we counted by tens) while our friend helped keep track from below. We were straddling a log twenty feet from the playground, reached by climbing a web of thick rope. A couple of years later, when rope-climbing, pecking-by-tens, and dreams of marrying her were old news, I started playing more kickball and soccer.
“I’m just Dominic.” The same Dominic who had a crush on “K”, the third grade asshole, cocky, arrogant, a regular show-off. His hair was already parted and floppy, while most of the rest of the boys’ was still bowl-cut and straight. And he had muscles (or so we thought when we compared our pencilly arms to the tiny bumps of his biceps). My crush was indefinable at the time and was probably mere fascination, a simple appreciation for what I didn’t have at eight. A phase, but a phase nonetheless. Third grade turned into fourth and fifth, and before I graduated from elementary school, I was one of the only students not allowed to go on the Whidbey Island science trip (where “K” would be?) because you were afraid I’d get lost or would drown or was it because you didn’t like my science teacher?
“I’m just Dominic.” Hamilton Middle School, with “X” and her best friend “Y”. Infatuated with both of them, I pledged my undying devotion in letter after letter and phone call after phone call. Spurred on by horrible ‘80s teen romances, I eventually learned what a crock of crap middle school “love” is—especially when sexuality (at least for me) meant two-hour phone calls and pool parties that never happened. Remember me playing that Beatles’ song for “my belle,” or begging you to accompany me (only because that was your rule) on a movie date with that other girl? Remember all the while my pining for “A”? Probably. Remember, too, my pining for that troublemaker “W”? Probably not. Enough said.
The “trying” middle school years: classical guitar, patriotic art, all-around awkwardness.
“I’m just Dominic.” High school—same Dominic, same goal: “A”. High school for me, you’ll recall, was also a time for pleasing teachers and counselors and for saving the world for my new-found Protestant-style Jesus. Prayer meetings, Bible studies, plastering the walls with scripture quotations, pissing off the gym teacher with my conservatism, inking my notebooks and three-ring binders with “Jesus Saves” and “Abortion Kills.” It was also a time, you’ll recall, for my interest in (I considered it an “addiction” back then) to porn to grow. Frustrated with two-hour phone calls and just general adolescent lust—as well as assured by Forgiveness and Salvation from both our Catholic confessional and my Personal Relationship With Jesus Christ-—Playboy, Playgirl, Hustler, and worse contended almost daily with my hard core, fundamentalist beliefs.
Me, bucking the system.
Other girls consumed most of my free-time at Seattle University. Each had her own wonderful peculiarities, whether it was a love for Shakespeare and swing dancing, a Kenyan vocal click and a love for biology, or a red cape, red hair, and a fiery Presbyterian personality. I was doomed, I guess, never to really date my lab partner, “J”, and I foolishly never declared my interest in the woman with whom I shared ciders and orange peel mochas. Boys were out of the question, of course. I was too set on forcing heterosexuality where none existed (“Why are you rubbing there?” one of my girlfriends would ask one night). It was a great masquerade while it lasted, though.
What can I say? I TRIED being heterosexual…with some beautiful women.
I really tried…
But if you think we need to identify and blame and prosecute a particular person, place or thing for my “problem,” then failed attempts with girls or an abundance of pornography weren’t it. Neither was it Desmond Morris’ Naked Ape paperback, the sexual anthropology book on our bookshelves when I was growing up, the one with a naked man and woman in a cage, a backdrop of desolation, being studied, perhaps, by Morris. It was in here that I learned about male monkeys and how they presented their blood-engorged buttocks to potential mates. About the girth of monkey and human penises before and during sex and just before ejaculation. Neither was it the set of four health books you got me for Christmas once, where I learned everything I needed to know about human physiology, puberty, and adolescence. It was in here that I learned that it was okay to touch myself, that everyone had big bushes of pubic hair, and that there were millions of sperm in every tablespoon of semen. Fallopian tubes, eggs, cell division, the size of a fetus at one month. Neither was it my education at Seattle University, although it was during these years that I progressed from my fundamentalist self to my Jesuitical self, from an official and public Ambassador For Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) who knew all the answers to a more contemplative representative of Christ who was trained that doubt was a precursor to belief and even its companion throughout belief, someone who didn’t have all the answers to everything. This change may be responsible for some revisions in my thought, but not for the kinds of attractions to men and women that I had had since grade school.
I was a good son during those years, I think. Every once in a while I would come home later than I had promised (at a pub downtown drinking or on Queen Anne fondling “P”‘s breasts instead of “studying”) or would be up to no good behind your backs (mainly masturbating like crazy) or would express my anger in unhealthy ways (mainly hitting things, including myself, very hard). It’s not as if I never drank or smoked or had phone sex, but I was still a good son, always struggling to achieve the values you had taught me, not only to please you, or God, but also myself. I worked my butt off to earn a lot of my own money to pay for school. I excelled in most of my classes and networked with people from all over campus. I volunteered at the nursing residence’s Alzheimer’s wing and drove to Denver with fellow Christians to see Pope Paul II. I directed a play and served Mass regularly with the Carmelites, sang in the school choir, and performed many guitar recitals. I possessed many gifts and rarely hid them from others, having been encouraged by you and dad ever since I was in elementary school to exceed expectation, to impress, to look “sharp” and to be “sharp.”
Incidentally, it was during a Tennessee Williams skit in my acting class senior year that I learned how to smoke. Like “M” told me once, “You feel”—and she added, judgingly—“wrongly, that you have to experience everything. You’re a regular Dorian Gray.” Characteristically, then, I decided that in order to play Jim’s extroverted character authentically, I would need real cigarettes and would need to bend confidently over the candelabra to light them (no matches for this rascal). I inhaled and practiced that move over and over until I got it just right. Our Glass Menagerie scene was beautiful.
Anyway, my main goal in life was also St. Paul’s: to be all, for all. To identify the particular needs of others, to adapt and respond to them, and to somehow benefit the other or myself. In such a way, I could bring life, as abundantly and authentically as possible, and get life. I no longer needed, necessarily, a Bible in one hand and a bumper-sticker slogan in the other.
At those times in college when I thought I needed a Bible, I found I didn’t. For instance, do you remember “N”? The stocky (and handsome) guy who came to our house that one afternoon (I’d invited him) wearing combat boots and a black leather jacket, while we were doing yard work? You eyes were so full of concern because I was up in my room with him—alone. Something about him didn’t seem right. Something about me probably didn’t seem right, either, even then. But we wrote a song together* that day and played our guitars and I eventually gave him a ride home. “N”, not more than 20 years old, lived alone in nothing more than a large shack in Lynnwood. Rough family life, I seem to remember. Rough past. So unlike me, except in his faith: and that’s why I was attracted to him. I was attracted to his sometimes dangerous missionary work on Broadway helping to feed homeless teens with food and company and the Word. I learned things from him about God and Jesus and being human—not from the printed page, but from his being.
I’m just Dominic, whatever that means for you.
Love, your son,
* “The Turbulences of Life” by Dominic & “N”
The turbulences of life
stir up the fire in my heart,
aching to burn through these walls.
The calling of the Lord
causes me to open my eyes
and take a look around.
Choices that you make
affect the rest of our life
while you’re here on this earth.
The vows that you take
will either strengthen your stand
or weaken you to fall, weaken you to fall.
There are some in this world
who are searching for someone
to have and to hold,
But until that final hour
everything that we choose
must be His will, not ours.
We’re all running this race—
got to keep our eyes on the prize,
keep a steady pace.
If you’re going too fast
you may stumble and fall.
You may come in last.