Mom often said I’d grow up to be the next Judy Garland. I only knew Judy as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. A boy, I didn’t know how I’d transform into Judy. My dad said my mom was nuts, that I shouldn’t listen to her. He didn’t, so why should I? But I did listen. I liked her stories. She made old show business people sound glamorous, though she often cut off the story’s ending — Dorothy returned to Kansas, took pills, and died at age 47. I found that out online.
Mom didn’t like to talk of Judy’s many marriages either. “They were all homos or bums,” she said, writing the hubbies out of her Judy plot. She did the same thing with Lana Turner, whom she belittled as an actress, but wasn’t she a “fascinating” person? She hoped that I would be fascinating.
I wasn’t. Fun for me was playing baseball with Kevin and Alex, two neighbor kids, or cutting out paper dresses with Mina and putting them on dolls. Mom said that Mina was “a troublemaker. Be careful. A boy can go wrong in many ways.”
Like Judy’s husbands? I did go wrong, at least wrong to her, but not for many years, not until I graduated high school. Mostly I was a peanutbutter sandwich with a few chips on the side, maybe a pickle. High school had been grim. Most kids thought I was quiet. Like a cave — they’d look into me and see only darkness. I got few party invitations.
“Be lively. Sing! Dance! Show them you have style — they’ll come around,” Mom said. They didn’t come around. I heard my nasal singing voice on tape and thought a kazoo sounded better. Dancing? No, two right feet.
She didn’t say it, but she grew increasingly disappointed in me. My dad listened and tried to be kind, but it was like being on the coast of North Carolina looking at someone on the coast of Angola. Even if we waved, the other wouldn’t see.
If I ended up like any of Judy’s husbands, it was probably Vincente Minnelli. Take a woman to a public restaurant, look like I’m madly in love, sneak home with the waiter. That’s not fascinating. It’s confused and I hurt too many people. Judy did sing “The Man Who Got Away.” My tune would be “The Men Who Got Away.” Through my friend Marsha I heard that Judy was often seen walking on top of her roof — wherever she lived. Sometimes she sang. I didn’t need to walk on our tippy roof. I felt as if I had been doing that for most of my life.
Mom grew to be okay that I’m gay. Dad too. Everybody’s okay — I wish I could come home at Christmas and tell fascinating stories about my glamorous life. I work at Walgreens. It’s not too glamorous in the pharmacy filling prescriptions.
When I see Mom now, she’s usually watching “classic” films. “You got a boyfriend yet?” she asks. I usually say no even if I do. She hopes for stories. Maybe she needs them since dad obsesses on the lawn and spends hours each day in the basement. I’ve tried to make stuff up. I tell it badly. She starts looking out of the window. I look too. What does she see?
Kenneth Pobo has a new book of prose poems forthcoming from Clare Songbirds Publishing House called The Antlantis Hit Parade. A collection of his micro-fiction, Tiny Torn Maps, came out from Deadly Chaps. He and his husband live in Pennsylvania.