My Own Memoir and Gay Couples Buying Homes in the 90s
About a month ago Tony and I sold our wonderful home of 18 years, and it was a less than thrilling experience for us. Actually, it was pure hell. Everything went well financially, and we are grateful for that. However, emotionally it gutted us. I’m not getting into that now. I posted all about that, here. We are still very unhappy with the move and we will list our new home for sale with a realtor very soon. Even though the new house is only about 5 miles away from the old house, it’s not the same. It’s just wrong for us. After that, I believe we’ll head out to Palm Springs, CA full-time, permanently.
With all that said, we’re moving forward as best we can, with positive attitudes. Sometimes life happens and that’s the best you can do. And I decided to write a memoir about our experiences as a gay couple buying and selling real estate. I’m not sure whether or not anyone will want to read it. I’ve written over 150 published works of fiction, but never non-fiction. But my goal is to create a non-fiction story, in a general sense, without being too self-indulgent. Our former home, the one we just sold in New Hope, was very different in so many ways. And we had very unusual experiences there. No matter where I live from now until the end of my life, that will always be home.
In any event, owning a home has always been important to us. And when we found our home in New Hope it was a blessing. As a gay couple who lived through the 1990s we have very real reasons for feeling this way, too. I think any gay couple can relate to this first part of the memoir.
This is from the preface of the memoir. I normally wouldn’t even write a preface, I normally despise prefaces, but I thought it was important this time.
In the late fall of 1998, when Tony and I were together for about 6 years, we were outside in front of our cookie-cutter townhouse on a cul-de-sac called Spruce Court putting up Christmas lights just like everyone else had been doing that week. We were laughing and joking and trying to untangle lights and we didn’t have a care in the world. My biggest concern was what new shirt I would wear to the gay bar on Saturday night.
It was the week after Thanksgiving and a few of our neighbors already had their lights up and we didn’t want to be the last ones left. We’d already put up our Christmas tree inside on Thanksgiving weekend. Together we framed the front window with little white lights, placed a perfectly round evergreen wreath on the front door, and set a festive green spotlight about 10 feet away from the front entrance so it would shine on the wreath after dark.
We’d been decorating for Christmas this way for the last 5 years and never gave it a second thought. This cookie-cutter townhouse community was located in Newtown, Pennsylvania where everyone seemed gay friendly, and tolerant. Even back then it was considered an affluent little suburban community located about halfway between New York City and Philadelphia. Although we were never embraced with warmth and great friendships by anyone on Spruce Court, we didn’t feel as if we were in any way being discriminated against. And we felt safe.
When everything was ready, Tony went to plug in the green spotlight that afternoon so I could step back and see if it was shining on the door. While he was up next to the front door where the outlet was located, the next-door neighbor’s little boy said, “Hey daddy, can we get a green spotlight just like the two fags next door?”
The little boy was only about 6 years old. He pointed directly at me with a great big smile and I just stood there gaping in his direction with wide eyes. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t look at Tony so I don’t even know what he was doing. The father had been putting up his own Christmas lights. He ran over to the little boy, scooped him up in his arms, and rushed him into the house before he could say another word. That was it. No explanations; no apologies. Even though we lived right next door I never saw them up close again.
The next morning we quickly removed all the Christmas decorations we’d put up and phoned a gay friend of ours who was a realtor. We listed the townhouse on Spruce Court that Monday and started packing. This was the home where we’d spent the early years of our relationship. We held our first dinner parties there, and our first large parties. This was where we learned how to adult in real life. And now it was time to leave.
Tony and I both knew it was time to move on and time to improve the quality of our gay lives by surrounding ourselves with other gay couples. We only had each other and a snarky 8-year-old black and white tuxedo cat named Nittany who only ate Friskies Ocean Whitefish and found it amusing to bite anyone who tried to pet her. This was the 1990s and there was no talk of legalized gay marriage, no talk of equality, and gay men were still dying from AIDS. The HIV drugs were just coming out and we were all still practicing safe sex. We were also going to gay bars and patronizing gay establishments because that’s where we felt the most comfortable. That’s where we felt safe and where we could be ourselves. So Tony and I chose to move to the small gay-friendly town of New Hope, PA because it had always been known as a gay destination point and there were plenty of gay establishments there.
Even though the townhouse on Spruce Court was only 6 miles away from New Hope, it could have been a million miles away in all other respects. And we knew this already. The townhouse in Newtown was surrounded by young heteronormative couples and family restaurants filled with children. In contrast, New Hope had 3 well known gay bars with restaurants that served children well done on the menus. If we were ever going to improve the quality of our lives as gay people, we had to make this move. We knew exactly what we were doing and we never had a single regret.
After we listed the townhouse on Spruce Court for sale, we spent 10 agonizing months trying to find a buyer. We were thrilled when our realtor…a gay friend named Dan…finally found a nice young straight couple with 2-year-old twin girls. Tony and I immediately went under contract with a new townhouse in New Hope, which was surrounded by other long term gay couples we’d already known for a few years, including our best friend, Stephen.
Stephen stood 5 feet tall and had a personality that was 10 feet tall. He cursed, he smoked, he drank too many vodka stingers, and he took far too many chances in the stock market. He drove a massive Mercedes Benz that he’d named Buttercup. Never a day went by when he didn’t make me laugh. He had recently lost his life partner, Charles, and he’d sold his single-family home with 10 acres of property and scaled back to a townhouse. We’d been friendly with Stephen and Charles for about 10 years and I spoke to Stephen at least once a day on the telephone. Sometimes we just called to check in on one another. There didn’t have to be a reason; we were family.
Stephen had been with Charles for over 40 years and he’d taken Charles’s death very hard. Tony and I knew how hard he took it because were there for Stephen every step of the way. From the funeral to the move to a townhouse, we saw how deeply and sincerely Stephen grieved for his lost partner and we did whatever we could for him. I’d never seen anyone so completely devastated that way before.
This should have been one of the best times of our lives, and then Stephen died suddenly only 3 days before we were supposed to move. I believe he died from a broken heart, still grieving for Charles. He was much older than us and they said he suffered a massive heart attack in his sleep. We were stunned. We walked around staring down at the floor and functioning in a robotic way for days. So many laughs and good times had come to an end. And the timing couldn’t have been worse. We went to Stephen’s funeral on a Tuesday and moved the next morning on a Wednesday. I remember a week before Stephen died we were talking about the move and he said to me, “You’re going to have completely different lives now.” I had no idea how true that would be. Without my best friend Stephen, my life completely changed. For months, I kept getting the urge to phone him every day but there was no one to phone anymore.
In spite of the tragic circumstances, we learned how to heal in the townhome in New Hope and we learned how to carry on with our lives. What began as a dismal experience turned into something that left us with comfort and laughs and some of the best memories of our lives. But most of all, we were surrounded by other gay couples and we didn’t have to worry about what people were thinking or saying behind our backs. We were no longer the fags with the green spotlight on the cul-de-sac. And even though I knew we were not going to live there forever, I vowed to myself I would never go back to a heteronormative place like Spruce Court again.
The problem was that I didn’t know that a home could actually take on a life and a personality of its own. I was young and I didn’t realize that a home could become an extension of a human being. At least that’s the only way I know how to describe it. And most of all, I didn’t know that moving from Spruce Court would begin one of the most unusual journeys of my entire life.