Getting the basement all to myself upon turning 12 meant I not only got the basement but I invaded the next level up as well. That’s where the extra bathroom was, so that became mine too, while Marla, Melanie and Lamar all had to share the kids’ bathroom on their sleeping level. Sometimes when I didn’t feel like sleeping in the basement in the winter when snow covered the windows, I slept in the family room on the soft comfy couch. And in the summer, sometimes I just stepped outside and slept right on the ground. No one was there to hear me or to stop me. I became sort of feral, not in a misbehaved brat way, but in an peacefully anarchistic way, doing as I pleased. I listened to the radio every night because no one could hear me. I kept frogs and snakes in my bedroom because no one would know. I did lots of things nobody knew about—until I painted my room.
Although the basement had been finished and turned into a livable area in the late 1960s so that Olsen could move in, it was never really painted except for a coat of white to cover the drywall. I took it upon myself when I was about 14 to complete that project, after all, the basement was mine except for the laundry area which I would leave white. Who would care if I painted my own room?
No one had anticipated my use of color, so it was never even a question that would come up. They all thought it would probably be green because I liked green and grew plants and green was a boy kind of color. No one had even considered I might paint the basement dark, hot pink.
This was a cause for alarm.
My parents tried very hard to be accepting and liberal. They tried to show openness toward people of all stripes. Yet, they were nonetheless deeply disturbed by their middle son’s taste in room color. But I don’t know what troubled them more, the fact that their son chose pink or that they were troubled by the fact that their son chose pink. Mind you, it was not a girly pastel pink, not a pink with a purple cast or Barbie pink, but strong hot pink, leaning more toward the reddish side. Why, one could say it was like the pink inside a watermelon, and dad grew watermelons. Why would this be a problem? It was Melon Farmer Pink!
I did not understand it at the time, but my choice in colors made my parents fear I was gay. Now being atheists they had no biblical basis for being anti-gay. It was just a hard cultural change for them to accept, despite all their self-proclamations of being liberal and open. They were farmers in a small town, after all. And even if they were able to accept it, the next hurdle was the most difficult of all: What would the neighbors think, as the expression goes? Well, we didn’t have that many actual neighbors, living on the edge of town. But there were other townfolk.
The thing was, I wasn’t gay. Not in the slightest. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that) What did I have to do to prove it to them? I sucked at sports, surely they saw that as evidence that I was. I loved growing plants and had a virtual greenhouse in my room. More evidence I was gay, even though my parents entire livelihood was based on growing plants. But those were crops. I was growing houseplants. Gay.
They wanted me to see the school counselor once I started high school. They had it in their minds that school counselors could help with these problems, even though I think the only reason they existed was to tell students what they should choose for their career paths and try to stop schoolyard fights. The irony in all of this? My high school counselor was gay. All the kids knew it, but the parents didn’t, or at least chose to think he wasn’t.
Why would you want to think your straight son is gay, while choosing to ignore the fact his high school counselor, who you think is straight, is the actual one who is gay? Can someone explain this to me? I was pretty disgusted by the whole thing back then, not disgusted by gayness or anything, not at all. I was pretty accepting of people, even for a small town farm boy. But I was disgusted that my parents couldn’t see the truth. I’d be just as disgusted if I WAS gay and my parents would refuse to admit it. But now looking back on it with the perspective of irony? I used to be disgusted, now I’m just amused.