I put a lot of thought into how I would tell Betty that I liked her. I wanted to be really cool about it. High school was just months away. I was going to be attending that stupid christian school and she would be going to Peoria Manual. I thought I might sing a song or write a poem that best expressed my love. An Officer and a Gentlemen had been a hit movie so I thought I would sing "Up Where We Belong."
...where the eagles fly on the mountain high...Time goes by, no time to cry, life's you and I.
A live today...
Yes, this was the way to go. After the service, I would get Betty alone on the playground and sing to her. If I was romantic enough, maybe I could just propose to her too.
...love lift us up where we belong, Ah Ah Ah...
Everyone in my family seemed very excited about my graduation. Not only was the oldest child of my parents ill fated match up but I was one of the oldest grandchildren of both my maternal and paternal families. I was always considered intelligent and many family members put a lot of faith in their belief that I would be "somebody important." This graduation was just step one. In truth, I wasn't that intelligent. I was good at tests. Tests are like games. Once you figure out what the pattern is or once you find the "gimmick" you don't have to know anything.
Mom wanted to take me out to dinner (still one of my favorite activities) after graduation and I don't recall what Dad wanted to do but you can be certain that it was the exact opposite of whatever Mom wanted to do. Per usual, no one cared what I wanted which was the love and devotion of Betty.
As graduation neared, I worked at memorizing all the lyrics to "Up Where We Belong." I knew that I would be nervous and I didn't want to mess up. It was a Saturday, I believe, and I was practicing my big number when Mom called me to the phone. It was my Dad. He had bad news. My Uncle Bingo had died in California. He had either jumped or been pushed from a building in LA. I never did find out what officially happened.
My Dad was pretty upset but I wasn't. I don't ever remember meeting Uncle Bingo. I know that he and my dad were close. They hitchhiked to California together. My cousin Aunie was his daughter but I hardly knew her either. My Dad kept apologizing. "I'm sorry this has to come on your big day, " he kept saying. I couldn't figure out why it was such a big deal. I mean yes this guy was my uncle but I didn't know him at all. I didn't have any feelings toward him. I was just starting to feel comfortable around my Dad and my new family which now consisted of my new half-sister, Aleta.
The countdown to graduation became less and less about me and more and more about this dead uncle that I didn't know. Now that I am older I can see why my Dad was in such a state but I don't think he had my best interest in my mind. Per usual, he only thought of himself. I had less time to practice my love song for Betty because I was going to Lilly family gatherings. Gatherings that I really didn't want to be a part of but no one bothered to ask me.
Graduation day finally came. Mom who had worked so hard to send my sister and I to a private school was very proud. Dad was proud too but he really hadn't put in his share of parental work. You wouldn't know it from the fuss he made at the church. He wanted to everyone to know that I was his son. Frankly, I was a little embarrassed. Dad, dressed shabbily, showed up with my stepmother, 4 half-brothers, and my infant half-sister. None of my classmates had ever met any of these people.
"Those people are your family?", I remember Betty saying. That was it. I could tell by the look in her eye that she could never love me with my oddball misfit family. So, I chickened out. I didn't take Betty aside on the playground. I didn't sing my love song. I didn't profess my love.
After graduation, Mom took me out to dinner and the next day, Dad took me to a funeral. I wore the same suit from my graduation to Uncle Bingo's funeral. During the processional by the family, I looked into the coffin hoping to have some vague remembrance of this bloated cold black man in the box. I had none. My half-brothers cried. I sat rigidly.
Later that day, I heard Dad say that he felt responsible for Bingo's death. He feels that if he had been in California, his brother would still be alive. Within a few weeks he would leave Peoria again for California. I wouldn't see him again until I graduated from high school.
I eventually told Betty about my crush on her. By the time I told her she was married with children and I was living the life of an out gay man.