In the manic and sometimes overwhelming and deadly busyness that is a college campus, you are always tempted to become focused on things that will not matter a hill of beans when your journey here is all said and done. Oftentimes you will have to look deeper to hear the music that is being played in people’ lives. I recently had an English writing assignment that we all had to do out of our regular class room. The assignment was that we had to write about what we observed. We could write about anything! It was one of the most difficult writing assignments that I ever had.
We all met at the location, and I was given out writing paper, and I wondered somewhat listlessly in our centralized location called The Atrium, The Atrium is part of the Arts and Journalism building located at Ball state University in Muncie, Indiana. I sat in a section where there were some couches and some tables that are located right outside the coffee shop.
I was there a little past the noon hour so the place was packed. I remembered the last time that I was there and I fought back some bittersweet memories and I tried to focus on the task at hand before me.
I sat at a table…a table with three other empty chairs and I was transports to the time I was In some café in Berlin whose name I had long forgotten.
I was told that in Europe it was common for people who did not know one another to share a table together and it just reinforced my fleeting felling of loneliness when I realized that throughout my entire time of taking my notes for this paper, no one sat at that table with me. I wondered why that was so? ‘Is it because I’m a black guy?’ ‘maybe it’s because I’m older?’…’is it because I’m a big guy?’ I didn’t really know. Pushing back those questions and getting to the task at hand, I opened my mind to whatever that would catch it.
To my right I quickly noticed that there was this very small group of girls. They were sitting at the table that was joined to the one that I was sitting in. They were young, and I’d say no more than twenty-three years of age All of them were white, and I would say that from there appearance that they were from a solid middle-class background. From the rapid way that they were all talking it was very hard for me to focus on what they were saying without appearing to be listening to their conversations. Remember that there was a lot of noise in the room! Needless to say from there facial expressions and they body language I quickly surmised that they were talking about nothing in particular. From there incessant and seemingly needless chatter I called them my ‘gaggle of geese!’
It is amazing that how a simple thing such as sitting with people can trigger memories in ones brain. How well I remembered the time when seemingly a few short years ago I was with my friends—the few that I bothered to call friends! How often I remembered the times that we were just hanging out talking about nothing in particular. But times change and people for various reasons leave and change. We all tend to look back on a particular time that has passed in our life and realized that though those memories that we had during that stretch were good times! When one looks back on memories such as that its always accompanied with a longing for seemingly more simpler times. So I looked on them with a twinge of melancholy and bemusement. During my short time at the table I was able to catch some of their conversation. And what I hear is not enough to mention on this paper, but it was enough to confirm my original judgment.
I noticed a woman playing a piano to my left a few yards away from me. Now remember that this room was packed with people, the TV’s in the room were on and they just added to the dull wave of unfocused sound that was in the room. I tried to focus in on her like one would try to focus in on a movie in your family room and everyone is talking at the same time! I deemed her to be interesting, along with the handsome man who wondered about aimlessly trying to look busy cleaning up. That cute looking guy is just a reminder of an echo of the memory that is constantly in the background of my mind.
I never found out the name of that black woman who sat at that piano that day all I knew is that when I first looked at her I took her to be an athlete, she was wearing sweat pants and other lose clothing. She was tall and thin, I would say lanky. Her hair was under a hat, and she wore glasses.
The reasons why she stood out in my mind so much is this: she was playing the piano in a crowded room. She was alone. She had to at least had some experience playing a piano somewhere in her life because you just don’t walk into a room and play on some instrument that you have needed played before! I wondered if she was comfortable in her solitude as I was with my loneliness?
Why did she come here of all places to play? There are dozens of practice rooms inside the music buildings with the same type of piano, why couldn't she play there? What were her motives? She was playing alone, and all the time that I observed her nobody said hello to her. There seem to have not been a single person in that room that even bothered to say hello to her. Didn’t she know anyone in that room that day? I wondered why nobody didn’t say hello to her as they left the room. When a person tries to feed your soul should you not be thankful for at least the attempt, no matter how strong or feeble it may be? To this day I wondered if her attempt to bring some music in a room full of noise was all for nothing.
My eyes looked on the guy who is apparently a student worker, My Clark Kent I called him. I wonder what he was thinking about on that day? That handsome and seemingly quite guy did not talk to anybody in the room that day. There seemed to be not a single person in the room that he found worthy or instreting enough to nod his head and say the obligatory hello to.
In some ways I will sadly admit that my life in some ways was like this fellow. How many times have I’ve hoped to have someone—almost anyone to ask me a simple question ‘ how are you doing today?’ and mean it! I am not the only one who has thought this.
So I asked that question to myself, as I sat in a room full of people ‘ how are you today Robert?’ And my memory is once again activated to the time that I was last in this room.
The memory that haunts me being some two years before comes to the fore, and everything that seems disconnected seems to have some sort of representative connection. The memory that haunts me and that is connected to the piano women and my Clark Kent is this: his name was James and I met him though one of my choirs that I was singing in on campus. This was around 2003 and I was at the tail end of my coming out process. Up until that time in my life I simply did hid who I was, or at the very least come across being asexual. The reason for this is my surroundings. I am constantly around guys several years younger than I am. And who are generally smaller then I am. I am from a different race and an lower economic background, so I was not able to afford some of the things that the gay community here thought essential and therefore outclassed. So the naked questions I always asked myself are… Is it my race? Is if my age? Is it because I’m hopelessly unattractive? They all seem to come down with the same heart crushing judgment. That you’re simply not good enough to have anyone!
These are great hindrances that I cannot seem to completely overcome. If I’m not careful these questions that were born out of dysfunction of families and of people these questions can control my life if I let them. There is no escaping it. I can look at anybody and see that are asking the same basic questions that I have too often lived by.
I finally reached a point in my life where I thought I was worthy enough, and healthy enough to look for someone to share my life albeit it was a college setting and the very nature of college life that its transient and I knew that it would not last forever. But still I wanted it, I wanted what the people in that clamorous room wanted I wanted to live, and if you can’t love who you wish, how in the hell can you live?
James was my Clark Kent; he was a nerdy kid who liked music in all its incandescent forms. But like the piano women I did not notice his song, I was in a room full of life and all its noisy distractions and with its many gaggles of incessant demands of the obligations that I had to do in order to function. The first thing that made me aware of James –unlike the nameless and faceless piano women whose face I never did see, I noticed James eyes. When James focused his attention on me for the first time I could not tear myself from his eyes I felt like a deer in headlights. He just had a way of looking at me that stopped me in my tracks.
I remembered when I realized that a bond was there between James and me; we were sitting at the first floor of the library in a section full of people. I was in a room full of noise, but I did not hear any of it. There was no idle chatter between me and him nor did I let outside distractions get in the way of the connection that I was trying to establish. I first thought that all might be well, and I looked forward to proudly having a statues that so many of my gay friends had taken for granted I Robert Hughes was no longer single.
But all was not well in the land of Smallville. James had other distractions that he was paying far more attention to other then me.
The last person that I took notice in the room that day was a man around my age carrying a bible, so I took him to be a part of the Christian Campus Minstery that they have here at Ball State. The man was talking with someone about two table ahead of me ‘Doing his job and saving souls’ I said to myself as I looked intently at the piano women.
You see James was a religious person and some would say religious to a fault and the face that he was attracted to me was sheer agony for him. He could not find the peace that he wanted—the connection that he needed to be with his god and to be with me could not be balanced. The noise in his room gave him no peace, and with every brief physical encounter I had with him that noise turned into a roar. He finally turned away from me and got himself a girlfriend and eventually a wife.
The relationship that I thought I had was no real relationship at all. My final fear was realized …that I was just not worth being around. And those painful questions came back with a vengeance.
Billie Holiday sings a song called I’m a Fool To Want You. I sometimes wondered if I was a fool to try to love something so unsteady. During James final weeks on campus before he graduated we sat in that very room where the piano was in, only nobody was playing it during our time that we spent together. There in that room we talked about things we talked about our relationship and about the disappointing decisions that life dictated we both had to make and some small talk to try to put a smile on this painful chapter of our lives.
It was one of the hardest things that I ever done. My mind was out of tune; my heart was playing some jangled discords of the pain of being rejected—for a woman no less!
Those scars will always be with me, but the pain is far less potent then it was. The outside noise of life has only made me stronger and wiser. I took one final look around in that room before I walked out and as I looked with wonder of the life that was in that room on the day I made my observation. I wondered about the people that I observed. The noise of life is deafening and I wonder do they really hear each other. Are they paying attention to each other? Can a person play a piano and still be heard? Can they play and not be afraid that they will make mistakes? Can one offer a helping hand and help someone clean up the mess that one occasionally makes of one’s’ life? Can a room be filled with beautiful people? Do you know a person that you have looked straight in the eye and can say truthfully ‘thank you for playing, I hear your music and I appreciate you and I think it’s great! I wonder……