Escape from Happy Valley
by Bryan R. Monte
All the art of living lies in a fine mingling
of letting go and holding on.
—Henry Havelock Ellis
Oh, Marie, I should have grabbed
your skinny arm as you picked
at your chips with a pinched face
the days I passed the Cougar Eat
on my way to German class
on the other side of campus.
I should have looked into your big,
sad, dark, raccoon-mascaraed eyes
and said: “Mangiare, bambino.
Forget about those five extra pounds
the cameras put on. They’re going
to lose all your money anyway.”
I didn’t know that then, but what I did
was that I barely registered with
the tall, handsome, red-haired guy
his freckled face unmistakable
from a five-year TV series
and a Tom Sawyer film
who ate dinner with my blonde,
bright, kind, friend, Mary Beth
in the Cannon Center cafeteria.
I tried not to look up too much
to hide how gladly I would have
climbed aboard his raft
or helped whitewash his fence
as he talked about how much
he enjoyed filming in Missouri
(Mary Beth’s home state)
and looked forward to his mission.
I didn’t say much that meal, afraid
I’d call him “Jodie” and not “Johnny”
and wreck their date before it started,
even though I knew before they left,
for wherever it was they went,
that Mary Beth never had a chance
coming from an “apostate” commune.
And up in the gay bars in Salt Lake
all three of them, I ran into Paul
(centre box “Hollywood Squares”)
both of us regularly tossed out
Paul, for getting too loud
me, for being just twenty.
“Don’t you know who I am?” he’d shout
as the bouncer poured him into
his long, black, Cadillac limo
alone or with a “friend”
in a town where two men just holding hands
could get busted for lewd behaviour
by the cops right outside the front door
constantly combing the parking lot,
copying down license plate numbers
and writing tickets for broken taillights.
It was here I first discovered
the special treatment
enjoyed by Mormon royalty
and their film-star friends
who lived far above the rigid grid
of streets in the centre of town
on winding roads in hillside homes
and back-canyon, eight-bedroom “cabins”
who inherited get-out-of-jail passes
which came in handy the morning
the prize-winning professor’s
showed up on my dorm doorstep
on a weekday when women weren’t
allowed past the front desk.
After two attempts to squeeze her
back outside through my ground-floor window
we took the walk of shame together
past Sister Jensen’s office
who came out yelling until she heard
the “young woman’s” name
then quickly sent everyone
back to their rooms.
A week later, the “young woman”
and I took Greyhound to Salt Lake
to hear Dvorak’s Te Deum
in the silver-domed Tabernacle.
How we laughed at the pink spotlight
splashed on the white rounded ceiling
above the tall, thin, gold organ pipes
for the first movement’s female soloist
which suddenly changed to blue
for the male soloist in the second.
How her eyes widened
as I hummed or sang along softly
having performed the same piece
back East with a choir at college.
When it was over, we met her father
waiting just outside Temple Square
in a big, black Lincoln Continental.
(She must have phoned at the interval).
On the way back to Provo
we didn’t say much, but laughed
about the pink and blue lights
and all the room in the backseat.
I thought: we could make
beautiful children together,
even though she thought she was bi-
(as most people are according to Freud)
and I, a 6 on the Kinsey scale, (certainly gay),
perhaps with some help from friends.
She promised she’d come visit me
in Europe on my RLDS “mission”
I was in Hanover; we’d meet in Paris.
Four months and as many letters
and not a word. Finally I received
a one paragraph with a line saying:
“I’m not well enough to travel.”
Twenty-eight years later I found her
via Internet, teaching at university.
I published one of her poems, visited
and invited her to my magazine’s
annual, autumn Amsterdam reading.
She e-mailed me the month before
“I’ll be there no matter what.”
But the day arrived, and she didn’t;
this time with no explanation.
I regret when I didn’t stop
and when I did, when I spoke up
and when I didn’t, when I went out
and when I stayed in, when I got in
and when I walked the many miles back
home alone, more frightened than wise
immune to the usual addictions:
food, alcohol, cocaine, heroine;
religious sects—my only crutch
(which I’m finally throwing away
now that I’m chronically sick)
but well enough, I hope, as all of you,
(although it’s too late for Paul)
to finally escape from Happy Valley.