Once upon a time, I knew a man named Genevieve Zuni (pseudonym). Now, a word on the name I picked for him before we begin.
I am deliberately giving Genevieve a woman’s name. This is not to humiliate him. I want to give him the something beautiful, and I don’t care if it’s a girl’s name. But there’s also another reason for this, one that i’m not sure I can explain. I have only experienced sexual attraction to girls. I have only experienced romantic attraction, that I was sure was romantic, to girls. Genevieve is like a girl to me because my feelings for him were just as strong as my past romantic and sexual feelings. More on this later.
As for the last name, it involves a complex set of word associations that I do not wish to reveal. I don’t want you to guess who he is.
I was barely legal, and Genevieve was fifty years old at the time I met him.
Six months earlier, Hosea had told my support group that Genevieve Zuni was coming to the DBSA State Convention that year to speak. I knew who Genevieve Zuni was. He had written a book called Boom! (pseudonym) about his experiences with bipolar disorder, and was a minor celebrity in the mental health community. I had borrowed his book from Hosea, and thought it was mediocre. But for some reason, when I returned Genevieve’s book to Hosea…people began joking that I had a crush on Genevieve. I have no idea why they did this. I didn’t have a crush on him at the time, but I went along with it because I was too lazy to contradict them. So six months earlier, Hosea looked at me, and said something like, “Your hero is coming, Misrael. You HAVE to go.” So you see, everyone was expecting me to go. And I was curious, in spite of myself.
So go I did, with my Aunt Celina (pseudonym) and my Mom in tow. I still remember the dried fruit we ate for dinner, and our tiny and spartan hotel room. We had arrived too late for the talent show, but I still managed to find Hosea in the dimly lit room and say hello. I was hypomanic due to the stress of having Celina around, and nervous. I looked at one guy, and then another, wondering where Genevieve was. I saw a guy in a ponytail that looked sort of like the picture on his website, and figured that might be him. I didn’t approach the man.
In the morning, I saw him.
He looked nothing like the picture on his website. He was about as tall as Hosea, with short red hair and a bit of a belly. Genevieve was carrying a pen in his mouth, plus a small suitcase with a couple of copies of Boom! on top. That was how I knew it was him. So I walked up to him and asked, “Are you Genevieve Zuni?”
“Yes,” he replied.
He had me at “pen in his mouth”. But Genevieve walked off, towards the main meeting room. He headed back in my direction a few minutes later.
“I know Hosea,” I told him.
“Oh! Hey. Hi. How are you?” He looked down.
I rushed off to the first workshop. But I couldn’t resist coming to visit him at his table after. I bought a t-shirt from him. He gave me an extra one for free, because he felt bad that the design I wanted didn’t come in my desired color. I got a red Sharpie from Aitan Ali (pseudonym), the depressed comedian, and I had him and Genevieve sign one of the t-shirts.
I visited his table several more times over the course of that convention. We didn’t speak much. I watched him talk with another author, heard Genevieve tell him, “It’s an honor to meet you,” and longed for that attention and respect. I watched him put his things away at the end of the convention. I think I offered to help, but he declined. And so ended our first meeting.
I had been in the process of writing a book long before I heard Genevieve’s name. When I finished it, I figured Genevieve would know what to do next.
So I got Genevieve’s email address, and emailed him. When it became clear that we might start a business relationship, he asked for my number. We set a day and a time to call, to discuss this further.
In that call, he asked me many questions, such as, “How long did it take you to write your book?” I calculated to myself.
“That’s a good, healthy amount of time to write a book.”
He clearly wanted to make sure I wasn’t manic. Since I wasn’t, we agreed on a price of six hundred dollars for a verbal and written critique.
He offered to start with 100 dollars, and let me pay the rest over time, just to get the ball rolling. He offered 300 for the verbal, 300 for the written. It would have been wiser to go with one of those plans. But no, I had to pay all at once.
This wasn’t agreed on over the course of just one call. Genevieve called me a few times. One time, some friends from church were over. He had said that he would call at a certain time, but failed to. For some reason, I joked that I would like to be Andy’s pet cat in the next life. One of my friends responded,”Yeah. You’d sit out there and meow. And he’d stick his head out, say ‘Be out in half an hour!’ and four hours later…you’d still be standing there.” I totally cracked up. When Genevieve finally answered his phone, I yelled to my church friends, “HE PICKED UP!” The church friends all began to cheer loudly. I have no idea if Genevieve heard them or not.
Anyway, back to the money. I had no time to get a job, but I regularly volunteered to visit immigration detainees at Santa Ana jail. I got Grandma to pay me for doing this. I earned 10 dollars an hour. I visited two detainees a week. This amounted to twenty dollars a week. I carefully noted all of my visits in my little, girly, flowery journal. It took forever to get that money.
When I had sent Genevieve the money, and he had received my manuscript, we bumped into each other at a NAMI Conference. My feelings of affection, which had become dormant around this time, came flooding back. He had his table in the main room, right by the door. I stopped to say hi to him, wanting to ask about my book, but also not really knowing what to say. Then I saw my Mom stop to say hello. I tried to distract myself with other tables, not wanting to seem like a stalker. But I came back to him. I saw Genevieve giving some pretty young women his phone number, and felt jealous. Then I came over, along with an older woman. She started talking to Andy about dieting. I joined in this conversation easily. “At one point when I was dieting, I didn’t even eat carrots,” Genevieve remarked. “Why?” I asked. “Too many calories. Or carbs. Or something like that,” he answered. Somehow, I ended up sitting next to him at his table. When Andy decided to move his table outside the room, I came with him. When it was time for the afternoon workshop, the room emptied. It was just him and me. So we started discussing my book.
“I expected to read a few pages, and then stop. But I kept reading. I even read a few pages aloud to a friend. I kept the rest private, of course, and didn’t read it to anyone else. But he was also astonished.”
We discussed my evil ex and the Brady Bunch. He also told me about the other parents at his kids’ school. This may sound like a really boring, sucky conversation, but it was some of the best fun I had that year. We were just two people who hadn’t gotten enough sleep last night and were exhausted, spending the afternoon together. “So I got like three hours of sleep last night,” Genevieve said. “My thoughts are pretty psychotic right now,” he added. “I think I got around five,” I replied. “And how do you feel?” he asked. “Normal,” I said. “So it’s just the fear of it,” Genevieve mused. When the workshop ended, this lady walked up to us and started talking about her son. When she left, Genevieve turned to me and said, “Did you catch any of that?” “No,” I replied. “I didn’t either,” he said. Near the end, I asked him, “Are you a heteroromantic omnisexual?” He changed the subject for a while. But eventually, I asked again. “Hmm. We never did get around to that, did we? What does that mean?” he asked. I replied, “It means that you only fall in love with the opposite gender, but that you are sexually attracted to all genders. I ask this because you talk about having a crush on a girl, in Boom!, but you never talk about having crushes on any of the guys you had sex with.” “Well, yes. That would describe me quite well,” Genevieve replied. He paused for a moment. “Not even my therapist was able to figure that one out,” he said.
I stood up. “Hey, I gotta go now. My Mom is probably wondering where I am,” I told him.
“Ok, bye. And thanks for keeping me company. If it weren’t for you…I probably would have been getting into all sorts of fights with people. Because I didn’t sleep enough, you know?”
“Yeah. And thank you.” I replied. “You gave me something to think about other than brooding on my evil ex all afternoon.” I turned to leave. “Wait…” he suddenly said. He stood up, walked around to where I was, and opened his arms. I hugged him, and for that moment, we held each other.
I remember the verbal critique. On the way, my stepfather Carmine commented, “You’re acting like this is a first date or something.” Mom and I spent the spare time walking around TJ Maxx’s upstairs clothing section. I oogled the art supplies, men’s clothes, and texted my friend Andrew (pseudonym) for company.
I called Genevieve right before our time, and he sounded like he was on the verge of cancelling. When he heard that I was already in Sherman Oaks, though, he commented, “You’re two hours early,” and agreed to meet me after all, at the Fish Dish at 11.
I stood in front of the restaurant, pacing back and forth, constantly checking my phone for the time, saying good bye to Andrew around ten minutes before our meeting was due to begin. I looked all around for his car, not that I knew what it looked like. Finally, I saw a car pull up quite a distance away from the restaurant. I walked up to it thinking, Could it be? Finally, I saw a familiar figure come out of the car. I ran up to him, and we hugged.
Genevieve ordered the Clam Chowder, and I ordered Fish and Chips. I think we got a few dirty looks, but I didn’t care. I paid for everything. I got the side facing the window, and he got the side facing me. He looked much nicer this time. He had gotten a more flattering haircut, and his pot belly was gone. When he spoke, though, I coudn’t understand how what he was saying tied into my book. I was a little disappointed. He talked about how some of the fathers at his school were heavy drinkers, because no one understood them. Even their wives would say, “Isn’t my husband gay?” Their sons were effeminate like them, the daughters bullies. This, I realized he was saying, was who I could rescue.
““Ronald Reagan had this relationship with this man that was so…”
“Homoromantic?” I suggested.
“Yes! Exactly! Did you make that word up yourself?”
“No. It’s an asexual term.”
“But you know…” he said thoughtfully, “Football players have gender issues too. I mean, they think it’s the most manly thing to pat each other on the butt after a good play. And I always think, Why don’t you just get down on your knees and suck his cock already? Because that’s basically what you’re doing.” He paused.
“I’m going to steal a fry,” he said. He reached across the table and grabbed a couple. I smiled inside.
“And i’m struck by how you have this great respect for your mother. People tell me that about Boom! too, that it shows that I have a great deal of respect for my parents. But I don’t see it. Your book, though, is poetic.”
The phone rang, and Genevieve picked up. “Hello?” he said. He paused “No…no…later…i’m in the middle of this fascinating conversation.”
He tried to establish themes with me, too. Genevieve thought that was very important. He said that once we found the themes, we’d know what needs cutting out. Genevieve also suggested the title “Dead on the Verge of Blooming”, said I needed a glossary, and said I needed to rearrange my story so that it went in chronological order. After a couple of hours, I was having a little trouble following him, although I could have listened to him speak forever. So we ended it, after two hours of talking. He had told me not to bother taking notes, that he would send something written.
His mother called. After he hung up, he said something like, “She calls me, and expects me to turn into her husband.” Genevieve’s father had recently died.
I walked him to his car. “God! Are you freezing?” I was shivering a little. I was wearing a thin black dress and a button down, and he had a light blue sweatshirt on. “I’ll be fine,” I replied. “Do you have someone to pick you up?” “Yes, my Mom will pick me up.”
So we hugged for the last time. And he drove off, in his swanky Lexus.
After that meeting, months passed with nothing written. When I tried to talk to him about it, he blew me off. I gave him plenty of time to mourn. But months passed, and no written critique. So I emailed him, and asked for part of my money back. He refused, and was so offended that he unfriended me on Facebook and unfollowed me on Twitter. I messaged him a little, but he never responded. After a while, he stopped looking.
So, fed up, I figured “Well, i’ve got nothing to lose at this point.” I sent him a message saying, -Since you never read anything I send you these days, <3- I was hiking through the hills a few weeks later, and I saw that he had seen the message. I was elated. I told Hosea. He told me to leave Genevieve alone, and delete all his messages from my phone. I cried in the bathtub upon hearing that. It wasn’t so much that I was frustrated over losing Genevieve, as that I was frustrated that I never seemed to be able to date the people I liked. But after that short cry, most of the pain was gone. I have not seen nor heard from Genevieve since. So it is, so it was, and so it shall be.
This may sound odd to you, but I have no regrets about my experience. You have no idea what it is like to share the first draft of your first memoir with someone. Perhaps it could even be compared to losing your virginity. Everything I had ever feared people would judge me for was in that book. So to let him read it even before my mother was the ultimate act of intimacy.
I’m glad it was him. I really am. He always accepted me completely, even when he learned about the nastier aspects of myself via my book. He didn’t judge me, so I could trust him with my secrets. My psychologist says that although he probably didn’t “like” me in that way, Genevieve liked me as a person. I agree. And that makes me glad, because i’m starting to realize that’s the most important thing in the end.