SOME THINGS YOU NEVER GET USED TO
I met Frizell in 1980. He was attending classes part-time at Coppin State College in Baltimore, and planned to leave his job after he graduated to go work as a schoolteacher. After we started dating, I found myself helping him with his studies and preparing his student lesson plans.
Frizell was big and masculine, the total opposite of my first lover, Tim. He was pigeon toed and had a sexy walk. Brown skin, big feet, thick glasses and a deep voice turned me “upside down, inside out, and round n’ round!” I was twenty-one and, although he claimed to be only a few years my senior, I later learned that Frizell was twenty years older than I was. A former Baltimore cop, he was divorced with two daughters. He was missing some front teeth and wore a dental plate, which he removed before we had oral sex. The process was funny, and fascinating, but I never had to worry about teeth bites.
When I met Frizell, he confessed that he was a former heroin addict. He told me he had gone cold turkey, had beaten his addiction and never picked it up again. I figured his past was of no consequence to me, as long as he could say he was clean. And I wasn’t one to judge, considering I had done my share of experimentation with drugs.
I enjoyed helping Frizell when I went with him on his student teaching assignments; I designed his bulletin boards and graded papers. Just as he said he would, he quit his job after graduating from Coppin and went right to work for West Baltimore Middle School, teaching special education. Frizell was able to pull some strings to help me get a job at his school as a substitute teacher. Frizell moved into the two-bedroom apartment that I was sharing with my brother, Ricky, and my mother. Our extended family eventually moved into a large house behind Memorial Stadium.
On paper, I really was not qualified to be a substitute teacher; I lacked the necessary credentials, including a college degree. But Frizell had friends in the school system, and this allowed me a way in. There was a lot of corruption in the school system during the early 80’s; however, today you could not be a substitute teacher without some college credentials. The female principal at West Baltimore Middle School met with me and saw the work I had done to help Frizell get his classes ready for the upcoming school year. When one of the regular teachers had a family emergency and could not start off the year, I was immediately hired as a long-term substitute for seventh grade English.
Things with Frizell were fine for a while. Although he didn’t like night clubs and disliked most of my male friends, he did get along with my older family members, including my mother, her sisters, and her brothers. I assumed this was because he was much closer to them in age. Together, Frizell and I bought a used, beat up, powder blue Volkswagen Bug and, although I still did not drive, I helped with the payments and cost of repairs.
Despite his relatively cool manner, Frizell did have a bit of a mean streak. Once, when we were driving to work, I said something that set him off. He stopped the car, reached over, and smacked me so hard that I saw stars. Then he continued to drive as if nothing had happened. I then remembered that he had once told me, “When I was a police officer, they trained us to hit in ways that will not leave marks on suspects.”
On the evenings that I was not nude modeling, I continued to pursue my dream of acting. I discovered a musical theater studio on the campus of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. I auditioned and received a scholarship to their Cultural Arts Institute. The performing arts program there was run by Debbie London, a wonderful lady who taught classes in dancing, acting, and singing. It felt like a mini-version of the 1980 movie Fame. Debbie London was my Lydia Grant, the inspiring dance teacher in that film, and the role that made Debbie Allen famous. I bought jazz shoes, leg warmers, colored tights and headbands, and cut up a ton of sweatshirts. I purchased my first dance belt, a much tighter version of a jock strap. My self-confidence soared when the voice teacher chose me to sing the song “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” from My Fair Lady for our recital. This brought back memories of my sixth grade performance. Wouldn’t my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Brown, be proud of me for actually singing a song from My Fair Lady instead of just talking my way through it?
Our regular performances were primarily free concerts at senior citizen centers, like the Waxter Center in Mount Vernon, and downtown plaza concerts at lunchtime for the chess and checker players. I was thrilled to be singing and dancing on a stage. It hardly mattered to me that my audience might be a group of homeless people engaged in their own fantasies, or seniors who could barely hear my off pitch singing.
Frizell supported my aspirations of an acting career in the same way that I supported his teaching career. That was never a problem. The issue that would mean the end of us, however, would emerge on a day when I should have been riding a performance high.
My graduation recital for the Cultural Arts Institute was a special program that took place on Notre Dame’s campus. On that day, Frizell, Ricky, my mother, and our next-door neighbor, Kathy, squeezed into our blue little Volkswagen to come out and support me. The evening was perfect. I recited my favorite monologue from Live Spelled Backwards, performed a dance number with a group, and sang a duet from Kiss Me, Kate. On the drive home, I felt like a Broadway star, cramped into a limo with all my adoring fans.
We were laughing and reminiscing over my performance when out of nowhere there was a loud “pop!” The car suddenly turned around to face the oncoming traffic on the 83 North freeway. My mother screamed like a banshee, “Oh, my Lord Jesus! Oh God! Oh my God!” Fortunately, Frizell was able to guide the car to safety. We narrowly missed a pole as he steered us to the side of the road.
As the car came to a stop, my mother kept saying, “Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!” Luckily, no one was hurt, and we weren’t hit by any other cars. But all of us were shaken up.
My mother grabbed Ricky’s hand and pulled him out of the car. She ran up the side of the embankment, bent over, pulled down her panties and watered the weeds.
With my mother and Ricky out of the car, I screamed at Frizell, “You idiot! I told you not to buy those re-tread tires! You could have killed my family!” You see, some people skimp on quality when making purchases because they want to save money. Frizell had skimped on something of critical importance, reliable tires, so that he could spend the excess money on drugs. Like Tim before him, Frizell had bad credit, but unlike Tim, Frizell actually had a job. But a good amount of the money that would have gone to pay his bills went to support his drug habit.
Frizell had told me he had quit, but he had lied. I didn’t have any direct evidence of this, but I had noticed other signs. Throughout our relationship, Frizell had dealt with “sexual performance” issues. Sometimes he got an erection, but often not. One of the side effects of heroin abuse is lack of an erection. I finally realized why his penis wouldn’t stay “at attention.”
One day, I came home and got the blatant evidence I needed -- I found hypodermic needles in the basement. As if the drug use wasn’t bad enough, my mother later told me that Frizell had taken some kids from the middle school into the basement. And the 8mm film left in our projector proved that they had been watching adult movies.
The gravity of the situation hit me stronger than any slap Frizell had used on me. I could not expose my mother and brother to this kind of scandal. And I couldn’t live my life with a drug addict.
I told Frizell to leave. He obliged without much fanfare, but refused to help pay off the charges we had run up on the credit card used to repair the car. I always entered a relationship with an excellent credit rating, but usually left with bad marks. Not knowing where else to turn, I went to his school principal for help. She knew of our living situation, but never spoke of it as a gay relationship. I told her he had moved out and had left a responsibility to pay a debt. She simply replied, “I can’t get involved.”
I was infuriated. I had contributed so much to that school: producing slide shows for events, helping to write the new school song, and donating countless hours in volunteer activities. I had even created an after school mini-course called “Storytelling Through Dance.” To her credit, however, she had been instrumental in helping me get over whatever emotional ties I had to Frizell; before all the drama exploded, she had recommended me for a job doing book inventory in the school system, at a site away from West Baltimore Middle. I had already been at the new job about a month and had started an affair with one of my co-workers. So the sting of Frizell’s departure was barely felt, except in my bank account.
In 1996, I saw Frizell exiting an AIDS clinic. He was very frail and weak looking. He told me he had been reassigned to a desk job in the school system. I looked at him and thought that the long arm of the school system takes care of its teachers the same way that the Catholic Church takes care of its priests.
“A relationship built on lies is destined to fail.”