Kenneth M. Walsh’s memoir Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful? begins and ends with New York City dreaming.
Buffy, Cissy, and Jody may have lost their parents in a plane crash, but that tragedy placed them in a Manhattan high rise. With a rich uncle and butler. This television life proved intoxicating for the Michigan boy.
‘Let’s be honest,’ Walsh writes. ‘You didn’t have to be in the advanced reading group in Miss Young’s first-grade class at Roosevelt Elementary to know a Park Avenue Address had more more cachet than Tawas Court.’
That youthful envy for Apartment 27A never ceased, and after adventures in Arizona, California, Michigan, and Washington, DC (Virginia, actually), Walsh eventually packed a U-Haul and made it to the City of Dreams.
As far as I know Walsh has no Mr. French, but he’s more native New Yorker than that 1960s brood.
Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful isn’t just a story of making it in the Big City. It’s also a recounting of what life was like before marriage equality, the demise of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the proliferation gay-straight alliances in high schools, and a US president who includes the LGBTI community in speeches and policies.
When the contributor to the Huffington Post and Wall Street Journal describes the moment he realized he was gay, the book loses its ironic humor. The dawning of his difference has an exact date: 29 January 1982.
On that day he was a ninth grader watching Kate Jackson on the Tonight Show. The star of Charlie’s Angels was there to talk about her new film Making Love. The movie was, as Jackson described to the audience,’a love story about a married man who has an affair…with another man.’
The audience turned on the ‘smart Angel’ and began to boo.
‘It was as if there’d just been a referendum on me in network television, and the vote was a resounding no,’ the blogger writes.
This response turned a teenager, who was relatively comfortable in his own skin and made friends easily, into a painfully shy gay youngster. Walsh was so anxious about public encounters that he turned beet red if a stranger just said hello.
‘It changed my life in becoming self conscious,’ Walsh said in an interview with GSN. ‘I really changed from being this outgoing sitcom kid…to being very introverted and painfully self conscious. I could never accept or change who I was. I tried to fight it, but it manifested itself at being ill ease.’
The pop culture landscape has changed drastically since that mid-winter 1982 night, but Walsh notes too many LGBTI kids grow up in worlds where their very humanity is called into question.
‘We all think it’s so much easier for gay kids now,’ Walsh said to GSN. ‘I’m shocked by the progress we’ve made and disheartened how little things have changed.’
Despite the deep anxiety about being discovered gay, Walsh never tried the pretend girlfriend route. One reason for that could be the people he was hanging out and the music he listened to.
‘I was into the New Wave scene and hanging out with a lot of people,’ he said to GSN. ‘You could just hide and didn’t feel like I could put on a show.’
Maybe he could never pretend because he’s his mother’s child. Walsh’s mother has little patience for fools, foolishness, or pretense. His father, her first husband, was a drinker and had difficulty keeping work.
She was married at 17. Her husband, and Walsh’s father, was 26. Their first son died due to SIDS. The death brought the young couple closer together, but after thirteen years of trying to make a life, Mrs. Walsh could not overlook her husband’s severe shortcomings.
‘Finally, in 1972, after four sons and thirteen years of marriage, my mom had had enough,’ Walsh writes. ‘Years of physical and emotional abuse. Years of uncertainty. Years of anxiety.’
The willingness to search for a better life, and her children, was passed down to her youngest son. The gay boy who dreamed of the City of Lights and never let the vision go.
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