The mom who lived right across the street from us in Milwaukee, Harry’s friend Erica’s mother, asked me one afternoon if I saved all of Harry’s artwork. My seven-year-old son looked up to hear my answer. “Yes,” I lied, hating myself for being dishonest. I saw Harry nod and turn back to Erica and the Polly Pockets.
After finding massive amounts of Harry’s artwork in my hometown storage site last month, it was hard to believe I’d ever thrown anything away! There were three bathtub-sized bins of art he’d made at home, at school or in the afterschool program. And that wasn’t counting the portfolio of his AP high school art or the huge retrospective of work his dad took when I packed up the house five years ago before my move to New York.
One of the early pieces I came across, influenced by a TV special at age 4, is his portrait of Charlie Brown. Harry always remembered what people were wearing. (He still does.) I smiled when I saw that drawing. It reminded me of a 1996 entry in The Harry Chronicles.
It was two years later, when Harry was six, that he told me he and Charlie Brown had something in common. When I wanted to know what, he said, “We both have a fondness for redheads.” Harry was in first grade then and had a “crush” on his red-haired fourth-grade school buddy Lucy.
Harry had so-called crushes on lots of girls growing up. He loved his girlfriends. And they loved him. That’s why I wouldn’t let girl friends sleep over in the early grades, because I didn’t want to set any kind of precedent for later years. I was a bit old-fashioned in the sleepover department. It was on one of those occasions I overheard Erica say, “I don’t see what the big deal is. I mean, we’re going to get married someday anyway.”
It didn’t matter to her that Harry loved to play dress-up or wanted to wear her clothes when across the street. They loved each other. Girls in middle school and junior high surrounded him often, too. But in high school, when his first serious relationship was with a guy, one of his best girlfriend’s mothers still didn’t want Harry and her daughter sleeping in the same room on an overnight to their family’s summer lake rental. He was too close of a friend. (He still is.)
The more I explore the ideas of gender, identity and the uniqueness of personhood, the more I realize what a remarkable teacher Harry has been on those subjects. And I know he’s taught me a lot about love, too. I’ve learned it takes courage to love someone no matter what anyone else might think or say or do. And contrary to popular belief, I know that love doesn’t have to lead always to a sexual relationship; sex is just one expression of love. And to think otherwise might just limit the depth of human experience.
And so now I wonder, if a woman can have close, loving relationships with female friends, why can’t a man dearly love a male friend? What do you think?
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