You Can’t Buy Love Like That: Growing Up Gay in the Sixties by Carol Anderson
How do you live an authentic life while keeping a secret?
This award-winning memoir chronicles one woman’s struggle to be true to herself as she grapples with the ramifications of accepting that she’s gay amid the religious, social and legal norms of the Sixties.
Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian household, and fearing the rejection of her parents, she keeps the secret of her love orientation for many years until the unexpected death of her father causes her to face what she’s lost in not telling him the truth.
Candid and poignant, You Can’t Buy Love Like That reveals the complex invisible dynamics that arise for gay people who are forced to hide their true selves in order to survive and celebrates the hard-won rewards of finding one’s courageous heart and achieving self-acceptance and self-love.
This book offers hope to those seeking to live truthfully as well as those who value the triumph of love over fear.
Targeted Age Group:: 18 years and up
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 2 – PG
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I was inspired to write this book to encourage people to live an authentic life, to believe in themselves and to trust that real friends will love them as they are. I also wanted to offer Christians a compassionate view of the impact of religious prejudice against gays – and for them to consider the harm they may be doing to others in the name of God
I had abandoned the secretarial program for a four-year degree as a sophomore so I could join a sorority, and while I still didn’t know what I wanted to be, there was more time to figure it out. I was also happy and relieved that Mike and I were getting more serious, leading me to believe marriage could be a possibility if things continued. He was crazy about me and often said so. And it felt especially wonderful that my new job as an RA would provide financial relief.
As the new freshmen arrived a few days later, I sat in my room and waited. Bright colored posters with my name and room number hung in the hall so they could easily find me. Soon there was a tentative knock on my door, and a young girl with streaked blond hair and intense blue eyes peeked her head in. Her face was bright with rosy cheeks, and warmth spilled out of her like heat from an old wood stove. I liked her immediately. She introduced herself as Nicky and asked if I could help with her room key. I obliged and tailed her down the hall, taking notice of the cockiness in her step, how her jeans hung loosely on her hips and that her navy V-neck sweater looked like it was borrowed from a much larger person. Rather than shoes, she wore boots with cracked mud around the edges, the laces trailing on the floor as she walked—definitely a girl who wasn’t afraid to get dirty. Though she wore no makeup, she was striking without it.
I asked if her sweater belonged to her boyfriend. She replied that it was her father’s and that she’d wanted to bring a little bit of him with her. I could understand that and assumed she had a special relationship with her dad, just as I did. She moved with her eyes toward the floor. Her energy, contained in spite of her swagger, emitted vibrations that were both shy and charismatic. We arrived at her door, and, after several tries, I was able to jiggle the lock enough to open it. Keeping the key, I promised to get her a new one by the end of the day. She thanked me and left the door ajar while she went back downstairs to unpack her parents’ car.
I continued down the corridor and knocked on doors and introduced myself to the new students. The presence of thirty freshmen filled the floor—the jittery, frenetic energy of young girls feeling the first blush of freedom along with the terror that comes with the absence of boundaries. After the first couple of weeks, everyone had settled in, and I grew accustomed to my new role, searching for ways to balance my responsibilities with my studies and my social life with Mike. Though most girls on my wing dropped in occasionally, only Nicky came to my room on a regular basis, most often in the evenings after dinner. At first, we talked about the more mundane things at school, but soon we engaged in much deeper conversations, asking questions like “What is the purpose of life?” and “Where do we go when we die?” We would continue our dialogues during the day, taking long walks down by the railroad tracks across from North Campus, where we traipsed through the magical landscape of old tin cans, Coke bottles, and bits of trash folded into the weeds and wildflowers that sprouted up through the gravel between the ties. Nicky would interrupt our conversations as we walked to
share the names of different flowers, or stop abruptly to watch a toad or a garter snake peek out from the underbrush. Her ability to spot the movement of the smallest creatures inspired me to take greater notice of things in nature. As a biology major, she loved to explore the natural world; my major in sociology made me love to explore the human mind and emotions. These complementary interests led to conversations about the rights of animals and inquiries into which ones were smarter than people. She was deeper than anyone I had met up to that point.
Her questions were philosophical, her curiosity boundless— her desire to understand the world around her was compelling. Prior to our meeting, I had felt alone in thinking about the things we discussed and was hungry for this kind of conversation. Together, we created a space where we could be more fully ourselves than with anyone else, driven by an innocence and vulnerability that felt precious to me, even then.
One night she began a conversation with the question “What is love?”
I looked up and saw her face in a new way, noticing how beautiful her features were in the low light. I fixed my eyes on her hair, which hung over her right eye, and watched how she tossed her head and ran her fingers through it, pulling it behind her ear. It was a gesture I had seen many times before, but tonight it had a sensual quality. Her eyes were soft, her cheeks flushed. She fixed her gaze on mine, and we lingered longer than usual, neither wanting to look away. When my eyes did drop, I noticed the curve of her fingers as she smoothed the corner of a paper on my desk and how I wanted to take hold of her hand.
“What is love?” I repeated the question. She had a habit of striking matches while we talked and watching them burn. Just then, she lit one and held it in front of her face. We both watched the tiny fire in silence as it crept along the thin wooden stick till she blew it out just before it reached her fingers. It seemed like a metaphor for this moment. Something was on fire here for sure.
Her gaze remained steady, and I imagined she asked that question for a reason—that it was possibly an invitation to talk about a feeling that was growing between us. The intensity enlivened and terrified me. I had thought about that question a lot before and wrote about love in my journals, but no one had ever asked me the question, and never a girl who was looking at me the way she was.
“I think love is a mystery. No one knows where it comes from, or why it ever leaves. It is more powerful than anything on earth, and yet we are totally dependent on someone else to give it to us.”
I stopped for a moment, picked up the matches, and struck one myself. We watched it glow as I went on. “You can’t create it or control it, and, while it is more valuable than anything else, you can’t buy it anywhere. It is given for free, and that is what makes it rare and precious.”
The fire had reached my fingers just as I finished my sentence, and I blew it out. My heart thumped in my chest, a metronome of warning, telegraphing memories from the past. Here it was again, this unbounded feeling of flying, this incessant desire to be closer, to fall into this invisible prism of light and color, to feel the touch of her hand on my skin.
I wondered in silence if she felt the same way—if she could not only see the flame but feel it. Her hands reached for the matches, and as she took them from me, I felt the slight brush of her fingers. It made me quiver. My mind flashed back to the sensual connection I felt with Gina, and I wondered if Nicky had had an experience like this before with another woman. The slow-motion quality of this conversation unfolding, along with the rush that came with the slightest physical touch, made me think there was intention behind her question.
“Have you ever been in love?” she asked.
I was afraid I was falling in love at this moment and that she could see it. “Yes, once.” I was not ready to admit I had been in love with a girl when I was fifteen, for fear I would scare her and myself. Gina and I had grown apart when she graduated high school half a year before me and got a job as a secretary. Going on to college, I was sure that had been a once-in-a-lifetime young-girl crush that was behind me. But, I could talk about the boy who broke my heart.
I told her about Charlie and how I thought he was someone special who turned out to be kind of a jerk. I reached into my desk drawer and pulled out photos of friends and family back home. I searched through the pile and held out the one picture I had of him.
“He’s very handsome,” she said, taking a long look at the photo.
“Yes, he was really gorgeous on the outside, but in the end not so much on the inside. In fact, I never really found out what happened. He just disappeared one day.” I didn’t want to talk about Charlie. I wanted to stay in the feelings I had right now with Nicky. “What about you?” I asked.
“That conversation would require more time,” she said, as she yawned and slowly got up from her chair. I came around to the other side of the desk as she reached out her arms to hug me goodnight. For a second I let my face rest next to hers and feel how smooth it was. We stood there for what seemed like ten minutes, though I am sure it was only seconds. It was thrilling leaning into her body—so closely pressed together I could feel the beat of her heart. Yet, it wasn’t just physical; it was an experience of knowing someone
better than I had known anyone. I felt like I was holding love itself in my arms, and I didn’t want to let go.
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