When the letter-sized, hand-addressed, white envelope arrived at my workplace, it was like something from a mystery movie. At first I was confused. It was from my hometown, Philadelphia, but with a return address I didn’t recognize. Then I remembered that someone was sending me something that had been found in Dennis’ apartment after he died.
Dennis Rubini was a former history professor of mine who was involved, as I was, in the early gay liberation movement.
I wasn’t prepared for what was in that envelope: my Temple University student ID card. I was baffled. Why was it in Dennis’ apartment? Did I drop it there one night? Did Dennis find it and decide to keep it all these years? Or did I give it to him for some reason?
The last sticker on it, piled on top of a bunch of other similar sized stickers, says, “TU full time senior spring sem 1974.” That was the year I graduated, but the picture is not from that year.
I remember when the photo was taken. Summer of 1969. I had just graduated from Bishop Neumann High School in South Philly. Temple had an all-day orientation. I figured it would be boring as all hell, but it wasn’t. I met a guy there, he was waiting in the same line to have his ID photo taken, and we exchanged phone numbers. We ended up having sex a few times at his apartment in Germantown.
So much history in that picture.
About two years before, I started questioning everything that I knew about the world. I stopped believing in god. I started sneaking off to civil rights marches, anti-war demonstrations and hippie Be-Ins in Fairmount Park. As a final act of defiance against Catholic school, I managed to grow my bangs really long. We weren’t allowed to have hair that touched the back collar of our shirts or crept down below the top of our eyebrows. If we did, Father Cox, the vice principal, pulled us into his office and gave us a haircut.
I ended up in Cox’s office a few months before graduation. I vowed that I would get back at him by growing my bangs as long as I could. I began straightening my hair so it wouldn’t take so long for them to reach my eyebrows. When they did, I combed them back so Cox couldn’t see what I was up to.
Since I was among the top honor students in my class, I was seated on stage on graduation night. When my name was called, I quickly loosened my cap so that my bangs fell down onto my forehead. I made my way to the bishop who sat in the center of the stage to hand me my diploma and, instead of kneeling and kissing the ring on his outstretched hand, I grabbed the document, turned to the audience and flashed a peace sign.
The 18-year-old in the Temple student ID has those long straightened bangs. In another year or so, my hair would hang nearly to my shoulders. I would walk into a Gay Liberation Front meeting in room 309 of the Student Activities Center to permanently shatter my closet door.
The smile in the ID photo is that of someone who is free at last to follow his dreams and desires. Someone who is glad to be out of Catholic school and heading to a public institution where god and Medieval morality wouldn’t be shoved down his throat.
If I could talk to that guy in the picture, I’d say: “Thanks for having the guts to reject what you were taught and follow what you knew was right. A part of you is still here, inside me.”
I’m not aware of him very often, but seeing that photo made me realize he is alive and well and still questioning things.
Hopefully, he always will be.