More I Cannot Wish You by
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Prompted By Being Different

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I came to college incredibly naive about all things sexual and gender-related. As a theater major, I was certainly surrounded by gays; I was totally unaware. Perhaps they were too, as many were still closeted in the early 1970s.

My junior year, I won the role of Sarah Brown in “Guys and Dolls”. The show opened on Wednesday, November 3, so we had long tech rehearsals the weekend before, pausing for a rollicking Halloween party off-campus at a house inhabited by a group of theater grad students. It wasn’t exactly a costume party, but I still didn’t go in blue jeans. I borrowed a flattering dress from one of my petite suite-mates. It was full-length (common in those days of the maxi-dress), beige, boucle wool, form-fitting, cut low over the bosom with colorful laces criss-crossing the bodice. I paired it with platform high-heeled sandals. I thought I looked smashing with my long, dark hair.

Chuck Pacheco lived in that house. He played the role of Uncle Arvid in the play, one of the older members of the Salvation Army troupe; the one Sarah turns to when she comes back from Cuba, smitten with the gambler Sky Masterson, who she knows isn’t right for prim little her. Arvid carries the bass drum in the processions and is Sarah’s father-confessor. He looks out for her, and at this point in the play, sings his advise to her: “more I cannot wish you, than to wish you’d find your love, your own true love this day”. The song was cut from the movie, if it doesn’t seem familiar.

I thought Chuck was very good looking. He had beautiful features, though was made up to look older in the play. I was involved in a hot and heavy relationship, but Bob would graduate from Brandeis in a month, so I was looking for someone new. I was interested in Chuck that night at the Halloween party. The little house was jam-packed with Halloween revelers and in full-swing when I arrived. I knew everyone there. We danced and drank and partied. I sought out Chuck, who seemed receptive. We danced fast, then slow, and slowly made our way to one of the couches and sank into a deep embrace. We lay there, entwined, making out for a long time. I excused myself to go to the bathroom.

When I returned, my place on the couch had been usurped by Joseph, an undergrad from the chorus, prettier than I! I was taken aback. They didn’t look up. I awkwardly moved to another room to resume dancing and soon found a ride back to campus. This was my first encounter with someone openly gay. Going back to rehearsals the next day, nothing was mentioned. Chuck and I pretended that I didn’t notice and we went back to our roles in the play. He continued to date Joseph. I continued dating Bob until the end of the semester, then Dan, whom I would marry 19 months later.

We never mentioned our night on the couch. We were in one more show together, second semester; “Black Comedy”, a funny trifle directed by a close friend. I played Clea, Chuck’s sexy ex-girlfriend, come back at an in-opportune time to mess things up. We had a fun time with the production. Chuck graduated and went on with his life without ever discussing the Halloween party. In his own way, he had signaled his decision to me. I came to respect and admire that.

I heard from our director friend that Chuck was running a book store and years later, I ran into him there. We exchanged pleasantries as I went about my business. In 2006, I saw his obituary in the Boston Globe. He had died from a brain tumor at the age of 56. He ran the Harvard Book Store for the last 13 years of his life. And he was in a committed relationship for 23 years, before same-sex marriage was legal in Massachusetts, which was the first state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage. I clipped the obit and put it in my album with the photo of my Uncle Arvid from “Guys and Dolls”.

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.


Tags: Brandeis theater, changing partners, naive, brain tumor
Characterizations: been there, moving, well written

Comments

  1. Patricia says:

    I’ll say you must have been “taken aback” by being so unceremoniously replaced! Who knows, perhaps you gave him some courage that night to be himself.

  2. Suzy says:

    Beautiful, touching story, and your title is one of my favorite songs. It brought tears to my eyes before I even started reading! I can imagine you in that dress you described. And the surprise of being replaced on the couch by Joseph. I had a somewhat similar experience, as you will see when I post my story.

    Btw, I was astonished that Chuck could have been 56 in 1986 as you say, meaning he was born in 1930, and was more than 20 years older than you. I googled Chuck Pacheco and found an obit from 2006, which makes more sense.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you for pointing out the age inconsistency, Suzy. Chuck was only a few years older than me, so you are correct. The math doesn’t work. I looked again at the date I wrote on the top of the obit. The ink is rather thick, and I mistook the “’06” for “’86” because of a blot from the pen. That does make more sense and I’ve already corrected my story.

      I certainly WAS surprised and the whole episode felt quite surreal. As I tried to convey, we never talked about it and were never really friendly again. We just went our separate ways. But I was happy to learn that he was happy in his life.

  3. John Zussman says:

    Great story. I wonder if Chuck was actually bi, just experimenting, or trying to “be a boy.” I was saddened to read of his early passing.

    At Interlochen I occasionally hung out at the Drama building, where there were separate boys’ and girls’ dressing areas. Girls wandered freely into the boys’ area—boys didn’t care—but of course boys weren’t allowed into the girls’. Except for one, that is, who was a magician with makeup. Of course I was jealous, but the girls explained that he wasn’t interested in them anyway. He was probably the first homosexual I knew. I suspect he had left by the time you reached the High School division, or Chuck wouldn’t have been your first!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I can’t really say, but after that night, he had made up his mind. Perhaps he needed one last try to be completely certain.

      I remember backstage at Grunow well; I spent a lot of time there myself. I also remember a lot of the older campers; I looked up to many of them and was in Operetta in 1967 with some. Care to name names? Even privately? I probably knew him. Many of my brother’s friends (even older than you) eventually came out (one, who you might remember, had leads in plays, got into the leather sub-culture in NYC and died a horrible death from AIDS in the arms of another camp buddy, but these were kids we knew from Detroit-they had all been at my brother’s bar mitzvah), but weren’t out when they were at camp, just as my friends weren’t out yet at camp, so I don’t count them, because I, and they, didn’t realize they were gay yet (they probably had inklings, but dated girls at the time, so I had NO idea).

  4. John Shutkin says:

    A very moving story, Betsy. One of the reasons for that is that it speaks both as an individual experience for you and as a statement of that time. Even in the theater world then, there were so few “out” gays — and probably many gay individuals who didn’t even know themselves (in a couple of senses of the phrase). I would think, past the shock of seeing Chuck with Joseph, the silver lining would have been not having to worry about your own attractiveness. (And remember when this was euphemistically referred to as “playing for the other team”?)

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, John. “Playing for the other team” sounds so quaint and funny now, doesn’t it? But never fear the power of a disturbed, disapproving mother to shake one’s self-confindence. I assure you, I have ALWAYS doubted my own attractiveness.

  5. First of all, I’m sure the Harvard Bookstore, always a wonderful venue for anyone literary-minded and not at all “highfalutin'” had its pick of experienced bookstore managers/aficionados so the fact that he was there as the boss for all those years says something great about Chuck.
    Second, I think that makeout session you described is one of those small but well-described episodes that conveys so much, especially when you’ve provided all the contextual information.
    Finally, I will tell you that my own “makeout session” with a lesbian didn’t go nearly as well as yours with a gay man. I already knew this beautiful redhead was only into women, but she was attracted to me and was getting into some kissing–until she discovered, in her own words, “OMG, you’re so scratchy! I Can’t do this.” She was used to the smoother skin of women friends and I just didn’t cut the mustard. We still remained friends.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I think Chuck was a good soul, but not a great actor. He found a mate and a good job, both great for him; and terribly sad that he died so young. Your story is funny, touching and sad, all rolled into one. Men ARE different from women. Viva la difference!

  6. Dana Admin says:

    Glad I caught up with this story of yours posted before my Retro days.

    As always Betsy, your power of recall is amazing and you always have the relevant photos – how lucky for us you saved your date books.

    I too acted in college but not as regularly as you did, but I do know Guys and Dolls quite well!
    See my bittersweet story about it.
    https://www.myretrospect.com/stories/piano-man-remembering-herb/

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, Dana. I do love my photos (provided an old one to a camp friend over the weekend, which he really enjoyed too). We saw a great production of Guys and Dolls while we were in London at Christmas time. So fun to relive it!

      I just looked again at your link. I remember that story. Great Featured photo (though I didn’t much care for the movie).

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