Words Never Spoken/One Thing for Certain, Two Things for Sure
by Craig Stewart
Reviewed by T.J. Banks
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]n unexamined life is not worth living,” declared Socrates at his trial. That philosophy may not have worked out for him (after all, the trial ended with his drinking a hemlock cocktail); but it’s good advice for writers, as playwright Craig Stewart’s Words Never Spoken shows. Being honest in a memoir isn’t easy. There’s always the temptation to touch yourself up a bit, to practice evasive maneuvers—in short, to turn non-fiction into fiction.
Not Stewart. He doesn’t Photoshop his life or his prose. “One of the best parts of life is when you can admit the truth to yourself about yourself,” he reflects at one point. So we get it all—his “flirting with the law” in college; anonymous sex with men he meets on-line; and the depression that shadows him as he wrestles with being gay. “The depression I experienced was rooted in sex,” he says, “but it wasn’t just about the depression. It was years of suppression and denial erupting.” After college, Stewart does begin acting on his feelings and dating “aimlessly in search of a real connection.” But he is too eager: “I was acting on unresolved feelings. I was looking for a connection, but was still unsure how I felt about being gay.” He would’ve done better, he realizes now, to “have done more soul searching to allow my feelings to catch up with my thoughts.”
Stewart is not living with HIV, but some of his friends in the book are. The most poignant section involves his relationship with Saleem, who contracts the virus from an abusive ex-boyfriend. Stewart is determined to stand by him: “Saleem was the person I grew to love without confusing lust for love.” Saleem, however, doesn’t want to take the relationship any further because “[y]ou’re just starting out. I can’t do that to you. That wouldn’t be fair to you.” Later, when it’s all over, Stewart reflects, “Saleem’s spirit was crushed once he learned he was HIV-positive….No matter how hard he tried to be happy, I knew he carried that burden. It was visible each time we saw each other. He told me once that I was a reminder that he was positive whenever he saw me.”
But Saleem becomes part of the writer’s inspiration for his first play, A Day in the Life. The play deals with six different characters who are wrestling with orientation or gender issues. It is Stewart’s attempt to raise public awareness about HIV/AIDS in the Black community.
Words Never Spoken focuses considerably on Stewart’s coming to terms with who he is and the relationship hazards he meets along the way. But it’s also about his journey as a writer and the evolution of his play. The journeys are entwined, and despite the book’s title, he conveys a lot of emotional truths and conveys them well.
One Thing for Certain, Two Things for Sure picks up with Stewart feeling “a tugging in my spirit” and leaving Atlanta’s “oversaturated gay scene that felt more like two degrees of separation rather than six.” He heads to Los Angeles, hoping to get away from the ex-lovers and memories and to really get his writing career moving.
L.A. doesn’t really pan out. But it does give him “the kind of isolation I needed for introspection….I concluded that I was once the broken, confused man who got emotionally tangled with gay men, who were ready for love, only to leave them holding their heart in their hands because I wasn’t ready to live my truth.” But that’s only one part of the problem: There is another part of him that’s caught up in the hero syndrome, trying “to save the men I dated from their brokenness.” In other words, he is nailing himself to his own cross emotionally, and he realizes that it’s time to break the pattern.
But the universe, he finds, isn’t through testing him. He returns to Atlanta about a year later, only to find himself falling for a guy he has met on the Internet. Rocky, who works for the U.S. government in Dubai, is everything that the writer has been looking for: intelligent, funny, and thoughtful. He’s also married to a woman despite his love for men. But the rapport is so very strong—and so very unlike anything that Stewart has ever known—that he’s doing the head-over-heels thing before he realizes it.
One Thing for Certain, Two Things for Sure is an even more intense book than its predecessor and engages us completely. There’s a world of raw emotion here, and we are swept away by it, no matter what our orientation. Now, that’s powerful writing.
T. J. Banks is the author of Sketch People, A Time for Shadows, Catsong, Houdini, and other books. Catsong was the winner of the 2007 Merial Human-Animal Bond Award.