He couldn’t hear the word “hitchhiker”
Without also hearing John Fogerty
And the guilty sounds of the seventies.
And all that made him think of a tall
Girl with gray eyes who terrified him with
Her treks and trysts across the Rockies
And beyond on her own except
For her verve and bravado.
She wasn’t afraid of anything.
She took chances from Sherman to Denver
With no money and just one change of clothes.
Risky for a girl of 18, of course, but
God only knows what trouble she
Left in her wake, and he was
Enthralled, envious, and horrified,
But he listened to every word
She said on her return and became
Worldly through her words alone.
She told him the ways of the world,
And showed him the ways of a woman
With a condescending but caring grace
With only the slightest hint of cruelty.
She laughed at his naïveté, at first,
But gently removed it and did her best to leave
A campsite free from smoldering embers.
I was lucky, he said.
A sexy baby sitter took
My virginity off me before
It became a burden.
I became a man before
I finished being a child.
I knew my way around,
Worldly in the ways of women,
But lost in the wild abandon of boys.
The others were filled with envy.
If only they had had a nanny
With a name like big, fat Fanny!
They could have walked the world
With pride, chest out and shoulders high.
They would have been the rivals of the others,
And the heartbreak of daughters and mothers.
They would have lived on the loose,
The Lucky Ones.
And our brown-eyed boy
Was proud of his conquests.
He was the real wild one—
Drunk and disordered—
The loner untethered to anyone.
Promiscuity is praised in a boy,
And a sad loner has a certain mystique.
He was lucky no one could ever
Tie him down, and he
Tied the knot in the noose himself.
“I’ve had plenty of anonymous sex before,” she said, “and I still know how to find it.” Jan intended this as a threat or warning, obviously, but she also knew it stung in its own right. She first learned to weaponise her own sexuality when she saw the crestfallen look on her father’s face when she knew he knew what she’d gotten up to with John one night. Since that day, she had learned a number of ways to use her own numbness to sex to devastate men. Not that it made her feel that much better, but it was something.
Maybe it was revenge. Maybe it was something else, but it gave her a feeling of power, and who doesn’t want to feel that sometimes? Everyone wants to feel a little control over things. The way she told it, she had always controlled her own sexuality. She was 12 the first time, she said, and she knew exactly what she was doing. Her parents were gone for the day and she called her school band director on the phone and asked him over. It was her idea. That’s what she said.
She said it hurt, but he was very nice. He took care of her. When he lost his job at the school, she and some other girls formed a group to get signatures on a petition to get him his job back. They really liked him. When she graduated high school, she wrote to him to let him know she was doing all right, and he wrote back and said he was glad to hear it.
Bobby couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He told her she was only 12, for God’s sake, and definitely no child could be responsible for what she described. She had obviously been groomed and manipulated, and so had all the other girls. She was raped, he said, but she averred. “But I knew what I was doing was wrong,” she said, “That’s why I never told anyone before now.” Bobby told her it wasn’t her fault, but he wasn’t prepared for this conversation.
Somehow, he made her feel more judged than supported, not that he was trying to, but he really wasn’t equipped to respond to this information, and he felt a little sick. But Jan didn’t notice that. She was just trying to make a point about her prissy classmates who acted so shocked to find that a professor was having an affair with a student. She was just wanting to say, “Hello! I was having sex with a teacher when I was 12! Grow up.”
When the police made a routine visit
Next door, they arrived in full-body
Hazmat suits, as unneeded as they
Were insulting. It wasn’t AIDS then;
It was GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency). Well-educated people
Actually believed just being gay
Would kill you, and the police seemed
To have a database of everyone with
The Gay Plague. Actually, they just had a
Database of their own prejudice and
Paranoia. And we watched in horror
As they spread indignity like butter on
Toast, fear and hatred choking their arteries.
Of my neighbors, Roger went first.
He was already sick when I met him,
And I never had the opportunity to know
Him. Mark was still working, though he had
Some early signs of sarcoma, so his future
Was already written. His partner, Don, appeared
Healthy. He was a landscape designer, responsible
For the most striking gardens of Houston’s
Most prominent residents, a celebrity gardener,
Treated like sewage by Houston’s finest.
When Mark died, his family showed up at Don’s
House to clear out their son’s belongings. They
Gave nothing to their son in life, but took
Everything in his death. Don had a right to nothing
But loss, shame, and seemingly infinite grief.
And Mark’s memorial service was just another
That week. Another loss and another step to an
Inevitable conclusion for the survivors.
That’s how it was, see? Calendars were not
Marked with birthdays, parties, and holiday
Trips. They were filled with funerals, memorials
Medical screenings, blood tests, hospital visits,
Learning the vernacular of T-Cells and viral loads,
And no fucking time left to just sit down and cry.
Grief was a luxury no one could afford, and
Activism was a necessity no one could ignore.
They say the community came together, but it
Was forced together by hatred, fear, and indifference.
When you hear public officials say the solution to AIDS
Is to “shoot the queers,” you bury your friends and lovers,
Cry and scream, and come together to Act Up. We went from
Being gay, lesbian, bi, and trans to being a Queer Nation.
We argued about what words, what language, would work
Best, but we never forgot our common cause: Survival.
In that book, Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre’s
Antoine Roquentin gets kind of freaked
Out just looking at the root of a chestnut tree.
I thought it was pretty weird at first,
Because how can you get through life
If you freak out every time you see a
Tree root or some fool thing like a tree root?
You couldn’t go on, could you? It’d just be
One crisis after another until you went
Insane and did yourself in, but then
I kind of get it. I mean, if you look at
Anything for awhile, it can get you thinking,
And thinking is always the risky part.
Once you start thinking, everything comes
Into question, and you might not even
Be able to tell if a root is real, or you
Might start to think the root is conscious
And is staring at you, or you might start
To wonder if you are real. I mean, you
Could be part of the consciousness of
The root, but it wouldn’t have to be a root,
Either, would it? Any damn thing can send
Your thoughts careering out of control,
And you might just start feeling a little
Overwhelmed. You might feel like you can’t really
Talk to anyone, because you’re not sure whether
They are like you. Maybe they don’t see the same
Colors. Maybe they don’t feel the same feelings.
Maybe you are the only one who knows what
Pain is. Or maybe you’re just a character in their story.
But Sartre said he never felt that kind
Of nausea, and now you think maybe he was
Just an asshole. Maybe he just thought up a
Lot of stupid shit just to make money off
People who were socially anxious like
Roquentin or just anxious generally.
It was all just a joke to Sartre and his
Mescaline addled buddies, but you are
Starting to see things more clearly now.
You’re starting to want to punch that jackass
In the face, and you finally realize
Albert Camus was right about everything.
You can find volumes of information
On how to die, but the materials are
All prepared by interns and trainees.
The true masters on the art of dying
Have all lost interest in our struggles
With mortality and how to be shed of it.
Still, we want as much information as
Possible, so we can be prepared when
The time comes. We hang eagerly on
The words of those who nearly died,
Just so maybe we can have a glimpse
Of what it might be like to cross over.
All this anxiety and all this preparation
Despite the fact that no one has ever
Failed on this particular mission.
Sure, some begin the process with
Different levels of equanimity, but
They all seem restful enough in the end.
A non-practicing Catholic, I guess, is someone born into the Catholic faith who no longer adheres to any of it’s prescribed behaviours or rituals, and I would suppose some people don’t feel they need to practice it once they know how to do it. Practicing Catholicism must be for newbies.
But Baptists are a different beast all together. Technically, if you follow the letter of Baptist convention, no one is born into the Baptist faith. No one, no matter the circumstances of birth, can become a Baptist without actively choosing to do so, though the age of consent for such a choice is surprisingly low. This is why you see so many Baptist preachers dunking little kids in the water—it shows those children have chosen of their own free will to live their lives for Jesus. And if you check the news of late, you’ll find some preachers seem a little confused about what other things children are or are not able to consent to, under the laws constructed by good old human beings.
Once your accepted in the fold, you are saved, and there’s not much you can do to get kicked out, and you don’t have to practice, either. If you don’t keep up your Godly work by staying clean and pure and avoiding all the temptations the earth has to offer, you’re only human and no one should throw stones at you (according to New Testament law).
If you’ve slipped a little, you’re officially a backslider. Baptists believe that a truly saved person can’t genuinely fall out of favor with God. If you actively reject God and all God’s work, you are not a backslider but a reprobate, and God will surely turn against you, because when you said you wanted to devote your life to Jesus when you were six, you must have been a lying little demon.