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News travels fast in small towns and when one has a father who attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and spills his guts at least twice a week, it’s hard to stay in the closet. My entire hometown knows I am queer thanks to my father ‘sharing’ at an AA meeting. Folks back home who knew me as a child heard all the drama caused by my lifestyle when my lover died. Dad told them all at a meeting. I suppose he needed to talk it out– that sometimes helps. I would start drinking again too if I had a son who called to tell me that he thinks he just caught AIDS. Dad’s big mouth is sometimes justified.
My father thinks it’s cool that I’m queer and does not believe that homosexuality is wrong. He has lived a hard life and tries not to judge anyone. “To each, his own,” he often says. So, when he stood up and ‘shared’ about the problems in his life making him long to drink again, it should not have surprised me that the town found out that I was funny. Dad told the recovering addicts that his son was a rolling stone. I should have never called to tell him that my partner died from AIDS.
“Do you got it too?”
“I don’t know yet, dad.”
My high school English teacher, the woman who taught me how to write, called me because she heard about my past participles through the grapevine. (Her husband goes to the same meetings as my father.)
“How would you like to speak at graduation in June?” she asked.
“They always have a preacher speak. You know that. It would be nice to hear someone with a little humor,” she tempted.
Of course I accepted the offer. I’m Charlie Taylor. Folks look up to me back home– still. But damn, why did Dad have to ‘out’ me like that? Sure he has lived a little as a ‘bi-sexual’ but that’s no excuse for outing me in that little town. Some of us want to stay hidden and fit in as normal people in life. Not all of us want our literature instructors to know that we are gay.
If I had known at the time that the reason Mrs. Hicks asked me to do that speech was because people at an AA meeting felt sorry for me, I never would have done it. I would have told her to talk to those kids herself.
Why should I care that now they all know what I do in the bedroom? I learned all about dad’s life on the down-low years before I was outed and before I presented my gay speech to the graduating class of 2002. He told me all about the sexually charged gay underworld in rural America and pretty much confessed to being gay too. My gay graduation speech pales in comparison to the things my daddy told me. The lifestyle he experienced when he was a young drunk living in Huntindon was much different than mine. They don’t even have lovers in Pennsylvania according to my dad.
I was the one who took my father in when he was on his last leg. He had two straight sons who could have done more for him than me– but he turned to the gay one when he found himself down in the dumps. He had nowhere else to stay while still living in the bottle. The two months that my pops lived with Anthony and I were stressful times. He drank so much beer. The place reeked of him.
Anyone in their right mind, whether gay or straight, will reach out to their family during times of crisis, even if alcoholism is an issue. Dad owed me one so I called to tell him my woes. A father in recovery can be just as supportive as a dad who still drinks, besides my father has fooled around too. I was too exhausted to beat around the bush and stay hidden when I called dad for guidance. I needed help and emotional support after my lover died. I remembered the stories my father shared with me while staying at my place in Jersey City– he confessed to messing around with a group of dudes in Huntingdon who smoked pot who were all a bunch of ‘wild fuckers.’ He spent several months while in his 20’s living with a vagrant gang of religious zealots– Jesus freaks who participated in sexual orgies and smoked pot all the time. I think they turned dad out and saved him.
Suddenly, it occurred to me that I had just about everyone there was to have in New York. The rural valleys of Pennsylvania and those Jesus freaks that dad knew sounded like a new, alternative lifestyle. Perhaps I should move back there now that Shawn had died. I didn’t want to remain in his big, drafty apartment with the exposed brick wall all alone.
“Why the fuck not, Charlie?” He asked laughing loudly as Anthony scurried into the bedroom, begging not to hear anymore of my father’s outrageously gay stories. “I love getting my dick sucked. I see nothing wrong with this life you have created for yourself. The guys I messed with were fucked- up in the head. You two are not like them.”
“Dad, I don’t want to hear anymore, nor does Anthony, please…”
“That was some weird shit, son. Just imagine all that prayer and all that crazy shit ‘dem guys was up to when we was all stoned off our asses and running around like holy Jesus in a brothel. I see nothing wrong with the life you have with this man. I like him and this is a nice place you got.”
“I know, dad. He likes you too, but listen, you can’t stay here forever.”
“Who’s the girl? You son?” He asked.
That was the last time I spoke openly with my father about my homosexuality. I pissed him off by refusing to buy him anymore beer so he left. He felt that I betrayed him when I told him he couldn’t stay forever. I considered him too much of an out-loud and proud bi-sexual father. I needed to set limits with him, so I cut him off and never again spoke openly about the details of living life gay until Shawn died from AIDS and I thought I was dying too. That’s why I called him to dump all my problems on him– he’s dumped problems and worries on me too.
Establishing and maintaining a relationship with him over the years was hard, especially when he stopped drinking and turned straight again. The phone call was not easy. However, I was fortunate to have a father who could understand my predicament– that’s why I called him and shared all the details about my life that was probably going to come to an end soon. I knew some Jesus freaks too.
I was in the midst of a spiritual crisis and wanted to be somewhere safe, away from the ghost of my dead lover which seemed to be haunting me, so I called my out father. He knows how to confront gay demons and besides, the thought of hooking up with his old buddies was in the back of my mind for many years.
“Dad, I got to get the fuck out of here. It’s creepy. I want to come home,” I said on my second phone call within the same week. I can’t wait any longer on these test results. I’m going insane. I gotta come home.”
“Sure– when are you coming in?”
“Right away– today probably. I’ll likely stay there until June.” I realized that I had said exactly what my father had said on the phone the day he called me for a place to hide-out.
He remained very silent and pretended he had nothing to do with the call I received from my high school teacher.
“How long do you plan on staying?” he eventually asked.
“Not long– just until graduation in June. I have to do a speech at my old high school.”
“You are going to do what? Give a speech at Southern?”
“Yes, Mrs. Hicks asked me to.”
He remained silent again. I didn’t immediately make the connection between the AA meetings and Mrs. Hicks’ phone call. I thought I was that good– that they really wanted to hear me speak. Perhaps it is best that I didn’t know it was my dad up to his behind-the-scenes tricks, trying to brighten my day when Mrs. Hicks begged me to give that graduation speech.
I had actually considered it– jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. I was just too tired to climb all the way out to the edge of those metal beams to do it.
I was ready to go out in a swan dive but suddenly I remembered the speech I had to deliver. I remembered what I promised Mrs. Hicks as I was standing in the strong winds up on that bridge while still in a slumber from taking too much Ambian. I was walking around like a zombie drugged out on sleeping pills, but for the life of me could not go to sleep and I wanted to die.
I remembered what I promised Mrs. Hicks before I even started to make the move to the edge– that graduation speech for the Class of 2002 had to get done first. I had to get back to the house and write it– what the fuck was I doing up there? Certainly, there was an evil force after me– something wanted me to end it. I needed to get home to my father.
I made it safely back to the house and after writing the speech that forever changed the homophobic culture of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania I called him again.
A promise is a promise.
“Dad, the guy I was dating, the one who died from AIDS; his family is swooping in to claim everything, even my stuff. They are driving me nuts. And my boss– that fucking bitch I told you about– Mary D. Redd– well she told me that I have to come back to work on Monday or I’m going to get fired. Everything is crashing in all at once, dad. I need to come home for a while.”
“What about your job?”
“I don’t care about my job at Steinway, Dad. I need to breathe. I can’t breathe right now. Can I come home?”
“Jan will meet you at the train station. I’ll be at work if you get here today. Just call her when you get in. Are you alright?”
“I don’t think so.”