I would rather have been alone on Christmas Eve than spend another night at the home of the Baptist missionaries. If ever I was forced to read aloud from the book of Luke again, I would spit, I thought. The Bible study drained me emotionally and being near the elderly couple during my time of loneliness only made my soul sink deeper into hopelessness.
I smoked three cigarettes while walking in the snow, attempting to relive my mind of the sadness that overcame me during the first few weeks in Europe. Going to church wasn’t going to save me from the grips of depression and the Davenports, the elderly missionary couple, were as sad as I was on the inside. Like me, under the disguise of the cloth, they were searching for salvation and a place to fit into society and they read and studied the Bible as a means of tuning out the reality of life as it passed by tediously for the holy.
If only I were not gay, I thought, then life would be much different and I wouldn’t have to be forgiven in the first place. One way or another, the military was going to convert me so that one day, I’d get married and have kids. That was all I ever wanted anyway– just normalcy in life. Somehow, the repressed attraction to men was going to fade and the demons of improper lust were going to be exorcized.
I should have gone to college and not joined the Army, I realized while crossing a footbridge that enabled me to make a shortcut around the heavy traffic of the town square. I saw an American McDonald’s in the distance. It’s golden arches called to me like the cross. French fries sounded good, but this was Germany and I didn’t have Marks.
If I had gone to journalism school at Penn State, I’d be home on Christmas Eve, sitting near the tree, eating mom’s whoopie pies and potato candy with a cup of hot chocolate. I knew I wasn’t cut out to be a writer anyway, despite the awards and contests I won while in high school. I had yet to read a book from cover to cover and was smart enough to know that college would have been too difficult with so much to digest, mentally.
There was so much reading to do before I ever went to college, and besides, I hated what little I had read by Shakespeare. But why the Army? How could I have been so dumb to permit a recruiter to convince me to write my name on a contract at the age of sixteen?
In the Army, I would have time to read more, I thought as a chilling wind crawled through the space between the top button of my blue winter coat and my red throat. When I got back to the barracks, I was going to read something– anything– other than the Bible, the only book I ever studied in detail. The river below was frozen solid and German children skated on the smooth surface, yelling in a strange tongue that to me sounded like noises one makes when hawking greenies.
The barracks were quiet because most soldiers assigned to 141 Signal Battalion were away from post celebrating Christmas at ski resorts in Austria and Switzerland. I signed the roster at the CQ (Charge of Quarters) desk located just inside the front door of the building. Female soldiers lived on the first floor of five-floor Barton Barracks. Lisa Payne, a black girl whom I had met during orientation classes passed by the desk, dressed in a housecoat. She was on her way to the shower room located just to the left of the CQ officer.
“I remember you from class. Taylor, right? What do you think about our teacher? Ain’t she a trip?” Lisa asked.
“Do you mean Frau Hersher? Oh yes! She’s a blast. She is a good teacher too. I’ve already picked up a few German words and have been out exploring the town on my own. When do classes start again? Next Friday? Is that what she said? Did anyone tell you what we are supposed to do until next Friday? Are there any formations to make or are we off?” I asked.
The CQ officer interrupted– “Take it to the day room. You can’t stand here and talk, especially you, Private Payne. Put some clothes on and get away from my station.”
“We’re off until next Friday. We should do something. Hey, what are your plans for Christmas?” Lisa asked, pushing open the door to the latrine where three female soldiers stood nearly naked in front of a row of mirrors and stainless steel sinks.
“Nothing. I’ll probably just read. Do you have any good books?”
“Are you an Anne Rice fan?” Lisa asked.
“No,” I replied.
“I just finished a book she wrote called‘Interview with a Vampire’. Reminds me of shit in Harlem. I’ll loan it to you. I’m in room 201. Stop by later. Do you wanna eat chow together?”
“Sure,” I replied, chuckling as the white females at the mirrors screamed at Private Payne to shut the door. They glared at me as though I were perverted, not knowing what I was imagining.
“Pick me up at six,” she shouted out of view. Her voice bouncing from tiled latrine walls echoed like that of a man and her strut in a yellow terry cloth robe reminded me of my own nakedness.
“You forgot to note the time,” The CQ officer informed. I quickly wrote 16:30 and headed upstairs to shower, cautious of my strut, not wanting to swish.
To be continued…