Even through the choking fit, I felt a deep wholeness the first drag I ever inhaled.
Suddenly in the dizziness I was true and steady. Unknown to me, I seemed to have been craving this my whole life. Fourteen and starting to smell, propped in an open window, I smoked one, then another. What was to much? I didn’t know, I just wanted to be wrapped in that blanket.
I watched the dancers rehearse. They were older and more sophisticated, some seemed effeminate. Hoped I wasn’t . But I was nothing like them, beautiful and graceful. In my cloud of smoke I knew I was rank.
I was befriended by John Govan, an amature actor in his 30s. He only had a tiny role and plenty of time. We painted the sets. He gave me lessons in stagecraft laced with mesmerising stories.
When the show opened, the frenzy faded into summer days hanging out in the ice cold theater. I made excuses to be there hours before the show began. There was a school teaching kids of all ages performing arts, but I wasn’t associated with them. I was separate and alone, part of the adult production, floating on the parameters.
On a still afternoon, sitting in the theater, smoking, John was the one to know. It cut, and I held my breath, but I didn’t respond. Outloud, he had said “I know you are a homosexual”. So that’s what it sounds like when you are caught? Freeze in the sound, heave your chest so they think you are breathing. Do not react.
Why did “yeah” come out of my mouth? Because he knew what the word meant. Maybe he knew other things, anything, what does it mean? Suddenly in his slow low voice he barraged me with questions. It was a quiz. He was quizzing me, and my answers didn’t seem right. I didn’t know anything, shouldn’t I have known something? Maybe I was mistaken, maybe I wasn’t! Maybe I just had a mental problem that made me think I was? Then he finished. “Who in the show do I like?” “Mark.” “What about Dave” “He’s not in the show, he’s in the school” “What about Dave?” “yeah, he’s really cute”. Nailed, I failed.
He revealed things about himself as well. He was in the occult and was a warlock. He was famous for his seances. He was gifted with strong psychic abilities and was in almost constant contact with the other side. It was easy in a theater, the deceased were attracted to them. After the show one night, after most had left, a group of actors and producers gathered on the stage. I was allowed to sit at the table. Something happened, a coldness radiated from the floor, noises, a presence and then it vanished. A “strong night” everyone said.
Another night after the show, alone in the theater John told me he was out of gas. I called home and told my mom I’d be fine sleeping on the set furniture. But we didn’t sleep, we smoked cigarette after cigarette and talked. The security guard made his last round and told us when he’d be back in the morning.
John had another insight, I was afraid of the dark. I had never thought of it, but my jumpiness proved it was severe. He suggested a simple exercise to help me overcome it. I was to walk through every room in the building without turning on any lights. To be completely exposed to my fear, he tied my hands behind my back with a scrap of costume.
The hallways were easy, at least the Exit signs cast some light. Going into darkened rooms was terrifying. I wanted to run, but I knew I’d trip. It was slow going, which only made it worse. My heart was pounding. He was right.
I finally made it to the windowless basement. I climbed the few steps into the dressing room. So much happened at the same time, the lights flashed on, a body in front of me, on the floor, contorted, gagged, staring at me, terror, hog tied and gagged, eyes huge, petrified, pleading, I don’t know if I screamed. I know I froze. I heard muffled in the gag. I heard sound, time was moving.
John was there, across the room. He called me over. I couldn’t take my eyes off the body. It was Dave. John untied me and whispered “you can do anything you want to him”. Who wanted? What want? There was nothing. I didn’t want that. I couldn’t think, but I knew I didn’t want anything. In my stumbling thoughts it seemed like another test. Without thinking I ran into a small rehearsal room and locked myself in. It didn’t make sense, but I did.
It was quiet for a long time. I know John asked me to let him in. I know I unlocked the door. I don’t know how long. How long was the night. It was so late. I was so tired. I fell asleep on a pile of stinking theater curtains.
I woke when he was quietly sucking me off. I pulled away. The room was so dark. I tried to stand up but he pressed me against the wall. I was low. his stinking, rank dick was out. He shoved it in my face. It wasn’t that dark, I saw the fucking ugly thing.
I pushed him away, pushed him down, broke his grasp. I escaped. I bolted out of the room, ran to the bathroom and locked the door. It was a tiny room, single toilet.
I had the cigarettes, I had the cigarettes, I had the shits. Jesus fucking christ it wouldn’t end. He knocked on the door. I told him to leave me alone. I know he asked me to roll a cigarette under the door. I don’t know if I did, but it disgusted me, it was the floor in the room where I was just shitting, and shitting and shitting and smoking and shitting and smoking and finally just smoking, smoking, smoking.
After so long, I heard the guard making his morning rounds in the hallway. Under his cover, I ran out of the building, John was calling me. I yelled something defiant. I ran down the long yard, it was a field and I got to the intersection. On the south east shoulder of Cedar Crest and 222 is where the clarity ends. I was safe, lots of traffic. If he drove by he’d be on the other side of the road. I was safe. I went into a fog.
I was exhausted, confused, numb, drained. I must have been hungry, I think the last I ate was before I went to the theater the day before. I was on autopilot and don’t recall how I got home, 6-½ miles away. I believe I walked. My memory if fragmented. I know I once walked that route, in that direction. What is clear is I couldn’t look at a chunk of that night for years, I never forgot, just always skirted away from the memories. What was burned into me was the terror and pleading in Dave’s Eyes.
What I do know is I didn’t want to be out in the world. I didn’t want to be seen. I didn’t really want to be anywhere. The afterwards is a ball of thick strands stuck together, all with a beginning, some with no ends. In a new and unknown skin, I walked into a different world that morning. He had taken so much from me. I didn’t have words, none of it coalesced in the realm of words. I was alone. I wanted to stay alone.
In the next few weeks I dived into a deep depression. By the end of summer I was a different person. I was openly hostile and lacked enthusiasm for anything. Going to school was nearly impossible, I couldn’t wake up in the morning (didn’t want to wake up). I recall my mom yelling in frustration “something happened in that theater”. Should have been an in, but what could I say? God, I wish I could have said something, but I was so confused and trapped in a catch 22. I didn’t know what happened.
What were once beautiful, innocent desires became filthy, crusty and disgusting. My dreams of holding hands and snuggling only glossed over the gross shit I was. My romantic heart pumped blood into a desperate boner. Is that what I was? Was I this disgusting thing that filled their depraved desires by stealing it?
Dave’s eyes haunted me. The fear and pleading was so horrible. I started to question what happened after I ran off. What did I leave John do to him? The possibility that he raped him became a probability in my head. It didn’t take long before I believed that is most likely what happened. It wasn’t a test to see if I was queer and I was stupid to think it was. I could have rescued him. I should have rescued him. I pathetically didn’t. Guilt and shame, that’s what John gave me. I retreated into fog and smoke.