I miss many things about Kentucky. And though it took a while, I finally realized what it is that I truly long to experience again.
Let's start with what I don't miss - the people. Those are the most mixed bag when it comes to my thoughts of my home state. I've met some of the most honest, hard-working, and caring people there. Yet, I've also run into some awful apples. They were judgmental, hardened by poverty and suffering from a lack of opportunity - all of which conspired to make some men and women folks you'd never want to know. I know this sounds awful, but I can take or leave most of those living there. That's not where the magic is for me.
What I miss the most is the place itself. Stepping out onto the porch in the late afternoon of July, you're hit by the humidity, temperatures in the upper eighties, and my memory of those experiences takes me right back there.
But, mostly ... it's the sound. There's nothing like that sound. Summer in my homeland is green, vibrant, and thrumming with the constant reminder of life. The forests of northern California, where I live now are solemn, silent cathedrals. But Kentucky gently roars with a symphony of birds, cicadas, grasshoppers, and crickets.
That's what I really miss. I miss the symphony.
I've always been the helper - the strong one.
I'm the one people go to, to be heard. I'm the one people know can handle more. I carry my load, and then yours, and theirs, and the world's too.
But today, I didn't want to get out of bed. I feel like there's a band of iron around my chest like the world is crushing me. There's no reason, and if there's no reason then there's no fix.
There's nobody in my life who I can lean on, simply because I've never asked that of anyone. Fuck, I'm the one they all lean on. Nobody expects to have to do that for me.
Why would they?
I'm the strong one.
"You know, for a guy who grew up in Kentucky, you seem pretty well adjusted to the whole gay thing."
I thought about what Greg had said as I drove home. I hadn't replied other than to smile and nod. What would he feel if I told him all of it? I toyed with the idea, but it was too early for that. He didn't need to know just how damaged I was.
Regardless of my choice to keep the entirety of the truth from Greg, I couldn't stop it from replaying in my mind. It was just as well. I had hours to go before I was home.
I was raised Southern Baptist in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. Fire and brimstone were a part of my world, and variation from the word of God was a sure path to damnation. That's how this begins.
Something drove me to join the US Navy. I was seventeen years old, and I had never been away from home. Yet I signed up for a six-year stint in the military. I was terrified to go, but something in me knew that I couldn't stay. The Navy was my way out, and I took it.
I made a fantastic sailor because I was great at doing what I was told. I didn't let myself think all that much, and I just acted on the orders given. Something is freeing and therapeutic about a lack of choice. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but it allowed me to function during a time when my mind wasn't ready for the processing it would need to do later.
My first duty station after a year of training as a Hospital Corpsman (essentially a medic) and some additional schooling was Okinawa Japan. I was eighteen, and I quickly found a fellow named Chris who needed a roommate for his apartment off-base. We also worked together, so it was great.
That first year was good. I got to know Chris well, and I came to feel for him an amount of fondness I'd later know as love. At the time I didn't know better. I just thought we were best friends.
We even shared a bed. That was fine until the morning I woke, and Chris had his arm around me. He had turned in his sleep, and it was purely innocent (Chris was straight, through and through). I lay there, more turned on than I had ever been in my life. I had no understanding of why - and I told myself it was merely the fact that another person was touching me in a somewhat intimate way. That if it were a girl, I would have reacted the same.
After that, I insisted we sleep in different beds. I was deeply disturbed that my body behaved in such a manner. I even paid half for his bed, and we put it together. All was well again, for a time.
A few months passed, and Chris met Gina. They hit it off. A part of me wanted to be happy for him, but by far the most consuming emotion I felt was a burning ache of jealousy.
I tried hard to find someone of my own. I was still a virgin. I dated girls, but none of them made me feel anything at all. Chris and Gina continued to try and set me up on dates, and eventually, I came to dread them.
There's only so long that a person can deny the truth. My moment came to me, just after I had turned twenty years old. I lay in bed. It was two a.m., and I couldn't sleep. I had work that morning at six, so I sat up and said aloud, "What is wrong with me?"
The answer struck like a bolt of lightning. It slammed into me, the undeniable truth, and I sat there, stunned. It was the worst possible thing I could have imagined, and I couldn't fix it. I couldn't make it go away.
Something broke. Something just snapped in my mind. I don't remember deciding to do this, but I got up, went to the bathroom, and I took down a package of Bic razors. Chris and I had just bought a new set of six, so I had plenty to work with.
I started with my head. Shaving cream, all through my short hair, and I scraped it all off with one razor. After that, it was dull as hell, so I tossed it. Then I moved on to the next. My chest was next, then arms, legs, and groin. Why I saved it for last, I have no idea, but by the time five a.m. rolled around, the only thing left was a tiny patch of hair on my belly. As I was shaving that last bit, Chris surprised me.
"What the fuck are you doing?!?" He stood at the doorway to the bathroom, gaping at me.
Imagine for a moment what he saw - twenty year old me, completely naked and hairless, covered in splotches of shaving cream. I jumped when he spoke, and I snapped the razor I had been using against my belly. I frowned down at the cut I made, dabbed it with some toilet paper, and very calmly spoke, "I'm shaving." Then I picked up the last razor and continued.
Chris blinked. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine." I finished up, rinsed the razor, and put it on the sink. I looked at him. "I'll buy more razors today." Then I toweled off and walked past him to get my clothes on for work.
The next six months I lived in this weird state. A few nights a week I would go up to the top of our building, and stare down at the concrete six floors down. The scary thing now is how fearless I was at the time. I only had one worry - and that was if the fall would actually kill me. I didn't want to live through that, because I'd have to tell people why I jumped. My logic was - since there's nothing I could do to fix me, and I was going to go to hell, then why wait?
I got sick of living that way. So, one night I decided that I was going to either do a swan dive off of my building or learn to live with being gay. Unbeknownst to my sister, I decided that however she reacted would do it. It took the choice from me since I couldn't seem to make it.
I worked nights at the Blood Donor Center on the island, and I called my sister in the middle of my shift. She picked up and immediately knew something was wrong.
"Bub, what's wrong?" I could hear it in her voice. She was worried, and I had barely spoken.
"Sis, I've got something to tell you."
She was quiet for a beat, then she said it. "You're gay."
It wasn't even a surprise to me that she knew. There were only a few things which could warrant the tone in my voice, and that was one of them. I nodded, "Yeah."
There are these moments in other lives where we have a tremendous amount of power, and she exercised hers without even knowing it. "Well, bub, that's okay."
And that was how my sister saved my life.
I pulled up to my apartment in Ridgecrest, California. Finished with the drive, I was tired. But the weekend with Greg was fun, and he was worth the time and effort of the trip. As I unlocked my door, I smiled slightly.
"Well adjusted." I shook my head, entered, and kicked the door shut.
My musical buddy, a guy named Jonathan Foster is going to use a song I wrote in his next album. That's pretty damn cool and flattering. I wrote it for a story, and it turned out pretty good.
If you want to abuse your ears here's me singing my acapella version of it. Bled the Blood Jonathan will do a better job though, thankfully.
I've got just enough of a few gifts to know that I am not quite at a level that can be considered exceptional. But, that's all right. I'm pretty happy with honorable mentions in multiple areas vs. champion of one.
If you want a feel-good story that will probably make you cry, then click the link.
I really needed something like this when I came out. I didn't get it, and it was a very rough time. Maybe I'll write about it at some point, but not right now - I want to function for the rest of the day.
"Okay, are you seriously not going to tell me?"
I lay in bed with Greg. He hadn't planned to end up tangled in sheets with me that night, but I can be terribly convincing if a man let me kiss him.
I chuckled, and his hand rubbed my chest gently. "Come on." He tried to work me, but it wasn't necessary. I had wanted sex, he gave it to me, so I'd reward him.
"Fine." I took a breath, and he grinned. Greg wriggled a little closer, and now his forehead was under my arm, while the limb draped around him.
I left for the ferry terminal immediately after the officer released me from the scene. My weekend was over, there was no way that I could have a good time after what had happened. I boarded the ferry, and I stood at the very front of the boat. It wasn't a popular spot. Even in May, the water was cold, and the fog which lay over it made everything clammy and uncomfortable. I stared out over the water as the ferry cut through the bay, back toward Bremerton, where I had left my car.
An hour later I got into my car, and I drove to Bangor sub-base. I parked, and walked up the stairs, up the hill to my BEQ. Oh, sorry. That's short for Bachelor Enlisted Quarters. It's where all of the single enlisted folks lived if they chose to stay on base.
I went inside, sat on my bed, and let my mind circle around what had happened in Seattle. I didn't move until my back began to hurt. I looked at the window, and it was dusk. I had sat there for hours. I hadn't eaten at all, and yet I wasn't hungry. I felt sick with stress, assured of my future discharge.
I picked Senior Chief Coleman when the officer gave me the choice. Senior was the highest-ranking enlisted sailor in my command - a man who didn't take any sort of shit from anybody. He was harsh but fair - a by the book NCO. Ugh, I keep doing that. A non-commissioned officer. Anyway, he would do what I knew needed doing. I chose Senior, because I knew, deep down, that man in Seattle was right. I should repent. I should be punished. I should suffer. I didn't have the right to be in the US Navy, I didn't deserve it.
Sunday came and went. I don't remember much of it. I think I ate something, just because I started to feel weak and shaky.
Monday arrived. I showed up early, and I sat right in front where we held our morning muster. Senior Chief led it, and I awaited his judgment.
'I wonder if he'll say something in front of everyone.' My eyes were blank as I thought. 'Probably. They're all going to find out. They'll know, you're a liar, a faggot, and not worth being a sailor. You deserve it.'
People began to show up, and they took seats around me. I interacted only when I had to, returned greetings, and nodded hello.
Senior Chief entered, the room settled - even the commissioned officers who officially outranked Senior quieted in his wake.
'Straighten up. Fucking look at him.' I took a breath, and I sat up, put my shoulders back, and raised my eyes.
Senior Chief had these fantastic, ice blue eyes. They glanced at mine when I moved, but then he looked over the room.
"Good morning. First thing, there were four calls last night, and our on-duty EMT and EVO are exhausted. I'm sending them home to rest. Cane, Gray, you two are filling in on the rig. Gray, you've got EMT, Cane is driving." He looked at petty officer Cane, got an affirmative nod, then one from me as well.
The rest of the muster passed with minor business, and messages from the weekend duty crew. Then we were dismissed. 'Oh shit. Maybe they didn't send it. Maybe the report was lost.' I wet my lips, stood up to leave and turned toward the door.
I stopped, my back still to Senior Chief. My heart hammered in my chest, and I faced him. "Yes, Senior?"
"My office." He strode from the room, all business. A few of the departing enlisted looked at me, curiosity in their eyes.
Dread crawled like a cold snake down my spine to settle, and twist in my gut. I walked down the hall, stopped at Senior's door, and I knocked on the doorframe.
He motioned me through the open portal, those pale eyes stayed on mine. "Close the door."
"Sit, Gray." His voice was strange. It had a tonal quality I had never heard him use. There was both softness and iron in it, all at once.
I sat in the extra chair, my gaze on his desk. There, a carbon-copy of the police report lay, and I closed my eyes against the nausea I felt.
He leaned forward. "Gray, I have some questions. Can you handle that right now?"
I frowned and looked at him. I didn't expect him to ask my permission to question me. I nodded.
He looked down at the paper, then back up to me. "First, are you all right? Did he hurt you?"
I blinked. "I'm fine, Senior. He didn't hurt me."
"Good." Senior's eyes narrowed, and half of his lips lifted in a dangerous smirk. "I read the report, but I want to hear it from you." His countenance became eager. "I want to hear it from your lips, how you took down that strung out bastard."
I gaped. "Uh, I ..." I swallowed. "Senior, aren't you going to report me?"
He never looked away from my face. His hand crumpled the yellow copy of the report, and he threw it into the garbage. "Report you for what?"
I floundered. "Senior, I," there was no comprehension possible in that moment. "You'll get in trouble if anybody finds out."
He set his jaw and stood up. "Fuck em." Senior shook his head. "You do a good job. I don't fucking care where you dip your wick." He stood there until I met his eye. Then he sat down in his seat. "Now," he leaned back in his chair, "tell me how you kicked that motherfucker's ass."
It was 1997, May. I was a U.S. Sailor, twenty-two years old, in excellent condition, and a fantastic mood. I walked down the streets of Seattle - Broadway, specifically. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and I was out for my standard, debaucherous weekend in Hillcrest, the queer part of the Emerald City. It was still early for a Saturday, only around nine a.m. There were people seated outside various breakfast spots at tables on the sidewalk, thanks to the popularity of the eateries in that part of town. Additionally, the weather was just amazing; it'd have been crazy to not take advantage of it.
I walked past most of the popular breakfast spots, catching a few appreciative glances as I went. Don't look so surprised. I used to be a hot number. Anyway, there was a little cafe I loved, and I headed straight for it. It was often uncrowded - a tucked away undiscovered gem of coffee, eggs, bread, and bacon. Simple fare, but I'm a simple guy.
That's when I saw him. He was across Broadway, but he stopped, his wild gaze piercing me, even from there. He didn't look, he started across the six lanes of traffic, striding with purpose. I couldn't help but stare as he approached. I thought for sure he would die, hit by someone on the road. Somehow, he made it all the way across. I had enough time to get a good look at him while he transfixed me with both his manner and his appearance. He was only a little over a hundred and forty pounds, though he was almost as tall as me, at 5'10" — knobby joints, the skin was drawn over them thanks to his lack of proper nutrition and food. His brown hair was wild on his head, tangled and long, but those eyes were what I really remember. Those eyes were so sure — Brown, wide, certain.
He pointed at me. "You! You'll burn in His fire for what you are!" Spittle flew from his lips, and he stepped closer. "Repent! REPENT!"
He swung. It was a wild execution of an attack, and my arm came up automatically. I intercepted it easily, and I realized that this man posed no threat to me at all. He was so enraged and addled by a combination of religion, mental illness, and drugs that my safety from him wasn't in question.
Three men saw what occurred. They had just exited the gym, and they pounded down the sidewalk like a male Flight of the Valkeries, all with deadly serious expressions.
They'd not get there in time.
My attacker swung again, and a pure, burning, white-hot rage replaced any fear I may have had. I stopped the latest blow with my forearm, and I viciously stomped down on the side of his knee with my steel-toed boots.
Something gave in the limb, and he crumpled to the ground. He landed on his front, wailing in pain, and I pulled his arms back. Then I sat on him so that he was pinned to the sidewalk like a stricken bug. My three would-be saviors arrived, and one of them possessed one of those cell phones that were beginning to become popular.
As I heard him call the police, I had a terrible realization. 'It's over. My career is over.' I was a U.S. Sailor during Don't Ask Don't Tell. A homophobic bible-thumper just attacked me in the gay part of Seattle. The police report would be my undoing.
I sat there, while venom and bile came from the lips of my wiggling captive. The police arrived a few minutes later. They took statements from everyone gathered who had witnessed the attack, and once they realized he was actually injured, my assailant was escorted by an officer in the back of an ambulance they called to the scene.
The remaining officer was a tall, broad, dark-haired fellow. His hair was cut into the high-and-tight calling card of a U.S. Marine, and he eyed my nervous face. "You're active, huh?" he asked, and I nodded mutely. He sighed. "Well, we've got to submit a copy of the report to your command." He reached and put a warm hand on my shoulder. "That's the limit of our responsibility." I frowned and looked up at his dark eyes. He smiled. "Is there anybody you trust there?"
My story done, I leaned back and took a sip of my wine. My date stared at me, his mouth slightly open. He finally shut his jaw. "Uh, so, so what happened? With your command? Did they throw you out?"
I smirked. "You asked why I didn't want to hold your hand in public, and I told you." Knowing I was a bastard made it all the sweeter to deny him the rest of the story.
"Maybe I'll tell you the rest on our next date."
@Mikiesboy: Thanks for patiently explaining how the Life works from the sub perspective. I appreciate your time to help me get it right. FYI, anything I get wrong down the line in my writing is my own fault. Without you, it would have been worse.
@Fae Briona: The other side of the coin - the Dom perspective. Your insights and your time reading my latest work have helped considerably. I know that some of it wasn't easy to get through. Again, anything false in my writing is my own failure.
@Carlos Hazday : For being a constructively critical fellow along this journey of mine. I'll keep fucking up, though I'll try to find new and inventive ways to do so. Call me out.
@Thorn Wilde: Thanks for your kind offer to assist with my Kentucky grammar. As well, I appreciate your time spent reading, commenting, and encouraging me.
There are others, but these have spent the most time on me, and I appreciate you all. You make me glad to be here.
I don't have the best grasp of the mechanics of writing. I am sure I give my poor retired school-teacher editor fits (it'd be worse without Grammarly). Yet, I still feel my work has merit.
Emotion and its description is something I love to do. I love making a reader laugh, cry, or shake their head in frustration at a character. Best, is when they empathize with the poor choice the character just made. The reader gets why the decision happened because they're on the same emotional journey, but objectively, they also know it was the wrong one.
Characters with flaws, weaknesses, defects, and pain are beautiful gems that roll in sunlight and throw bits of chaos and color everywhere. My favorite character I've written was a brutal man who ended up guarding a boy on the autistic spectrum. He was prickly, dark, socially inept, but he had a soft spot for his charge. I never received more email than when he finally met the man who tore down the walls around his heart. How many times can you write lines like "... and he fell to sleep on the chest of the most dangerous man in the state..."?
In the end, I know why I write. It's not about me.
It's all about the reader, and that they're giving me the gift of their time.
My job is not to waste it.