LET THE WEDDING BELLS RING

Congratulations, America!

I’ve worked a long time for this, and it’s been a bumpy ride along the way.

I remember the very first time I heard the phrase, “Gay Marriage”. It was the last weekend in June 2002, and I was registering voters for a mid-term election at Twin Cities Pride. It was a good crowd that year, full of high spirits. As I was cajoling passersby to sign up, a young woman shook me off because she was already registered, then turned around and said, “But I won’t vote for anyone who won’t vote for gay marriage.”

It was one of those moments when time changed, everything slowed down as I tried to reconcile her words to the world I knew. Her companion, who I don’t remember clearly at all, added something to the effect that until we could marry, we’d never be equal.

My mind went blank. It was a true paradigm shift. My world tilted to the side and shook cobwebs from my brain. I had never thought of it before, why would I? We were barely tolerated as couples. The idea of gay marriage was completely out of my realm of conscious thought. But the seed was planted.

It took root because my sweetheart/partner/special friend (as we were labeled) had developed heart disease earlier that year in a medical event that included a smug clerk safe behind a shield of glass telling me that since I wasn’t ‘family’ I would not be allowed to see her in the ER. Once I knew my sweetheart was going to survive I realized the depth of anger in my heart towards my own country. I’d been terrified, and the witch behind the counter had taken a cruel delight in adding to my torture. That was one reason I was so politically active at Pride that year, an event I’d always enjoyed as a casual participant.

We also had a beautiful granddaughter born that year who quickly became the light of our lives. The idea she might know me not as her grandmother’s ‘special friend’ but rather her wife filled me with hope. The idea wouldn’t stop playing in my mind. What if? What if?

On Thursday, February 12, 2004 I turned 47. (I see you doing the math, there.) My Beloved and I were in Fresno, CA visiting my mother. During the news that night we saw the funniest thing; a beautiful couple of elderly women had been legally married in San Francisco. How quixotic I thought. Talk about tilting at windmills.

When the marriages were still taking place two days later we looked at each other and said, “Let’s do it.” It was Valentine’s Day after all. So we quickly packed an overnight bag with the nicest clothes we’d brought with us and took off.

A very long story later (ask me nicely and I’ll tell you all about it) we’d weathered the Phelpsians, two days of waiting in lines, a nasty night outside in a raging Pacific storm, and stood on the San Francisco Courthouse steps, waving our brand new marriage certificate at a crowd of cheering strangers.

They invalidated us six months later (not even the dignity of an annulment), but we’d known the thrill of being legitimately married in one place in our country, if only for a handful of days. When our home state of Minnesota legalized Gay Marriage, followed swiftly by recognition by the Federal government, we were finally married in 2013, surrounded by our daughters and grandchildren. It a transcendental day.

But the fear of finding ourselves facing an emergency in a hostile state that would not recognize our marriage haunted us. We travel a lot, and some of the local governments of some of our favorite places would have happily added to our anxiety and grief during an emergency. I carried a photo copy of our marriage certificate with us everywhere.

Today I finally took it out of my purse. I won’t need it anymore. My family is now recognized in every state in the Union, and I’m no longer at war with my own country.

Advertisements

A Whole New Form of Literature

I am proud to announce the publication of A Man’s Man, the second of my Rainbow Family novels for kids being raised in same-sex families. Except for picture books for the pre-reader, and YA novels for teens and older students, there are no (correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve looked long and hard) books written about growing up with same-sex parents for middle readers. 

If you are a Rainbow parent or grandparent, this book is for your kid. If you know Rainbow parents, this book would make an excellent present for their kid. If you don’t know any Rainbow parents or their kids, buy a copy and donate it to your local library. These kids deserve to see themselves represented in fiction.

After the sudden death of his mother, RJ, a thirteen-year-old eighth grader must go live with his gay father and his boyfriend Stephen. RJ longs for the days when his father was living with him and his mom, so he devises a complicated plan to change his father from gay to straight. The resulting scandal has unintended consequences, forcing RJ to come to grips with just what makes A Man’s Man.

Read the first chapter here, then follow the link to buy your very own copy. 

A MAN’S MAN

Chapter 1 – On The Farm

It’s like this, see. My dad’s a fag, his boyfriend’s queer, and I think I might be gay. I mean, I think it’s catching or something. 

I never used to think about it back when I lived with Mom. But now she’s dead and I have no one to live with except Dad and Stephen. Everyone knows that kids raised in faggot families turn out all messed up. I figure it’s just a matter of time before I start prancing around, or my wrist goes limp, or I start speaking with a lisp. 

I tried to talk to my Dad about it once but all he said was, “RJ! Those things don’t really happen!” and then he changed the subject. I guess he doesn’t see it as a problem if I grow up to be a homo, but to me it’s a death sentence. I think I’ll have to kill myself if I start liking guys. 

Back when Mom was alive things were easier. She could talk to me about anything and I’d understand. If I didn’t understand at first, she’d take her time and talk it out with me until I did. Now I don’t understand anything. 

Damned drunk driver! How come he’s still walking around right as rain, and she’s in a box six feet under? Explain that to me. 

Mom never liked it when I swear, but now she’s not around to remind me, words slip out without my even knowing I’ve said them, mostly. She never liked it when I called Dad a fag, or queer, or homo, but that’s what he is, so what’s wrong with saying so? It’s not my fault he’s not normal. But it’ll be his fault if I’m not. 

“It’s rude,” Mom would tell me. She said I should just think of him as Dad, which I did. My faggot father. My queer dad. My homo pop. Ha, ha. 

It’s been two months since we buried Mom, and school is starting next Monday after Labor Day. I’m so not looking forward to it. As if it’s not bad enough to be known as the new kid in school, I’m also the kid who’s Mom died. And when they find out, I’ll be the new motherless boy with two dads, which is totally untrue because Stephen is not, and never will be, a father to me. But once the kids know, the damage will be done. Eighth grade is so going to suck. 

Which is totally unfair, too, because I was way popular back in my old school in San Diego. I was good at sports, I got good grades, and I had lots of friends. They’d come over to my place to play, or I’d head over to one of their apartments. It was fun. We’d play outside almost all year long, and swimming at the public pool was my favorite thing to do. 

Out here in Minnesota no one knows me, and there’s no one to hang with nearby. I live on a farm, now, of all things. Can you believe it? I left sunny, warm San Diego and now I’m stuck out here in the middle of nowhere, with only two other farms in sight. I miss the sounds of traffic in the night. I miss the sound of voices everywhere. I miss Mom’s voice.  

I’m afraid I’m forgetting it, but once in a while I think I hear her call my name. I always look around before I remember she’s dead. Dead, it’s an ugly word. I didn’t know what it meant before. It’s being alone, all the time. It’s never seeing her again, or talking to her about things that matter, and things that don’t. I’ll never hear her voice again. Never hear her call, “RJ!” in just that way.

I’m forgetting what she sounded like, and even sometimes what she looked like. When that happens, I panic. I get out my pictures, and a CD she made of stories to put me to sleep from when I was little and visited Dad in the summers. I listen to it as I look at all the pictures of Mom and me. I’ll remember her always, even if I have to look at them every single day for the rest of my life. 

Dad grows corn and milks all the cows twice a day, and Stephen cares for the rest of the stock and takes care of the house and garden. They think I’m going to do some healing or some such, just by helping out with the animals. Well I’ve got news for them. I’m not a farmer, and I’m never going to be. They can milk their own cows and feed their own chickens, and don’t even start with me on the goat. As soon as I’m old enough, I’m lighting out of here. I’ve got plans, and they don’t include Minnesota. 

Being thirteen is better than being twelve, but only by a little. I’ve still got eighth grade ahead of me, before I’ll finally be in High School, where you start to grow up. Everyone still treats me like a little kid, and now that Mom’s gone there’s no one who really understands me. I feel like a desert island, and I’m the only survivor. I want her. 

She was like sunlight. I know I’m remembering her maybe better than she really was, but so what? She’s gone, and I’ll never have her again, and if I want to remember her as wonderful, what’s wrong with that? And she was like sunlight, all blond and fair. Her blue eyes were the color of a cloudless sky, and she had tiny little freckles sprinkled all over her nose and her knees, which probably no one ever noticed but me. When she smiled, the whole world smiled with her, me most of all. She could always make me feel better, no matter what the trouble. But she can’t help me with the trouble I have now, ‘cause she left me. 

I get so angry at her sometimes, I just want to hit something, or yell until I don’t have a voice anymore, or just lie down and die myself. She promised me once, when I was real little and scared by a storm or something that she’d never die. She lied. She might not have meant to die, but she did, and now I’m alone. It’s not fair, and I want to yell at her and call her a liar, and then she’ll apologize and call me Little Man like she used to, and I’d do anything to see her smile once more. 

But instead I’m imprisoned out on some cow palace in the middle of nowhere, with no kids in sight, much less any boys my age. I’m hoping to meet some guys to play sports with when school starts, but you never know. I’ve never been the new kid in school before, though I’ve seen plenty of them. Never looked like much fun to me. 

I don’t think I’ll have trouble with the school work. If I was at the top of my class in San Diego, I doubt if these country bumpkins will be able to keep up with me. The teachers better be decent.  

I’m going to be a doctor when I grow up. Mom and me, I mean I, planned it all out, and I’m going to make it happen. The first step is getting all A’s on my report cards. That I’ve been doing since first grade. The second step is playing team sports, so I can earn a scholarship. This was going to be the year that Mom signed me up for every sport, starting with football in the fall. She promised she’d be at every game and every practice too. 

Yeah. Well. She lied. 

I’ve already told Dad that I want to go for sports, and he sees nothing wrong with it. Good thing, because I would have done it anyway. I mean, imagine me letting a pansy stop me from doing sports? No way. Good thing he didn’t push me on it. 

I guess I get my height from my Dad, because he seems kind of short to me. Stephen is at least a head taller, and with blond hair and blue eyes, a lot better looking, too. Dad looks like me, a homely little guy with dark brown hair and gray eyes. He’s not handsome and never will be. That’s all you can say for him, with his deep lined face and eyes all squinted up from working in the sun. But even if he is small, he’s got some pretty good muscle on him. I watched him slinging hay around in the barn one day, and later when no one was around I tried it. Boy, it was a lot heavier than it looked! 

Now Stephen, he’s just a fairy, a tinker bell, a poof. He waltzes around here like he’s dancing everywhere. I had to look, one time, to make sure his feet were still on the floor and he hadn’t started flying. He’s very excitable, and it doesn’t take much for him to raise his voice, unlike Dad who hardly speaks at all. 

I gotta hand it to Stephen, though. For a poof, he’s pretty handy to have around. Since I’ve been here he’s already done a tune up on the tractor, delivered a litter of puppies, and made a batch of strawberry preserves, which he put up in glass jars now lining the pantry shelf. Pretty tasty, too. He’s repairing a window pane I accidentally busted when practicing my throwing yesterday. He said I could help him this morning, if I want to. 

So I wander over to the front yard, and sure enough, there’s Stephen, shirtless in a pair of old overalls, wearing thick gloves and pulling the broken shards free from the window pane. He’s slender, but with his shirt off you can see he’s got some muscle. It looks strange on him. I keep expecting to see him in an apron or something. He looks up and sees me, then waves for me to come join him. I walk up closer, but keep my distance. 

“Want to hand me that hair dryer, RJ?” he asks, and since it’s close to hand, I do it. I laugh. 

“What you gonna do with that, Stephen?” I ask, all cocky. “Your inner hairdresser straining to come out?” I put my hand to my ear, pretending to hear someone. “Oh, there’s RuPaul’s Drag Race phoning.” 

He just laughs at me, and plugs the hair dryer in to a thick extension cord he’s got coming through the window from inside. Then he aims it at the window pane and turns it on. “This’ll heat up the putty,” he explains. “Soften it up so it’s easier to take out.” 

Well this I’ve got to see, so I wander on over to take a better look. Sure enough, that cracked old putty is loosening up and we start to work it with our fingers. Pretty soon we’re pulling most of it down.

“Now we scrape,” says Stephen, and picks up something that looks kind of like a really wide, flat screw driver. “This is a putty knife,” he says, and starts shoving it gently against the putty that hasn’t pulled free. It scrapes up nice and clean. 

“Now hand me some of that linseed oil, and we’ll prepare the wood for our new pane,” he says to me. I cast around looking and find a tin can on the ground with a clean rag sitting on top of it. Stephen pours some smelly oil on the rag, and begins wiping down the wood of the window pane. 

When that’s done he has me look the new pane over to decide which side is the “out” side, beveled he calls it. Then he gives me a piece of fresh putty and I roll it in my hands until it’s a little thinner than a pencil. He takes it from me and shows me how to fit it into the bare window pane. 

He takes the glass and sets it in real careful, making sure the beveled part is facing outside. Stephen hands me these pieces of metal, kind of like large staples, and tells me to wedge them into the putty every few inches, tapping them in gently with the butt of the screwdriver. Those will help hold the glass in place while it dries. Then we take a little extra putty and press it around the corners. Finally he shows me how to use the edge of the knife to wipe away the extra. When it’s all done it looks just like the other panes of glass except for the color of the wood. Stephen says it will dry for a couple of days before we paint it real carefully so it’ll match. 

“Good job, RJ,” says Stephen, but I try not to take it too much to heart. After all, what a poof thinks of you doesn’t count for much. But I tell him thanks anyway, then go sit on a big tractor tire they’ve got hanging from a tree in the front yard, missing Mom again. 

“Why don’t you go down to the lake, and see if you can catch yourself a turtle for a pet?” calls Stephen as he gathers up the stuff to put away. More of a command than a suggestion, but it sounds like as good a plan as any, so I thrust my hands deep in my jeans pockets and start walking down the road.

It’s hot, already August, and there’re millions of gnats singing in the air. They swarm around my head, and I bat at them, but it only drives them away for a minute and then they’re right back at me. I remember something Dad told me a long time ago, and I start humming with as deep a voice as I can muster. Sure enough, those gnats must not like my singing, because they float away and decide to go bedevil something else, most likely the cows. 

I can smell the manure just hanging on the hot air as I pass the holding pen outside the milking barn. Dad’s out there shoveling away what’s left from this morning’s crowd of milling cows, and he looks up and waves as I go by. I pretend not to see him, kicking up dirt clods like it was the most important thing on the Earth to accomplish. 

I don’t know why I’m so mad at him, besides the fact that he’s a queer and ruining my life, I mean. It’s not like they kept it a secret from me. After all I came here to visit for a month every summer, back in first and second grade. But he wasn’t really gay because he didn’t have a boyfriend. It was just us, then, and he was just my Dad. 

Then he wrote Mom a letter and told her about Stephen, and she decided I shouldn’t go out to visit anymore. Probably didn’t want me seeing them kissing and stuff. Not that they do that around me, but still, it would gross me out, make me hurl. So I haven’t been up here on the farm since I started third grade. I guess that’s too long, because everything seems different to me now. 

I used to enjoy feeding the chickens, but now I just want to kick them in the face. I hate the way they crowd around me, trying to get the food before I toss it to the ground. Greedy guts, that’s what they are. I told Stephen I don’t want to do it anymore, and he said that’s all right, he’s used to doing it. So good, I figure. Let him. 

I remember how big everything used to be, but I guess that was just because I was so little. It seems to me Dad looked so tall once, he could reach up and touch the sky with his bare hand, but now I just see him as short. And the corn used to taste so sweet it was almost like candy. Now it tastes like the dust covering my shoes. 

I get to the big tree sitting at the corner of the dirt path that will take me down to Silver Lake. Our land butts up to it, but it’s a lot quicker to go by this worn down path, probably first walked by Indians a thousand years ago, and maybe even cavemen thousands of years before that. 

Stepping off into the woods it’s easy to feel like I’m traveling back in time. Everything is so dark and cool beneath the heavy headed trees nodding in the summer breeze. Huge mosquitoes buzz around my ears, and I know I’ll be covered in itchy bites, but I just don’t care. In here, where no one can see me, is where I cry what tears I’ve got left. 

This morning I wait for some to come squeezing out, but there doesn’t seem to be any need, so I just stomp on down the path. When it suddenly opens onto Silver Lake I stop and stare, just like the first time I saw it all those years ago. This is the one thing that hasn’t changed. The lake is always beautiful, ringed with tall trees and grasses, about a hundred different greens. Even now, when the nights are starting to cool, the leaves are still green. In a few weeks they’ll turn red, gold, orange, all the colors of autumn. But right now, everything is its own shade of green. 

When Dad first left us, I was only four years old, too young even for school. He and Mom gave me some lie; I don’t even remember what it was now, about why he had to go to a place called Minnesota. When I asked where the mini soda was, he’d burst out laughing and crying at the same time and told me it was far away from San Diego, but that he’d visit me, and I’d visit him. I don’t think he knew he was lying about visiting me, I just don’t think he figured how much work goes into a farm, though he should have, having been raised on one. 

When Dad was married to Mom, he was a banker, and we had a big house, with a lawn and a backyard to play in. Then there was some trouble, it had something to do with him finding out he was queer. Someone else found out too, and made trouble for him at his bank. Mom always said it wasn’t fair that they fired him. Anyway, we had to move into a small apartment, and suddenly Dad wasn’t a banker anymore. He wasn’t anything at all for a while. Except sad, maybe. 

Then Grandpa died and left him the farm and that’s when he decided he didn’t want to live in a city anymore, or be married to Mom and me anymore. He divorced us, and went back to his roots. When I was young and dumb, I thought that meant the roots of his corn but I found out it meant he wanted to go back to where he grew up. So my roots are in San Diego, where I lived with Mom. 

Dad might have thought he was going back to something, but from where I stood in San Diego, it sure looked a lot like running away to me. 

I kick off my shoes and settle my hot feet in the cool water lapping up on the shore. Away off in the distance I can see a motor boat, but it’s not moving so I figure someone’s out there fishing, probably some straight dad who took the time to show his boy the manly arts. Dad and I used to go out on a rented boat to fish, before Stephen. I enjoyed it, even if we didn’t catch enough to eat. Just being out on the lake alone with Dad was enough. We don’t fish anymore. Stephen. 

I search the bank for baby turtles, but don’t find any. They’re probably almost grown by now, or waiting to start school, like me. Maybe they feel the same way about it I do, partly wanting to go just to have something to do, and also wanting not to go, because I know there’s going to be trouble. If I had a shell maybe I’d just crawl inside and wait everyone out until I was grown up and could make up my own mind about stuff. 

The coolness of the water feels good against my hot dry skin, and I think about jumping in to swim. But besides the harmless box kind you can keep for pets, there are snapping turtles in that water, and I’m a little afraid of getting chomped. Dad showed me once how they latch on to what they bite, and won’t let go, by teasing one with a broomstick. We finally had to throw the whole thing in the lake for the snapper to let go, and wait for the broom to float back to shore. The bite mark it left on the broom handle convinced me I don’t want one fastened on any part of me. No way, I’m not that stupid. 

No sense in getting myself bit. Best to stay as far away from unseen dangers as possible. You never can tell what’s out there, going bump in the night, or hiding below the surface to bite. Or driving drunk on a dark and lonely street.

IT’S NOT MY FAULT IF HE’S NOT NORMAL. BUT IT’LL BE HIS FAULT IF I’M NOT.


After the sudden death of his mother, RJ, a thirteen-year-old eighth grader must go live with his gay father and his boyfriend Stephen. RJ longs for the days when his father was living with him and his mom, so he devises a complicated plan to change his father from gay to straight. The resulting scandal has unintended consequences, forcing RJ to come to grips with just what makes A Man’s Man.

Read an excerpt below the line.

It’s like this, see. My dad’s a fag, his boyfriend’s queer, and I think I might be gay. I mean, I think it’s catching or something.

I never used to think about it, back when I lived with Mom. But now she’s dead and I have no one to live with except Dad and Stephen. Everyone knows that kids raised in faggot families turn out all messed up. I figure it’s just a matter of time before I start prancing around, or my wrist goes limp, or I start speaking with a lisp. 
I tried to talk to my Dad about it once, but all he said was, “RJ! Those things don’t really happen!” and then he changed the subject. I guess he doesn’t see it as a problem if I grow up to be a homo, but to me it’s a death sentence. I think I’ll have to kill myself if I start liking guys. 
Back when Mom was alive, things were easier. She could talk to me about anything and I’d understand. If I didn’t understand at first, she’d take her time and talk it out with me until I did. Now I don’t understand anything. 
Damned drunk driver! How come he’s still walking around right as rain, and she’s in a box six feet under? Explain that to me. 
Mom never liked it when I swear, but now she’s not around to remind me, words slip out without my even knowing I’ve said them, mostly. She never liked it when I called Dad a fag, or queer, or homo, but that’s what he is, so what’s wrong with saying so? It’s not my fault he’s not normal. But it’ll be his fault if I’m not. 
“It’s rude,” Mom would tell me. She said I should just think of him as Dad, which I did. My faggot father. My queer dad. My homo pop. Ha, ha. 
It’s been two months since we buried Mom, and school is starting next Monday after Labor Day. I’m so not looking forward to it. As if it’s not bad enough to be known as the new kid in school, I’m also the kid who’s Mom died. And when they find out, I’ll be the new motherless boy with two dads, which is totally untrue because Stephen is not, and never will be, a father to me. But once the kids know, the damage will be done. Eighth grade is so going to suck. 

A Sneak Peek at A Man’s Man

 I needed to expand my YA novel, A Man’s Man,  to 50,000 words. So today I wrote a dream sequence for the protagonist, RJ, who is determined to turn his gay father straight by driving away his boyfriend. In honor of the novel’s near release, I’m sharing the chapter with you.

CHAPTER 9

To Sleep, To Dream

Sometimes I think of Mom. I talk to her picture, but it’s not the same. When I talk she never answers but once in a while I hear her speaking in my head, mostly when I’m just drifting off or beginning to wake up.

Of course, her voice is only a memory now and I’m not even sure it really is hers. Maybe I’m just pretending I remember what she sounded like. I’m glad I have that one old tape though, because without those bedtime stories I’d forget the sound of her.

The tape has just clicked off and I’m lying in bed watching the moon move across the sky through my window when I see her clear as day.

“RJ,” she says, and I recognize her voice right away. I’m flooded with happiness that she’s back, that it was all some terrible mix up, a horrible joke.

“Mom,” I shout, jumping through the window and landing on a cloud beside her. I grab her and hug her so tight she’ll never get loose. She doesn’t try to, just stands still and hugs me back. Finally, I let go of her. Then I look down and shriek. Our farm is far beneath me, a swatch of white outlined by the roads that surround it.

“No worries, Little Man. You won’t fall.” She takes my hand and we stroll through the clouds which feel oddly like the sand dunes on the beach in San Diego. We climb up to the top where the moon is shining brightly. His old face beams, just as glad to see me with my mom as I am to be with her.

“Why did you leave?” I ask her the one question I really want answered. “Why didn’t you live?”

“Well, it wasn’t my choice, baby. There are some things you cannot control,” she says conversationally, pulling me down to sit beside her on the cloud. A shooting star falls in the distance. She wraps an arm around me, hugging me close. “That’s something you will have to understand sometime, soon I hope.”

“If it hadbeen your choice you’d have stayed, right Mom?”

She kisses my forehead, leaving a warm spot like the imprint of lipstick. “I wouldn’t part with you for anything in heaven or hell,” she reassures me. “Nothing could have split us apart short of death. I’m so sorry, RJ, so very sorry I’m not there with you now. But I left you in very good hands. Your father loves you every bit as much as I do. I’m so very glad you love him back and want him to be happy.”

I suddenly feel disloyal. “Yeah, I do Mom, but not in the same way I loved you.” I’m trying not to cry but first one tear escapes, and then another. They float off into space to become twinkling stars.

“That’s the wonder of love, Little Man. You can love more than one person with all you’ve got because your heart will always make room. You can never love too many, or too deeply. Of course,” she says using her mommy voice, “you marry only one at a time and you bring respect and trust to that union as well as love. That’s what makes a family. Like you, your dad, and Stephen.”

“You know about him?”

“Oh sure, honey. Your dad and I talked and texted back and forth every week. I always consulted him when making big decisions about you and often took his advice. If it’d been up to me, you’d have been studying music rather than playing sports to earn a scholarship.”

“That was Dad?”

“Yes it was. He needed to be part of your life even if he didn’t want to shock you with his lifestyle.  I sent him pictures of you as you grew, and he sent me photos of life here on the farm.

“When he found Stephen something changed. He’d always loved you, and me, but a part of his heart he’d always kept closed opened up. We had decided you were old enough to deal with his having a boyfriend and were going to start sending you back to the farm more often so you could meet Stephen and see how happy they are together, but then fate took a hand. I understand they’re going to get married. They must be very happy.”

I focus on the face of the moon rather than look at Mom directly. “They were,” I answer, “but I fixed that. I helped Dad see the light.” The moon in front of me dims. “He’s straight again now.”

“Oh no, I thought you wanted him to be happy?” Her voice and body fade away and I’m left sitting on a cloud all alone.

“What do you mean, Mom?” She doesn’t answer. The moon goes dark like a total eclipse, and the cloud beneath me starts to shift like drifting sand. “Mom!” I call for her as loud as I can but she’s gone. Again.

What did Mom mean when she said she thought I wanted Dad to be happy? I do want him to be happy. Happy and straight. No one who is gay can be happy. She must not understand, I think, and then laugh at myself because she’s nothing but dust to dust, ashes to ashes. She can’t understand, or misunderstand, anything now.

The cloud sand beneath me opens up and I start falling back to Earth. I try to scream, but suddenly my mouth seals shut. It won’t open, so I try flapping my arms like I’m a bird. I know it’s foolish but I’m desperate. And it works.

My pajama sleeves turn in to wings and I find I can soar. It’s a joyous feeling, better than Christmas or sinking the winning ball in a game, even better than getting straight A’s. I fly high, high, as high as I can go to see if I can find Mom among the clouds again.

This time the clouds feel like spider webs, sticky, light, and creepy. They clutch at my wing sleeves, slowing me down, but I shake them off and continue upward.

It’s not the moon that greets me because the sun has risen. Golden rays spread out from its surface to warm my face. When I look straight at it I’m blinded for a moment and lose control. I’m falling and my sleeve wings burn away, but a huge hand catches me in its palm. I try to follow the hand to the arm and up to the face of my rescuer, but the light is too bright. I’m blinded by its brilliance, so I focus on the hand.

Standing beside me is a boy about my age. His clothes are strange to me, a swirling cloak of many colors. He’s playing a stringed instrument I’ve never seen before and starts to sing:
“There was a boy, a very strange enchanted boy,
And while we spoke of many things, fools and kings, This he said to me:
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love, and be loved in return.”
Listening to him fills me with a feeling of safety. When he finishes, I say, “My mom used to play that song on the piano. Do you know where she is? Who are you?”

“Yes, I know where she is and she’s safe. As for who I am, I have a million names. The one I want you to use is Friend.” His eyes, dark with understanding, gaze into mine.

“How did I get here? How will I get home?” I ask him.

 

“You came here searching for something. You’ll go home when you find it.”

I think that over and say, “Sounds like a lot of books and movies, Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, A Wrinkle in Time. Can’t you give me a bigger hint than that?”

His face lights up with mischief. “Ultimately we all search for the truth.”

“But that’s as vague as the first hint.” He shrugs. “Listen, Friend,” I try, “how about if I ask questions? Will you answer them?”

Suddenly he’s standing in front of a large and colorful game board. On it are ten spaces leading from the first one, marked Confusion, to the last one, labeled Understanding. Above it hangs a flashing sign that reads: WHAT AM I SEARCHING FOR? A marker with my face on it stands smack in the middle of Confusion, ready to go.

I’m standing behind a contestant’s pulpit with bright lights in my eyes, and somewhere behind them is an unseen audience applauding. They quiet down and Friend says to them, “Welcome, welcome, welcome to the game of…”

 He pauses and the audience shouts back, “…What Am I Searching For?”

His teeth gleam white in the spotlights. “That’s right. Our contestant today is RJ, age thirteen. He loves sports and academics, any competition really, but as we all know his only opponent today is himself.”

Friend turns to me. “Good luck, RJ. You may ask me any question you’d like but I’ll only answer with one word, ‘Yes’, ‘No’, or ‘Partially’ so consider your questions carefully.” Among fresh applause he calls out, “So if you’re ready we’ll let the game begin.”

My first question is easy. “Am I searching for something I can touch?”

“No.” Friend moves my image one step along the path of the game board.

“Am I searching for myself?” I realize it’s a throwaway question as soon as I say it.

“Yes.” He turns around and raises his arms as if conducting an orchestra. As his hands fall the invisible audience choruses with one voice, “We all are.” My icon moves another step.

Twenty percent of the way across already. I’ve got to think of better questions. I take a moment before asking the third. “Okay, it’s not something I can touch, but it is, in some way, a search for myself. Am I searching for love?” It seems to me that’s a crazy question, but so many people online post about looking for love I think it’s worth a shot.

“Partially.” That mischievous look is back on Friend’s face. That makes me think of Jessica.
Uh, why? Where did that come from? But it does make me think of another question. “Am I searching for ability?” Like in sports, or medicine…

“Partially,” but this time as my piece moves Friend’s face darkens, and the unseen audience shifts nervously in their seats.

Question number five will take me half way across the board and I am no closer to finding out what I was searching for than I was before the game. I plan my words before I speak. “Will I be a better person when I’ve found it?”

The audience breaks into spontaneous applause, my piece jumps happily to the next spot on the board, and Friend looks relieved as he answers, “Yes.”

As the applause fades the lights dim and a team of people come flocking out of the dark. They swarm Friend blanketing him from sight and I hear him protest good-naturedly. One woman pulls herself away from the pile and looks at me standing behind my podium.  She walks over to me with a smile jumping from her lips to her eyes.

Taking a towel from a pocket she begins dabbing at my face. I realize I’ve been sweating heavily, but she pats me dry quickly and applies a little clear powder too my face. “You’re doing just fine, honey,” she says as she works. “Most of ‘em give up by this point, but you scored a big one just now.” She looks around and leans in conspiratorially. “Figure out the difference between that question and the ones before. It’ll make things clearer.”

I refresh my memory. “My last question started with ‘will I’ rather than an ‘am I’. Does that make a difference?”

She dips into another pocket and produces a glass of cold water, which she hands me. The lights come back up and she along with the other flock of people begin streaming out. But she pauses long enough to look over her shoulder and nod before disappearing with the others back into the dark.

Friend is standing in front of the game board just where I’d seen him last. He’s spruced up and looking good, his robe is cleaned and adjusted, his face patted and powdered. Even his smile seems brighter. He turns to face the unseen audience.

“Welcome back to the second half of our game. As you will remember, RJ has made it halfway across the board and has five more questions to ask to discover…” He raises one eyebrow expectantly.

“What He’s Searching For,” answers the audience on cue.

Turning back to me Friend asks, “Are you ready, Friend?”

I know he’s speaking to me, but I can’t help asking the obvious. “You told me to call you Friend and now you’re calling me Friend?”

“I call lots of people Friend, with a capital letter and without,” he says. “I’ve always found it a nice way to keep relationships peaceful. It’s hard to get mad at someone you call friend.” The audience applauds. “Now,” he says to me again, “are you ready?

When I nod my head he asks, “What is your sixth question?”

“As it’s something that will make me a better person when I find it,” I muse aloud, “involving love and ability, I think I’ll ask this: “Is it difficult to find?”

The mischievous light is back in Friend’s eyes as he says succinctly, “Yes.”

Watching my game piece move another step forward I say, “Mom always used to tell me that the hardest things to achieve are the most rewarding.”

Friend’s compassionate gaze doesn’t irritate me as so many others have. He says, “She said many wise things during her short life on Earth.”

“Is there any way I can bring her back?” I cross my fingers hoping he’ll say ‘Yes’. If there is, I’ll do anything and everything it takes.

I hear the audience’s collective sigh of disappointment. “No,” says Friend with a touch of sadness, “which you knew already but couldn’t stop yourself from asking, huh?” He knows me pretty well for meeting so short a time ago. My icon moves forward and there are only three spaces left. I have to make them count.

Which is why I’m shocked to hear myself blurt out, “Is it something I have to learn the hard way?”
“Yes,” nods Friend firmly. The game piece with my face on it moves forward on the board.

Well, now I have some clues with which to work. A difficult to find lesson I have to learn the hard way which will make me a better person, involving ability, and love. Lots of wriggle room there. I’ve got to narrow the field.

“Only two questions left,” announces Friend to the audience as he holds up two fingers. “Will RJ finally get his answer to the question…,” He waits.

“What Am I Searching For?” This time my voice alone can be heard. The audience is silent.

“Okay, RJ. What is your ninth question?” I see hope on his face and realize he’s been rooting for me all along.

“Does this have anything to do with my plan, Courageous Change?” I ask.

“YES,” Friend shouts, and again my game marker skips happily to the next space. “You’ve got one more question. Can you figure it out, RJ?” He’s nearly jumping up and down he’s so excited for me. I hear a chattering among the unseen audience. They’re pulling for me too, I can feel it.

A lesson learned the hard way involving Courageous Change. It will be difficult to find but will make me a better person. Ability and love will play a role. And suddenly I know.

“I am searching for something that will make my dad happy and straight!” I announce. “That’s it, isn’t it?”

Just as Friend opens his mouth to answer a loud bell interrupts him. The huge golden hand in which this has all taken place tilts. While I slide down Friend floats up. He shouts the answer to me but the bright light of the sun shining through my bedroom window distracts me and the ringing alarm clock blocks my hearing. It’s time to get up. I have to feed the dogs, chickens, and Nanny before the school bus gets here.

As I stumble to the bathroom I hear Dad going out through the mud porch. Morning starts pretty early for a farmer working a piece of land the size of ours, and his workload has doubled. When I finish my chores and get to the kitchen for my own breakfast I find only a cold cup of coffee at his place.

I’m not stupid, I watch TV. I can see Dad is suffering from a broken heart but the afternoon talk show hosts say those eventually mend. A lost soul is a lot harder to fix. I have to stick to the plan.

Courageous Change is for the greater good and soon Dad and I will be happy, living as a straight family like everyone else.

Still, I watch Dad moping around here when he thinks I’m not looking and wonder when the happy part is going to kick in. Maybe he needs to date a woman.

I set about figuring out who that should be.