People wanted to hear this. People needed to hear this. And they needed to feel it, too.
Janna’s parents had been involved from the start—taking part, as Janna liked to say, as their church reformed “under the new management of Jesus.” Mandy’s family had been nonbelievers until they found themselves a part of the movement; Mandy’s father was out of work, her mother was undergoing treatment for cancer, and Mandy herself was, as she’d later tell me, losing her place in life. It was a time when it was easy to believe the worst in the world. The Reign of Fear had done that to us. We thought any tunnel we rode through would explode, any bridge could break, any stranger could do us harm. But then the Jesus Revolutionaries started to make themselves heard. They’d always been around, but they’d been overshadowed by the vast hierarchy that had tried to keep them in their place. For Mandy’s family, the revelation came when Mandy’s aunt had taken them to her church. There, in the congregation, things fell into place. This was a new gospel to them—one that glorified empathy over condemnation, one that sang exaltation rather than exhortation. Suddenly the concept of love shone like a beacon…and Mandy followed it until it led her here, on this day.
Janna and Mandy had a third friend, Cathy, who did not share their faith. Lately she’d become a Decent, wanting to go back to the old church and the old ways. She changed her name to Mary Catherine and started coming to school in shapeless black dresses, looking like a songless nun and acting like one, too. At first, Janna and Mandy had tried to stay friends with her, but Mary Catherine seemed determined to thwart their attempts. She wouldn’t talk to them—not when they called, not when they wrote, not when they came up to her and said hi. It was as if her only way to deny change was to deny friendship and happiness.
I looked over now to the corner of the cafeteria where she usually sat, twisting a wire tightly around her finger. She didn’t talk to anyone anymore, still falling under the Decent belief that self-negation equaled wisdom, that silence equaled knowledge, that disengagement somehow meant love. Her fingers had ridges on them from all the times she’d wrapped the wire around them.
I turned back to Janna and saw that she, too, was watching Mary Catherine. She often did, and it always made her sad.
“I still want to say something to her,” she told me now. “Isn’t that stupid?”
“It’s not stupid,” I said. Mandy, Jimmy, and the others were preoccupied with talking about the election, so Janna and I could have our own conversation in the crowd.
“Even today. We’re all talking about community. And there she is, at the other end of the room, and we might as well speak different languages. Last year she would have been right here with us. She would have been happy, Duncan. I know it.”
“Look, Janna—you tried,” I reminded her.
“I know. I tried, and I prayed, and I tried some more and prayed some more. But then I realized: In order for us to be so far apart, she must have been praying in the opposite direction. How do you do that, Duncan? Pray to have someone out of your life. Pray for a friendship to be over. There are times—oh, never mind.”
“C’mon,” I said.
Janna scrunched up her nose. “Fine. There are times I think of us all and I wish we were back in second grade. Not really that young. But I wish it felt like second grade. I’m not saying everyone was friends back then. But we all got along. There were groups, but they didn’t really divide. At the end of the day, your class was your class, and you felt like you were a part of it. You had your friends and you had the other kids, but you didn’t really hate anyone longer than a couple of hours. Everybody got a birthday card. In second grade, we were all in it together. Now we’re all apart.”
She kept watching Mary Catherine as she said this. Mary Catherine, I was sure, didn’t even look up.
I remembered being friends with Jesse Marin in second grade, going over to his house and acting like ultraheroes, playing games for hours that seemed endless until the abrupt time came for me to go home. I was sure I got into fights in second grade, but I couldn’t remember a single one. Unlike now, when all I could see were the conflicts I had with people. When I looked at Mary Catherine, I saw her wall of silence. When I passed Jesse in the hall, I felt all the bad things he thought about me and all the bad things I thought back about him.
But then I would be with Janna, and it seemed better. Because, really, Janna and I never felt like we were meant to be friends. I wasn’t really a part of her crowd, and I didn’t really have my own crowd for her to be a part of. She still dotted her i’s with full circles and felt genuinely thankful for every sunny day. I believed more in dark clouds, in sharp dots, in needing proof in order to feel trust. The fact that I was g*y and Jewish wasn’t a problem for her—she was a true embracer, and wouldn’t have thought to qualify that with any categories. But there were moments when I had to admit that I wasn’t sure I could embrace as widely. My grudges could be too fierce for that. Even if I never did anything but hold them inside of me.
I was Jewish, but I wasn’t sure about God. I believed in the long line—the lineage—of being Jewish. I believed in lighting candles on Shabbat when I was home, in celebrating Rosh Hashanah with apples and honey for a sweet new year, in fasting on Yom Kippur and reflecting upon the things I’d done and the things I needed to do better. I believed in our history as outsiders, and the strength it took to overcome attack after attack after attack. But did this history lead me to faith? I wasn’t sure.
The Reign of Fear was dying as I was growing up. But there must have been some ashes that I breathed in, some remnants that would not be washed down.
I saw Jesse and Satch and their gang sniggering at their table. They kept saying the word Kansas, and I could tell from their expressions that they felt the election wasn’t over yet. Jesse made some Stein jokes and made sure everyone in the cafeteria could hear them—“What do you call it when Stein’s husband has sex with him? Fill-a-Stein. Get it?”—and I had to say to myself, They’re only trying to make us afraid again. If we’re not intimidated by them, they have no power.
“It’s why loser has stayed an insult for so long,” I said to Janna, who along with the rest of the table was very aware of what Jesse and his group were doing. “Calling someone a loser is a way of saying I’ve won without having to actually win anything.”
“Don’t listen to them,” Jimmy told me. “This time they’ve lost.”
But I would’ve believed it more if they looked like they’d lost. Or acted like they’d lost.
“Do they know something we don’t?” I asked.
“No,” Janna said emphatically, “they don’t.”
Luckily, the conversation was turned by the arrival of Gus, who had to be my favorite g*y Jesus Freak postconsumer activist. None of his clothes had labels, but he always made sure they fit really, really well. You could see almost every chest and stomach muscle underneath his plum-pink shirt, as well as the small Jesus that always hung from his neck.
“Who made y’all such doomster gloomsters, la? The country’s painted green and we must cel-e-brate!”
“We’re just worried about Kansas,” Mandy admitted.
“Kansas Kansas,” Gus said dismissively. “That governor won’t do diddly, la. If he tries, he’ll have a higher power to answer to—and I’m not talking ’bout Stein. C’mon—how ’bout we swing by the non-mall and make some donation purchases before we go to the victory party? That’s how we know for certain-sure that the election is secure: The party’s still on.”
Gus had been a volunteer at campaign headquarters with us. He’d started off on the phone banks…until it became obvious that he was confusing some of the older voters with the way he talked. So instead he became a Stein street preacher, chatting up people face to face, winning some over with the facts and a smile.
I also started off on the phone banks, and also switched away from them—but for a totally different reason. I thought I’d be fine at first—all we really had to do was talk to random citizens and upload them Stein’s position papers if they had specific questions, like “How will Stein compensate for the fuel crisis in Dry Alaska?” or “Where does Stein stand on Jesus in schools?” or even “Why should I vote for a g*y guy?” I figured I could handle it.
But then I started making the calls, and I was shocked by how mean the people could be. We were careful not to call during dinnertime or too late, so they weren’t angry for that reason. No—they took one look at my face on their phones, or heard what I was saying, and immediately started lashing out. Not everyone, certainly. There were many, many people who didn’t support Stein but still supported common courtesy and understanding. Even though I disagreed with those people, I appreciated them. It was the others—the people who felt it was their right to attack—who volted me. It was worse if they had the phonescreens on, so I had to get yelled at face to face. One of the conservative radiomeisters had told his listeners to stick their double asshalfs at us if we called. That wasn’t too bad—we used the freeze-screen feature and printed out our favorite rude butt shots. It was just stupid. But the anger, the yelling, the names I was called just for being a Stein supporter by people I’d never met—that wasn’t stupidity as much as loathing and fear.
This was my weakness: I couldn’t stand meanness. It unnerved me. With people like Jesse, it was one thing; I knew them, and expected it, and knew that even if they wanted to make me look like a fool, they didn’t actually wish me harm. But some of the people I called—I felt they would’ve killed me if they could have. Maybe not in the sense that they’d hold a gun to my face and pull the trigger. But if they had a button they could press to make me disappear, without having to see the mess, they’d press it. Not because of my specific self, but because of the things I believed in and some of the things I was. One guy with a big Decent cross hanging on the wall behind him told me he wished that AIDS was still around, so me and Stein and “the rest of you” could come down with it. One woman told me I was the downfall of America, and that if Stein was elected it was only a short time until we were invaded by Europe and Asia—“unless, of course, he gets all the other Jews to help him.” Another woman asked me if I was having sex with Stein, if I was his “little ass boy.” She said this as she held a baby in her arms.
And I was speechless. I literally didn’t know what to say. I knew that hanging up on them would only give them the satisfaction that they’d won our encounter—since that’s what they’d made it, a conflict to win or lose. So I wouldn’t hang up. I would just sit there, silent, as they told me I was against God, against America, against Family, against Decency. Eventually they’d tire themselves out or realize I wasn’t going to say anything back, and they’d hang up. But even when they did, it didn’t feel like I’d won. Only one time—this one woman started attacking me for being immoral and disgusting. I shut myself down and just watched. Then, in midsentence, she stopped. She stared at my face in the screen, actually took the time to look at me and who I was, and she stopped. Our eyes met over our screens and she couldn’t go on. She didn’t say sorry; she didn’t apologize for taking things out on me. But she stopped. And stepped back. And hit a button and hung up.
That made me feel a little better, but only until the next mean response. I found myself only calling the people who were coded as Stein/Martinez supporters. They thanked me, but most of them didn’t understand why I was calling since we already had their votes. Finally I gave up. I wandered over to Jimmy’s phone booth and stood in a corner where the phonecam wouldn’t spot me.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com