Past Lives (Pt. 2)

Most people think life is really made up of a series of choices and when it comes to the little things this is probably true. We choose to have a hamburger instead of a taco, choose to go to this movie and not another, we choose to wear these clothes instead of something more unconventional...Choices we can do something about happen ever instance of every hour of every day. Those choices that will actually change our lives are a bit more rare and most times we simply can't reach out and grasp them. 

College is one of those choices. There are countless individuals out there who would choose to go to college if they could but only a few can afford the costs and even fewer have families who can pay for a higher education. When I graduated high school I was offered a wrestling scholarship and I chose not to take it because it would depend upon my body not getting damaged and long hours sweating when I could have been learning something else, something that might help me continue in life when the body gives out. When R asked me to go to San Francisco with him I chose to say yes because I wanted to know more about myself than this small town could ever teach me.

Most people know my mother was a 'Witch', a seventh daughter of a seventh daughter who had seen and done some incredible things in her life...None of us knew that she would do even greater things in the future...My father was the son of a minister, his family were all religious and my dad knew just enough of the Bible to use it when I pissed him off, which was almost every day. One of my greatest childhood memories was that day I didn't get beaten by him because I guess I did everything right. I told my mom this and my dad, being the man he was, gave me a beating. Then I grew up and I learned to fight and he became older and so there were no more beatings.  But there were still all those questions, those unanswered thoughts about life that I knew I wasn't going to get from one fictional little book. The one thing I will say about the old CG library, they had a lot of books on different religions and myths.

But nothing about different aspects of 'Love' that didn't agree with the nation at the time. I'd seen footage of the 'Summer of Love'  on the news, read about it in Life magazine, but by the time R and I went the 'Summer of Love' was dying down and there were still those who held onto those ideas, but San Francisco was a whole lot more than simply one movement. In the '50s there was the entire Beat generation (Of which I only knew from an ancient television show called 'Dobie Gillis', a straight kid whose best friend was Maynard, a 'Beatnik'), of Jack Kerouac of 'On the Road' fame, Allen Ginsberg with his fight for free speech when the law called his poem 'Howl' pornographic (Which I'd learn even more about later on when I met a couple who had close ties to these people...In Casa Grande of all places). The whole Grateful Dead following still existed but, like most cities it was in the midst of change internally and outwardly. The stores changed names, sold different things, but the city didn't sit still or idle as it made its way toward the future.

Seeing San Francisco the first time is like seeing the ocean, it's almost a religious experience for the small town kid. We had, maybe, a few stores in CG that were two stories tall, but nothing, not even the few visits to Phoenix, could match San Francisco. When we crossed into the city proper we found a pay phone and R called the friend of his where we'd be staying the next couple of days. With an almost impossible set of directions we finally found the old large two story home. There were stairs leading up to the door and several men sitting there smoking and laughing as we were told to park around the back and it was probably at that moment I truly understood why I'd come to this place.

I don't remember any of their names except 'Tick'. He was about two inches taller than me, had a beard with very little hair on his head, and wore incredibly tight pants and only a vest to cover a well muscled torso. Someone gave us a cold beer and took us on the nickle tour. The place was cleaner and more kept up than I probably expected and it had a basement that had been made into four smaller rooms by hanging blankets. Our host handed us a couple of sleeping bags and showed us which part of this makeshift motel we'd be sharing. After gathering our bags we spent the next couple of hours just getting to know the people there. Only a couple of guys were actually from San Francisco. Others included a kid from Chicago, a couple from Wyoming and Nebraska. I wondered if they had the same thoughts as I did when they first came to the city. And the single most important aspect of that day was the fact the guys had no problem being affectionate in front of others. 

Neither did R. For the first time he was able to put his arm on my shoulders and not have to worry about having the crap kicked out of him. At that time I wasn't much of a drinker and kept that one bottle of beer alive while the others went through more than a few. Laughter and the freedom from fear was exhilarating. In a way it was almost therapeutic as everybody told their stories, tales of terror and persecution and when they first realized they were gay and how they escaped the clutches of their own equally small towns to SF. When they asked to hear my story my mind went kind of blank for a second. 

"I never believed that love had barriers." I more or less explained (It was a long time ago). "I think we lose out on finding true happiness with another person if we put up this huge wall and declare only this part of society can fall in love." I remember telling them about the religious part of growing up, of people using the Bible to 'Prove' a point and act as though that was the final say on the subject. Little did I know that this visit would point me in the direction of a Bible School before the  70s ended. 

As the sun began to set we all waited our turns to shower and put on some clean clothes because, according to our hosts, San Francisco at night was were life really began. Everybody dressed differently. R, who was already one the most beautiful people I'd ever known, he looked even better when he put on 'His true self'. To a casual observer they would never have guessed he was a man while I wore pretty much what I always wore...Long sleeve shirt with the sleeves rolled up, an old battered Levi jacket and loose fitting blue jeans and tennis shoes. A couple of guys wore leather everything while the rest of us dressed to get noticed.

It was true. San Francisco at night was a wonderland. Every once in a while a police car would cruise by and give us a long, hard stare while we walked toward the bars down the street. Nor did they just single us out, the crowds had been gathering and the noise level started rising, both from the people standing around but from inside the bars. In this atmosphere where there wasn't any judgment from one another I found making new friends easy. I can honestly say I'd been kissed by more people that night than most probably had in a decade. You couldn't help but be caught up in the excitement. We went into the smoke filled bar where R bought himself another beer and a Coke for me. We actually found an empty table where we sat and started talking. Really talking.

"I love this place." R was looking around at the mass of flesh. "I think I could live here." I was thinking along those lines myself, but there was this...Feeling...That this was only part of my journey into the future. I'd already seen artwork that was better than anything I could do at that point in my life and while this was invigorating, something was waiting for me out in that desert of a future. 

On the way to San Francisco I'd already learned an important aspect of my world. I didn't limit love in any way...Okay, in any way two (Or more) adults can feel about each other. I liked R a lot and I never shied away from his affection, never embarrassed or ashamed and knew that I was very comfortable with him, just as I'd been comfortable with the woman who'd written the letter that brought real fear and panic in my parents. That night was filled with a lot of firsts and all of them a major moment forever emblazoned onto my  soul. R and I walked around the surrounding neighborhoods talking about everything, about the possibilities of staying there, of the future, of the fact that in going back to Casa Grande we would have to go into that dark world of secret identities, of listening to people declare two sexes together every thing from an 'Abomination' to other more hateful and ugly things.

In 1971 the future of accepting GLBTQ individuals was bleak. The law was against it, religious leaders wrote sermons about the evils of same sex love, and if anyone discovered the truth the best anyone could hope for was being rejected by those who should be supportive, families and friends...The worse was more likely. Beatings. Death. All were not only possible but pretty much a rule.

We stayed on for a couple of days, went to a few mind blowing parties, and virtually every moment was a learning experience. I was, for the first time, at ease and...Happy. R was a whole lot depressed when he realized he had to return to Casa Grande. He had responsibilities tied to the ranch, to his family. I felt the same way as we said our farewells to our new friends. As we left the city behind us we agreed on how our lives had been forever changed. 

This was a choice, that time in San Francisco. My most important lesson learned was that when we given into fear we make the choice to never achieve happiness, the best we could hope for would be 'Satisfied'. 

I always wanted more than mere satisfaction, I wanted purpose. For several days after returning to Casa Grande I pretty much didn't talk to anyone. CG was almost alien to me at that point, small and petty. I worked at a few more jobs, dated a few more people (Of both sexes), and threw myself into my art. Never once did I pretend that time didn't happen and if anyone would have asked, I would have told them. I was still young, still felt immortal.

I still felt that I could make a difference.

My life, I knew, would never belong to me alone ever again. My eyes had been opened and they'd never be shut again. Casa Grande would never be big enough for the dreams I had, for the future I wanted. But it would have to do...For a while.
later
 

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