Past Lives...

Once upon a time Casa Grande was a small town. Not just in population, though it did seem like everyone knew everyone else, but small in thinking and attitude. If you're noticed for something, you could pretty much give up because that's how most people are going to think of you until you're lowered into the ground. The thing about reputations is there are always two of them...The one everybody knows about and the one only a few have privy to sharing. There are things some people do in the dark of night and not the light of day because that kind of reputation could get you killed.

Still can if you look at the news.

Back in the 70s it was a bit easier to hide some secrets. The world hadn't reached the point where every store and street corner and cell phones were a thing of Star Trek and science fiction and CG wasn't spread out in all directions. For those who belonged to certain groups it was easier to hide their Faith. I belonged to one of those groups and it stayed a secret for a very long time. For me, the beginning of understanding started with the new decade. Our town didn't have a local newspaper and when it did come out it was usually filled with smoke and mirrors, a feel good for the ones who ran the town and a reminder that we were only free within limits. 

My last year of high school was '71 and because I'd finished up wrestling I was filtered back into PE where, when the weather warmed up, we'd go swimming. Now there were two pools back then, the one in Peart Park and the other everyone called the 'New Pool'. Funny thing, the ones who were sent to Peart weren't all white, but neither was the south side of town where I lived so it really didn't hit me until it was explained to me why we weren't going to the much larger pool. I was just enjoying the water when I watched this kid get up on the high dive and suddenly all the others around were shouting and acting like they wanted to tear him apart. To his credit he looked at them and with the grace of a professional he dove in and everyone started after him. He swam fast and when he passed me I turned and dared anyone to continue. I'd gained a tiny reputation during that last year...I spent much of my time in detention or a couple times being suspended...One of those was when I threw one of the football coaches down the stairs. 

That's another story.

The crowd kind of dispersed and I turned to the kid. I'll just call him 'R'. He thanked me and looked for a long time and smiled in surprised. "You're white!" I kind of thought that was funny and shrugged it off. "Why'd you stop them?"

It was a simple thing...I never liked bullies. As a kid I'd always been picked on because I was overweight, the easy target. Then I had an experience which change all that and I began exercising, running and working out with a heavy bag and 'Speedball', a punch ball that was tied at the top and bottom and always hit back. Whenever I saw anyone being picked on after that I'd step in. We became friends and that's when the gossip started. His family was one of the wealthiest ranchers in the area, but money didn't make his life any easier. One day we were sitting at Jack in the Box and he told me he was gay (Back then the word was 'Queer'...I'll go with gay). At that moment I realized something about myself: It didn't matter that he was gay any more than if he'd been straight or an alien from another planet. In that moment he laid his hand on mine and we talked for a while. 

We didn't have the Internet but we had phones and mothers knew about everything going on in town with their children. When I got home she sat me down and we had a talk. I honestly didn't see the problem. Earlier in the year I'd been involved with a girl older than myself and they'd found a letter from her to me where she said she might be pregnant...Okay, that was what I'd call a problem. I told my mother the truth...I was just myself and love doesn't have a gender. I had the greatest mom on the planet...She gave me some advice, first and foremost was not to let my father find out (He and I never got along and I wasn't really worried about that part) and the other was the 'Church' would come after me with a vengeance if they found out. I'd left the 'Church' after the blow up with the letter, so that was also not a problem.

I graduated, I painted, I worked here and there, and toward the end of the year he called and asked if I wanted to go to San Francisco with him. It was only for a few days and I said yes. He made the same suggestion my mother had a while back...Don't let anyone know.

I never knew just how small Casa Grande was until we drove into San Francisco.




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