XIV / by Ronald Clark

I breathe in deeply. Selective belief is no belief at all, but I am learning to accept a higher being of some sort governs what we humans do on a regular basis. This growing belief puts me in a better position to ask for things my spirit needs to survive, like conversing with my mother, or in this case, God. I need to know things that other humans cannot provide me answers to. And too often, the Bible, written by humans, does not take into consideration generational shifts, so it must be taken in with a heightened grain of salt for not everything in it would be tolerated in today’s world. Disagree? Tell your mother or sister that you cannot sit down in a chair they have sat down in during their period for biblical reasons and see what they say.

The air changes. Wind speeds up. Nostrils twinge. Then relax, when they realize the reason for the change is harmless, even if it’s harmed itself.

“Vinnie, you close your eyes a lot. Someone's gonna sneak up on you one day.”

Oh, Walter, how I love you so…

“Hello, my dear friend. I am guessing that you are here for a similar reason as I am?”

“Something like that. I only had to come here by myself before. Now that you’ve joined this messed up club, guess you’ll be here as much as I am. Maybe even more.”

“It’ll be more. But this is no competition. Sadness is sadness.”

“You’re right there.”

We pause for a second. The breeze moves from me to him.

“So this is where she’s at, huh?”

I solemnly nod.

“Your dad really went all out. I’m just glad we have a tombstone at all. Surprised it ain’t made out of beer bottle caps.”

“She was worthy of all the fixings my father’s coin could produce. He can produce things, he just cannot go beyond that.”

“My mother deserved better. From my dad. From me. She deserved a better life. I even would have been fine with her just having things.”

“You say that now, but when you become consumed with all that are things, you start to realize that most of your life is quite hollow. Things can be destroyed, lost or stolen. To be loved defeats all.”

“But who do you love, now?”

“Only you, Walter.”

I smile. It makes Walter uncomfortable. His lack of security in his own adolescent masculinity is always a button I tend to push. It entertains me that someone so rugged can be so uneasy when shown love by another male. Yet, he continues to come around me. I think I am only friends with his subconscious self. His conscious self sees me as a feminine entity that must be handled with caution. His conscious self is his father speaking his life into existence. Because of this, Walter must live a subconscious existence in order to survive. I am thankful for his decision.

I remember the first time I heard James Baldwin speak. I had already consumed the likes of Fire Next Time, Go Tell It On The Mountain and, the one that changed it all, Another Country. But I had never heard his voice. When I finally heard his voice, it surprised me. I was under the impression - at that time, I was 10 years old - that men of power possessed voices heavily influenced by their Adam’s Apple. Hearing Baldwin speak with such conviction, with a tone lacking much of the prowess those with strong Adam’s Apple influence possessed, was like tasting from forbidden fruit. It was yet another masculine stereotype destroyed. Baldwin was more of a man than many he encountered. Gay with an aura smothered in the divine feminine, he redefined what it meant to be a man for me while living in a household run by an emotionless slab of meat.

But I digress. Walter will speak now.

“Ain’t nothing to love here, man.”

“But that’s the beauty of it all. I love you, even when you don’t allow me to. It kind of defines love.”

“If you say so.”

“I do.”

“My mother never felt that kind of love.”

“My mother did.”

“Wish I could get a do-over.”

“We only get do-overs in games. And life, is no game at all.”

Walter gives me a look, so sullen, and sad. Eye contact is painful, at this time. It truly is. His eyes scream for help in a helpless world. His eyes, create an incessant need to hug him, hold him, protect him - at least in those of us with a heart. How Walter is treated is my gauge as to whether or not those around us have a heart. He needs more than most of us. If one can see that in him, then that person owns a heart I can believe in. But if one cannot see that in him, then that person owns a heart I cannot trust. Walter is my gauge for a cruel, cruel world. He is why my circle does not contain enough members to call itself a circle.

“I still don’t understand how we’re friends, Vinnie. I don’t think I ever will.”

“It’s pretty simple to me. You are my protection. I am the voice inside your head you’d actually consider listening to.”

I smile at Walter. Walter fights back water coming from his eyes. Humans call them tears. Walter refers to them as a nuisance. Nevertheless, they are present at this time, and I must say, they are a sight to behold. No physical suffering had to be endured in order to release these raindrops. Walter’s tears only knew struggle. They have never known freedom… until now.

I walk up to Walter. I stand by his side. I put my arm around him. He, of course, is hesitant to accept my warmth. I put my hand on his shoulder. This is possibly a little more in his love wheelhouse. I stay here a bit, allow him to feel my presence. To feel my being there, for him, for his mother, for my mother, for myself.

We are holding hands now…

How we got here, I do not know. He shivered violently when my hand touched his. The only hands of a male to touch him have never been with love. He has only met male hands in violent expressions of disdain and disgust. When a boy never feels the love of a man, he can never decipher his love for anyone else. Walter fears a man’s love. So, in this moment, I attempt to give him a boy’s love. It is not the same, but it will do for now.

I walk with him, hand in hand, out of the cemetery. I watch as his cloak of hyper-masculinity sheds its misogynistic skin one step at a time. This is the pinnacle of Walter’s development, of his work within bell hooks’ grasp, of his time spent being a friend to such an unorthodox creature as myself. To have a grungy white boy’s hand in mine is to show the world that its hate cannot hinder me. That taking my mother away from me will not siphon my joy. That I will look all of your stereotypes and destructive isms with a smirk and a high-heeled kick.