Predawn Courage and Clarity By the Light of the Early Morn
"In the tender compassion of our Lord
The dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness
And the shadow of death,
And to guide our feet into the way of peace." -Canticle of Zechariah, Lk 1:71-76
"If I rise on the wings of the morning,
If I settle on the far side of the sea,
Even there your hand will guide me,
Your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
And the light become night around me,”
Even the darkness will not be dark to you;
The night will shine like the day,
For darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made." -Psalm 139:9-14
"God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day." -Genesis 1:3
When he asked, it was my senior year of high school and my parents were on vacation. The year was 1994.
It was when all that existed was my room and Dolores O’Riordan’s “Ode to My Family” ad infinitum. I really don’t remember how time passed otherwise. My theme has never been memory. Sadness just seemed the heart of my seventeen year-old life. My real smart junior college elbow-patched lit teacher would call it melancholy, an affect Google claims (I’ve long since ditched that class notebook) is a "pensive sadness, typically with no obvious cause.” Whatever it was, Dolores and I lived it between my four transfiguring walls.
In the sixth grade when divorce and a stepdad happened (a state of Texas game warden), we picked up from my hometown (the world’s so-called “gator capital”) to a larger and Golden Crescent Gulf Coast city where the high school mascot was a sand crab with no space between the crab and sand. My first major project at school was for English. We were asked to make a poster adorned with cut-out images of things we liked and thought reflected who we were. As usual, on these kinds of projects and rarely on other occasions, my mother swooped in to help (she was a wiz at crafts). Although I knew very little about the outdoors and Texas wild game, on shiny paper I ended up a "Field and Stream" advertisement.
I can still see that poster in my mind’s eye, and I remember the evening he and I pulled it down. I wince to remember how proud I was carrying it to school; I invariably swallow my breath when I think I was even allowed out of the house with it in-hand. Still, with the poster rolled up, my chest outstretched, and Ranger Roy snugly lying under my arm, I turned it in.
Like most small town southern queer kids, I tried my best to be all my family and friends thought I should. Eighties flower-checked neon Jams shirts. Suspenders a little longer than the fashion second they popped. Leather weaved belts longer so they bore the flourish of a tuck-behind knot. I followed the Little Debbie Rule (one snack only) when I got home from school after walking down our chert road to our 1950s pastel pink brick house. I mostly did my chores, and devotedly brought my TV-glowing parents their coffee following supper. Today (when I forget Pantone Reflex) I can strut my noblesse sitting down confiding to others that my good and holier than thou anticipation for others’ wants was brewed nightly in a cruel pot of coffee.
I am still working on predicting needs.
For the warden, I retrieved paper towels for Levi Garrett tobacco juice-filled Solos. I never went hungry, was seen and seldom heard, and knew how to say “yes ma’am.” And “You better say it to everyone . . . one day you’ll hold an important position and see how it paid off.” I resent believing those words still.
I was (and mostly remain) the begrudging textbook “people pleaser.” A middle child. Not neglected, mind you, just in the middle. Like being in the middle of the interminable worst of times and best of times; we all skip paragraphs here and there, okay? Unbeknownst to me, I was wading through unread, unwritten, and unknown piles. Slippery paragraphs I (first of all) and my family wanted that I glide over. They were Proustian Madeleines I didn’t remember. So really I couldn’t have been the one who devoured them after school. And I didn't believe I was better than my neighbors by storing them in our walk-in pantry. And I definitely didn’t share them on icy mornings with the men in my family. Hypnotized instead by my own breathy clouds on Windberg thirty-something degree mornings, we took pulls from a bottle of Hot Damn!, and I squeezed a Mossberg between my camo coverall knees in a duckpond blind.
Yet, my waders were only sometimes vulcanized. As best as I remember, they multiplied. They went by names like “debate team” or “student newspaper staff” or “national honor society.” Despite these impressions, I was unanticipated. How could anyone know what they don’t?
I started to feel my way through my own quest to know at the beginning of our senior year when he and I were spending more time together. He was a talented artist (a cartoonist for the student paper) and today lives in Austin. He's probably running his own design firm. Like myself, he was always well-dressed, had a silly sense of humor, and expected a good deal from himself.
Although it wasn’t a pretense for spending more time together, a decision to paint my room while my parents were on vacation proved one. Because I held a part-time job at a lumber yard, the need to paint my sanctuary in a Pantone Reflex Blue was only natural. He was an artist, familiar with the ways of paint, my parents were gone, and I sensed that this defiance would be the most important I had ever committed behind walls. The rich, deep, and oil-based blue resembled the sky before dawn on those thirty-something mornings.
We ordered Pizza Hut takeout and purchased paint on a Friday. At first, we watched TV on the floor of the living room, laughing through slices. Only gradually did I sense the blue bubbling up, calling us to the task of opening the cans and rolling the walls and brushing the corners after. Try as we might, it proved impossible to totally cover the lighter (and nauseating because ubiquitous) country blue so popular in the early 1990s. In corners and unpredictable places, country blue peeked through the glisten of predawn. Exhausted, we gave up sometime late in the night. We stripped down to our underwear, he in bikini briefs and I in my usual whitey tighties. After flicking the switch, we settled into the disappearance of predawn, and while he was still adjusting my thin covers, I impulsively leaned over, lightly brushing his lips across mine. Both frightened, and having never talked about our feelings, we clutched hands and slowly, over what felt like an eternity, I built up the courage to hold him.
Right before falling asleep, he asked. Both trembling, the words came out insecure and shaky. “Roy,” he started, and after pausing, continued: “what do you think of me?” Feelings I never before lived grew within my tightening chest and repeatedly washed over me. My throat contracted while hot tears trickled onto to my pillow. In the holy humility of that moment, fearfully and boldly he had allowed a vital hue of himself to surface. Words of care and assurance deeper than I knew myself capable gushed up from my forgotten and slippery paragraphs. We talked a bit deeper into the night the way only high school seniors can, and eventually, he drifted to sleep. His openness and my own excitement were so fantasy-inducing that I watched over him with eyes wide open, in awe of knowing and being known by another. I rejoined him through sleep only after early morning light began to enter through the shitty and brittle blinds, fixtures hanging in the room seemingly from the beginning of time. In the light of that predawn blue, and for only a grace-filled moment, the outside and inside both felt and looked the same.
Although my parents came home Saturday and interrupted the thrill of midday breakfast and a forsaken pizza box on white carpet, and although they would probably repaint the room sometime after refusing to open the front door when I came home from a school newspaper work night--never again to see those four walls in the same light--our predawn promise had birthed in me first hope then determination. His humility and our night-long holding offered a taste of the thought that I was loveable, and I knew it because we had brushed up against it. Shared in it. Even if it was only for that sacred instant when I witnessed the suspension of union at home with unremembered humility. It was a union that could only arise instinctively, an unknown reflex of courage that, we knew together, needed no effort. It streamed naturally; through and because of the deep and drying of our early morning's predawn blue.