“Ding dong, the witch is dead.”
Wizard of Oz
“Fame, I’m going to live forever!”
Senior, high school, from the moment I stepped foot onto the school bus, till the time I arrived at the end of the day at my grandma’s there were verbal taunts, goddamned faggot, fucking faggot, freak. I would never back down.
My dad had just killed himself, and yes we did sing a chorus from Wizard of Oz, he was a veritable force in the Chicano community, helping the poor find healthcare, access to food, building community centers, leading the pack of his peers, all around his age, 40. They adored him. I did not. That old story of the activist, who though revered by the public, was not much in the way of a loving father.
There was a time when I was a kid and we’d play records, he loved Johnny Cash, and one of his favorites was A Boy Named Sue. Sure, so it was tough love all the way. There were a few moments when he was proud, one being when I joined the R.O.T.C. in the 9th grade, yeah I did it for him, and the uniforms were fantastic.
He and mother fought nightly, usually in Spanish, I never wanted to learn, this kept me safe from knowing what all of their fighting was about, anyway I assumed it was all my fault. But those days were over, we were kicked out by my grandma, his mother, spent a month at my mom’s mother’s house, our stuff on the porch, sleeping on the floor, shopping for a mobile home.
When I came back to my senses it was time to return to high school and continue my studies, art, drama, photography. Then it became clear that since I was still a minor I was entitled to Veteran’s Administration benefits, money? Me? I did have a part time job in the library over the summer, chump change, but this was gold, and though it came at quite a price, I could change my life some.
Mom had finished her G.E.D. and was working as a medical assistant at the clinic, she was seeing her first husband, apparently that was taking place even before dad died, and supposedly dad was messing around too. Anyway I had a new attitude, one that encouraged me to come out more, though not sexually, too repressed, although there was no doubt in my mind what that I was Gay.
I learned one day in drama class that several of the high school drama clubs were getting together to plan a trip to New York City. The drama teacher that I had, Sam, was an old school Gay man; everyone knew it, though he had never officially come out. But he would show up exhausted after a night at the baths, and nap while we wrote plays, shared our dreams and plans, and basically had an opportunity to teach ourselves, that was perfectly fine with me, although having a dedicated teacher might have been nice.
Sam and I decide that we had better sign up for the trip, there were some meetings scheduled at a different school, west side, bitter rivals. There were kids from many of the city’s schools, those who could afford it, what a better way to spend my benefits than on a trip to NY? I had been dreaming of this for a while, so I thought that I had better take advantage of the situation.
The facilitator was a bubbly big man, full of humor and ideas on how to make the proposed trip pleasant for everyone. I signed on, so did Sam, we were going to The Big Apple! At the Safeway grocery store, I would stand and read the magazines while mother shopped, Town and Country, New York Magazine, GQ, Vogue, The New Yorker. Sometimes I was clad in one of my outfits, inside out, buttoned up the back, my sister’s jumpsuit with enough length to cover her high heels.
I dreamed of the big city, Santa Fe was too close, San Francisco too earthquake prone, New York, yeah, escape the daily ordeals, live in a world where I could start again and become a star. I actually came out to mom, in line at the Safeway, she was shocked, never understood that one.
Pretty soon all of my friends knew that I was going on the trip, I borrowed a couple of cashmere jackets from Andre, paid my trip dues, followed the travel tips, and was ready to leave on a jet plane. New York was bankrupt, the trip would be cheap, we were prepped on never to look at people, not to talk to hookers or drug dealers, to be cautious and ultimately have fun.
Some of the kids were jealous, many already despised me, my friends were happy and knew that even though I had been through all of the crap, that I was doing what I wanted, so they were encouraging and thrilled for me. I paid all of my dues, this included tickets to six Broadway shows, we were only there for a week, airfare and hotel, it was somewhere around a thousand bucks.
It was time to go, did we take time off from school? I can’t remember that, could look it up in one of the old journals, but will just continue instead. I’m sure that mother cried, prayed, worried, I had had a lifetime of that, though looking back she had every right to be concerned. There were only a couple of adult guardians, maybe twenty to thirty kids, Sam, a young Gay couple, I was so trying to be cool with them, they were friends of the trip facilitator.
My family was so poor and happy to stay put that very few of us had flown before, my father being one of the few who had been to the east coast. I had taken a plane ride in R.O.T.C, prior to that we traveled by bus, but I did get to fly to L.A. once to visit my sisters that lived there then. That was when the flights could be taken for $30 one-way. But my flight to New York was approaching; I had my model’s smile, my dreams of being discovered, a place to stay and a group of my peers who would take the journey alongside me.
It was a small plane, our group all eager and excited filling nearly every seat. The energy was high, there was nothing but the sky between us and our dreams. The plane circled the city, palpitations, New York City, just as I imagined it. The moment we touched down, the moment that those tires screeched to a deafening halt, the moment we were let out onto the tarmac, I knew, I knew that I would finish school, and find a way, this was home, that was where I belonged.