I grew up in the south. In my late-teen years and my very early twenties, I lived in a lower-middle class neighborhood with big backyards and small houses. My friends were all like me; long-haired and sort of rudderless. We listened to Lynyrd Skynyrd and drank Pabst Blue Ribbon. Many nights were spent listening to my friends argue, passionately, that the Confederate Battle Flag was a symbol of regional pride. Several of those friends would go to prison. Most would just abide, working in low-level jobs where they remain to this day, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon and cursing liberals and fags.
One of my close friends went to prison. It doesn't matter why. Another close friend told me that he would never have anything to do with that guy again. Why? Because he'd broken the law? No. Because he was in prison and in prison, guys had sex with other guys. Therefore (ran his logic) the guy was a fag now.
That was the sort of conversation that made me realize that I was done with that shit. Yeah, the go-to-jail thing was bad too, but it was the fact that I couldn't be ME that drove me away.
My friends regularly stripped off their shirts and wrestled each other. I regularly stripped off my shirt and wrestled them. They were sweaty, alcohol-fueled matches that contained no regulation moves and certainly no posting. It was just strength against strength, and sometimes it got ugly.
Undoubtedly, there was a latent, homosexual element to it. Two guys, shirts off, entangled on the cool grass. Their friends gathered around, egging them on. It was ersatz sex. Closeness without compassion. It was his hot breath on my neck. His hands on my chest. His legs wrapped around mine. It was an absence of women. An all-male rite of passage. A realization that we were not getting laid that night, so we might as well screw with each other.
As any of you who have been reading my blog know, I wanted more. I wanted the sweat. I wanted the muscle-on-muscle. I wanted the all male bonding. But I also wanted my opponents to be my friends, my close companions. I wanted to kiss them, and stand next to them, my arm around their neck. I wanted to listen to their troubles and be a part of their lives. I wanted a closeness that I could never achieve there.
So, as I said, I left. I did not let any of them know where I'd gone. Did not give them my new phone number. Did not give them my new address. As one of them told me when I met him in a Wal-Mart a few years back: I dropped off the face of the earth.
And I became another person.
No, wait a minute. That's not right.
I became me.
And that, in an oblique way, is my explanation for why I left so abruptly the other night. It was not that I thought you were a loser or that you were necessarily dangerous. It was that I was back there, in that backyard again. And I didn't like it.