Friday, December 15, 2017

Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill: Chapter 15

In Chapter Fourteen, Wyatt talks to Martin, the son of the civil rights lawyer he contacted, and finds out Martin helped spread the word online about Wyatt's blog posts outing Lincoln. And the word spreads, with Wyatt watching the numbers grow past 10,000, and then grow past 42,000... and then the story gets picked up by seven more media outlets.

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Okay community, here's Chapter Fifteen!

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Chapter 15
Monday January 19
On the way into History, Wyatt nearly stopped in the doorway. For some reason, Mr. Clifton was sitting at their teacher’s desk, absorbed in paperwork.
Where’s Mr. Guzman?
Wary, Wyatt made his way to his own desk and pulled out his notebook.
            Jonathon was standing over by Mackenzie, talking to her. They caught Wyatt looking at them and Jonathon raised his voice. “So, Mackenzie, you wanna go out sometime? Maybe catch a movie?”
            His ex-girlfriend smiled at the guy who’d tormented Wyatt for the past six years. “Sure. Sounds fun.”
            Pretending to read his notes, Wyatt shut his eyes, trying to ignore the whispers and laughter at his expense. The bell rang, and Wyatt heard Jonathon high-five Charlie on the way back to his seat.
            Mr. Clifton’s chair scraped as he stood up, finally acknowledging they were there. Wyatt raised his head as their town’s librarian spoke. “What you see is self-evident: Mr. Guzman is not here, and I have been assigned to be your substitute.” Murmurs of surprise bounced around the room. Mackenzie whipped around and glared at Wyatt, like it was his fault.
The worst part of it was that he knew it was.
“Consequently, there will be new temporary hours at the library; some early, some late.”
New hours? How temporary is this going to be?
Mr. Clifton laid stacks of flyers on the five front desks and had people pass them back. Wyatt gave it a quick glance and then shoved it in his backpack, passing the stack behind him.
Their new teacher walked towards Wyatt’s desk, “And Mr. Yarrow, before I forget, Principal Jackson asked me to make sure you understand that you are expected after school in detention, starting today, for three weeks.”
            “Oooh!”s of he’s-in-trouble-now swirled the air.
            Wyatt fought the heat in his face.
            Heading back to the front of the classroom, Mr. Clifton continued, “The more observant among you may have noticed that your ill-fated school blogs are no longer on the World Wide Web.” He made a face like it was distasteful to refer to technology. After all, the one computer in the library was practically an antique. “But this does not mean your President Lincoln book reports are no longer due. On the contrary, you will complete them the traditional way and hand in your 3,000 word papers on paper.”
            The class exploded at that, everyone trying to figure out how many pages that was.
            Holding up a book from his desk, Mr. Clifton said, “Once again, Mr. Yarrow, I have your new book on President Lincoln here, which you can pick up at the end of class. Really, we’ve all made enough exceptions for you already.”
            Wyatt stared at the wall, telling himself to keep it together while Mr. Clifton bragged about how he used to be a teacher so he knew all about proper formatting. Wait. He noticed the walls were bare. All those motivational posters Mr. Guzman had put up. Gone.
            One person can’t make a difference.
Grabbing his stuff, Wyatt shot out of his chair for the classroom door. As he raced past, Jonathon sniggered with a hissing noise and whispered loud enough for everyone to hear, ‘fag!’
            “Where do you think you’re going?” Mr. Clifton challenged Wyatt.
            “I’m-gonna-barf!” Wyatt flung the door open and tore into the hallway.
            Mr. Clifton shouted after him. ‘I expect a note from the nurse!”
Panting, Wyatt stopped at his locker. He put his forehead against the cool metal, trying to figure things out. I should have played sick and not come to school at all. If he cut out again, the nurse would never buy it. And it would just give Principal Jackson more ammunition for his ‘serious consequences.’
            Stalling for time, Wyatt spun the combination. When he opened his locker, sitting on top of his bunched-up orange and black Oregon State Beavers sweatshirt was a large yellow envelope. “Where did that come from?”
            Floating fake-breast woman wasn’t going to tell him, so he picked it up.
            There was nothing written on either side, but it was sealed shut. Feeling like he was living in a Bond movie, Wyatt snuck it into his backpack and didn’t open it until he was locked in a bathroom stall.
            No note. Just photocopies. Four thin stapled packets.
            He looked through the first one, past the image of a book cover. A. Lincoln, Speeches and Writings: 1832-1858. On the second page was a highlighted circle around a date. It was a reprint of a letter:
                        Springfield, Illinois, February 13, 1842
            Dear Speed:
            Yours of the 1st…”
It was his letter! The one Wyatt had written about on the blog.
He checked the next packet. Another letter circled with yellow highlighter, from Abraham Lincoln: Complete Works.
            February 13, 1842”
And the third, from Herndon’s Life Of Lincoln, circled in the same neon yellow,
            February 13, 1842”
They were all copies of the letter. The same letter, in three different books.
Who would…? Mr. Guzman! He proved I’m not making it up!
There was one more packet. The cover was The Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang and Unconventional English, followed by a copy of the dictionary’s page 607. Highlighted at the bottom was a word with its definition:
            lavender adjective
effiminate, homosexual US, 1929”
What’s that about?
The next page was another book cover, Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years – I. Volume 1. By Carl Sandburg. 1926.  And after that, a copy of the book’s page 266. This time a few sentences were highlighted:
‘Their births, the loins and tissues of their fathers and mothers, accident, fate, providence, had given these two men streaks of lavender, spots soft as May violets. “It is out of this that the painful difference between you and the mass of the world springs.” And Lincoln was writing in part a personal confession in telling Speed: “I know what the painful point with you is at all times when you are unhappy; it is an apprehension that you do not love her as you should.”’

An arrow was drawn from “two men” to the circled names ‘Lincoln’ and ‘Speed.’
He knew! The rush of being believed was heady. And Wyatt wasn’t the first person to see that Abe loved Joshua. This guy Sandburg wrote about it – even if it was sort of in code – in 1926! And Mr. Guzman wanted Wyatt to know he knew about it!
But as fast as the rush had come on, it deflated. It didn’t matter anymore if Mr. Guzman believed him – he was gone.
Now, it seemed like it was all for nothing. They’d gotten rid of his blog, along with everyone else’s. The whole idea of Lincoln being gay would probably disappear, again, into history – just like no one cared that some guy hinted at it back in 1926.
He’d have to write a whole new book report – there was no way Mr. Clifton would accept one on Abraham Lincoln maybe being gay. Mr. Clifton and Principal Jackson and Mayor Rails had won.
He had no idea what to do. But he couldn’t go back to that classroom. Jonathon knew about him. Everyone knew. And now Mackenzie was going to start dating Jonathon? Some best friend.
Maybe he could transfer to another school.
He needed to call Martin.
He needed to get out of there.
            Wyatt snuck away and made it to the stream. Fifteen minutes past the ford he dialed.
            “Hey! We hit 68,000 before they pulled the plug.” Martin said before Wyatt could say anything.
            They only had 5,818 people in all of Lincolnville. Wyatt held the phone in the crook of his neck and picked up a big rock, half the size of a basketball. He heaved it into the stream. It splashed huge, making some damn good ripples that traveled the whole twelve feet to the other bank. For a couple of seconds it was all churned up and some water even went backwards, but then the stream kept flowing and the ripples faded out. Almost all of them, except he could see his rock, just under the surface, still creating little white-water eddies of current around it.
            The splash had gotten him, too. His jeans from the knees down, and his sneakers, were soaked.
            “Wyatt?” Martin’s voice on the phone.
            “It sounded like you jumped in a pool or something.”
            With the blog gone, Wyatt thought maybe his life could get back to normal now. Like none of it had happened. Do his three weeks of detention, and then go back to no one knowing about him. Let it all die down, and try to get over Mackenzie betraying him. He swallowed hard. “At least it’s over.”
            “Over?” Martin scoffed. “They don’t own the internet. I told you I cloned the site, right?”
            “What’s that mean?” Wyatt asked.
            Martin couldn’t seem to get the words out fast enough, “It means Lincoln’s still out, and all your posts are up, just at a different url: I’ve been re-linking to it all morning. I left comments disabled, like on your school blog, because we don’t want to get hit with a wave of stupid. We’re already up to 13,000 page loads! And if I can get the two aggregators that picked us up to re-direct their traffic, we’ll be golden. It’s our, your, First Amendment Right of Free Speech in action. The fact that your school tried to kill it is a story itself, and I submitted that to six more aggregators, plus the two that carried us in the first place. We’ll be blowing up again by this afternoon at the latest. You should feel great!”
            Wyatt didn’t feel great. He thought about Mr. Guzman. What happened to him? Had Wyatt gotten him fired?
            His phone buzzed with a text coming through.

                        Mom                           8:23 a.m.
                        Where are you? School called.
                        Get home now!

            ‘Get home?’ Not ‘get back to school?’ He was in so much trouble.
            Should I tell Dad and Mom about me? They’re probably going to hear it from someone at school. But, if I come out, what if they don’t… What if they stop loving me? What if they suddenly hate me, just for being me?
            The familiar dread felt like someone trying to hold him underwater, and Wyatt had to thrash to the surface of his fear just to breathe.
            “Hey, did I lose you?” Martin asked.
            Wyatt’s voice came out a squeak, “I gotta go.” He pressed ‘end call’ and headed for home, socks squishing every step.
Ripples, it turned out, could get you soaked.

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Endnotes for Chapter 15
Just as my fictional character Mr. Guzman reveals to Wyatt, that exact same February 13, 1842 letter from Abe to Joshua (the one Wyatt annotates on his blog) is found in numerous other historical sources, including: pages 79-80 of A. Lincoln, Speeches and Writings: 1832-1858, compilation and notes by Don E. Fehrenbacher, Literary Classics of the United States, Inc. New York, 1989; pages 56-57 of Abraham Lincoln, Complete WorksComprising his Speeches, Letters, State Papers, and Miscellaneous Writings, Edited by John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Volume One, The Century Company, New York, 1894; and the letter is excerpted on page 175 of Herndon’s Life of Lincoln: The History and Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln, as originally written by William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik, Albert & Charles Boni, New York, 1930. The old slang definition of “lavender” is from page 607 of The Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang, Edited by Tom Dalzell, Routledge, 2008. And the quote about Abe and Joshua having “streaks of lavender, spots soft as May violets” is from page 266 of Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years – I. Volume I by Carl Sandburg, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1945.

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