Friday, February 2, 2018

Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill: Chapter 22

In Chapter Twenty-One, Wyatt's tipped off (by Mackenzie) that Jonathon's a guest on the Von Lawson Report again. As he, Martin, and their folks watch, Von Lawson rallies his viewers (and Jonathon) to fight the gay "radiation poisoning of history," comparing minorities like gay people to a cancer that needs to be wiped out, cell by cell.

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Okay community, here's Chapter Twenty-Two!

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Chapter 22
Saturday January 24

            With no guests coming, Wyatt was heading out to their B&B sign before dinner to take down the two flags for the night. When he opened the door he found a giant shopping bag of his Mom’s shoes right outside. Each of the ten or so pairs was packed neatly in its own clear plastic bag, but there was no note or anything. He picked up the oversized shopping bag and carried it to his parents’ room, leaning it against his mom’s shoe wardrobe.
He sighed, not wanting to have to explain to her about Mackenzie and her laser beam eyes. Grabbing a sticky note from the mail desk, he wrote:
                        Left by the front door
            “Wyatt?” His dad’s voice called out. “We’re starting!”
            He stuck the note to the bag with the butterfly-wing color shoes inside, and hustled back outside to get the flags.
Five minutes later, as Wyatt jiggled the cheesy broccoli off the serving spoon and onto his plate, his cell vibrated once in his pocket. An incoming text. He passed the dish to Martin, and then, pretending to adjust the napkin in his lap, got his phone out.

                        Mackenzie                  8:32 p.m.
                        Can we talk?

                        Wyatt                          8:33 p.m.

            Things felt tense around the table. No guests meant no money. Which meant Wyatt and his parents were fast on their way to being homeless.
Martin broke the silence. “I just wish Lincoln wasn’t such a racist – then this whole his-being-a-gay-hero thing would sit better.”
            “What are you talking about?” Wyatt remembered the quote pretty well. “Lincoln was the guy who said, Whenever I hear anyone arguing over slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally. He wasn’t a racist.”
            The phone under Wyatt’s napkin vibrated again.
            Martin speared a piece of chicken. “Lincoln wanted to deport all us Blacks out of the U.S. He even said he didn’t see us as equals.”
            “He said all men are created equal should apply to everyone!” But even as Wyatt defended Abe, his thoughts dashed ahead. Was Lincoln really a racist? He’d never heard that, about Lincoln wanting to deport Black people… But he knew Martin wouldn’t lie about it.
            “It’s a bigger issue,” Rhonda cut in. “Should a hero’s flaws overshadow the tremendous good they brought about?”
            Wyatt snuck a glance at his phone.

                        Mackenzie                  8:35 p.m.
                        I’m so sorry. What they said
                        was terrible.

                        Wyatt                          8:38 p.m.
                        but ur still going out with him
            Wyatt hit send and took a huge bite of broccoli. He chewed, nodding at Rhonda like he’d been listening the whole time.
            She was saying, “…Frederick Douglass wrote that Lincoln treated him with great respect. That’s pretty high praise for the 1800s.”
            Martin asked his mom, “But don’t you wish Lincoln had been an abolitionist? A fierce opponent of slavery?”
            Rhonda took a sip of wine, and then said, “Perfect people don’t exist.”
Wyatt’s mom snorted a laugh, “No matter what their online profile says.”
Rhonda put her hand on Martin’s arm. “It’s something I had to come to terms with years ago, when I named you.”
            Wyatt’s mom was curious. “What did Martin’s father want to name him? Gregory and I had quite a time coming up with Wyatt.”
            Rhonda’s face was carefully neutral. “Martin doesn’t have a father.”
            “But, everyone–” Wyatt’s mom started, but Martin cut her off.
            “Sperm donor.” he said.
            Wyatt looked at him. He hadn’t expected that. But maybe that explained why Rhonda wore multiple silver and stone rings on every finger, except the ring finger of her left hand. Kind of like the opposite of being married.
            “I prefer the term, genetic contributor.” Rhonda said sternly.
            “But no one knows what that is.” Martin said, like they’d had the argument before. “Sperm donor is really clear. You didn’t need a guy, you just needed the sperm.”
            “I’d rather we didn’t use that kind of language.”
            Martin rolled his eyes. “It’s just a word! Sperm!”
            Rhonda gave him a you-are-pushing-it glare. “We are guests in this home, and we should respect other people’s comfort zones.”
            “It’s okay,” Wyatt spoke up. “We say sperm, too.” But then he got the giggles. Martin did as well, and soon the two of them were laughing so hard they could barely catch their breaths.
            Tucked under his leg, Wyatt’s phone vibrated.
            “As I was saying…” Rhonda exaggerated a turn away from the teenage boys, and spoke to Wyatt’s dad and mom. “The lack of perfect people is something I had to accept, when I named my son who has no manners!
            “I’m sorry…” Martin dissolved into giggles again.
            “Well, it’s an incredibly important decision.” Wyatt’s mom nodded like she understood, “It’s a given that everyone’s a little fake…”
At that Wyatt had a surge of hope. Would she understand about him, when it finally came out? When he finally came out?
His mom finished her thought, “But, what if someone did something really terrible? You don’t want to build a whole life on the crumbling foundation of a lie!”   
Wyatt’s emotions plunged like the drop on a roller-coaster, and he could feel his face heat up. He was saved from being noticed by his dad coughing, like some food had gone down the wrong way. While his dad waved away everyone’s concern, saying he was fine, Wyatt snuck a glance at his phone.

                        Mackenzie                  8:40 p.m.
                        No. I can’t believe he didn’t speak
up for Becca. Or anyone else. I’m
going to break up with him.

                        Wyatt                          8:42 p.m.

                        Mackenzie                  8:42 p.m.
                        Tomorrow. And then we’ll talk.

                        Wyatt                          8:43 p.m.

Wyatt hit send and his chest felt a little less tight about things. Mackenzie still owed him some major apologies – like how could she date that jerk in the first place? – but at least they were communicating, and it wasn’t all laser-beam hate-stares.
Rhonda was on the third flawed person she had considered. “…But then even Malcolm X had that drug and larceny background–”
Martin cut in, “So you named me after an adulterer.”
“Martin!” Rhonda put down her fork. “What is with you tonight?”
“Kidding. Sort of.” Martin acknowledged. He glanced over at Wyatt, who was slipping his cell back in his pocket. The muscles that had been so tight in Martin’s face relaxed.
“Martin Luther King?” Wyatt asked.
“Junior.” Martin nodded.
 “That’s why you knew the speech by heart!” Wyatt said, taking his last bite of ketchup-drenched chicken.
“Have you seen it?” Rhonda asked Wyatt. “The I Have A Dream Speech?”
Wyatt shook his head no.
Rhonda inclined her head to Martin. “You could recite the whole thing…”
“I don’t want to be the trained seal.” Martin protested. “Anyway, he should watch the original.” He checked Wyatt’s plate and saw he was pretty much done, too. “Come on, I’ve got it on my laptop, from when she made me learn it by heart.”
            They left the adults downstairs. Up in Martin’s room, Martin slid his computer onto the foot of the bed and hopped on the mattress with his guitar. Wyatt hesitated. He didn’t want to be weird about it, so he took a spot by the pillow, as far away as he could get. Leaning back against the headboard, he didn’t recognize the flannel comforter they were sitting on, and realized Martin must have brought that with him, too. Weird.
Martin found the video file, and Wyatt wondered if he was going to play along. But Martin just held the guitar, and they watched.
            After images of marchers, a chorus of people singing “We shall overcome,” the mall in Washingon, D.C. packed with people, and an introduction calling him “The Moral Leader Of Our Nation,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was there, in black and white, starting his speech.
“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”

After the words painted on their wall downstairs, and the line about Black people still not being free, he said:
“When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the ‘unalienable right’ of ‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
“…Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”
Martin turned back to Wyatt. Their eyes caught, and Wyatt felt something stir inside, a connection, but he couldn’t think about it. Instead, he moved his eyes back to the screen.
“But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the Palace of Justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. …Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

The words were so powerful Wyatt had to say them out loud. “Soul Force.”
            Martin moved the pillow aside and scooched back to lean against the headboard next to Wyatt. Wyatt told himself it was no big deal. Martin probably just wanted to get more comfortable.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was saying that not all White people were bad. That many of them were there that day listening to him, because they had
“…come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”

            Out of the corner of his eye, Wyatt glanced at Martin – his mouth was moving along to the words. And Wyatt saw him. It was a gift, his mom naming him after this amazing man. Even if Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. hadn’t been perfect.        
            Martin was pretty awesome, but he wasn’t perfect, either – that whole weird dust mite thing.
            And I’m sure not perfect.
            And Lincoln? Closeted gay man… Racist? …But, maybe it was okay that Abe wasn’t perfect, too.
            Dr. King was telling them about his dream of everyone being equal, and was saying that they should
“Let Freedom ring!”
from all over the country.
“And when this happens, when we allow Freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city…”

The side of Martin’s hand brushed against the side of Wyatt’s hand and stayed there. Nerves fired from where their skin touched all the way through Wyatt like the fireflies he’d seen dancing in the air in Pennsylvania last summer.
“…we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Thunderous applause.
Wow. Wyatt was so glad to have seen it. “That was amazing.”
“He had his good points.” Martin admitted. His face was so close Wyatt could feel Martin’s breath against his own cheek.
Wyatt got up, breaking the skin contact and the moment. “We just need to add gays to his list.”
             “Yeah,” Martin closed his laptop. “Travel back in time, add it in the speech.”
Wyatt knew Martin was being sarcastic, but after he said it, the idea hung in the air for a long moment.
            “They were pretty similar.” Wyatt said.
            Martin fingered chords on his guitar’s frets. “Who?”
            “King and Lincoln. Both minorities; Black and Gay. Both assassinated.”
            “Both left our world a better place.” Martin added.
            “I’d like to do that, too. Just…” Wyatt grimaced, “not the getting-killed part.”
            “You are! With the blog.”
            Wyatt paced the small room. “Am I? Is it making any difference? There’s all this hate out there…”
            Martin strummed his guitar. “There’s this great song, about how the best place to start making a difference is inside yourself. Man in the Mirror.” He launched into the chorus,
If you want to make the world, a better place,
 take a look at yourself, and then make a… change!
            But as Martin sang, Wyatt knew he needed the world to change first. If he came out now, it would all be for nothing. Nobody would believe his story about Lincoln loving another guy anymore – they’d think the whole thing had been a lie. And it had gone so far, all those millions of people who watched the Von Lawson Report and went to the blog would hate Wyatt even more than they already did.
            Wyatt backed up to the doorway. Martin stopped playing as soon as he noticed.
             “We should get back for dessert.” Wyatt said, and turned to hustle down the stairs. It wasn’t going to do him any good to hang out in Martin’s room. It didn’t matter if he was a little weird – the guy was way too cute.
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Endnotes for Chapter Twenty-Two
Wyatt quotes Lincoln saying “Whenever I hear anyone arguing over slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.” That’s from Lincoln’s speech to the 14th Indiana regiment on March 17, 1865. You can find it cited at the National Park Service’s Lincoln Boyhood: Thoughts on Slavery webpage here: In their dinnertime discussion, Martin tells Wyatt that Lincoln had a plan to deport Black people from the U.S.A., and that’s true as well.
“The colonization of freed slaves, to either Africa or the tropics of Central America and the Caribbean, featured prominently in Abraham Lincoln’s formative beliefs on race and slavery. Enabled by a $600,000 appropriation from Congress, Lincoln aggressively pursued the policy in the early part of his presidency.”
That’s from pg. 1 of Colonization After Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement by Phillip W. Magness and Sebastian N. Page, University of Missouri, Feb 2011, where you can read more about it. As far as the seeming contradiction between Lincoln, on the one hand, saying Black and White people are not equal, and on the other hand saying Black people have the right to equality, here are his own words – spoken on more than one occasion (This is from his Quincy debate with Judge Douglas on October 13, 1858, as found both online here and on pg. 217 of The Lincoln-Douglas Debates):
            Now gentlemen, I don’t want to read at any greater length, but this is the true complexion of all I have ever said in regard to the institution of slavery and the black race. This is the whole of it, and anything that argues me into his idea of perfect social and political equality with the negro, is but a specious and fantastic arrangement of words, by which a man can prove a horse chestnut to be a chestnut horse. I will say here, while upon this subject, that I have no purpose directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so. I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which in my judgment will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong, having the superior position. [Cheers] I have never said anything to the contrary, but I hold that notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects – certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man.” [Cheers]
Rhonda references Frederick Douglass speaking kindly of how Abraham Lincoln treated him, and you can read, starting on page 350, about the meeting between these two men in Douglass’ autobiography, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass In His Own Words: A Complete History of an American Freedom Fighter, Citadel Press, Kensington Publishing, New York, 2002. The song Martin sings the chorus of after he and Wyatt watch the Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have A Dream” speech is “Man In The Mirror,” by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett.
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Ready for Chapter Twenty-Three? It will be posted on February 9, 2018. 

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