Its the 90s. Gender is a Chinese fire drill. Queers pull up to the red light in a beat-up Honda and jump out, run around it, and settle back into their seats in entirely different configurations. Boys kissing girls, girls whipping boys, boys and girls breeding! Its all too shocking at times. Just when you thought it was safe to tell your parents you were a perfect Kinsey 6, you find yourself fessing up: I kissed a girl.
My first full-tilt boogie obsession occurred when I was 14. Candyce was the captain of the girls basketball and volleyball teams. She was a senior, I was a freshman. She was the kind of woman who gets me wet in that faded Levis kind of way.
Candyce didnt walk, she swaggered. To the point that sometimes Id wonder if some sports-related injury could be the cause of her deliciously slow mosey through our high school hallways. But no, child. It was hormonal. She was butcher than all the men Ive ever dated put together.
Her locker was 11 doors away from mine, and Id sneak glances of her as she embarked on her morning routine. First, shed set her duffel bag on the floor. Then shed put her red down vest on a hook. It was the sort of vest youd wear while hunting deer. Remember, this was Southwest Virginia, where vegetarian was a kind of soup you had to put extra of salt in.
Then shed look in the mirror (butches are so vain) and primp her hair, which was the classic girl jock do: bangs in front, feathered on the sides, long and scraggly in back. She looked like a hockey player with teeth or a heavy metal guitarist without hair spray. It was enough to cause my forehead to bead up with sweat. When she styled her hair, she did it with her fingers -- nails bitten to the quick -- without a hairbrush in sight. I wanted her.
One day I dug through my fathers closet and found a pair of cowboy boots. Dad and I had all the same sizes, so I was in luck. I wore them to school, completely mortified every time the heels clicked on floor of the hallowed linoleum halls. I might as well have been wearing I. Magnin pumps.
Those naugahyde-machine-tooled-made-in-China booties were not making me the least bit butcher.
But all of my self-consciousness was justified when my best friend Whitney brought me a tiny folded note. Whit played basketball and volleyball and was therefore my connection. Whit said "Lets duck into a soundproof room." A wise move, I would soon realize. There, in tightly wrought cursive, were the words "Kirk-You look good in them boots. Candyce" I squealed, jumping up and down on Mrs. Leadbetters desk until the vice-principal walked in and asked "Arent you two supposed to be in class?" Whitney squinted at him, took a long sip of Diet Coke, and said "Probably."
I framed that note and have been gawking at butches of both genders ever since. Theres Fetch Me a Beer Butch and Ill Drive Butch. Theres Broad Shouldered Butch and I Call Everyone Babe Butch. Theres Just Do Me Butch and Secretly Bottom Butch.
My infatuation with Candyce turned me into an accidental sports fan. I went to all of her games. I even became an honorary scorekeeper so that I could travel to away games. I did all of my freshmen Algebra homework while logging assists and fouls for the girls Varsity teams. I was in heat every time Candyce fouled out or mouthed off at a ref.
Then came Candyces birthday party. Throughout the evening, Whit and I downed cheap keg beer, wine coolers, shots--anything that was handed to us. Thus began my illustrious hard drinking career.
Whitney and I, both dance-shy, quickly entered the zone commonly known in Rockbridge County as "all tore up." We stumbled onto the dance floor. Candyce and her boyfriend Buddy were dancing a few couples away. Buddy was twentysomething and had a moustache, which Whitney and I found shocking. I would have intervened, except that Buddy was the sort of redneck whose mere shove could have put me in the hospital. So I kept at ten paces--close enough for yearning, far enough for safety.
At the end of the evening, Whits brother gave us a ride home. He was dating Candyces sister Sabrina, so we drove to Candyces house. While he was inside kissing her good night, I reached out of the car and filled the pockets of my overcoat with gravel from Candyces driveway. I then proceeded to vomit out the door. It was not one of my most dignified moments.
When I got home, the steps thundered with my ascent. I collapsed onto the bed. The room was spinning. Id left my clothes up and down the hallway and was now in underwear and a Dead Kennedys t-shirt. My father appeared at my bedside and said "God damn it boy, youve been drinking."
I gathered every ounce of charm I could manage to cull from my years as the favorite and best behaved child in my family. I didnt have him convinced, but Id talked him into letting me go to sleep. Then came a beautiful and angelic voice: "You feel yucky, dont you?" I melted and said "Yes, Mommy. I feel yucky."
"God damn it, boy," said my father, whom Id forgotten about altogether. Dad flipped on the lights and shook hand fulls of gravel in my face.
"What in the hell is this?"
"Its gravel, Colonel. And its too long a story to tell right now."
As for Candyce, I can only dream. My queer soul sings "Red Rover, Red Rover, send Candyce right over." Id love to think that shes out there somewhere, keeping her nails short for some lucky femme.
My love for Candyce got me in trouble with several levels of law enforcement, in school and at home. I drank over her. I puked for her. I followed her all over the mountains of Southwest Virginia. If this doesnt make me an official lesbian, then I give up. When does Melissa Etheridge bring me my toaster?
Kirk Read lives in San Francisco and can be reached at KirkRead@aol.com