Show-Tunes and Hate-Crimes — 1997
“Help me!” Jason Edwards screams. “Help me!”
He explodes into the house, blood running down the side of his cheek, a red welt on the side of his forehead. One strap of his overalls is torn and undone, the buckle at the end twirls around his body. Jason E runs in place, looking for safety. His feet covered in soot and water, carrying one Birkenstock sandal in his right hand. He is exhausted and near collapsing.
“Help me! Help me!” he screams as he cries hysterically.
I am at a loss. I look at the clock, about an hour until midnight.
I have to leave for work in thirty minutes.
I stand puzzled, wearing a white button-down shirt, a pair of jeans, and a red necktie that I am in the process of tying. My mind tries to process where in the hell he just came from. Earlier in the day, when Thom went to work, Jason and Michael Loris went drinking down the street. The plan was to take a taxi back to the house. I am learning quickly, Jason and Michael didn’t follow the plan.
Jason and his boyfriend Thom, along with Lisa and I, have been living together about a month. Lisa and I have been dating for two. She is on an overnighter, which is common for flight attendants. When the four of us are together, we party every evening. Michael is often involved; this house is always full of craziness, just not this kind. A few seconds pass before I can figure out what to say.
“What’s going on?”
“They attacked me. I ran, help me!” he screams.
“Who attacked you, where?”
“A gang … down … at the corner,” he struggles to speak as he catches his breath.
Michael Loris is a small man. He can’t weight more than a hundred pounds, barely five-foot six-inches tall. Flamboyant to say the least: he wears a full-length baby-skunk fur coat, smokes from a long black cigarette holder, and carries a large purse that looks like Chewbacca’s ass-hair. He is an actor by trade. His personality is larger than life, often presenting a Jekyll and Hyde switch. Sober, Michael is charming. Loris the drunk, however, is anything but congenial. One night he busted into our bedroom, while Lisa and I were having sex; his facial expression resembled an overly dramatic leprechaun in an ugly thrift store suit. He yelled, “Slap her pussy. Slap her pussy.” When I am fucked-up he amuses the shit out of me. Not everyone is going to be so patient with him.
“We got drunk,” Jason E explains, his breath slowing. “Decided to walk home, down Maple.”
We live on Kings. This side street connects to Cedar Springs and Maple. These two main avenues are very different. Cedar Springs is the Gay Mecca of Dallas. Gay-owned businesses and bars line the street; side streets in both directions are gay-owned houses and apartment complexes. There is a party atmosphere to this neighborhood most nights; even with the Jesus freaks who hand out “homosexuality is a sin” pamphlets to everyone passing by. One night, I heard a gay man refuse a pamphlet. He said, “No thanks, I am going to be sucking dick in heaven.” I love living here.
The gay and lesbian community of Dallas embraces itself when others do not. Even with all the protection that comes from identity and numbers within this neighborhood, the Oaklawn area of Dallas is not always safe. For every “homosexuality is a sin” pamphlet there is a flyer informing the residents of recent violent attacks in the community. People have to be alert here, especially in the dark.
“We were skipping and singing show tunes …” he continues.
Maple Avenue is not the place for The Sound of Music. The barrio rages down the pavement. Broken-concrete sidewalks allow weeds to grow through the cracks of the uneven slabs as a habitat for the vagrants who panhandle for change to cop some dope or beer. The roadway is potholed so deep that rainwater never dries out in the sun. Signs in English and Spanish hang in the windows of the stores open for business. Gang graffiti litters the walls of the empty lots and closed-down shops; the foreign language denotes the neighborhood sets and allegiances. First-generation Americans struggle to adapt to the idea that these streets are the dreams white America is offering, not a safe haven for gay boys.
“… then they attacked us,” he starts to get hysterical again. “They had sticks, or golf clubs.”
“Where’s Michael?” I ask with more urgency. “Where is he?”
“I’m sorry, I left him! I just ran,” he cries. “There were so many! He’s at the store on the corner — I ran home.”
Without thinking, I fly out the door, my red tie flopping with my strides. I fumble with my Corolla keys, jabbing at the door with the handle of my key chain. Finally getting it right, the worst scenarios run through my imagination. Gay men in this country have been stabbed, shot, hung on fences, beaten to death, and set on fire, killed with fervor for just being the person our heavenly father created. I have been guilty of hurting these men. This is the first time I am confronted with the terror my past-actions caused another human being. I picture Michael stabbed or shot, balled up on the side of the road.
Just don’t let him be dead.
“You got to go help him!” Jason E. screams from the patio, just outside the back door.
I turn the ignition, throw the sub-compact into gear, pulling back out of the parking space. Before the vehicle stops rolling in reverse, I throw the car into drive. The Corolla jolts.
Everything falls into perspective. My personal safety is of no concern.
I can do this. Come on, go car.
I do not have any preconceived notions of kicking ass and taking names. I am not going to the encounter at the convenience store to win or look cool. I just want to get Michael and survive. My family taught me, friends help their friends, especially when they are in danger. The little engine revs, as the car climbs to the exit, sounding like a swarm of cicadas hidden in a tree, warning each other of hungry birds. I pull out onto Kings with the gas pedal down. I assume I have the right of way. I never participated in an act of atonement, or done something for the right reason, even though the act may cause me harm. The car zips towards the store. I feel like I am freefalling on a bicycle as the fiberglass-adorned vehicle plunges toward the unknown.
Hang on, Michael. God please protect us.
I am so fucking terrified.