George—you mentioned something over the telephone the other day. You asked me if I have given up drugs. I said yes save my ration of beer, but I was intrigued by your question because I have never belonged to the drug scene in any big way. Especially back when you knew me. I suppose I had smoked some marijuana a dozen or so times by the age 25, but no stretchmarks of the imagination could correctly identify me as a pothead or whatever. I'm much too neurotic, weighted with a healthy fear of the judiciary, of incarceration, of wasted funds coughed up on fines and payoffs to attorneys to chance crossing that line of something illegal on anything close to a regular basis.
Except to someone with a theologically-induced fear of witchcraft like yourself, someone who seems to associate marijuana with demon spirits, of course one illegal or even legal hit is one too many, and I understand but can hardly respect your position. Anti-drug? Yes. Witchcraft, hardly. Peyote and other strange concoctions that are used in primitive rituals, and I've never been near, might crash that category but I simply think your imagination is feeding you the wrong numbers. All manipulation of human change by chemistry should be reconsidered in terms of risk to self, not shifting false alarms put out there in the ether to scare and control. Chemicals are chemicals. The human body is full of them. Yet considering the brevity of our conversation, I was particularly struck by your query as it was the only thing you asked of me.
I do recall a minor discussion we had on the subject in a construction trailer on one of Tommy White's jobs. You were quoting or pointing out scripture associating drugs with witchcraft and demonology and I recall suggesting that from all that I was aware of drugs, it seemed that folks likened it to a closeness with God, and I subsumed in fairness to my inexperience with either God or drugs that the drug experience was indeed a counterfeit likeness of the indwelling of the spirit. You quickly disagreed. I think you may have thought I was rationalizing drug use rather than intellectualizing what we had actually been discussing, that is, the nature of the spirit of God in close contact with his chosen vessel. I remember this exchange very clearly, as it was typical of my inability to relate to you what I assumed you already knew, thinking we were in agreement, and I was merely clarifying, only to have you disagree with me. Another topic we discussed that same day was that of the voice of God as it exists in his chosen vessel. I stated that I tended to change my active voice or approach to different people, according to natural impulses, rather than stick to any formula of self-aware oratory. You said that was okay as long as it did not shrink down into hypocrisy. Oh the joy I felt hearing those words! We had agreed on something.
For all the children's sake, we can admit that some of this sounds crudely like fundamental psychology, but remember I was discernibly unread at the time, and was coming to these conclusions on my own at the time, and besides we were talking of Christ's own approaches to life's succés d'estime, not secular, as I was then and am now still foraging for clues conferring the difference. Even now I would love to expand these themes to include current thoughts but will not for the sake of your health. If we are able to strike a chord in each other over the course of a few exchanges, then perhaps we may follow up on some of these things, but for now I am content to reminisce and allow you to detach from my youthful fancies.
Meanwhile I was telling you about the name change operation. After twenty months in Corpus I was ready to return to Georgia. My brother Clyde and I had both landed knee deep in barren financial soil; his roofing company was wobbling on its last legs. Desperate for a positive change of any sort we visited the army recruiter’s office. That desk sergeant confessed he had never seen the likes of us.
Sometimes past achievement turned to near nothing comes back to taunt me, now that I have merged a tawdry apathetic tendency to tarry forever with a dedicated urge to transcend even those past primitive glories and to accept nothing less than the voice of God's Own Authority as my role among mortals. This stubborn pride haunts me like the flickering images of a fantastic dream, of beauty and swiftness, of potential and expansiveness, of the great healing writer I was to become, only to have become a farce and a wasteling.
The Army thought they had us at boot camp. My brother missed qualifying by a mere five percentile points due to his dropout status, but the sergeant was still dogged by the fact that sitting on his desk that very morning were scores in the low twenties from strapping junior college and high school grads. And sitting right there flesh to flesh in his office was a 25 year old junior highschool dropout who sailed right past that sorry bunch into respectability, hey, all he needed was a GED and he’d qualify to join the United States Army ranks in full favor and garland.
I however was more feisty and cunning. The army wasn't testing me so much as I was testing the army. After hearing all about what the military had to offer me and my close friend Jesus Christ, I was only interested in the intelligence corps for which my raw 95 score patently qualified me, contingent of course upon my acing one more test to be given qualified intelligence applicants in San Antonio a few weeks later. Working in army intelligence suited my vanity. A bus would take me to San Antonio for the test, all expenses paid, but first I had to complete my application form. This was February, 1982. Facing a battery of questions to be answered honestly and openly, I suddenly became a thorn in the Army’s side. I stumbled over a question. Or rather, the army had refused my answer.
"Have you ever engaged in a homosexual act?"
"Have you ever had sexual relations with someone of the same gender?"
Something like that.
Now George, you may or may not remember me telling you that three of my first five sexual experiences were homosexual in nature, beginning with my abuse at the age fourteen by a man in his forties. As such, I was not at liberty to answer the recruiter’s question according to his and the military code’s specific needs. Neither did I accuse anyone with molestation, not that I was happy to be used this way my men.
"But you only experimented once, can we say?" the recruiter pressed.
"No, I can not respond in that way, either, unless I’m to suggest that only the first time could by nature be experimental, and the other times therefore were ventures of cooperation to be forgotten for the purposes of this enlistment," I replied.
"Well, what do you say?"
"Just what I have said."
"Your application will be rejected. Can’t you lie, and say you just did it once?"
"No I can’t answer that way. Didn’t you just begin these questions with a statement requiring absolute truth? Can you listen to my answer and then write whatever answer you think will work?"
"No, I can’t do that."
Same routine with marijuana. My recruiter, after the first series of questions would say, "Okay, that's it. We're done. I'll get back to you." But I could hear that my brother with his recruiter, a couple of cubicles down, was slightly ahead of me in the process. They were onto the next set of questions. So I would ask, what about x-y-z, prompting my recruiter to say simply, "Oh yeah." He then reached down into his drawer,and pulled out another folder. Down another set of pages we would go. Clyde and his recruiter were zipping along, leading the way, and my recruiter seemed unprepared to stop me from listening into their Q&A. Same routine. "Okay, that's it. We're done. I'll get back to you." This happened about four times. Apparently, worldliness works in mysterious ways. Conspiring with a recruiter in a series of single word responses in the form of an untruthnamely, the word "no" is apparently the shortest, most direct line into the military, or so one might be led to presume. Finally, we were both finished. I was set to catch a bus to San Antonio to take another test to qualify for the Intelligence Corps after ruling out every other Army training post the recruiter had offered.
In June, my brother, his family, and I packed off to Atlanta, and the army never signed either of us.
Another snippet of information you shared with me remains vivid. You said, and I forget the context of our chat, that the homosexual underworld has its own esoteric language, and operates from within that language. I believe you mentioned this at our last meeting, when I visited for a week up from Corpus. I seem to remember talking about Tolstoy and Bob Dylan also as we strolled along the jobsite, a future housing complex vacant of structural foundations, grading nearly finished and all underground utilities and paving intact. It was so easy, too easy, for you to point out subtle flaws in their christianity, hurrumph their personal foibles, and of the folly of seeking God outside of the examples catalogued in the bible, but for someone desperately seeking a path in contemporary society, to challenge heartlessly without germane critical analysis every icon brought to breath only served to threaten in my young mind the continuity expressed in the phrase, "Haven’t you heard it said, ‘I am the God of the living.'"
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