“My daddy used to be a seller of shoes. When that stopped paying, he went into the business of selling souls – or so Mamma called it. ‘You ain’t a preacher,’ she said. ‘You ain’t a preacher, and you’ll never be one. A goddamn drunk is what you are.’ She yelled near every day, especially after he got home from drinking. But he was a preacher, and a fine one at that. Every Wednesday and Sunday we all went to church and heard him preach the word of God. Everyone was aahing and oohing and a couple of times the spirit done come in and overtook some folks, making them speak in tongues and dance wild all through the aisles.
“Pawpaw had an oak pulpit, a fine suit, and the church even paid for us to have a nice car to drive around in, the First Southern Baptist church of Atmore, Alabama. Which, as far as I care to know, is the finest church in all of Alabama. When church was done with, we all went out to eat with folks from the congregation. Mom, Daddy and I had lunch and Mama went and chatted with the ladies from church, and Pawpaw went off and planned hunting-trips and whatnot with the men. After eating, I usually went and dipped and then wrote my letters. I loved to write, and to write to someone was even better. At first I responded to the personals in the paper, the ones asking for friendly correspondence, but never to the girls’. All cause of one girl.
“When I was in third grade we lived near Bilouxi and Pawpaw was a fish merchant so I always smelled’a fish. Only that I didn’t really think about it since I was so used to it, living in a house that smelled’a fish and all. One time for Valentine’s day, I made a card for the prettiest girl in the whole class, Claire. I made the card myself, colored and wrote it just for her, even got a new pack of colored pencils just for the occasion. She took the card in front of the whole class, smelled it and gave it back. ‘It smells like fish,’ she said. I was so angry I cried and ran home, and ever since I was terribly shy toward girls.
“But there sure were some nice folks in the paper, one time someone offered to let me spend the night at his house. I saved the letter just in case I ever passed through his town, and besides, it’s rude to throw away letters. In fact lots of folks made that suggestion, even though I told them that I don’t plan to travel much. It never hit me what they really meant, homosexuality didn't exist in Atmore. One of the nights dad came home drunk he went through my things. He found my letters, read a few and cornered me. ‘You a goddamn faggit! I can’t believe the son of a man of the cloth is a queer! You never read the Bible? You know what this means? Huh? You goin’ to hell boy!’ He shook the letters in my face, hit me with them and wouldn’t quit yelling about his reputation.
“I told him that Jesus loved all his children, besides, I didn’t mean it like that, I ain't no fag, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He said he’d lose his job, and we’d all be run out of town like dogs if word got out. He threw me out that night, tellin’ me to never come back no matter what. Even if I was dyin’. Mama cried, of course, but she didn’t do nothing.
“I really can’t blame her for it, last time she faced up to Pawpaw he put her down pretty bad, and she was in the hospital for a while. Everyone from church sent flowers, talkin’ about what a tragedy the accident was -- and wondered what such a fragile lady was doing on a ladder fixin’ a roof in the first place. But at least she gave me bus money to get to Mobile, which as far as I could remember was a nice city. We once went there when I was little; it seemed terribly big to me then. It still does now, seventeen years later.
“When I first got to Mobile, I had nothing but the lint in my pocket and the clothes on my back. It was raining at the station; it was dark out but still warm in a nasty way. I called a cab and had it take me downtown; when the guy pulled up on Dauphin Street I jumped out and ran. For a while I just walked the streets, I reckon it was about two when I found the guy whose wallet I stole. He was lyin’ behind a bar, looking pretty beat up. His wallet was loaded though. $300. I felt bad about it, I really did, but Daddy had always said that stealin’ ain’t all sinful as long as you don’t take from the poor – judging by how that man was dressed I recon he had plenty of money to spare. I still feel kinda bad about it, but the money paid for my first month’s rent. The place I took was a bit shabby, some mildew on the walls, mom would have freaked… but it was a roof to stay under, a place where I was welcome whenever. A week later I got a job at a small-ish café, within walking distance of my apartment. I told ‘em I had just moved from my parent’s place upstate, I guess they liked that – they said something about taking initiative; they called soon after. It was a nice job; all the people were well spoken and read a lot."
First entry of an abandoned Journal
May second, 1997
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