In front of our house the clover is starting to come out in the garden.
I remember playing in a field behind our house with the other kids in the neighborhood. We would run around teasing each other about the man smoking cigarettes and listening to funny music in the dusty car he kept parked at the end of the shell road. Everyone feared being captured and locked up in the attic of his house if we weren’t careful. He was the first homosexual I had ever seen in person.
After high school I worked at a restaurant on Main Street. It was across from a park where guys seemed to congregate all day long. After a busy Saturday night I joined one of the cooks for a beer and ended up under the big oak trees where I met the first people who were out and open about who they were.
In South Louisiana during the middle of the eighties the prospects for being gay were slim. You could be creepy like the dusty man in the car. You could be feminine like many of the guys in the park. Or you could just lie about who you were. I chose the latter of course.
But the people I hung out with were impatient and indignant that I ran with their crowd while denying being a part of it. So one night they rearranged the letters on the sign outside the restaurant to read:
“Miss Robert is Gay”
There it was. Spelled out on the building I worked in, on the main street of the town I lived in, for everyone to see. I had been outed.
My friend, the cook, started inviting me to his trailer for card games, conversations and just downright weirdness. He was also a voodoo priest with a large altar in the middle of his living room. There was always some type of dead animal on it giving off an ungodly aroma, but no one ever commented on it so I just shrugged it off.
One afternoon as we sat at the kitchen table, another friend of his walked in. I recognized him immediately. It was the old man from the car who had haunted our neighborhood. I could barely look at him. When he walked up to shake my hand I practically crawled under the table. I tried to escape through an open window, but that meant passing by a freshly sacrificed chicken and decided to wait him out instead.
But as he started talking it turned out that the boogey man wasn’t so scary in person. He was actually a decent man, intelligent, schooled in literature and art, and very lonely. There was also a little ‘spirit friend’ who sat on his shoulder whispering things about the people around him.
“You can deny who you are Robert, but you’re going to go to the ocean and you will have to accept yourself before you can start living your life.”
That’s what the spirit said to him and what he said to me. I just sat there and laughed.
Within the year I was on the run from the FBI for selling fake Salvador Dali prints. I spent the summer hitchhiking through the state of Florida and eventually made my way to a pebbled beach on the Atlantic shore. The spirit friend had been right.
I returned home, with just the clothes on my back, thirty two dollars in my pocket and started my life for the first of many times.
I look at the clover, breaking through the dirt and admire its struggle to bloom in the morning sun.