Authors: John Buchanan
The First Part - The Party
I have known I'm gay for two years now, as do my friends and family, yet inexplicably I find myself trapped inside a closet. It's a closet in an old Tudor-style house in New England, with nothing but an old, tattered copy of Moby Dick for company. And this is the story of how I got here.
I'm from far away Ireland, the backward, religious old country. Where people are still pagans, but worship saints instead of gods. I wonder to which of them I should offer a prayer to intercede on my behalf.
Who is the patron saint of homosexuality? At the end of the 20
Century maybe it was an Irishman, Fiachra. The protector against venereal disease. Or perhaps it was Saint Vitus, the patron of dancing. And now, in the 21
I decide it is Christopher. The saint of travelers also, who carried the weight of the world on his back. It is a selfish choice right now. At the end of day even atheists need someone divine looking out for them. God knows, you can’t always rely on your friends.
Let's start at the party where I met everyone. I arrived from Dublin for a year to a liberal arts college in America, New England, with my best mate Brandon. I couldn't find him that night so went to the house, the party house, alone.
It was loud, brash, crowded. Everyone was having a good time. I resolved to get amongst it. It took me a while fumbling in my pocket to get ready.
I took out my phone, it was in the way. I re-read some recent messages. Mainly from Brandon. Questions as to my whereabouts and inquiries if I'd like to partake in some drug taking. Caffeine or alcohol, nothing more exciting than that with Brandon. There was a new message saying he was running late, would be there as soon as he could, and he was with Fiona.
Fiona? I did not know her.
I found the little cellophane wrapper, and took out the small little pills. Only two left. The guy who'd sold them to me called them mdma, which sounded a bit precise. We called them yokes back home. I necked one, opened a beer to wash it down and took a moment, a pause.
I never remember parties. After them I'm just left with a sense of good or bad. I'll usually remember someone if I meet them again. But would never recall what we were talking about. Maybe it was because I drank too much.
But everything can be blamed on drinking too much. The problem with house parties is they aren't bars. There's usually only one toilet. So there's always a queue. And when people start doing coke in there the queue never moves. So a beer drinker like myself is stuck queuing for the night.
The pills, the yokes, helped. I have no idea as to the science of it. But I didn't need to piss so much when I took yokes. Maybe it was because they dehydrated me, maybe because they relaxed my system. There is the world of the internet available to me to check why, but I never do. I don't want to read about the damage inside. The morning after is for mulling over phantom bruises and staring in a mirror.
But I do know that I'm thirsty on pills, so I do drink a lot of beer. Which is maybe why I don't usually remember parties. But this one was a little different from the rest, though it started off blandly the same.
Back home, in atheist, pagan Ireland, I passed a monument to the Irish Famine every day on my way to college. Six or seven statues of emaciated figures looking out towards the coast, down the capital’s river, towards a future, in foreign lands, far away from hunger and destitution.
In the space of four years, the famine killed one million people on our tiny island. That's in the 19th century, when one million was a very big number.
Many more fled during the same period. To America, to England, to Australia, to anywhere else. But nonetheless some people remained. Which is an almost forgotten about fact in the generations of folklore that followed.
Geneticists will tell you that such an event is devastating, not because of the people who died. They were perhaps the weakest and least able to adapt. No, it was the emigration which was the biggest blow. The strongest, the healthiest, the smartest, the people with the best shot at success abandoned our shores. Leaving the people in between. Not strong enough to leave, nor weak enough to roll over and die. The genetic bedrock of modern Ireland.
Nonetheless it’s remarkable they survived at all. And they did so by becoming the most sociable and parochial people of the western world.
When you are dealing with this level of a disaster, social networks start breaking down. You simply aren’t going to survive if you rely on the bonds of family. The obstacles are too big to rely on that. Nor can you rely entirely on your locality, your community, which could be wiped out in an instant. No, instead you had to rely on the bonds of fraternity. Friendship and loyalty. A bond of Irishness which has never left us. The feeling that noone else really knows how shit life can be.
So nowadays we laugh together, drink together, play together, talk about each other, with an effortless rapport. Unaware that it's all a little desperate. It does not translate well.
I was doing poorly. I was standing in the kitchen, light on my feet, standing looking at the students, my fellow students, as though I was staring at a scene from a movie. I wasn't in this movie. I'd wandered onto the wrong set. But I liked this movie. Even though I was alone in it, surrounded by people.
I was suffering a dull panic. I wanted someone to save me, just talk to me. I couldn't talk to anyone, what would I say. I loved movies. I do love movies.
"So how are you finding your course?" Dom approached me, rescued me. He was looking well, toned, wearing a tight Obama t-shirt.
"Fine, so far man." I was able to reply. "Love the fashion. Is he going to win?"
"Hopefully but you never know. Have you chosen your courses yet?"
"No, no. Barely have had time to think. Thanks for talking to me. Thank you."
"Nothing to thank me for."
"There is." My wide eyes replied. "Seems you're around some like minded people here tonight." I pointed at a bin in the corner, which had a poster of Hillary Clinton stuck on it. She was speaking, a speech bubble had been drawn at her mouth, containing the word 'Garbage'.
"That's not me, I don't agree with that. There's no point in us tearing each other apart."
"Do you know what I love about Obama?" I was sudden and earnest. "I love his book, where he talks about taking drugs. In such an offhand way. And you have to think this guy never expected to be President if he writes like that. And then you think, hold on, I'm not giving him enough credit. He says he has taken drugs because he knows. He knows he will be running for President one day. So he wanted to say he's hiding nothing."
"Exactly," Dom liked this. "But he wasn't saying he was particularly into it. He's a serious candidate. And he saw what happened to Clinton and the pot. He denied it and it created a mess. We live in a society that has drugs, there's no point denying that."
Dom was about to lecture me and I was fine with that. But I still wanted to cut through it, reach out to him, one of God's fellow creatures. Even though I didn't believe in God. Could I tell Dom that? I'd heard he was religious. I couldn't tell him that and it made me sad to think I couldn't be honest with this genuine man. Because he was honest. Serious too, but honest most of all. I reached out to him literally instead and hugged him and pulled him real tight.
"I love you man. And I love Obama and I love that you're earnest."
"Ok, ok," Dom figured out what was going on and hugged me back, which was the proper thing to do. "Love you too, you crazy Irish bastard. Even though I don't know you."
This was quite true. And it hurt. "But there's a great importance to being earnest." I muttered.
"You should pick a course in American history." Dom stopped hugging me, the pressure of him on my chest slipped away. He waved his hand around the room "Why come all this way and learn nothing about our country except from parties?"
I followed his hand around the kitchen, taking in the Hillary bin, the noise, the people, and finally landing my eyes on a well built guy with his shirt off shouting and bounding around with his friends. I wanted to hug him too.
"Europeans can be a bit condescending about it. Sure, you've more recorded history. But ours is short enough to get a good grasp of. And eventful enough to keep you interested. I'm doing my dissertation on blacks who should have received military honours from the Confederacy during the Civil War."
"So study civil war politics?" Is that what he was saying to me?
"Absolutely. Between books and movies you might know something, but not half as much as you know about the America of today. It would be nice to know where all of it came from."
"I actually have a vague interest in that.” It was true. “My great great great grand uncle, or something, was one of your Presidents. James Buchanan. I could have left out a ‘great’ there. But he was involved in the civil war."
"He was involved in starting the civil war," Dom corrected me. The sharp response not withstanding, I seemed to have impressed him. I was glad."You know, being related to an ex President is something of a badge of honour in this country. Even the gay ex-President."
So the Irish streamed into the US. In 1860 an Irish-American Colonel, Michael Corcoran, refused to march his regiment in parade before Edward VII who was visiting New York. How could he, he protested, while the English presided in Ireland over the Famine.
Corcoran was due to be court marshaled for his insubordination, but that was forgotten about when the Civil War broke out. Instead he became a leading figure in the Northern forces, a confidant of Lincoln. He led the 69
New York Militia, recruited from the men fleeing Ireland in desperation. The Fighting Irish were born.
In October 1860, when Corcoran made his stand of conscience, another Irishman was in the White House. James Buchanan. From Donegal in northwest Ireland, from the same family as myself, he was a very different type of Irishman. Protestant, from the landed gentry that settled from Scotland, then followed many others to the greater opportunities offered by the manifest destiny of the American continent.
Two more different men I’m sure could not be imagined. The difference in character, whether real or imagined, between both types of Irishman has torn my country apart for hundreds of years. And as one type populated the South and Midwest and the other the industrial North, it’s a difference which is alive and well in the United States today.
I feel I must add that, despite the fact Buchanan was gay, I’d prefer to be related to Corcoran.
…Even the gay ex-President.” Dom was saying. But I was lost to him now. I had just realised which movie I was in in that kitchen.
It was an American sports movie. The one that's the same as all the rest of them. A team comes together, overcoming rivalries and inner demons and the distractions of a cloying soundtrack, to become state champions. The boisterous camaraderie, the male bonding that ensues.
It was that movie I'd walked into. The topless guy was shouting, waving his toned limbs, guzzling booze, while clasping the arms and backs of the guys who surrounded him. There were about half a dozen others, with the square jawed, well-fed, athletic look of Americana. They had all their clothes on, but were easily identifiable as being formed from the same stuff. I wanted to be part of their hugging. It looked safe. They were involved in some sort of drinking game, which intrigued me.
It’s very difficult to figure out when the movies stopped reflecting life and when life started reflecting the movies. When Clark Gable took off his shirt in '34 to reveal he wasn't wearing a vest, sales of vests collapsed and never recovered. Noone wears vests now because of Clark Gable.
People sometimes run in front of traffic to rescue someone standing in the middle of the road, ignoring the danger. It happens sometimes in real life. But do people only do it because they saw it happen in the movies once?
In that sports movie that came to mind, I remember the football team being primed before the big game by their coach. The camera pans around the dressing room, catching the faces of all our heroes. On each one we see the look of conviction and belief that they have overcome their various obstacles. And then they go out and win, of course.
As I stood there I was wondering if football players these days think about how winning would be a great present to their brother dying of cancer. Like the quarterback was doing, in the dressing room, just before the game, in that movie. Or do teams these days just think about that movie? How it made them feel?
So now even inspiration was an invention of the movies. I got all that from staring at the shirtless guy, as I swilled beer, and thanked Clark Gable for not wearing a vest that time.