Drama class became my haven in mill town. After Tanya and Shirley took me under their protective wing, I’d gone in a short span of time from trembling and pathetic to nearly bad ass as everyone in the class was intimidated by cool handed Tanya and her exquisite timing on playing the Us-from-the-back-of-the-bus card, which–as White as I was–I now gained traction with as well.
All the misfits took drama. And even if my misfitting was that I’d spent my whole life trying to fit in somewhere else, I was still a misfit here. If it were the Breakfast Club, I was Molly Ringwald. Some kids still teased me about being “rich,” but I was learning to keep some of my family’s interest in golf and Masterpiece Theatre to myself. And, the pre-Debutante Ball tea parties were something I slunk over to the city to do on the weekends. No one need to know about any of that.
Sometime during fall term, we began rehearsals for Storybook Theatre, a cluster of sketches we’d soon take on a tour of the district’s elementary schools, and that’s when I started hanging out with Bruce. Bruce was funny and animated and turned everything into a comedy with his pitch-perfect impersonations of all of us. He was so funny and smart that he didn’t seem like he could have even grown up in Crank City, and in fact, he’d grown up in a tiny village just north of town called Lantzville. His mother was a secretary at the mill and his dad died when he was a toddler, which made him all the more remarkable to me. I always wanted to be put in his improv group because there was this perpetual golden glow of fun around Bruce. The loudest laughter in the class invariably burst from the person he’d just whispered a secret to.
“And, of course, you know he’s a fag,” Tanya said as she peeled out of the NDSS parking lot, her eyes meeting mine in the rearview mirror.
If this story were taking place in 2010, the Tanya character would’ve said “queer” or “gay.” If the story were taking place now, the Theo character would’ve said, “Uh, yeah!” But back to 1978….
“He is NOT!” I shot back. I had plenty of reasons for Bruce to be straight. One was that I’d just spent a decade in public schools learning that “fag” was the worst thing you could be and the other–well, you can see it already, Reader—I had designs on him for myself.
“There’s nothing wrong with it,” Tanya returned calmly as she turned into the MacDonald’s parking lot. “Some people just are.”
“But, Bruce isn’t!”
Tanya shook her head. “Wanting things to be a certain way doesn’t change anything. Life doesn’t work that way. Haven’t you learned that yet?”
“You’re not right about everything, Tanya,” I said sulkily.
“We’ll see,” she said.