Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Setting the Stage Part 4

This is Part 4 in a multi-part blog post.  If you've stumbled across the page without reading Part 1, click the link below to go to Part 1.
Setting the Stage Part 1

As high school drew to a close, that first summer didn’t really feel like much of a change to me.  I continued to hang out with my friends throughout the summer.  In many ways, it felt like a continuation of high school, just without the high school part.  I got a job working in a gas station.  It feels so odd to think back on that now.  I remember changing the gas prices many times to things like $1.05, 99¢, or even 89¢.  If regular gas got as high as $1.25, that felt outrageous.  Oh, to pay such an outrageous price now.  I was registered for classes at a regional campus of Ohio University in the fall of that year.  It was 1994.  Twenty years ago.

Having spent my senior year working as a writer was a great opportunity for me, but it had also artificially inflated my ego.  I had grand visions for myself then.  I thought I was going to spend a year at a regional campus, and then I would transfer to Ohio University’s main campus in Athens, Ohio to attend the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism, one of the top journalism schools in the country.  Matt Lauer went there for God’s sake.  I also dreamed of someday working on the White House Press Corps.  Somewhere during that first quarter of college, I began to understand exactly how difficult it would be to get into Scripps, and I didn’t like my chances. Plus, some of my friends from high school were attending a nearby technical college, and that seemed like a much better alternative than busting my ass to try to get into a school that I would probably not get into in order to pursue a career goal that I would most likely never achieve.  If I could go back and speak to a younger me, I would have told me to go for it.  I was young, and I wanted to be with my friends.

Over the course of that first year of college, as naturally happens, I began hanging out less and less with my high school friends.  Even going to the same school as my friends, balancing full time work and full time classes kept me pretty busy.  This is where circumstances came together in a perfect combination.  Here I was, a 19-year-old kid who, still claiming to be an atheist, had lingering doubts and fears from having been told as a young child sitting in a vacation Bible school class that he was going to hell if he didn’t get saved.  Add on top of that fear of social and familial rejection if anyone found out that I was gay.  Then, throw in the fact that I survived a car accident that many said should have killed me, but, for some reason, I lived.  Finally, having spent most of my life feeling socially ostracized and having now had a taste of social acceptance only to feel that slipping away.  I yearned for purpose and acceptance.  Given the circumstances, I was ripe for recruiting by either a conservative evangelical church or a white supremacist group.  Ironically, they both found me about the same time and in the same place.  No joke.

I was working in the gas station one day when a guy walked up and placed his purchases on the counter.  I rung him out, handed him his change, and bagged his items for him.  As he was about to walk away, he handed me a business card and walked out the door.  Now, as a guy who is young, naive, and somewhat geeky, although I was trying to be more closeted about that part of myself in those days, the notion of making contact with a guy whose title is Grand Wizard seemed pretty cool at first.  Then, I saw the smaller print at that bottom of the card and realized that I had just interacted with a bonafide and high ranking member of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.  Suddenly, all the newspaper pictures that I had seen of Klan activity in the area as I was growing up came flooding into my mind.  I point this out to those of you who think I should regret the years that I spent in the conservative evangelical church.  There are points in this story where things could have gone far worse.  Believe me.

Fortunately, a second alternative arrived at that same gas station, and it arrived in the form of my new co-worker, Max, short for Maximo.  Max’s family had recently moved to the neighborhood.  Max had two brothers whom I would later learn were named Marc and Maurio.  They were all very attractive young men; so, I was naturally interested when I learned that one of them would be working with me.  Then, I learned something else that would change my opinion completely.  Max’s dad was a pastor.  Now, as I have indicated, I had my share of doubts and fears about life, death, God, being gay, and all of that, but that last thing I needed was some preacher’s kid coming into sort all of that out for me.  With that, with Max standing in the wings, I would say that the stage is set.  My life was about to take a major turn that would change me forever.  

I’ll be back with Act One, Scene One tomorrow.

- Culbs


© Joshua Culbertson 2014

No comments:

Post a Comment