“Mommy, why are they giving that boy by a bath? I want to go home!”

Just when I think Church is over, they start talking again. I want to change out of these uncomfortable clothes and eat lunch already!

“It’s not a bath, puddin, it’s called a Baptism. They wash away bad deeds so you can go to Heaven. It’ll be over soon.”

She strokes my hair as I lie across her lap, smelling her Mommy Smell and clutching my drawings of the grownups who talked during church.

“Have I had a baptism, Mommy?”

“No, baby. You’re not old enough. When you’re 12 or older you can decide if that’s what you want for yourself.”

“But if I’m not Baptized, how will I go to Heaven?”

She shushes me and whispers, “It’s okay. God doesn’t expect you to be all grown-up right away. And even if never get Baptized you can still go to Heaven. You don’t have to be a Christian to go to Heaven.”

That sounds okay, and before I know it we’re back in the car and going home to play!

My room is in the middle of the house so I can go anywhere I want through the two doors on either side. My Nintendo and The Computer are in the Den, but the TV and Table are in the Living Room. Mommy and Daddy’s Room are just past the Den to the right, and Cloud’s room is to the left. The Kitchen and Front Door are through the Living Room to the right, and the Backyard is out through the Living Room to the left. So I can go anywhere I need to without being too loud or waking up Daddy.

Daddy gets really angry if I accidentally wake him up. Or Cloud. But I’m a really good big brother, so that almost never happens. Even if he forgets to feed us when Mommy is at school, I can still climb on a chair in the Kitchen and make us Peanut Butter Toast.

But since Mommy is home, we have Spaghetti. I love spaghetti, but only when it’s naked. With salt. I don’t like vegetables. They make my mouth feel icky. Everyone says I need to eat them to grow up big and strong like Daddy, but I don’t want to be like Daddy. I want to be like Mommy.

My room doesn’t have real doors though, so when it’s bedtime I can still hear whatever Mommy and Daddy are watching and listen, like one of Papa’s old radio shows he likes. My favorite show is called Taxi, and it’s about people who drive taxis in New York, where Mommy and Aunt Bobby and Papa and Grandma Kowski came from, before they were gypsies.

That’s why Cloud’s bed is a big blue bus, just like Grandma and Papa Kowski’s house. It has a table that turns into a bed, and Papa built a porch and even a whole other-one-house that we get to stay in when Mommy and Daddy and Cloud and I come to visit. But I like the bus. Mommy says living out of a bus wasn’t very fun, but I think it would be the best house because then you could go anywhere and always be home.

I dream I’m floating in a bubble, floating even higher than Daddy’s plane can fly, and looking all the way down at the whole world that looks like ants crawling along my feet. But then the bubble goes up over the clouds and all I see is a mean looking monster.

It almost looks like an elephant or a hippo, but it has three sets of arms and legs like a person. It’s sitting criss-crossed and wearing a pretty blue robe with lots of silver jewelry but all of its eyes and hands and only a trunk without a mouth look really scary.

“God?” I ask. But it can’t hear me through my bubble.

It looks down at me with all of those eyes and then stretches out one of its sixty fingers and then —pops— my bubble.

Now I’m falling past the clouds and can see the ground coming right up to me as the monster laughs at me. I close my eyes tight because I’m scared and I don’t want to die but then the wind stops. And I feel the ground underneath me. So I open my eyes again.

Now my whole room is on fire! All the paintings of Winnie the Pooh and Raggedy Anne are melting and I worry about who will rescue Cloud, because only Papa knows how to fight fires but he’s hours and hours away from our house.

Then I see an even bigger monster, covered in fire, crashing through Mommy and Daddy’s Room and I scream. I run for the door for the Living Room so I can get out of the house, because Papa says that’s always what you have to do in a fire, but now I’m in a room like in Indiana Jones and I can’t find the door anymore. The walls just keep moving closer and closer and I close my eyes and just keep screaming and screaming and screaming.

Then Mommy and Daddy are there. They pick me up off the floor and there’s no fire or monsters anymore. But I know it was real! I even tried to do what I was supposed to do but I still got trapped and so now I can’t stop crying because I don’t know if the monster is still around the corner, about to eat us all. Or if the fire just isn’t big enough yet but maybe it could be soon and then we could all die.

“Baby baby baby, it’s okay, you just had a bad dream.”

I’m so scared I can’t even talk.

“No! I—I couldn’t—I couldn’t breathe—I couldn’t get out—the fire! And then the walls kept closing in and I couldn’t save you or Cloud or even get out!”

And then Mommy and Daddy laugh. And that only makes me cry harder because now I feel stupid.

“You’re okay, Puddin. You must have just walked into the closet by mistake,” Mommy kisses my cheek while Daddy holds me.


“Daddy used to be claustrophobic too when he was your age, didn’t you Daddy?” She strokes my hair out of my face and wipes my eyes and nose with her hand.

“That’s right, son. Sometimes I’m still scared of small spaces,” he gives me a kiss.

When I calm down they lay me in my bed and then I hear the funny mechanic from Taxi say, “Thank You Very Much” in his silly voice, and it actually feels like it’s going to be okay.

I hold onto Boy, my baby doll, extra tight so he won’t be scared either. But I still keep seeing those two monsters. The elephant and the fire. I know Mommy says it’s just a dream, but I know they were really God and Satan.

What scares me is that God sent me to Hell, but even more than that I’m scared that maybe Satan just needed to get out of the fire too. Maybe he was just crashing through the walls because he didn’t know how to get out either.

But if God sent me to Hell in a dream, how do I know I can still get into Heaven like Mommy says if I don’t follow the rules? You always have to follow rules, or otherwise you get in trouble. And sometimes when I get in trouble Daddy gets really angry and scares me like the fire monster.

Maybe I just need to be Extra Good, just in case.

The next day I go to Kindergarten and I’m so good, I don’t even get a Behavior Document. Those are these notes my teacher is always sending me home with, and when Daddy sees them he gets really mad and spanks me. But if Mommy sees them it’s okay, and she tells me why Mrs. Brown thought I was rude and how to be better next time.

One time I got in really big trouble for telling her it was a “Yellow” Duck and not a “Yella” Duck, because my mommy said so.

I got in trouble another time for asking if I could read a book on my cot if I wasn’t sleepy enough for a nap.

And another time I got in trouble because I told her I had already read all the books she had in the classroom, but she said I was lying and couldn’t have read all of them. But I wasn’t lying! She only had like ten books and all of them are too boring to read again and again.

But today I was extra good and didn’t even talk at all, so when I waited for Daddy and he never showed up, I got worried the other teachers watching the kids get picked up would get annoyed at me and write another Behavior Document. So instead I told them I knew how to get home.

Because I was pretty sure I remembered how the bus got from my house to the school. I even have a Batman raincoat in my backpack, just in case it rains. And pretty soon I’ll even be big enough to ride my bike.

Mrs. Wyatt saw me walking home and she gave me a ride the rest of the way. Which was really nice of her, but for some reason Daddy was really mad when she knocked on the door to make sure he was home. Daddy’s always home except at nights when he works for UPS. On Fridays if I can stay up extra late, he even takes me to McDonalds for some ice cream sometimes.

But as soon as Daddy and me were alone in the house he starts screaming and throwing things and I start crying because he’s so scary. Then he picks me up and throws me against the wall instead of spanking me, which means I must have done something really bad by trying to walk home by myself.

He gives me a whole thing of Starbursts after, because he still loves me even when he beats me. And then Mommy came home with Cloud and told me how worried she was because I was walking in the wrong direction from school and they never should have let me leave without calling Daddy.

But I don’t think so. I think I just should have gotten home by myself and then played in the backyard until Daddy woke up. That’s what I usually do when I can’t get inside the house. Or if it gets dark I go to our neighbors and play with my friend, Peter. He’s a year younger than me but he has a really cool Powerwheels Jeep and I like to chase him and Cloud on my bike and pretend we’re superheroes.

But after that I got to go to a new school, Bale. And the teacher there is really nice and she keeps telling me how smart I am, and she even let me play King Max when we put on a play of my favorite book, because I was the only one who could remember all the words.

So if I’m that smart, I bet I can figure out how Heaven works. Just to be sure. But I still hope Satan is okay. Maybe he just needs a firefighter like Papa.



After the Fourth and Final Parent’s Day at AEGIS, which Daddy has once again failed to attend, Jonathan promises to take me up on the roof after he, once again, attends church with me instead of meeting his own parents.

We’re the only two boys in Theatre. Most others, my friends Dan and Blake included, are in Music or Art. Dance is unquestionably female.

The Art Education for Gifted Integrated Studies camp was a month-long intensive college campus experience for high schoolers, only available through scholarship to those who submitted a portfolio impressive enough to gain admittance. As I was turning 14 and starting Freshman year in August, I was easily the youngest in attendance. Something of a pet for the Seniors who found my wholesomeness adorable. And Jonathan was no exception.

“This is so cool!” I stage-whisper as he gently closes the roof access and looks around for chaperones or counselors.

“Yeah, Kimberly told me about it last year. We don’t ever bring Fish up here, but I know you’re cool. So it’s okay.”

I beam at Jonathan until he gives me a quick, calculating glance. He’s only slightly taller than me, but sleeker and more muscular, with dark skin and long braids he keeps tucked into his head-wrap.

“How old are you again?” His eyebrow cocks up and I quickly reply, “I’ll be 14 in two months! That’s when I start high school.”

“Christ, you’re just starting? I can’t wait to get out of there,” he sighs and unrolls a blanket from his backpack next to the industrial sized AC units, out of eyesight of the door. We settle with our backs buzzing against the warm metal surface.

“When I graduate, I’m moving to New York to write for Saturday Night Live. That’s where my family’s from. My mom’s family. New York accepts everybody. The weirdos and the crazies and the queers. Anyone else the rest of the country doesn’t want can all live together in New York.”

Jonathan turns to me and smiles before he produces a joint from under his head-wrap.

“Ever had one of these?” He teases.

“No,” I sheepishly admit, “But I’ve always wanted to try.”

He cups his hand and lights it in a smooth motion, “Here, let me spark it for you.”

He puffs until the tip glows red, then hands it to me, “Remember to inhale — hold it in — and then slowly exhale.”

I’ve never smoked anything in my life, but I do exactly as he says despite almost immediately gagging on the first breath. My face turns scarlet before I finally back out an enormous cloud, quickly covering my mouth to muffle the sound.

“Whoa! Slow down, killer. Don’t try so hard, you’ll feel it soon,” he takes the joint from my fingertips to puff on it twice while I regain my composure.

He’s right. By the time he passes it back to me I already feel an enormous weight lift from my chest. Before long we’re giggling and leaning close against one another.

“Don’t be offended,” he says as he flicks the roach off the roof, “But why are you in Theatre and not in Music with your other little drummer boys?”

Pot loosening my tongue, I tell him the truth, “Honestly? I wanted to get as far away from my home as possible so I could just be by myself. I needed a break and this camp was a month-long and free.”

“A break from what? You’re only 13.”

“I don’t know…Life? I guess?” I place my head on his shoulder and he rests his own on top of mine.

I can feel the deep vibrations of his voice as he asks, “What, your dad?”

“No, I mean yeah, but not just that. It’s—“ the proximity and the pot and the camp camaraderie embolden me further as I take a deep breath, “I’m…I’m a…I’m not a boy…”

It sounds so ridiculous out loud! I turn away in tears but Jonathan wraps his arms around me and rocks me into his chest as I take shuddering breaths.

“What do you mean, you’re not a boy? It’s okay, baby. I won’t laugh or tell anyone. I promise,” I smell his lotion as he tenderly kisses my neck from behind, sending shivers down between us.

“I mean I’m not a boy. At least I don’t think I am. I think and act a lot more like a girl and I…I think I might even like boys…”

This last sentence hangs in the air, barely a whisper, but his face is so close to mine I know he hears me. He begins to stroke my hair and I can feel his bicep flex against me as he holds me tighter still.

“It’s just not fair! I go to church, I help others, I practically raised my younger siblings, but I’m still never going to be what I feel like I really am!”

I turn around to bury my face and he holds me and rocks me until I finally look up into his brown eyes. He doesn’t say anything. He just leans his face toward mine. And then he kisses me. I open my mouth and find his tongue with my own.

My first real kiss! And it’s with a boy! I feel a slight twinge of guilt about Angela back in Dallas, but that doesn’t stop me from allowing Jonathan to gently lower me onto my back as he crawls on top of me. His bulge swells up against me as he becomes more earnest, and I more willing.

I don’t know if we kissed like that for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, but when he pulls back he gives me a sweet smile as I try to regain my senses.

“Well, you sure don’t kiss like a boy, that much is true,” he winks before moving away slowly to sprawl on his back on our abandoned blanket, “I thought maybe you were gay but maybe you’re right. Maybe you are a girl.”

I move to his side and rest my head on his chest, gazing up at the stars and moon with him.

“I try really hard to hide it from everyone, you know? I’ve been praying for God to make me a real boy for years, but I know He can tell I don’t mean it. And it’s a sin to lie to God. That’s why he punished me with these.”

I lift his free hand and place it under my shirt. He gives an appraising squeeze before quickly resting his hand on my head instead, stroking my hair gently.

Finally he sits up and lights another joint for us, “It’s like this. I can’t tell you if you’re a gay boy or a girl or whatever. Right? Only you have the ability to figure that out, but it probably won’t happen right away. That’s okay. You’re young, you’ve got plenty of time to experiment. But you also still have four years of high school and your parents to deal with. Only you can decide if you need to do that in secret or out in the open.”

Before long my spirits lift with our clouds, and I feel comfortable enough to ask him, “So what about you? Are you out? No offense, but Arkansas isn’t exactly super friendly to gay black men.”

He coughs out a laugh, “True, it’s not ideal. But this is my home too. Oddly enough, God gave me the strength to be gay. I used to feel like it was a curse or something I needed a cure for, but think about it? Why would God make me gay if he didn’t want me to be gay? Because it’s actually my character God is testing. To see if I’ll stand up for myself in the face of Hatred and Judgement. That’s what Jesus did, and he changed the world.”

“Yeah,” I cough sarcastically, “And what did they do? Kill him.”

“Well shit, kid. You have to make sacrifices if you want to make change. Some people sacrifice higher than others, but the reward is Salvation. I’m sorry, I don’t want you to think I’m some kind of religious nut.”

“Hell don’t worry about me, you already know I’m a Jesus Freak,” I laugh and pass the joint back, “But God, I don’t think I’ve ever been this relaxed.”

He puffs and passes back. I look into his eyes.

“Can I tell you something? I used to love going to church. I used to close my eyes and sing my heart out and feel the Holy Spirit rush through my soul. But now? I’m just not so sure.”

Jonathan just gives me a distant smile as we puff and pass once more.

“There’s just so many ‘Good Christians’ out there who only care about appearances. Who cast out sinners instead of loving them. And they care more about death than being better people now. You know I’ve actually heard preachers say good deeds don’t count without a baptism? I mean, surely Jesus can see past circumstances, but what if I’m wrong? What if I’m still damned no matter what I do?”

Jonathan pinches the last of the joint and holds it to my lips before flicking it off the roof.

“God in the mouths of men makes for some cruel irony, Kid. But you’ll be alright. Just have faith.”

Eventually he folds up the blanket and smuggled me downstairs back to the dorms. He kisses my forehead goodnight and whispers, “Break a leg!”

Shit. I totally forgot tomorrow was The Showcase. Last day of camp.

At least I’ll be leaving for Dallas and not Searcy when I’m done. Until August, when I have to go back.



It’s been over an hour since Nathan and I took four mushroom caps and stems each, and I still don’t feel anything. I’ve already finished my orange juice, which he says speeds up the process and strengthens the hallucinations. But the only change I’ve noticed is an upset stomach. Probably why Nathan disappeared into the bathroom a while back.

We’re at his older brother’s house, which was once their grandmother’s, as is obvious by the dated decor and non-grounded electrical outlets. I have no idea how to turn on the TV, let alone the Nintendo, so I listen to my iPod on shuffle instead as I open the fridge to find a Shiner Bock.

I don’t really like beer, but Shiner is pretty good and at least I’ll be buzzed if I drink it quickly. Tonight is supposed to be a spiritual journey, a vision quest to talk with my patron gods and plan for my future, but instead I just feel nauseous and slightly tipsy as I chug the remaining beer and walk back to the well-worn couch.

As I sit down the iPod shuffles to “Kiss The Bottle” by Foo Fighters, an eerie coincidence.

“What if I use my iPod as a divination tool?” I wonder, “Maybe the gods are trying to speak to me through music.”

Just then my stomach kicks and my mouth waters and I know I’m going to throw up. Nathan warned me this could happen.

I run through the house to the guest room and then the half-bath and kneel in front of the toilet. But nothing happens. The music shuffles to “U” by Pearl Jam, triggering every feeling I’ve ever had about my best friend and pen-pal-turned-girlfriend: love, shame, guilt, jealousy, deception, manipulation, humiliation, impotence, grief.

I see our childhood paths cross and recross, our failed reunion years ago, and our most-recent breakup. I’m fighting back tears while I hug the porcelain and pray. But this was not the prayer I learned in church, or the meditation I practiced with Nathan.

My brain shuts down, leaving only the primal stem of our animal ancestors. I speak to the cosmos in dark forbidden languages. I cry out to my gods in agony. I cannot take this life anymore. I want to die. I thought I was supposed to have visions and hallucinate? I feel tricked and disillusioned, reminded of my failed baptism at age 13. There is no God. There is no Odin. There is no Tlazolteotl. There is no Dionysus. There is no Mama Santo.

I am alone.

I am no longer in the bathroom, but on the waterbed in the neighboring room, rolling myself back and forth on the waves. The silk sheets feel smooth against my skin, and only now do I realize I’m naked, save for my disconnected headphones dangling between my legs.

I crawl under the covers to see a small glowing blue box at my feet. I hold the screen inches from my eyes, fascinated by how the text moves and breathes on its own. I reconnect my headphones and my ears are filled with “The Great Gig in the Sky” by Pink Floyd. I wrap the sheets around my body like a cocoon and try to sleep this off.

But now my life is flashing before my eyes at breakneck speeds. There’s me in Kindergarten, forgotten, and walking home. There’s Daddy hurling me against the wall and then bribing me with Starbursts. There’s faces I no longer remember and events I’ve already forgotten. In a moment I see myself in the eyes of God and realize my insignificance. My life is over, and I have nothing to show for it.

I don’t want to be high anymore. What if I die?

I don’t want to be high. I don’t want to die.

I don’t want to be high. I don’t want to die.

I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die.

Now I’m standing in a desert surrounded by bleached white bones, looking at the enormous black wolf from my recurring dreams. Fenrir the Devourer opens his jaw and speaks, “It’s too late. You’ve been dead far too long. You were given gifts and you chose to hide them. You are a coward. You deserve to die.”

More images flash. A 9-year-old wearing panties and smiling in the mirror. A 12-year-old crying herself to sleep. A 15-year-old stealing clothes. A 17-year-old attempting sex.

Back in the desert, Fenrir stares with cold yellow eyes and I hang my head in shame and defeat.

“You have known what to do from the beginning, yet you refuse out of fear. The gods have lost patience with you, Boygirl. Now you are mine.”

Except now I sit atop Sleipnir, my eight-legged steed, wielding a mighty spear. Huginn and Muninn spread their wings as they ride atop my shoulders. I have sacrificed myself to myself upon the tree of life for nine days and nine nights. I have plucked out my own right eye in exchange for eternal wisdom. I am the God of Inspiration, Magic, Prophecy, Poetry, and War. I unleash my battlecry as I charge into the Gates of Ragnarok. Fenrir opens his mouth and swallows me whole.

Cold darkness surrounds me. A booming voice, both everywhere and nowhere says, “Every journey begins with the first step. It will be treacherous, but you have my blessing and my gifts.”

Only silence follows.

“Is this Death?” I wonder, “It’s so anticlimactic. Where’s the bright light? Is this Heaven or Hell? Maybe the rabbi was right. Maybe the afterlife simply is.”

A pale blue dot approaches through the darkness, and a strong hand grips my left shoulder from behind.

A slight, olive-skinned man with the horns of a ram approaches, offering his flask to the hand behind me.

“Hail, Allfather.”

“Hail, Father of Wine.”

The faceless hand grips harder as he accepts a swig of mead over my head.

“Is this your Boygirl?” He asks.

“Nay, though she has my blessings, Hades will not accept her.”

Dionysus nods, excuses himself, and walks away into the darkness once more. The pale blue dot approaches still.

“Hail, Allfather.”

“Hail, Mother of Death. Is this your Boygirl?”

A wide-hipped, dark-skinned woman eyes me closely, her face, simultaneously young and old, is framed by fine jewelry made of bone and ivory.

“Nay, she is not one of my children. But I shall grant her safe passage through your realm if she continues to show me respect.”

Mama Santo turns her back on me and just as quickly she is gone.

The pale blue dot is now a beautiful naked woman with fluorescent butterfly wings and a white death mask through which she gives me a warm smile.

“Hail, Allfather.”

“Hail, Mother is Filth.”

She takes my right hand and my left shoulder throbs in pain from the responding grip behind me until I yelp in pain.

“I have come to claim what is rightfully mine, Odin. You’ve done all you could for her.”

His voice booms in indignation, “That may be, but this Boygirl must still decide for herself.”

“Very well,” she tugs my hand once more.

“Boygirl, do you wish to stay here in the dark? Or follow me?”

There is an eternity of silence before I speak.

“I’m ready, Mother.”

Allfather releases his grip and Mother of Filth pulls me into the air as her bright blue wings flutter up above.

“Do you know who I am, Boygirl?”

“The Mother of Filth?”

She looks down at me through her death mask and once again she smiles.

“You may call me Tlazolteotl, Child. While it is true that I rule over all Filth and Vice, I am also the Goddess of Purification. I will teach you to eat shit and produce gold. I will show you how to transform your body as well as your mind. Above all, I will teach you to see even the lowliest life as a vessel for hope. Now fly, my child. Go!”

She releases my hand and I fall all the way down. All the way down past the stars and past the earth and all the way down into my own mother’s womb. I hear her voice surround me as she asks, “Look, don’t you want to see the Moon? Get out!”

But I can’t budge. I can’t breathe. All I can do is struggle and thrash until I begin to see stars from avoiding drowning in my own amniotic fluids. But when I finally gulp in out of desperation it is oxygen that fills my lungs. And then I see the pale blue dot again. I tuck my arms to my side and wriggle my face toward the light, closer and closer. With one final thrust I push my face into a cool breeze. Then one arm. Then the other. I heave myself free from her womb.

I fall onto soft carpet and look up to see the waterbed, shocked by my fall and sudden sobriety. The only sources of light are my iPod and a red digital alarm clock. It’s four in the morning. I walk back to the bathroom to pee, where I find my abandoned clothes.

Once dressed, I stand at the bedroom door, scared to leave my sanctum. What will I tell Nathan? What does this mean for my future?

But Nathan must be in Mason’s room because the living room is still empty. I fish through my bag for my cigarettes and then walk out the back door. The brisk wind cools my sweat-covered face as I sit down on the porch swing. As I light my cigarette I’m kissed by faint droplets, so I cup my hand before I inhale. The back door slides open and Nathan silently sits next to me.

“It’s raining,” I tell him as I shake out a cigarette for him from the pack.

“So it is,” he replies, reaching over me for my lighter on the armrest.

Eventually he asks, “So how was it?”


Our two clouds lift into the air in laughter.

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