I first wrote this in May 2014 when my life was in upheaval. It seems appropriate again.
Walking Forward From Zero
I remember a teacher once explaining to me that what made an interesting story was an ordinary person finding themselves caught in extraordinary circumstances. In my own eyes I have always viewed myself as an Everyman; the ultimate ordinary individual. I am a good man, a conscientious and industrious worker, have a soft heart and a solid conscience. I’ve never wanted a spotlight; don’t even take pictures of myself in a world where everyone seems to take an up-to-the-minute “selfie”. I would rather be a spectator than the one on the stage best describes me.
I do not like hateful things. I avoid confrontation. I look for the good in others and choose to not say bad things when it would be easy.
If someone asked me what would I have in a dream, it would be a home large enough to take in every stray dog I wanted, and a room for every child and adult that has ever been abused because of their gender preference. I would want to wake every day with a smile looking forward to it and end it with a smile appreciating it. I would love to be financially well off that I could help every one who came to me for it. Money like that would never buy a fancy car or stylish clothes, or the trends that boast elegance or wealth. I’m too simple for those things. It wouldn’t fit in with my t-shirts jeans, running shoes and ballcap.
Because of circumstances beyond my control I didn’t have a childhood. There are no scrap books of family vacations or pictures of young Danny on a new tricycle at Christmas. My parents were radical fundamentalist Christians. My life was discipline, restrictions, Bible study and memorizing scriptures. I wasn’t allowed to have birthday celebrations, or mingle with kids who weren’t members of my family’s church. The children my age in the church didn’t like me. They thought I was an “odd duck”. Part of that may have been my own doing. I knew I was gay very early in life. While they were noticing girls.. I was not.
I was beaten regularly and severely. My dad had a wide, white leather strap belt and he’d make me pull down my pants and underwear and lay on the bed and submit to the punishment for whatever reasons arose. Once a minister told him that I had sat “in a feminine manner” during services. I was beaten until my legs and butt bled. I still have scars from it. I was made to feel inferior and useless and wrong.. all the time. I remember being eleven years old and praying to die. I looked out through my bedroom window and begged God to take me in my sleep because I didn’t want to go on. It happened after the sermon on Sodom and Gomorrah and I knew that the people they described as an abomination in the sight of God.. well, I was one of them. It was nothing I wanted. Nothing I could control. Nothing I could change. And I wanted to die.
I didn’t die. I had to go on. I had to endure more torment and torture in the name of God and religion. And I changed because of it. I no longer found myself believing in things that could not help me, that did not listen to me, and allowed my misery to continue.
When I was thirteen I had my first gay experience. My parents were both working to pay the exorbitant tithes of the church that year and I was left in the care of a teenaged girl from the church who was also watching her fourteen year old brother. While she talked on the phone with her boyfriend he took me into a garage and taught me how to suck dick. I almost passed out when he sucked mine. I knew then what was normal for me. Had been from the very beginning. The actual act just confirmed it. Our parents all believed we had bonded as buddies and began letting us spend weekends with each other, some at his family’s home. Others at mine. We’d lay in our separate places, one in a bed, one in a sleeping bag until late in the night when we could hear no more movement; knew everyone was fast asleep. Then we would suck each others dick.
When he was sixteen I’d see him no more. His parents left the church and moved away. I was once again left in the barren, alien landscape of my lonely world. I became an angry teenager. Rebellious. I hated the church. I hated my parents. I would do anything to escape both. And I tested them regularly, which guaranteed more beatings. But I grew stronger against the belt. Like a tree weathering itself against each storm. I could grit my teeth and bear them without crying or making a noise. That angered my father greatly. My resolve only deepened his own. Along with the beatings came deprivations. Friends, food, outside activities. I knew the only thing that could save me was to alienate myself even more. I had to do something to get myself excommunicated from the church. That would leave only my home life to beat at my psyche. I wouldn’t have to listen to the words spewed from the pulpit that told me I wasn’t normal.
So on one of the “boys clubs” camp outs, I pretended to pray to satan. It was funny to me. I could no more believe in a character of evil than a character who would permit evil. I was reported by the other boys as I wanted to be. They had a tribunal with all the ministers, my dad, the boys who heard me and their dads, and I was excommunicated. My parents were furious and humiliated. I could not longer attend church. But now I had unleashed holy hell at home. There was no doubt my parents despised me at this point. The beatings didn’t affect me so my father became more ingenious. For disobedience, he would tie me to a chair in my room for an entire day. I wasn’t allowed food, water or bathroom privileges. There were numerous occasions when that contributed to a mess that I was also made to clean.
I had no hope in my heart. Everything had been erased in my mind except anger. That rage culminated in a fight I had with my dad on one very hot summer day. I said cursewords I wasn’t allowed to say and I was coldcocked by him. He knocked me out completely. I woke up, tied up, in the backyard metal shed that housed the lawn mower and yard tools in over one hundred degree heat. I baked in my own juices. I passed out several times. I wasn’t let out until late that evening. By then I had made up my mind. I was running away from home.
In the middle of the night, I crept down the stairs from my room with two plastic trash bags filled with clothes that I would need, and a pocket full of quarters from a piggy bank on my dresser. Nine dollars to my name. And I walked out the door. I remember calling that moment in time “Zero” because my life only began after this.
I believe all of us have moments in time where we believe that are actually moving away from one thing and toward another. Some people call them goals, I think of them as stages because they never stop, they just keep evolving from one thing to the next. Some of us find happy stages. Some of us keep moving.