The Curse of 2001 and the Great Awakening Thereafter
“Think about your life, Pippin,” sang the chorus in my high school auditorium. The spring musical was quickly approaching and we had to nail that closing number. The drama club was a motley crew of lovable losers with nominal singing skills. Even though we didn’t always sound like a choir of angels, our conviction and sheer volume was impressive to most people in our small town.
Gathered around a baby grand, the school’s riff raff sang to me about throwing myself into a firebox. For those unfamiliar with the musical, Pippin, it follows a young prince on his quest for fulfillment. (That’s probably the world’s vaguest description but that pretty much sums up the plot). The “players” in the show within the show try and convince Pippin that suicide is the only way out, for he’s tried and failed everything else.
I wouldn’t say that the exact situation was manifesting itself in my real life (suicide wasn’t on my radar) but I was at a turning point. It was my junior year of high school and all of my friends were beginning to settle into themselves. Like Pippin, I felt a slight emptiness that I couldn’t quite grasp. I had good grades, great friends, a supportive family and a fair amount of talents…what more could there be? Not to toot my own horn, but I was able to play the role of Pippin with a certain ease that people gravitated towards. Since I really was in Pippin’s same situation, I suppose my portrayal was slightly voyeuristic for the audience. When I took the stage to sing about finding my corner of the sky, those around me saw a kid who was genuinely lost, a kid who really wanted to find something unexplainable. “Hey, let’s watch this wreck try and find his corner. Yeah, good luck with that.”
One person in particular was especially drawn to me. His name was Tim. “He looks like a dirty Q-tip,” is how a friend once described him. She proclaimed that statement with the utmost confidence that I would know exactly what she meant. And I did. He was a tall, gangly thing that slink, slank, slunk-ed around with Fosse arms and swivel-y hips. His head was buzzed and the remaining hair, attempted to be bleached blonde, had turned a bizarre orange-yellow color, resembling…earwax.
At first I accepted his admiration for me as merely a freshman looking up to a junior. I certainly idolized upperclassmen when I was his age. He should have been able to, also. But, oh, was I naïve! It soon became clear to me (and the rest of the school) that Tim was one of those homosexuals. This was not only confirmed with words from the horse’s mouth but his tendency to wear women’s clothing and do Britney Spear impersonations in the lunch room led us to certain conclusions. Never before had students, teachers and parents seen a kid be openly gay in high school. Nobody really knew what to do with him. Was he brave? Was he stupid? Was he a threat? To me, he was all of those things. I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly made me uneasy about that kid. Even the sight of him gave me the heeby jeebies.
As I reflect on that awkward time of my life, I realize that I was uncomfortable with his openness. There I was, a closeted homosexual, interacting with the first out and about kid I’d ever met. The inkling that I could be (gasp) one of them (shudder) had always been in the back of my head. Those ideas were so deeply buried within me that I couldn’t even begin to explore them. But that little fuck made them accessible. Every time I saw him…every time I thought about him, I had to confront myself. As Pippin sang “I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free…” Jeremy was thinking “I hope my spirit doesn’t feel compelled to run free in San Francisco with that bold, skinny Tim character.”
Folded into hearts, stars, horseshoes and an assortment of other charms, the notes attacked. In his inferior script, he confessed his love for me. As I read his words, I wished that I could be reading the yearnings of someone whom I actually found attractive. Did it have to be Tim? Had that hot football player from study hall written those letters, I’d have painted my face with a rainbow. Not Tim, though. He was such a strange duck. If I was going to be drug out of the closet, it couldn’t be with him. God, I was annoyed.
Not only was Tim sub par in the looks department, he was a legit creepster. Everyone had noticed his compulsion to fabricate very extravagant, incredibly unrealistic lies. According to Tim, he’d been with every attractive man in school, met Britney Spears and practiced witchcraft. Yes, he was a witch. Or warlock. I don’t quite remember what gender-specific title he used. Either way, he claimed to be of a supernatural sect of society.
The brand of magic that my dad practices is not the same circulating the underbelly of most high schools. While dad’s involves a certain degree of soul-searching and commitment, kids like Tim were just seeking out a way to be different. Most of the students donning various degrees of black clothing, lace, velvet and studs had just watched a few too many Tim Burton films. They probably didn’t get enough attention at home so they decided to cast spells on one another, wear essential oils and pretend to be elves and sorcerers in the woods in order to get someone to look at them. I can’t say that the looks solicited were desirable but attention was given, nonetheless. Those kids were also genuinely confused by Wicca’s overall positive outlook. They used witchcraft as a threat. “Don’t tease me, I’m a witch.” “That teacher’s a bitch, I’m going to curse her.” As we learned in The Craft, don’t use your magic to fuck with people. That shit comes back at you, threefold. Verdict: Those confused kids were just confused kids with a tendency to wear a lot of eyeliner. No more, no less.
Somehow that lanky freak still scared me. I knew that he was merely a directionless little boy. But when people talk like the villain of a SyFy Original Movie, it can be off putting. After he told me that he conjured up my contact information using his witchcraft, I was freaked out. My rational mind knew that he’d just looked at the drama club contact sheet. My irrational side wondered if he’d been absent on the day that it was passed out. Maybe he really did have to use deep, dark, forbidden, gay magic to get my email address. Like a little girl from The Crucible, Tim had sent the devil on me and I was shivering.
Hiding the constant notes, emails and phone calls was daunting. Tim was desperately trying to convince me that I was gay and that we were destined to be together. If I denied him, he’d tirade about how he’d had visions of seeing me with other men. “I saw you with Louis. I’ll tell everyone. I know it’s true,” he’d weep into the phone. If I was scared before, statements like that put me at ease. As fun as it would have been to be with Louis, I was as pure as a Mormon on his wedding night. I’d never been with a guy, silly! Hell, the whole idea of being a gay man was baffling to me so acting on those forbidden desires was still a ways off. I wondered if I should pay him to have more visions for the sheer entertainment value.
The whole situation was difficult. I truly didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Something about him made me kind of sad, actually. A lot of his crazy-town behavior could have been attributed to a disastrous home life. Through other people, I learned that all was not well in that witch’s lair. He’d buried himself in elaborate delusions. He legitimately thought that he was a witch, had met Miss. Spears and that he’d had ten boyfriends on the soccer team. He’d even convinced himself that him and I were in a relationship! Through emails, he’d fight with me about not being attentive to his feelings. He accused me of getting off on the fact that I could make him cry. Back on planet Earth, we’d barely ever spoken and nothing about him could get me off. Gross. My replies to his notes and calls were polite and to the point. Most people in their right mind would have understood that I just wasn’t interested. When would he get a clue?
He called my house and try to talk things out, as if we had a long history worth salvaging. Usually these calls would result in me hanging up on him in a huff, refusing to even entertain his silly ideas. My mom would ask whom I’d been talking to. “Nobody. Some weird kid from drama,” I’d say. I really didn’t want my parents to get any ideas. More than anything, I didn’t want them to think that their son was having a tough time in school. I’d always been the token fairy and often been subjected to a certain amount of scorn. When the majority of children would run to the teacher and tattle on bullies, I never complained. From a young age, I knew that the acknowledgment of something wrong makes you vulnerable. Your gates become opened, inviting more ridicule, leading to an unhappy social life and ultimately, therapy. I could self-therapize, thank you.
I forced everything to slide off my back. In the process of saving my own ass from embarrassment, I saved everyone the trouble of dealing with my embarrassment. There never had to be a parent intervention in my classroom or a teary-eyed night with my mom, begging her to let me stay home from school. If someone called me a girl on the playground, I made sure that I was so deeply enveloped in a dream world that I wouldn’t even notice a word had been said. On top of my thick skin, I was intelligent. I could usually come back with a quip that was both demeaning and over the offender’s head. All the effort I’d made into becoming an unaffected shell of a homosexual youth had paid off. By the time I’d reached high school, I didn’t really have any problems. Actually, I was rather well liked.
But soon, my pretty pink palace would be struck with a faggy cannonball. It would topple to the ground and I would be afraid and I would be vulnerable.
Jeremy, I know u want me to stop talking to u and writing to u, but I can't do that and I'll tell u y very soon. I can't stop talking to u. I know ur probably thinking I'm weird, but u don't know y I'm doing this all. But u'll find out sooner then u think. I hope everything's blown over because there's going to be a surprise in ur life that ur probably not going to like and believe me I know it's going to happen because of my witchcraft. We really need to talk and settle this cause it's getting really stressful. We may speak even sooner then u think. I'll ttyl k
PS-Don't take this note as a joke cause there is going to be an event happening really soon that's going to change everything.
Magic or no magic, the email was unsettling. After digesting his interesting use of the English alphabet, I had to contemplate what the fuck he could be scheming. There was going to be a surprise in my life that I’m wasn’t going to like? Was he going to kill my dog? Oh, wait, it had to do with his witchcraft. Was he going to turn my dog into a bug that I would subsequently squash? And it’s getting “really stressful?” No, shit. He thought he was stressed out? I was the one being stalked by a gaunt, psychotic, witch-kid! Then there was the “we may speak even sooner then u think.” What the hell? Was he going to appear in my dreams? Absolutely not. I had to tell my parents.
As he should have been, my father was both concerned and entertained. “That kid sounds like a nut,” he said. “But we should probably tell the school.” Dad called the guidance office, the guidance office called the principal and the principal called the police. It was a mess. We were, after all, dealing with a threat. Yes, it involved magic but who knew if that was code for “I’m going to come to drama practice and really set you on fire, Pippin. Poof. Magic.”
A police investigation, his one-week suspension and a restraining order later, I was freed from Merlin’s grasp. But was I? After the whole ordeal, I attributed every misstep in my life to a curse. Even if he didn’t know how, I was sure that Tim had cast a spell on me. It may not have been an elaborate one involving a sacrifice and dragon’s blood but surely there were words muttered. Did those words count? What makes magic, anyway? Is good spell casting like a prayer- a wish, the projection of good energy into the universe? And is dark magic the opposite? Did Tim project a butt-load of negative energy onto me? Probably. Did that mean I was hexed? I hoped not.
One night during performances of Pippin, I realized something as I sang, “I wanted magic shows and miracles, mirages to touch. I wanted such a little thing from life. I wanted so much.” Like Pippin and Tim, my head was in a dream world where I didn’t have to acknowledge anything true. Pippin had sought out an exaggerated life when all he really wanted was simplicity. Tim gave himself imaginary powers and love affairs because he couldn’t face how deeply lonely and sad he truly was. I pretended that everyone wasn’t calling me a fag as I flounced around stage singing and dancing because I was afraid of how queer I really was.
In a musical about the search for fulfillment, the audience is left with a bare stage. The lights, costumes, sets and chorus are stripped away, leaving Pippin alone with himself and his choices. Even though he’s no longer surrounded by bright colors and sparkly costumes, he’s content. Those things weren’t real. His identity and his love for another person were the only truly attainable things in his life. Those were the things that made him leave the audience with a final smile and those were the things that ultimately fulfilled him. As I stood on stage in the darkness, I felt the clouds around my head lift. I, too, was learning those same lessons.
kingjeremyj on twitter
#tbt to being able to move my head without the constant fear of traumatizing my neck 🙃May 2, 2019