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Vrai Kaiser


3 min
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Mature

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Close To The Bone

No matter how far you travel...


Part 1 of 2
by Vrai Kaiser

I wake up every day and feel the piece of me that's marked 'where I came from' ...

Close To The Bone | No matter how far you travel...

I grew up in Wyoming. In one of the largest towns in the state, in fact. Which amounted to about 50,000 people. In 2005, when Brokeback Mountain came out, most reactions didn’t extend farther than, “That’s the gay cowboy movie.” Mostly it was said with a sneer.

This was only five years after Wyoming’s biggest cultural claim to fame had become The Laramie Project, a play based on the murder of Matt Shepard. I had enough sense not to say, “hey, this has to be better than being famous for lynching a gay kid, right?” But only just.

I’d already exhausted the library’s two meager shelves of queer literature — you can bet this new movie held appeal. I was 15 and wasn’t the type of kid who knew where to get a fake ID. Even a savvy teenager would’ve had a hard time sneaking into the Rialto, the one-room converted vaudeville house at the center of downtown.

I wake up every day and feel the piece of me that’s marked “where I came from”.

I’d leave the nearby library and walk by the framed posters facing the sidewalk, hands in my pockets. From safely inside the closet I could feel smug that so many of the people I was scared of were going to have to drive past that marquee and live with it. Brokeback hadn’t even shown up until well past its theatrical run in the rest of the country. Once it won three Oscars and got five more nominations, they begrudgingly gave it a turn. Now that I think about it, that’s pretty much when the Rialto became known as the R-rated Art House theater.

I should go in, I thought, but never did. I’ve always looked older than my age; I probably could’ve done it. But I was scared. Scared of being seen there, and later, scared of being seen period. I didn’t know at the time that there was a betting pool about my uninspired dating life and my sexuality. I just held my breath in history class when the girl behind me mentioned that she’d been to the movie and that it was “alright.” I did my History Day project on the Stonewall Riots that year, and hid a little flinch every time I said the word “gay,” fighting down panic at the distasteful looks from the panel of judges. I saw how they stepped around saying the word themselves during my critique, like it would get inside and infect them.

Fuck you, I thought, like a mantra. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you.

Better to live out the quiet desperation of unfulfilled love where you grew up and know you’re too shaped by Suicide County to live anywhere else.

Eight years later I sit alone, my body shaking with sobs as the credits of Brokeback roll past. I’m reeling from how hard it hit me. It’s not the love story that overwhelmed me, though I am a sap. It’s deeper than that.

Nobody ever tells these stories. It’s the middle of nowhere, after all. A flyover state. Hick country. I’m standing outside of it now, where Ennis Del Mar never set foot. I wake up every day and feel the piece of me that’s marked “where I came from,” and feel it in the hum of awkwardness when I brush off questions about how I’m feeling. It’s why I avoid reaching out until a problem is dire.

I think about people I love who are still in Wyoming, where you can buy a gun far more easily than you can get a Prozac prescription, and everyone knows someone who’s died by their own hand. There’s really no unlearning that you live in the highest suicide-per-capita region of the country. A regular Suicide County.

I sit there, sobbing and vacillating between thoughts of the movie and my sad Wyoming. Brokeback was a great tragedy. It was Heath Ledger’s movie almost entirely, and some of those tears are for him, too.

My fears lie in the world outside, a hateful stranger waiting for me with a bat or a pipe or some infection that I wouldn’t even sense until it was terminal.

I couldn’t shake my awe at what he’d done in the role of Ennis Del Mar. Ennis wasn’t just another Tragic Gay Man brought down by society in the 1960s. He was a hundred people I’d known growing up, sufferers who kept their heads down and their emotions buried until it killed them from the inside out.

The affair between Ennis and Jack had to stay on “fishing trips” because it was much too raw. These feelings might grab hold and ensnare them, so better to strangle them away. Better to live out the quiet desperation of unfulfilled love where you grew up and know you’re too shaped by Suicide County to live anywhere else.

In high school, we’d learned that one of the leads in the spring musical had been recast, and nobody knew when he’d be back. That last bit was according to the teachers. The rest of us had an idea — even I knew, which meant the entire school and their grandmothers knew too. He’d been sent to the Wyoming Behavioral Institute. We called it “WBI” with a certain reverence born out of a universal recognition of a building on a hill without any kind of sign identifying it. Before he left, I used to sit close while he talked, too awkward to start a conversation but determined to listen.

Fuck you, I thought, like a mantra. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you.

He’d say, “I had a dream about climbing up to the balcony in the theater and throwing myself off.” We all nodded and laughed a little. What else do you say, when you’re 15 and still learning how to give a damn about other people?

I’d never been afraid of killing myself. My fears lie in the world outside, a hateful stranger waiting for me with a bat or a pipe or some infection that I wouldn’t even sense until it was terminal. Everything, anything, was waiting to kill me, and I had spent whole nights lying awake and counting them all. Why, I wondered, would anyone want to beat it to the punch?

I didn’t ask him a single question.