These Ghosts

My words changed in college. I’ve never had much of a Southern accent, but I still said “ya’ll,” a word that only exists in Bible Belt states. We think it’s “you all” pushed together.  Now it sounds bizarre to me, like something out of a movie about the South. When I go home and hear the word from the mouths of my parents, I think how strange it is to sound like they do. I trained the word out of my speech during my first year of college and have not said it since.

When I went to college, I realized quickly that my peers were from places like New York and California and other more impressive parts of the country. I wanted them to know I wasn’t like the South they had seen in movies. I wasn’t a cowpoke or a redneck. I wasn’t conservative. I didn’t grow up on a river, huntin’ and fishin’ and wearing deerskins.

This was partly a lie. I did grow up on a river, part of the Ogeechee River, and I loved it.  Its cold sound — the water drained from the North Georgia mountains running over the rocks — is the sound of home. I grew up with kids who did hunt and fish, and although I was never very much like them, I understood them and wanted them to understand me.

In college, I was in a similar situation, but the people I wanted to understand me did not hunt or fish. They were international students, kids from London and Hong Kong. They knew only caricatures of the South, only Gone With the Wind. Someone once asked me if I had taken a car to high school or gone on horseback. I felt so ashamed.

I wanted the art school kids to see a new version of me — my own creation. If they must know my roots, they should also know I was stuck here by misfortune, by circumstances outside my control. I mimicked the way Sam from California talked, and today this L.A. accent is what people hear in me the most. (Bizarrely, during my senior year, a visiting fashion designer asked me if I had lived in South Africa. “Close,” I said, “Zambia.”) Another friend, Brady, had an “i” that sounded like “bite,” sharp and crisp.

Some gay men think it’s good to stay in the South. They think their presence in small towns will create arts districts, coffee shops, and tiny liberal enclaves. The reality is much bleaker. They become florists whose unspoken sexuality is passed off as eccentricity. “He’s creative,” people say. You become the gay couple that lives on the edge of town, trained to lock the door and act straight when needed. Eventually, you get tired and migrate to Atlanta or Savannah.

I’ve been living in Savannah, Georgia for the last four years. The art school here is impressive and draws an international student body. Unlike most of my peers, my home is merely four hours away. I don’t have an accent so few people know I’m from Georgia.

Savannah is a small town. It’s isolated the way gay-friendly enclaves in the South must be. It’s a strange, haunted city. Its only two gay bars are across the street from each other. They both feature good drag and cheap drinks. But be warned: you mustn’t stay out too late, especially not on weekends when the tourists flood the downtown area. Don’t walk near crowds of drunk tourists after dark. They’re from Mississippi and Alabama and South Carolina. They’re cornfed white trash and they will hurt you if you’re wearing something feminine or gaudy. Travel in groups at night.

Lately, something has changed in me. I think you could call it homesickness, which feels strange. I miss the men I grew up with, the farmers and deer hunters. I’ve started driving outside the city on weekends to meet guys living in the country. We fuck in barns and trailers. Yesterday, I drove an hour outside the city to spend the night with a gay couple who lived in the woods. Their pickup trucks were parked in the front yard.

After dinner, they took me to bed. One of the guys pulled my pants down. “I’m not ready,” I said. “I haven’t cleaned.”

“We don’t care.”

He climbed on the bed, leaned against the headboard, and pulled off his pants and underwear. He had the biggest dick I had ever seen. “Go ahead,” he said. I could barely fit it in my mouth. He pulled me close to him and said, “Sit on it.”

He pumped some lube into my hand. I rubbed his dick until it was slick and lowered myself over it. It was so thick, the pain was tremendous. Too fast. “Sit,” he said. “Breathe.”

After a few seconds, he seemed annoyed that I was struggling. He put his hands on my waist and pushed me down. I yelped like a dog. I had never felt such a large dick inside me. He pulled me close and kissed me.

“It’s so thick,” I said.

“I know,” he said. “I got you.”

His boyfriend was behind me, massaging my shoulders. “You got it,” the man said behind me with a stronger accent — long vowels from South Georgia. I melted in his words. “You got it,” he said. “You’re halfway there.”

I heard the man behind me spit, then felt his dick pushing in over the one inside me. I sat up. “I can’t do that.”

“Yes you can. Just take a deep breath. You’re doing great.”

They were holding me and rubbing me the way I’ve always wanted to be held, the way I wanted men on my football team to hold me and touch me. I melted in their words, the words of men who wore camo and drove tractors and drank beer. Their words smelled like the woods of my farm, the moss smell of coming in after playing in the river.

The man behind me pushed his dick in. It like I was being ripped in two. I think I almost started crying. They rubbed my shoulders and kissed me and then they were moving together inside me. I could feel both of them, moving in perfect cadence, thrusting in and out, in and out. They later told me they did this often with holes that came over for a night and they had perfected this rather complicated sex position. It was my first time being double-penetrated.

I now love getting double-fucked. It’s one of my favorite things and I am a master of it.

Driving back the next morning, I was very sore. I thought about the night, the men, their almond soap in the shower, their bodies moving together with mine between them. They were not especially athletic. They did not go the gym. But they were strong as horses. Their bodies were made to push wheelbarrows and lift bails of hay. Their sex was unrefined, unsullied by porn or douching or the glittery details of urban gay culture. It was the stuff that farmboys do when no one’s looking — the rough, exploratory sex we learn in the closet. I did not ask if they were out.

For the first time in my life, the Southern world I wanted so desperately to leave behind appeared mysterious in a way it hadn’t before. The woods were just as much a part of me as they were of them. Their “ya’ll” was my “ya’ll,” the word I lost.

I got back to the dormitory and sat on the toilet — just a little blood — then immediately went to sleep. At the time, I was keeping a dream journal and the dream I had was very haunting. In the dream, I was walking on a beach. The dream was in black and white and I remember this because I’d never dreamed in black and white before. The beach was lined with fir trees and there was a campfire in a clearing up ahead.

I heard laughing and clinking bottles. It was night. I stepped through the trees and saw the writer William Burroughs sitting on a stump. Jack Kerouac was waving a half-empty bottle over his head. Allen Ginsberg was playing the flute. This was not the first dream I had featuring Beat writers, but they were soon accompanied by the poet T. S. Eliot, his black hair parted in the middle.

Vladimir Nabokov appeared. Small white butterflies or moths clung to the shoulders of his tatty coat (Nabokov was a lepidopterist). Shel Silverstein was there. I don’t remember the others, but there were many of us, all writers, all dead. We started running through the woods. I saw more of them coming in across the field, their lanterns flickering in the dark. Someone yelled, “Over here!” I realized we were all ghosts.

We were on the beach. Kerouac ran up behind me and jumped on my back. I stumbled forward under his weight but caught myself. I still remember the heaviness of his body, his warmth, as I put my arms under his legs and carried him piggyback into the waves. I could smell liquor on his breath. The ocean was cold. Others were behind us and I called out to them in my true voice, “Ya’ll coming?”

— Beastly

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