Saga of the Elizabethton Tarheels

by Sequoyah


Chapter Forty-seven
We arrived at school a few minutes before the opening bell -- Kenneth and Bobbie just ahead of us and Michael and Sandy, Susan and John hugging our tail. We had barely gotten parked when Bobbie was out of the car, leaning toward Kenneth and exchanging a passionate kiss with him. When they broke the kiss, Kenneth waved to us, backed out Susan's T'bird and headed for the Thurmonds' place. Lacy would take him to the airport for a flight back to Raleigh in an hour. Prom weekend was definitely over.

I guess we were so involved with each other that we didn't notice the crowd surrounding King James Stewart -- K.J. for short -- and Ox, his lieutenant, who were leaning against the tailgate of K.J.'s pickup, parked a few cars down from us. As we headed for the entrance, Adam came up, looking pretty shy, and said, "Morning. Won't say 'Good morning' because K.J. and his crowd are up to no good. Ox called Arnold and me last night and 'invited' us to join them in 'kicking some faggot ass.' Not sure what they have in their so-called minds, but they are out for your heads, more than upset about, as Ox said, 'the faggots and lesbos ruining their prom.'"

"Their prom," I said, indignantly. "I thought it was ours as well."

"Yeah, you don't have to convince me," Adam grinned. "I never had as much fun at a prom as I did this year. Hell, it was worth the price of admission just to see old Stevens hit the floor." We all laughed, recalling the event, then Adam became very serious. "Look, I know I have been an asshole and all and I'm not trying to make it up to you guys, but I have really missed y'all, needed y'all as friends, if that's possible. And I am really concerned about what K.J. and his bunch might do. Anyway, watch your backs, I will be," Adam responded.

Adam turned to walk away when Justin said, "Thanks, Adam, we appreciate it," and extended his hand. When Adam took it, Justin pulled Adam to himself in a bear hug. "I really mean it," Justin said. "I know what your coming over and warning us cost you."

That started a hugfest as one after the other member of the Clan hugged Adam and said thanks in one way or another. Bobbie was holding back but finally said, "Oh, hell," hugged Adam and added, "Thanks."

Michael had an arm around Sandy when he extended his hand to Adam. After they shook hands, Sandy hugged Adam and said, "Good to have you back, Adam." Later I realized that in so speaking, Sandy had accepted Adam back in to the Clan and had included himself. He had accepted being accepted.

During the hugfest, Arnold walked up. "Checked out what's going on inside. Some grumbling, but nothing like K.J. and his jerks. Oh, by the way, welcome back. I guess Adam told you Ox called last night. Ox is right. The dumb jerk went into what all K.J. and his gang had in mind for you -- well, he called you faggots and lesbos -- anyway, he had gone into all that before he invited me to join them. Told him I didn't think I'd have time and when I said that, he said, 'Yeah, well, maybe laters.' Maybe nothing will come of it, but Adam and I thought we'd keep an eye out. We owe you that and more."

"Thanks," Justin replied. "It means a lot," he added as he extended his hand. We had never been close to Arnold like we had been with Adam, so the guys just shook hands and the girls gave Arnold a quick hug.

Before we could dismiss K.J. and his pack, they started making big macho noises. K.J. had climbed in the bed of his pickup and stood facing us, when he grabbed his crotch and yelled, "Which one of you fags wants to suck on this? You don't have to worry, there's enough to go around. 'Sides, my boys got some for you too." He kept up the harangue, his cohorts joining in. I guess I had hoped Adam and Arnold had overreacted, but it was now pretty clear they had not.

When the bell rang and we started toward the door, it set off yet another outburst from the hate mongers. As we walked, I realized I knew very little about K.J. "You know anything about K.J. and his jerks?" I asked. "I don't. They're so far out of my world, I know practically nothing about them beyond their names."

"I know little more," Adam said, "but Arnold knows them."

"It's a long story. We'll talk about it at lunch or after school. For now, just remember Ox and K.J.'s other lieutenant, Puny, are almost as bad as they come and K.J.'s ten times worse. They are all mean sons of bitches, so watch yourself and each other's backs. Adam and I will also keep an eye out for you."

"Thanks again," I said.

"Yeah, as Adam said, we owe you big time."

I don't know what I expected once we got inside and, while there seemed little physical threat, it was bad enough. We went to the senior lockers where Michael quickly got what he needed from his locker and, holding Sandy's hand, the two headed toward the junior lockers. As they turned to leave, four or five girls, I think sophomores, hissed, "Faggots! Queers! Faggot Queers!"

Sandy stopped, still holding Michael's hand, and called after them, "My dear young ladies, Faggot Queers is redundant. You need to discuss that with your English teacher. Miss Mathais is the freshman English teacher, isn't she?"

I was laughing to myself as the girls turned and one, the obvious leader of the pack of she-wolves, snarled, "We are sophomores."

"Oh," Sandy responded, a sickeningly sweet smile on his face, "I was confused by your middle school behavior."

Noses in the air, the girls swished down the hall.

The exchange was funny, but also disheartening. I thought the arrests earlier in the year had meant gay bashing was a thing of the past at school, but that little exchange, added to K.J.'s show outside, indicated just how wrong I could be.

"So much for 'God's in His heaven; All's right with the world,'" Justin said, watching the she-wolves depart.

The rest of the day was no better than its start. In fact, it only got worse. Snide remarks and outright name-calling were the order of the day. All of us had books shoved from under our arms, got slaps on the back of the head by cowards hiding in crowds and otherwise annoyed. Of course, most made a point of avoiding us, not getting close enough to touch books or persons. Guess they thought they might catch a disease or become faggots. Who knows? The long and the short of it was that we were made very aware of the fact that we were pariahs. It did strike me odd that the most vicious remarks came from freshmen and sophomores who would have had nothing to do with the prom, but I guess that had a great deal to do with insecurity about one's sexuality.

Some of the teachers were rumored to have made some pretty snide remarks. Mr. Agnue, I guess, finally had enough and made an announcement over the intercom reminding everyone that there was school policy about using pejorative language and derogatory names. I'm not sure it helped. He also announced a faculty meeting after school where, no doubt, the events at the prom would be discussed.

Anyway, had we not gotten the idea we were pariahs before, it was certainly clear in the cafeteria. When we walked in -- as a group -- our 'fellow students' responded in a way that looked a bit like the parting of the Red Sea before Moses and the Hebrews. Their rush to avoid us had one advantage: we were immediately at the head of the line, but I did expect shouts of "Unclean, unclean," any minute.

Misti and Pat found the way cleared for them as well. "Mind two lesbos joining you?" Pat grinned, sadly.

"Sure, if you don't think you'll be contaminated by faggots," Justin replied.

"Or straights," John laughed and motioned the two ahead of him.

With Michael and Sandy and Misti and Pat, the Clan lunch table was no longer adequate. Michael and Sandy, Justin and I started moving two tables together when Miss Stevens, who was on lunch room duty, headed over. "You boys know you are not permitted to move the tables." Justin and Michael just looked at her like she was out of her mind. "I suppose I should have expected no better from young men who would ruin a prom." When we continued to ignore her, she finally gave up, made a sound of disgust and walked away.

The tables and chairs had been moved into place when Adam and Arnold arrived. "Guess we're welcome," he said, "since this is obviously the most inclusive group around."

The two were barely seated when a voice well-known in school, town and county asked, "May I join the leper colony?" It belonged to Sissy -- actually Walter Stepphenwolf Lancaster -- the backbone of both the school dramatics club and the town's little theater. He was also host of a Saturday morning radio program aimed at area teens.

Sissy was an excellent example of a southern phenomenon, the much-loved and tolerated "sissy boy." While the South, with its generally literalistic and fundamentalistic religiosity, is probably more openly homophobic than other areas of the country -- we're accused of that anyway -- we seem very tolerant of one, probably no more, sissy boy -- known elsewhere as a flaming gay -- in our midst. Of course, we'd never call him gay -- if you don't talk about it, it doesn't exist -- but if there is a more flaming gay in the world than Sissy, it would be international news. When one earring rendered a guy more than a little suspect, Sissy had two. When guys started wearing a single small stud, Sissy had two "tasteful," his word, gold hoops. Before the sun-streaked look appeared among beach hangouts, Sissy's hair was bleached as near white as he could get it. Sissy "walked like a girl" and, of course, had a limp wrist. It was as though he had read a manual on how to be a flaming queen and followed it without missing a beat. What was, perhaps, even more remarkable, Sissy was African-American.

Well, I said he was much-loved and tolerated and that was mostly true. Jocks, especially his African-American brothers, avoided him. The plus side of that was he was not harassed.

In spite of what happened when the school learned Justin and I were gay, Sissy's attitude toward us -- generally neutral -- never changed. Now that we were really outcasts, almost two tables full of outcasts, I was surprised when he appeared asking to join us. As I said, although he was a flaming gay -- or had that persona -- he was generally accepted and by sitting with us threw that away. That takes balls, big balls!

"All are welcome," John said. "Not sure you'll be welcome anywhere else after eating with the leper colony, though."

"Then anywhere else will just be depriving itself of my magnificent and scintillating personality," Sissy answered, striking a dramatic pose. That done, he put his tray on the table, sat down, and said, "I'm gay...."

"No! You're breaking my heart," Bobbie laughed.

"Well, I guess I haven't been in the closet as far back as I thought," Sissy laughed, waving a limp wrist, "but, yes, I'm gay and I have never really suffered because of it. My parents have just accepted it or, maybe, just ignored it because it's never been mentioned by either and they have continued to indulge me. At school, I played with the girls and before I was out of elementary school was called "Sissy" and it stuck. I don't think anything about it and don't think many others do. By the time I was eight or nine, I guess, I knew I liked to play with the girls, but I also liked boys. By the time I was twelve, I knew why. I thought, 'Well, I'm gay so I guess I better start acting gay.' Wasn't sure what that meant, but worked it out -- how to act like a flaming queen, no less -- and here I am. Decided when I saw you beautiful people at the prom that I had hid long enough -- well, I guess I wasn't quite hidden."

Pat said, "Hardly, but I know what you mean. So, we're all out -- you straights are out -- as straights, and no doubt, as fag hags or whatever. Suspect most 'round here wish we were out of here and on a desert island somewhere."

"Arnold, you promised to tell us about K.J. and his Gang of Three," Susan said as soon as everyone was settled.

"How much do you want to know?" he asked.

"Yeah, and anything Arnold doesn't know, I can fill in," Pat said. "My place is a couple miles beyond theirs."

"Then you and Arnold have known each other...."

"Since before we started school," she replied, "and, of course, we went to Muddy Creek elementary together and East Middle School."

"And our families -- mine and Pat's -- have been friends forever," Arnold added. "Anyway, to begin at the beginning, I guess, my dad says old man Stewart, Dick, was a real hell-raiser growing up. Then he got religion, real hell fire and brimstone religion, when he was thirty. Settled down, started Muddy Creek True Church of God, married the preacher's daughter and started having kids."

"Started having daughters," Pat interjected. "He had four -- Elizabeth, Margaret, Mary and Sophia...."

"Named after the daughters of King James," Arnold added, "who he said wrote the Bible...."

... in less than four years," Pat continued. "Mom says Mavis Stewart was always a sickly woman and her fifth pregnancy ended in a stillborn baby and her death. Four years later, Dick surprised everyone when he brought home a new bride. She was just twenty-one, almost ten years his junior. It was the talk of Muddy Creek."

Arnold took up the tale, "Less than nine months later, she gave birth to Henry, the first son. After that it was five more years before King James was born. Someone had tried without success, to convince Dick King James had not written the Bible and to make his stand known, he told everyone he had named his youngest son after the man who wrote the Bible, and still does.

"Since he had waited so long 'for the Lord to truly bless me with male offspring,' Henry was impossible by the time K.J. came along, I have heard. I do know he was in jail for sexual assault on a fifteen-year-old boy last year. Of course old man Stewart said that was impossible because his son would never lay with a man as a woman because that was an abomination and he would be stoned. The old man bought someone off, I've heard.

Pat injected, "In addition to being a son, K.J. is also the baby, so he is doubly indulged and always has been." That said, the rest of our lunch conversation was not very different from what it might have been had the prom not happened, just high school chatter. The bell rang for the end of lunch and we went our separate ways.

Afternoon was like the morning. Well, there was an extra helping of pejorative names thrown at us and not a few threats. Some of the threats were especially vicious. As I walked down the hall headed to my last period class, I thought, "The next few weeks are going to be hell. Thanks God, I -- we -- have friends who will stick by us and have done so." It meant a lot.

Turns out, things weren't so bad as they might have been. As the days went by, other events -- a couple of "she be fucking my babydaddy" fights and the usual breakups and makeups of boy and girl friends -- caught the fickle minds of our classmates and most generally forgot about the prom. It was old news. As a result, harassment decreased as the days passed.

Well, while that was generally true, K.J. and the Gang of Three never let up. They were smart enough to avoid being caught inside and usually restricted their verbal abuse to the parking lot.

The fact that several more students had more or less joined us for lunch helped. Additionally, other students, while not joining the group at lunch, made it clear they supported us. Officially, Mr. Agnue sent out an announcement about school policy on harassment and homeroom teachers were required to read it to their charges. That definitely helped, especially when three guys got suspended five days for using pejorative names and making obscene remarks. In short, by the end of the week, life seemed to be back to normal, whatever that was.

Good thing, because the Clan needed to focus on school. Maybe we would have noticed more had we not been busy preparing for AP exams and pushing Sandy to get his grades up. Michael was also behind that push and usually joined us for our study sessions in the evening. Sandy had no complaints and his grades were climbing.

In addition to sweating the approaching AP exams, Adam and I were also sweating from plain hard work. The store was doing a booming business and all the deliveries requiring two men were left for us. Mr. Sanford had hoped to get deliveries down to emergencies -- someone's fridge or freezer goes out, they don't want to wait for a replacement -- and Saturdays. It hadn't worked out that way. As a matter of fact, Adam and I were working every day after school and could have worked over every night, but that was not allowed because schoolwork came first. Of course, we sometimes ran into problems on a delivery and couldn't make it back to the store before quitting time, but that happened only a time or two each week. We were working hard and, surprisingly, enjoying it and being together. I would say he was the old Adam, but that was not true. The new Adam was more mature and more fun to be with. More importantly, there was no question that Adam was a friend. He had proved that when he took a lot of shit over standing up for and with us after the prom.

Adam and Bobbie? No question about it, I still saw him, occasionally, looking at Bobbie with longing in his eye, but he made no move, knowing it would be futile. Bobbie wasn't interested and the fact that she was all excited because Kenneth was flying in next weekend underscored where her interests lay, no pun intended.

In short, the prom had come and gone and was about forgotten as AP students prepared for exams and the "end of school" euphoria was in full blossom across the board.

Justin's and my love-making was definitely in fine shape and improving every day. Depending on how tired I was after work and what else was going on, what we did varied, but all was good. We were as horny as ever, but had learned the beauty of slow and easy. Didn't mean we always followed that route, and jumping each other's bones was also good.

I guess the weekend gave some people time to work themselves up again because when we got to school Monday, bad things started happening and only got worse as the week wore on. With K.J., Ox and Puny sent home to cool their heels, the loud parking lot harassment stopped, but that certainly didn't end it. There were two clusters of students just standing around in the parking lot Monday morning when we arrived and they all gave us the finger as we walked toward the entrance. A similar situation prevailed each morning.

All the guys had "faggot" written on our lockers with Magic Marker Tuesday. Mr. Vickers was busy using spray and a rag removing the tag when we reached them. "I'll try to get your lockers touched up today," he said. "This Magic Marker remover works pretty good, but you can see where something has been written. Like to write something on a few faces around here and it wouldn't be nice. Sorry you are having this mess your senior year," he added as he worked. He may as well have waited because our lockers were messed up on a daily basis -- if not with magic marker, spray paint or such, with something poured or sprayed through the vent slots -- catchup, Pepsi, blood and worse.

There was plenty of other crap going on -- middle school stuff mostly -- but there were some more serious or more disgusting. Disgusting indeed! For example, one PE class after Misti showered and went to her PE locker to get dressed, she found her pockets stuffed with used tampons. Likewise, in his English class, Sandy pulled his notebook from his backpack only to discover used condoms hanging out of it, some of them shitty.

Bad as those things were, the physical attacks were more serious. We all learned to avoid crowds to prevent being tripped or shoved -- especially on stairs -- after both Justin and I had been tripped and took a tumble down the stairs. Adam joined Sandy in the "shoved to the floor in the hall" club. Frankly, we were all getting pretty paranoid -- not without cause. Mr. Agnue was doing all he could and Mr. Bingham was especially alert and watchful, but there were only two of them and there were a dozen plus of us more or less under attack. After an incident in the shower in which someone distracted her while another girl turned the shower to hot water only, Pat's PE coach made sure she was safe in the shower, but she couldn't be two places at once and midweek when she finished showering and started to get dressed, her clothes were gone.

Same day, as Michael started downstairs to his next class, a couple of guys gave him a shove, but Michael is built like a tank and managed to turn as he was falling and grab the two by the ankles and all three tumbled down the stairs. At the bottom, Michael was on top of the pile and only suffered bruises. Dick Leugar had his face in the floor, but the rest of his body, along with Michael, was atop Teddy Swartz, who had an arm twisted under him. Both were moaning and groaning, well, Teddy was doing more than moaning, when Michael grabbed both by the back of their shirt and "guided" them to Mr. Agnue's office marching right past Ms. Swartz -- the receptionist and Teddy's mother. As they marched, she cried, "What have you done to my baby? Teddy, sweetheart, what has that bully done to you, Baby?" Michael paid her no attention. Reaching the principal's door, Michael tapped on it with his foot and marched the two into Mr. Agnue's office when told to enter.

According to Michael, Mr. Agnue bade them have a seat and without further ado, handed each of them a pad and pencil and said, "Before you say anything, write out what happened."

"Mr. Agnue, I can't write," Teddy whined and held his arm up. Mr. Agnue looked at it, called to Ms. Swartz and said, "Ms. Swartz, call 911. I'm afraid we have a broken arm in here. Also call Coach MacArthur and have him stand by for a trip to the emergency room." He then said, "Michael, Dick, back to writing."

When the EMS arrived, they examined Teddy's arm and said they were sure it was not broken, but took him to the emergency room to be checked out. Mr. Agnue had Coach MacArthur follow and bring him back to school after he had been x-rayed and had his arm put in a sling, which he would be wearing for a while. Mr. Agnue had had the EMS take Teddy out the back exit so he didn't have to go past his mother. When he came back and she saw his arm in a sling, she started carrying on and was going to take him right home, but Mr. Agnue insisted he record a statement of what happened.

Michael and Dick had been placed in separate rooms to write their statements and left there to cool their heels until Teddy got back, then Mr. Agnue listened to Teddy's statement and read Michael's and Dick's. When he had finished, all three were brought in to his office. He told them he had three different accounts of what happened and would have believed Michael had started a fight and shoved the two down the steps, "But your stories are not consistent," he said to Teddy and Dick. "Fortunately, several students who saw what happened felt they should also give written statements. Do you need to hear them and maybe revise yours?" he asked.

"I don't" Michael said, "I wrote exactly what I believed and know happened.

Dick and Teddy said theirs were true statements too, but when Mr. Agnue said the three would have to go to tribunal and pointed out there were six witnesses who agreed with Michael, the two decided they might revise their statements and accept the punishment Mr. Agnue gave them. Ms. Swartz was adamant that Teddy had done no wrong and she would take it up with the school board. Mr. Agnue said she was free to do so, but he thought she might like to read the witness statements since the school board would definitely send the case to the tribunal. After reading the statements, she was still very angry and kept insisting Teddy was being wronged, but dropped any talk about going to the school board. Later we learned Mr. Agnue suggested she needed to stay home with Teddy while he was suspended for 10 days and then come back to discuss her future at the school.

Thursday everything was pretty quiet until lunch when Sissy came to lunch red-faced angry. As soon as he was seated he said, without his usual drama, "I am really, really pissed. I was on the way to my math class when I passed Mr. Chandler's door. You know the man is a white-trash redneck and has been in trouble for coming close to using the 'n' word -- never African-American or black, it's always Negro, which, I guess, was once considered the polite term, but even then, my grandmama says the way he says it, like Neg grow, was an insult." Well, anyway, he said, 'Yeah, we've got faggot teachers around here and put up with that queer Negro Sissy, now we have faggots and lesbians ruining our prom, dancing together and kissing on the dance floor. Now when I was in school, we would not have put up with queers and such. Well, nothing I can do about it. It's your school.' He then got on with the lecture." Sissy was shaking he was so angry.

"OK, we've pretty much taken what's been thrown our way, doing nothing except defending ourselves when we could," John said. "This time, we act." Sissy was reluctant to go to Mr. Agnue, but John insisted and practically drug him to the office. Mr. Agnue listened, asked which period Sissy had heard Mr. Chandler's remarks and said he'd talk with us later.

First class after lunch, Mr. Agnue announced a faculty meeting immediately after school. "All faculty, and I underscore all, will be in the library ten minutes after the final bell. Bus duty will be covered by staff, detention hall is canceled and any scheduled meeting, team practice or other event is canceled. There are absolutely NO exceptions. To be blunt, if you expect to continue on the payroll, you will be present when the faculty roll is called. Mr. Chandler, Mr. Yeager will be in your classroom in five minutes to free you to report to the office. Thank you."

Of course, we didn't know the details of what went on in Mr. Agnue's office when Mr. Chandler got there, but he wasn't in his classroom Friday and rumor was he was suspended without pay and had to attend a diversity training program, for all the good most of those do. Some of the teachers apologized for disrespectful remarks and for not being better at stopping name calling and bullying. There was much less harassment and the change was welcome.