No one in the bus said anything for the first several minutes. I mean, not a word. I’m not sure why. Maybe they were waiting for me to say something first.
We were well on the highway when I burst. When I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut anymore. Christian was sitting against the back wall of the lounge with his headphones on and his eyes shut but he didn’t look remotely asleep.
“This is what happens with an attitude like yours, motherfucker,” I said.
His eyes snapped open. “What did you call me?”
“Same thing you called me. You said we’re the same, right?”
“What the fuck–”
“That,” I said, pointing to the back of the bus where the graffiti was, “is your fault. Even if you didn’t paint it there yourself. Your whole fucking attitude is what lets that kind of shit happen.”
“My attitude? If you guys weren’t such outrageous queers you wouldn’t draw that kind of fucking attention! You think it’s easy being lumped in with you?”
That was when Ziggy jumped in. I hadn’t even realized he was standing right behind me. “Oh, is that what’s bothering you?” he sign-songed in mock sympathy. “Did one of the Megashits call you gay? Did they call you a pansy and hurt your feewings?”
In all fairness, I have to say that was a very “provoking” thing for Ziggy to say. So I can’t say that I really blame Chris for lunging at him. However I don’t think anyone can really blame me, who was standing between them, for clocking Chris in the neck with my elbow. It wasn’t even like a Bruce Lee kind of moment. He’s just tall and we were too close together for my fist to go where I wanted it to.
Chris fell right back onto the bench where he had been sitting, coughing and spitting. And then it was Ziggy–and everyone else–holding me back from just jumping on him and punching the living shit out of him. Granted, by then, everyone else was screaming at the top of their lungs. I won’t even try to do that justice. It was mostly them screaming at Christian.
When it died down, I wasn’t less angry, but I was at least less violent. “Listen to me,” I said to him. He hadn’t moved; I don’t think he dared. “If you really can’t stand being in a band, or a bus, with me and Ziggy and Colin, and whoever else here might have homosexual tendencies that I don’t even want to know about, then when the fucking tour is over you can quit. But quit now and as far as I’m concerned, we sue you for something like a quarter million dollars in lost revenue.”
“Oh, so you want the house, now,” he said.
“No, I don’t want the fucking house! I want the Christian Gallagher I used to know back. Barring that, I’d like the Christian Gallagher we’ve got to shut the fuck up and do his fucking job.” I gripped onto the stripper pole as the bus rocked a little.
“You don’t understand,” he said.
“No, I don’t fucking understand. You know how fucking hard it was to come out to you? It took me fucking months to get up the nerve, and then you were like, cool with it. I thought, jeez, all that worry over nothing. Now I find out I was right in the first place?” It’s hard to remember being more upset than I was at that moment outside of fights with Ziggy. “Are you fucking kidding me? We bought a house together, motherfucker, and now you’re going to tell me–”
“Daron! Stop! That’s… that’s not what I meant.” He looked much more scared of what I was saying than he was of me threatening him physically. “That’s really not what I meant. Not about you.”
“Then what did you fucking mean? Just which of us weirdos and outrageous queers are you having a problem with? Because if you’re having a problem with them, you have a problem with me.”
“I just… I’m sorry. Everyone. I’m really really sorry.” He put his hands over his eyes. “I don’t hate you. I don’t… I don’t hate gays. I’m not like that.” He looked up and repeated it. “I’m not like that. I’m just… out of my mind. I’m sorry. I’ll get help. I will. I just… I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
He went on like that for a while. I’d heard enough. I pushed my way to the front of the bus and sat for a while on the jump seat with Marty with the pocket door shut behind us. Up in very front, there was just the noise of the engine and the occasional crackle of the radio and the kind of hypnotic dashes and stripes on the road going by. Marty and the other bus driver made comments to each other every once in a while. It was soothing. We crossed into Mississippi, then into Alabama.
We were getting close to Mobile when Marty said, “I’ll get a can of black spray paint first thing in the morning. Cover it up a little. Then we’ll find a place that can really paint it. Joe knows a guy in Atlanta, but your boss lady, she’ll look in Pensacola.”
Joe was the other bus driver, I think. “Okay.”
“And we’ll be there soon. Real soon. Send boss lady up with the parking instructions, will you?”
“Okay.” I got up and went back.
Everything was quiet. Everyone was also evenly spaced throughout the bus. Trackie had gone with one of the equipment trucks. Courtney was sitting in the front lounge, right at the front. Ziggy was on the opposite side, near the back. Colin was in his bunk. Bart, Carynne, and Christian were spread out in the back lounge.
Courtney caught my sleeve as I went by. I sat down next to her.
“Sorry you had to see that,” I said. “It’s not usually like this.”
“Are you usually one big happy family?”
“If you’d asked me that the week before we hit the road, I would have said yes, absolutely.” Those easy couple of months where we just hung around the house and had people over and rehearsed and played around on secondhand pianos seemed like they’d happened to someone else. “Can I say ‘don’t do drugs’ without it sounding like a lecture this time?”
She just nodded. “I get the feeling he turned sort of Jekyll and Hyde on you.”
“Christian is the nicest guy we know. Seriously. And has great chops, too. And yeah, all of sudden he’s not.” I pulled my feet up onto the seat and hugged my knees. “Oh shit, and I just realized, you probably didn’t know.” That I’m gay.
She put a hand on my shoulder. “It’s all right, big brother,” she said with a little laugh. “I came out as bi when I was sixteen.”
“You what?” I looked at her and blinked.
“That was part of the whole moving to Texas and putting me in a special school and all that. I should’ve just waited until I got out of the house like you did. Would have been so much easier to just keep stringing mom and preacher man along. But nooooo. I was stupid…” She trailed off because I think I was staring and maybe my jaw was flapping like I was trying to say something.
What came out was, “Court. I’m not out.”
“What do you mean, you’re not out?”
“I mean, I’m still in the closet. A couple of people know. In fact, outside of the people in this bus I can count the people who know on my hands.” In my head I couldn’t help trying to count them. Matthew, Remo, Martin…
Wait. Not counting all the people I’d slept with who might have recognized me. Ah, fuck.
“Does Dad know?”
“What do you mean, ‘sort of’?” She looked as incredulous and confused as I probably had a minute earlier.
“I mean, Digger and I have a kind of mutual plausible deniability policy. I don’t call him on some of his shit and he doesn’t call me on mine.”
“Daron, your sexuality isn’t shit–”
“Save it, save it. Carynne’s already given me that speech.” I waved her off. “I mean, from Digger’s point of view, that’s what it is. I haven’t pushed it. It’d be like breaking the rules to actually walk up to him and say, ‘By the way, I’m gay.’ He knows. I know he knows. He knows that I know that he knows. But if anyone asks him if he knows, he can say no. And that’s enough.”
She gave me a look like she wasn’t sure it was. But she didn’t give me any more shit about it, that night anyway.
I moved on to tell Carynne that Marty wanted to see her for parking instructions.
She stood up and we put our heads together in the narrow corridor between the bunks. “What do you think, if we see a motel when we get off the highway, pull off there for the night? Just our bus, I mean,” she said. “I think maybe getting everybody some space to cool down would be a good idea.”
I promise not to strangle anyone in their bunks, I thought, but it wasn’t funny and I didn’t say it. “What if there’s not a place?”
“Well, the original plan was to spend the night in the buses at a truck stop about a half hour from the venue, and we could still do that. But I want to get everyone out of the bus if we can.”
“Okay. I guess tell Marty to keep his eyes peeled.”
She went forward, and I went back. I ended up sitting next to Bart and telling him what we were hoping to do. “Should you tell Chris, or should I?”
“If you can tell him without either of you flying into a violent rage, then you,” he said.
I went over to Chris. He was acting like he was sleeping again, but he opened his eyes as soon as I got near. “Hey,” I said.
“Boss lady thinks maybe we could all benefit from some… space tonight. So Marty’s looking for a motel.”
He looked sort of…wounded.
“For all of us,” I added, in case he thought we were just dropping him off or something. “Well, just our bus.”
“Okay,” he said, and looked somewhat relieved. “Look, man, I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry, too. But let’s say that again when we’ve both got clear heads, okay?”
“Okay.” He slumped back down.
I made my way forward again. As I was passing through the bunks toward the front lounge, looking for Ziggy, something soft bonked me on side of the head.
I looked and it was the white fuzzy nose of a stuffed unicorn. The unicorn was staring at me from where it was sticking out behind a bunk curtain. “Psst, hey Daron, Ziggy wants me to tell you something,” said Ziggy’s voice, but high and unicorn-y.
“Yeah, what’s that?”
“That he’s having an attack, but it’s totally okay, because he’s strapped in.” The unicorn then ducked behind the curtain.
Fuck it fuck it fuck it. I tossed my high tops into my own bunk and then slipped behind Ziggy’s curtain, and just hugged him until a half hour or so later we pulled into the parking lot of a motel just off I-10.
(Speaking of Tom Petty…)