Civil War Reenactment
The minivan rattles every time we turn a corner. “What’s that sound?” I ask Dalton.
I’m thinking it might be a loose screw or a collection of loose screws, in the sense that the car itself might have a major screw loose.
Dalton shrugs. “I dunno. We might not have pulled everything out after the last party,” he says.
Dalton’s mom, Gloria, runs a small boutique called G. G doesn’t stand for Gloria, but for G-string. She sells sex toys for women. It’s huge. I mean it’s a great business, especially the weekend home parties.
His mother has tasked us with the job of taking the van for an emissions test.
By us, I mean Julia who is watching TikTok on her phone, me, named after my great-uncle Archie and a comic book character—an anti-hero without a super power—and Dalton, who is driving. Buckled into the passenger seat is Dalton’s little brother, Jude, who is autistic. I’m not sure why I’m mentioning this except that we promised him if he didn’t act up and scream we’d buy him a Rocky pup figure. Jude is obsessed with Paw Patrol, and his underwear has to be colored. He can’t wear white briefs. Or, I don’t know, his head will explode. That’s how he acts when he’s under stress, as if his whole world is ruined forever.
So we’re driving around in the August heat looking for a Target, which shouldn’t be too hard as we are surrounded by big box stores and hex-acre parking lots, one of which we pull into.
We each grab a cart as we head into the store. Just like at the spook houses at the amusement park, we receive a little gust of cool AC air as we pass through the automatic doors. Dalton and Jude push off toward the TP and paper towel section, while Julia and I wander toward the grocery side. In the fresh produce aisle we arrive in time to see the mister in action.
“Hey check this out.” Julia picks up a humongous Chernobyl-orange yam. It reminds me of an elephant erection. “Yah!” She pokes me with it. “Touché!”
“Oww.” I pick up one of my own and duel with her. Neither of us win and we end up having the yams kiss and make up. The manager comes over and says if we want them fine, but if not to stop messing around.
Julia answers, absentmindedly brushing back her hair, “I was wondering if you sold these by the case-lot? Can I get a truckload?”
The kid—because now that I think about it he doesn’t look like a manager of anything, more like a high school dropout in an apron with a name badge—stares at Julia for a second and then, as if awakened from a coma, turns to me: “I think you and your girlfriend should leave.”
“She’s not my girlfriend.”
“I think it’s time for you and your friend to go.”
When he walks away Julia sneaks a yam into the top of her overalls.
We find Dalton in the toy section. Jude is waving a plush stuffed doggie and making loud ruff-ruff noises. It’s hard to keep him quiet. Dalton notices the yam peeking out of Julia’s overalls. He rolls his eyes and says, “I can’t take you guys anywhere.”
I mean I wish she was my girlfriend. For as long as I can remember, we’ve been friends—ever since I was a shy guy in the third grade and she adopted me. Julia has this big extended Colombian family who are always trying to feed me rice and arepas, which of course I’m happy to comply, usually taking a container or tin foil packet home with me. I’m still that shy kid, inside, buried beneath the sarcasm.
I look over at Julia, absorbed into her phone screen. Her hair is a scattered mess, left unbrushed and wild, falling into her eyes and mouth. She mostly keeps her hair in place with a bandana headband, sort of the image of Power to the People. Every once in a while she’ll braid it into a single strand where it lays on her back like a massive marine rope, Rapunzelish. I sigh as we pass a county park with a sign out front: Civil War Reenactment Here
One) I didn’t know people still did this. Like is it allowed? And, two) that’s when I notice the protestors.
Jude goes from barking to a high-pitch siren sound. At first I think it’s an emergency vehicle and then I realize Jude has to pee. That’s how he tells us. So, yeah, it’s an emergency. Dalton turns into the park where a crowd converges on the minivan.
Julia looks up as a demonstrator blocks the sun from coming in the passenger-side window. “Whoa.” Her hazel-flecked eyes go wide and beneath her headband her forehead crinkles.
“This might be cool,” I say, not really meaning it.
Meanwhile Jude is losing his pee.
Dalton rolls down his window: “Let me through!”
No one hears him. They’re all yelling. We inch forward toward a ball-field where suburban weekend soldiers are parading their colors. There is a senior citizen bugler making more of a pffing sound than a rallying call. Next to a row of porta-potties Dalton pulls over.
With Jude nothing is easy. He refuses to go into the phone-booth-sized pisser. He digs in his heels as Dalton tries to push him in through the door. Jude is seven-feet tall and 300 pounds (all his SpongeBob T-shirts are XXXL). He screams like a banshee.
A security guard comes running toward us. “Hey, we’re not officially open yet,” she shouts, waving her arms.
It’s hard to calm Jude down. A panicky feeling rises up inside of me—seeing as we’re surrounded by guys with guns and angry demonstrators with picket signs.
“Ma’am.” Dalton releases Jude, who decides to sit down in front of the porto door. “This is not a choice.”
The security guard calls for backup, while Julia takes Jude by the hand and helps him to his feet; she leads him over by the horses. Apparently there is a cavalry unit. Horses have been picketed along the edges of the outfield.
Once we made out. In her bedroom. It wasn’t terrible, yet it wasn’t the greatest. Afterwards, there have been moments, where I think she’s thinking about it and feeling awkward while at the same time I’m remembering and going over every single detail. I just wish we could talk about it. Watching her show Jude how to pet the horses without being afraid makes me love her even more than I already do.
I wander over by them, leaving Dalton to talk his way out of trespassing.
“Hey,” she says. “Jude really likes horses.”
“He gets hippotherapy, so he’s used to them.”
Julia’s forehead creases. “Hippos?”
I chuckle. I can see why she said that. “It’s horse therapy.”
“Wait! Horses get therapy. This is such a great country,” she says, using a fake foreign accent.
“Yeah, there’s even these special couches for them to lay on and tell the horse headshrinker all their problems.”
“Not enough sugar cubes. Too many fat kids sitting on them. Having to walk in circles. Being sent to a stud farm.”
“That’s a bad thing?” she asks. The horse she is petting is all mellow and leaning into her, nosing around the bib of her bib overalls.
I reach out to push his head away. “At least everyone knows their job.”
In the distance I hear sirens. Dalton runs up to us. “Where’s Jude?”
Right next to the Union encampment Jude is taking a dump. I’m trying to decide if this is treason; if we shouldn’t have tried to desecrate, defecate on the Confederate side. Does it even matter?
The security guard’s voice jumps an octave. “Stop. Stop. Stop,” and I’m thinking that horse is already out of the barn. The horse Julia was petting tries to follow us as we hurry away.
Dalton runs around to the back of the minivan to retrieve paper towels and TP. Julia offers her water bottle carabinered to a loop in her overalls. Me—I’ve got nothing. My only positive contribution to this fuck-up is suppressing the urge to vomit.
“You can’t do that here,” the security guard, all flushed and out of breath, shouts at Dalton. He’s in a vulnerable position wiping Jude’s butt. Jude doesn’t do anything little.
The sirens are getting closer. Great, I think, the reinforcements are coming.
A soldier in gray wanders over. Beneath his Confederate blue-gray cap is stringy hair and red, painful acne that extends down into the neck collar of his uniform.
“Hey y’all!” I greet him.
Julia looks at me sideways—as if to say, Quit fooling around.
“He’s special needs,” I try to explain, leaving off the y’all this time. The Rebel shakes his head. Behind me the sirens are growing louder. There is a high-pitch roar coming toward us. Julia and I turn to face an onslaught of protestors.
I wish I knew if I was in love with Julia. I wish I knew if were gay. I know I’m in love with Julia, just as I know I’m gay. While making out, all I could think of was: This is going to change everything.
It did, and it didn’t. Even though we continued to goof around, there was also this thing out there, between us. A truth we didn’t talk about. Because to talk about it would make it real. It’s just hard to be honest.
It’s so goddamn hot. Julia’s kerchief headband is dark from perspiration; stray hairs are stuck to her cheek. I want to tuck them back behind her ear.
As far back as third grade I knew: whenever I was around her I felt good being me. As I have gotten older those times have grown further apart. It’s like this seesaw inside of me, with a fat guy sitting on one end. I can’t get him off of me, rise up, or at least reach some kind of equilibrium. I’m constantly afraid—of what I’m not sure.
Demonstrators surround us talking all at once. “Whose kid is this? What’s the matter with him? Why don’t people watch their kids?”
Even I, a clueless, self-loathing teenager struggling with his sexuality, know these people are jerks. They turn their righteous attention to Johnny Reb, calling him racist. It’s totally messed up when the adults around you are screaming, their eyes bulging, spit coming out of their mouths.
Nothing sets Julia off more than bullies. In elementary school out on the playground she defended me against sadistic fifth graders. Just to piss the other kids off she’d pick me first for kickball even though I stunk at the game.
She turns to the biggest mouth of the big mouths. “Hey! This is performance art.” Hmmm, that might be a stretch. “It’s role playing.”
Last year when I had my own version of a nervous breakdown and refused to go to school, Everything felt bad. The problem was, there was no way out. Nothing made sense. I’ve always been troubled by illogic. My parents, for instance. They were always saying things like you need to pull your grades up to get into college. What if I don’t want to go to college? Of course, you do, they’d tell me. Without college you can’t get a job. Maybe I don’t want a job. I was afraid to tell them who/what I am.
Mom and Dad and their Sunday go-to church-world would lose their shit.
During my mental crisis (what my parents called it) Julia came over just to hang out. So did Dalton, but he was different, awkward, asking stupid questions, like did I want to kill myself. She was an island in the middle of a shark-infested world. We’d play a reverse-psychology version of “Never have I ever.” Basically lying.
In my bedroom that afternoon when I realized I was gay I wanted to run and hide. It was like I’d kicked off a blanket and was naked. My heart was racing. I sat on the edge of my bed with my head in my hands, crying. My parents are always telling me I’m overreacting. Yet, even with Julia, I couldn’t admit what was bugging me. Like a dumbass, I pushed her away.
The protestors pile on the Rebel. “Shut this thing down!” “Your time is up!” “You don’t belong here!”
Julia loses her mind. “Listen you pussy-bitch motherfuckers, the war is over.”
Suddenly someone bashes a sign down on top of Julia’s head. The stick attached to the sign splinters. I watch her crumple to her knees, blood gushing between her fingers. Within the chaos of blue and red flashing lights and the ear-splitting wailing of sirens—there is a pause, a gap in the space-time continuum where everything slows down and is muted.
A line of tension running through my whole body strums. If possible, I would kill. Blood seeps out from beneath her headband like spilled oil. I pick up a piece of the stick, jagged at one end, and throw it at the crowd like a javelin. It lands with a thud. Nothing. With my other hand I help Julia to her feet, and together we corral Jude and Dalton toward the car, and the cops. Jude is very excited about the cops.
Dalton gets Jude into the minivan with his Paw Patrol pup, while I open the back sliding door for Julia and guide her into the cool, dark interior. An army medic asks if he can check out Julia’s head, but she waves him away.
Once settled next to Julia on the bench seat, I watch the police shout through a bull horn for the crowd to disperse. It seems the whole world has gone bonkers.
Sometimes all I want is for someone to say it’s going to be all right. That no matter what happens, we’ll be okay.
I put my arm around Julia and pull her close and kiss the top of her head. “I’ve got you.”
Slowly, I feel her relax into me. I take a deep breath.