Walking Into Clouds

by Rick Beck

Chapter 26

Futures Past

Acknowledging that she wanted to speak before she decided to stand up, Vanilla used her white gloves to smooth her dress. The dress was lovely. It was white with sumptuous navy blue flowers imprinted on the material.

Vanilla's hat matched her dress. As she stood, she removed her hat and placed it with her white handbag on the seat behind her.

"I'm Vanilla and I was with Cody the morning of his arrest," she said in plain clear words.

If Vanilla was intimidated by being in court, she showed no signs of it.

"You were arrested as well. I want to hear about that. What did you think you were doing, when the officer put you under arrest?" John Henry asked.

"Yes. I'm not unaccustomed to being arrested, your honor, but I'm not accustomed to seeing my friends arrested because of me," Vanilla said with sadness in her voice.

"Your honor, I'm a bit self absorbed. My friends will tell you that I think my problems are somehow more worthy of attention than theirs are. In this case I needed to take two gowns to the Review for that day's rehearsal and an afternoon performance. Cody, knowing when the lady is in distress, said he'd help. That way I saved cab fare and we could hold the gowns so they wouldn't wrinkle. Cody is thoughtful that way and I never doubted he'd offer to help, your honor. I should have called the cab and maybe none of this would have happened," Vanilla said.

"We were upset over Floyd and Cody usually sits with me when Floyd isn't doing well. Being together makes us both feel better, and this is what comes of me thinking my problems need to be taken care of right away. Any guilt in this matter is mine and not Cody's. I should have known better. It makes you wonder who is the adult and who is the child in this case."

"This is when you were arrested. After the gowns were properly secured at the Review?" John Henry asked.

"Cody carried one of the gowns into the entertainment area of the Review. I carried the second gown and I went in behind Cody. I wanted to hang the gowns up in my dressing room so they would stay nice. I make the gowns while I'm at the dress shop where I work. Then I carry them home for the finishing touches. It's the last step before they go to the Review. Excuse me, I should say I used to make the gowns for the performers at the Review. I'm persona non grata at the Review these days. This has been a disastrous week for all concerned. None of it was Cody's fault. I tried to explain it to the cop."

"Did you make the dress you're wearing? It's quite lovely," John Henry said.

"I make all my clothes. Because of who I am, going into a shop to buy the proper clothes, well it raises eyebrows, I'll say. It offends people that the lady is not what she seems to be. I like to avoid making a scene if I can."

"Clerks are unkind?" John Henry asked. "Because you're trans?"

"Yes, I like that. Clerks are unkind, to say the least," Vanilla said, laughing. "It's why I began making my own clothes and I'm good enough at it that other trans women let me make their clothes. Let's say that it makes life easier. I enjoy working with my hands and there is no end to the folks who ask me to make clothes for them. The dress shop I was working for at the time of my arrest is also rethinking our arrangement. Being a jailbird is even less appealing to some folks than my not being what I seem at first glance."

"You seem to take it all well but I do want to hear about your arrest," John Henry said. "Those details are a little fuzzy. I have the version given by the officer and the state's take on it."

"Long ago I learned that if I allowed everyone who hated me get under my skin, I'd spend all my time being angry. I've got too much to do to be angry all the time. At least I did. The future isn't completely clear as of the moment," Vanilla said. "My employers are willing to use whatever benefits them without feeling the need to compensate me much beyond minimum wage. Now I'm grateful to be able to work, because work isn't easy to find for someone like me."

"Someone trans?" John Henry asked. "I'm trying to get a feel for what life is like for a trans woman like yourself."

"Someone trans. I was fortunate to have a trans woman in my life as a child. She had ways of telling a child what it would be like. Living in an apartment with nine brothers and sisters, every chance I got, I went up to Suesu's apartment. I remember she brewed the most wonderful tea and she made cookies that were heavenly. Just tiny thin things that tasted of almond and butter. I can still taste her cookies and that tea was perfect with them," Vanilla said.

"I didn't know what was wrong with me and Suesu told me, 'Ain't nothing wrong with you, child.' She had this story about God being hurried while he was making his deliveries one day, and 'That's how little girls end up in little boy's bodies,'" Vanilla said.

"At nine I could see that white old man trying to deliver all those babies. At thirty-three I believe it was more like Jesus did during his life. Jesus was about love and forgiveness. You wouldn't know it by listening to preachers. How they get from love and forgiveness to the hateful nature of preaching today, the Lord only knows," Vanilla said.

"Religion shouldn't be about meanness, and people are convinced that by being mean to me they earn points with God. I think God knows exactly what's going on. He puts people like me here to see who the mean hateful folks are. Are they ever going to get a surprise when they arrive at the pearly gates, and God says, 'What did you do to my gay children?' That's how I see it. I'm sorry for going on. I made up my mind if I was going to talk to a judge, I would tell him the whole truth. I'd tell you my truth as a trans woman, your honor."

Vanilla sounded hurried like she wouldn't get it all said.

"You can take your time. I want to hear what you have to say. Let's go back to the Sunday morning you were arrested," John Henry said patiently. "What happened that morning. Start with Cody being arrested."

"The story is no secret. Cody was helping me. He carried one of the two gowns for Sunday's performance. When I came out from where we hung the gowns Cody was already handcuffed," Vanilla said.

"I could see how tight they were on his wrists. This made me angry. It was pure meanness on that officer's part. Cody tried to move out of his reach, because the officer was pulling on the handcuffs and Cody was in pain. He slipped the officer's grip and moved a foot away. I stepped into the space between them. I wanted him to stop pulling on the handcuffs. They were those old metal things, not the plastic. The officer said something about him breaking the law being in the Review. I said, 'He's helping me carry things into the dressing room and he'll leave right away. He didn't want to hear it. His mind was made up. That's when he says real nasty like, 'What's he carrying, your jockstrap?' Vanilla said. "Can you imagine?"

"He saw the hostility on my face after he said it. I was between him and Cody and he threw me on the floor and arrested me. I'm sorry, but that officer was wrong arresting us."

Vanilla needed a moment to compose herself.

"Take your time. I want to hear what you have to say," John Henry said.

"I knew I'd be locked up with the men. Where would you put Arthur Vandilla? As luck would have it, they'd arrested another trans woman, and we looked after one another. I got off a lot easier than Cody did. I figured I'd be in jail for a long time. I had no bail money. Then, after a few days, I was released. Charges were dropped. It was all so senseless. I just didn't want my gowns to get wrinkled."

"You've been arrested before?" John Henry said.

"I'm trans. I know when I leave the house I'll probably encounter someone who is offended by me. Sometimes it's a cop. It goes with the territory, your honor."

"Can you identify the police officer for me?" John Henry asked and the court recorder kept on typing.

"Oh, yes. We aren't strangers. It was Officer Lansdale. He's arrested me several times before. He's busted Big Lil's bars a half dozen times," Vanilla said. "That's what Big Lil says. She runs gay places. No matter where you fit into the LGBTQ network, you'll be targeted by folks who simply can't leave us alone."

"I want to thank you for educating me a little on what trans people go through. I understand you are fond of Aretha and Billie Holiday," John Henry said.

"I do a respectable Aretha. Billie is more a spiritual journey. I feel her as easily as I feel my own self, your honor."

"I'd pay to see that," John Henry said.

He sounded sincere.

Vanilla blushed.

"Don't go to the Review. I don't sing there any longer. I sing at Topsy's. It's less of a bar and more of a place you go to hear good music and have a beer while you listen. The Review is a place where you go to drink and they give shows to keep you there for long enough to get real thirsty. That's Lil's take on it."

"I will be looking into that," John Henry said. "I'll say howdy when I go to hear you."

"I'll say howdy right back," Vanilla said. "Thank you, your honor,"

Vanilla sat down.

"I want to thank all of you for coming. Is there someone I haven't heard from, I'll allow you to speak if you like. I do like to think I'm enlightened and capable of learning from the people who come before me. Maybe start in the front row with the other Thomas family members. Do you have more to say?"

"You've heard everything I had to say," dad said.

"I'm more angry now than I was last week," I said. "My mom taught me, if I don't have anything nice to say, say nothing. I'll do that so we can get this over with," I said.

Mr. Bing stood up from a seat beside Vanilla and Luther.

"I'm a music man. I'm about to go on tour with Ms. Vanilla and the Top Tones. I own Topsy's and I found Cody in the alley beside my bar about three years ago. He swept my floors and polished my brass a couple of days a week. When I found out he could play the piano, our relationship changed. We jam together once a week. That's his job. Someone else sweeps my floors. Cody has a rare gift. I won't try to explain it but he has talent, if I don't drop dead on this tour I'm undertaking, he'll play with me one day if he wants to. I own Topsy's so there's no doubt we'll make music together," Mr. Bing said. "I just wanted to say that. Cody's smart and dependable, when he ain't locked up, your honor, and yes, he worked in my bar and he never looked twice at the liquor. I watched him to make sure of that."

"I'll pass, your honor. We said it all the last time I was in your court," Luther said.

"That brings you back to go, your honor," Mr. Grant said, standing at the defense table. "I'm still hoping something is done about Officer Lansdale, even if it's only to educate him a little more thoroughly about LGBTQ people. My client wants nothing more than to be left alone. He's a lot less sure of himself than he was before this incident reminded him of how vulnerable he is because he picked the wrong parents. He's very sorry for it and he won't do it again, but he might have something to say about it. I favor suing you all, your honor, no disrespect intended, but Cody and Mr. Thomas are satisfied with emancipation. I wish I was as confident as they are that some cowboy cop doesn't come down on Cody again, because they have nothing better to do. People doing their best to survive in what has become a dog eat dog world, shouldn't be hassled by the cops. Before you find me in contempt of court, I'll yield the floor to Mrs. Marcum. She does have something to say."

Morgan Grant took his seat as John Henry watched.

"I can't be as colorful as Mr. Grant and still keep my job, but there was a lot of truth in what he said. I met Cody an hour before we appeared in court last week. I have so many cases, I still haven't met four of my clients. CPS just had their budget cut again. We have two less case workers working 20% more cases this year. Why so many cases for each case worker, because many case workers quit under the workload we're asked to carry," Mrs. Marcum said. "I needed to say that."

"I can't give the proper time to someone like Cody. We talked for an hour before the hearing last week. I talked. Cody stared at his feet. Some fat old lady walks into his life saying, 'I'm here to help you. I've got an hour. Tell me about yourself. Your honor, kids are smarter than that. They know the score. Few of them go to court without knowing their window of opportunity has just closed," Mrs. Marcum said.

"These people know Cody a lot better than I do. I'm amazed he survived being thrown away. I see kids that have completely shut down after being raised in lousy homes. The kids are treated no better than farm animals. They're beaten. They are mentally and emotionally traumatized. Then they are thrown out by parents who have never parented them. This is particular true of gay children. They are thrown out after being treated no better than farm animals. In fact, most good farmers treat their farm animals better than these children are treated," Mrs. Marcum said.

"What happens to these children when they end up in the hands of the authorities? They're punished for failing to be in school or to live at home. Think about that, your honor. We punish children who have been tortured, and we wonder why they don't turn out to be productive adults. I don't wonder why. I know why."

"Well, I suspect Cody is a lot more intelligent than he lets on, but he doesn't let on much," she said. "Not to some woman who just shows up and says, 'I'm here to help you.' He's smarter than that," Mrs. Marcum said.

"From what I hear he's a smart talented young man. Since a week ago, we've tried to grind up that smart talented boy, but I think we have failed. I think Cody will recover, because he has good people who are looking after him, but I wouldn't place a bet on it. Kids go from parents who torment them to a legal system that eats them alive. It isn't good enough, your honor. I don't like it and I don't know what to do to stop it," Mrs. Marcum said. "That's all, your honor. I wish Cody well and if he ever decides he wants to talk, I'm willing to listen. My door is always open to him and that's all there is."

"Thank you, Mrs. Marcum. It's a story I've heard many times. Cody, would you like to speak?" John Henry asked.

"I've been lucky," Cody said. "I listened to what people have to say, but I hardly recognize myself. I don't know what people see when they look at me, so being described by these people makes me feel lucky," Cody said. "They see me far more clearly than I see me."

"You've found an impressive group of friends, Cody. A young man that can find so many good people who believe in him is doing something right." John Henry said. "I wish all the minor children who appear in my courtroom were as lucky as Cody."

"But even listening to them describe me doesn't make me feel that they are talking about me. I'm scared. I haven't been this frightened since when my father threw me out and he told me he'd kill me the next time he saw me. I believed him and I was scared that he might see me. I did my best to hide. Then I heard he was looking for me, and that's when I ran and I didn't stop running until I got here. I was tired of running and so I stopped here. It seemed as good as any place else."

"It's all an accident after that. I put one foot in front of the other and I followed my nose. I found other kids like me. They showed me the ropes. They took care of me until I knew how to take care of myself," Cody said.

"I met these people one at a time. I regard them as friends. Clete's parents have shown me what it would have been like if I'd had sane parents. I haven't known them for long, but they make me feel like I belong with them. I'm so sorry this happened. I'm embarrassed and I'm afraid. I didn't do anything. I still ended up in jail," he said. "I don't know why."

"What I did is what I do every day. I made the most of what I had. Vanilla needed help and I helped her. I didn't know it would end up with both of us being locked up. I was trying to help my friend. I shouldn't get arrested for that," he complained.

"There was no reason to lock me up, except some cop decided he was going to lock me up. He didn't need a reason and there was nothing I could do about it, and because of me, Vanilla was arrested. I just don't get it. She made those beautiful gowns. She didn't want to get them wrinkled. How did we end up in jail?" Cody asked.

"I suppose I would have stopped him if I was older. Cops shouldn't be able to arrest someone for doing nothing. There are too many cops who are looking for someone doing something wrong. There are so many they need to create the situation that allows them to arrest people who are unfortunately too visible for their own good."

Cody stopped. He looked at the table in front of him. He looked at Morgan Grant. Morgan nodded his approval. Mrs. Marcum held his hand as Cody looked up at the judge.

"I don't know what this thing means. What you're giving me. I don't know how it protects me from some cop deciding to arrest me after I walk out of here with whatever it is you give me. I have no power. I'm a kid. I've been on my own since I was thirteen. I was doing OK. I don't feel like I'm doing OK now. I don't know what I feel. I think I'm afraid to feel anything. I didn't feel anything for a long time. Then, I began to feel something again. You took that away from me. I feel numb. I'm scared," Cody said. "I'm very scared."

Cody sat down.

"I guess it is my turn," Judge John Henry Robinson said. "I can't take away your fear, Cody. I can emancipate you and wish you well, but you were dealt a lousy hand. You've done remarkably well considering where you started. I don't know what makes bad parents. I don't know how good parents happen. What I see is the wreckage of families that have failed. You are part of that wreckage, Cody."

"Before I say anymore, there was a comment you made the other day that I want to take you up on. Your story about how you fell down and hurt yourself would change if I didn't send you back to where they did that to you. I didn't send you back there, Cody. Can you amend the answer to my question about what happened to you?"

Cody looked at John Henry. He looked at Morgan Grant. He looked at me.

"Don't stand up. I can hear you fine. Tell me what happened."

"I was beaten up shortly after I arrived at one of the juvenile facilities. It was the first night, or the second night. I don't remember. That week was a year long and my place in it isn't that clear to me," Cody said.

"Why did they beat you so severely?" the judge asked.

"They wanted what I have. I give what I have to people I decide to give it to. I never give what's mine to anyone on demand, if you catch my drift."

"Would you be more specific," the judge said.

"I could be but I won't be. Use your imagination. They took one look at me and decided they could have whatever they wanted to take off me. I wasn't as easy as they thought I should be, and so they decided to mess up my nice face so I wasn't so tempting to horny teenage boys."

"I see," the judges said, pondering Cody's words. "I'm sorry you had such an experience. As far as I can see, there is no reason you or Vanilla were arrested. I wish I could make sense of it."

John Henry looked us over like he might pick one of us.

"Thank you, Cody. I won't tell you that another boy won't show up in my courtroom with a similar story to yours. I'm a judge and what I can do is be fair and smart. I can't stop law enforcement from doing what law enforcement does. They're there to keep the peace, but the difference between doing something stupid and doing something illegal is separated by a very fine line. I would guess many people are arrested for no good reason," he said thoughtfully.

"Because I'm a judge, and I see the same faces coming through my courtroom time after time, I wonder if there shouldn't be a better way. Locking people up to civilize them seems counterproductive. As Cody learned what happens if you are locked up with sociopaths. Your health is in danger, and there needs to be a better way," he said. "For the life of me, I don't know what that is. Why we think punishing accomplishes anything is beyond me. The people most likely to be locked up have lived lives filled with the punishment that comes from being born to the wrong parents. First the parents take a whack at them and once they're done, the legal system picks up where they left off, but I'm only judge. I must work within the system. When a case like this comes before me, I have a chance to make it turn out OK and so that's what I intend to do."

"I won't insult Cody by saying, 'I'm sorry about what happened to you,' but I am sorry. I can see how that experience has put doubt in your mind. You say it's fear, but you had gained confidence and you were doing all the right thing for a homeless boy. In one unsuspecting moment you were locked up and being locked up ended with you taking a beating."

"Cody, I predict that you are smart enough, and tough enough, to bounce back. With people like these behind you, I'd be surprised if you don't continue to excel. I signed your emancipation order before court this morning. I could have just handed it to your lawyer and called it a day. I could have gone to play golf," he said.

"I didn't do that because I wanted to hear from the people who love you. I wanted to hear from the women. I learn more from women, because they don't think like men. The first thing a woman thinks about involving homeless children isn't, 'Let's punish them.' Women are nurturing by design and we need more women developing solutions to salvage young lives, not dish out more punishment to abused children," John Henry said. "If you tie a dog up and you beat him every time you pass, you're going to create a vicious dog. You take a kid and beat him every chance you get, and you're going to have one mean angry kid. We need to rethink what we're doing."

"While I can't make it up to you, your ordeal indicates there is a need for change. As I hear from the people in my courtroom, I learn more about the human condition. I hope by listening, I can be a better judge. It's the best I can do and I know it's never enough."

"Since I have never believed that I know everything, I never stop learning. I don't know why there aren't more options for people like you, Cody. No one thinks the government should raise kids. With budget cuts and few people who are qualified to deal with homeless children, the only option left is to keep them in custody until they are old enough to put out on their own. It's not a system that helps children to grow up to be good adults, but it's what we can afford."

"Cody obviously found his way. Had Cody had the ability to enroll in school as as a homeless youth, the system certainly wouldn't have collapsed. He was in school before he left home. Had Cody gone to school, he wouldn't need to settle for a GED," John Henry said.

"We need to become more flexible with our solutions to human problems. Instead of cutting corners and budgets, we should be spending whatever it takes to get better outcomes."

"By making it easier for homeless kids to get services, so they could go to school, it might give them a pathway to a more productive life. Lord knows there is no shortage of homeless youth. We are the adults and we need better solutions. Kids will find a way to survive, whether or not we help them."

"Cody represents a homeless boy who has succeeded. I am proud to be able to emancipate him. I want to thank you all for coming. Mr. Grant, you may approach to take custody of the emancipation order for Cody, and I wish you all God's speed."

Judge John Henry Robinson disappeared through the door behind his dais.

His exit was so sudden, we sat silent for a minute or two.

My father invited everyone to the Spice House for coffee, tea, and cheesecake he said was heavenly.

Who could turn down an offer like that?

As it turned out, no one could. I was surprised that Mr. Bing agreed to go. Luther turned out to be the life of the party. We began feeling a bit drained from being in court. Even for what was a good reason for being there, it was hard time.

Cody managed a couple of smiles. This was a gathering of the people in his life. Emancipation didn't change anything for him. He would go home with mom, dad, and me. We would go to work on Thursday morning and we'd pick up where we left off after that.

My father proposed a toast as this group began to gather some momentum.

"To Cody, to his freedom, to the best that's yet to come, and to you, good friends all."

I'd never been part of a more diverse gathering. It didn't take long for everyone to be laughing and enjoying what was fine cheesecake and excellent coffee.

As the time came to say goodbye, arrangements were made for meetings involving members of our group. It had been an intense afternoon and it ended with promises to meet again soon.

Morgan Grant stood with Cody outside to tell him what to expect from emancipation. The main thing he needed to remember was Mr. Grant's phone number. He was to use it any time he felt threatened.

There would be pizza for dinner and music in the music room. Cody did play the upright piano and he sang. It was difficult not to have fun at a time like that.

Cody healed in time. It took a while for the nightmares to go away, but for a few more weeks, I'd wake up with Cody holding me tightly while he shook. I knew where he'd gone in his sleep.

"It's OK. You're safe. I won't let anything happen to you," I'd say.

After a while it stopped. I think being there for him helped.

I bought the banjo that now held some mystique it never had before I met Mr. Bing. Jerome Bing had inspired another Thomas.

From time to time I'd take it with me on Tuesday evenings when we went to jam with Mr. Bing, and he always had an idea of how to make a different sound come out of my instrument.

We smiled, we laughed, we played, and life was good. Both Cody and I went to Topsy's to hear the Top Tones play. Some parents took their older children to hear what was great music. Vanilla, in gowns she made, sang up a storm at Topsy's. The Top Tones were a young combo that could play anything Mr. Bing suggested.

Dad talked mom into going to see Mr. Bing and Vanilla and to hear the music they made. You had to come early if you wanted to get a good seat. By nine the place was packed and they'd play into the night. There was no end to the music, until the musicians were dragging, and the audience had gone home.

Cody enjoyed being at Topsy's, when we went, because two of his best friends were there. As time went on, Tuesday nights with Floyd came to an end. Once again Floyd had gone into a tailspin. Late that fall, Floyd joined the lover he'd never stopped loving and they were once again together with their friends.

Floyd wanted to be cremated but his firm gave a memorial service for him. I'd never seen so many flowers. There were notes and flowers from all over the world.

Cody and I didn't know it, but Floyd was once a very big deal.

We liked him because he was down to earth and he knew the history of the movement he belonged to. Floyd remembered when we were all faggots or queers. Floyd remembered when we were always hated and never made welcome. Floyd remembered when we were dying and no one raised a finger to help. He lived to see gay marriage become the law of the land but that wasn't enough, and Floyd spoke of getting all of our rights. He said, "It won't be right until everyone has equal rights."

As many gay rights advocates as architectural aficionados attended the memorial. Floyd would have been proud. He didn't think he'd done enough for gay rights. He was wrong.

Cody was made sad by losing one of his friends. Once we attended the memorial, he seemed uplifted and when he spoke of Floyd, it was always the nice things he remembered about him.

Floyd gave me an education. Every young LGBTQ person needed to have a friend that can remember that we were once the most hated people alive. We've come a long way but we have a ways to go. We should never forget those who died to make life better for us.

As time passed there were no more nightmares. My relationship with Cody grew stronger. The longer we stayed together, the more we felt like we belonged together.

We haven't decided if we want to get married or not. We'll wait until Cody turns eighteen and if the subject comes up, we'll make a decision then.

I went to town to find a nice boy to love, and I found one.


The End


"It's the most spectacular thing I've ever seen," Cody said.

We stood just beyond the peak on the face of the Rockies. It was over eleven thousand feet. At three a.m. there were a million times a million stars. There was more starlight than sky once the lights of the flatland were left behind and below us. The only light came from the night sky.

"I love you so much," Cody said, putting his arms around me and he kissed me. "Why haven't you brought me here before? It's incredible."

"I want to see the Pacific," I said. "It's that way."

I pointed west.

"Me too," he said.

"Mr. Hitchcock gave me a check for $5,000," I said.

"He shook my hand," Cody said.

"We're unemployed," I said. "Nothing stopping us from packing up my banjo and your keyboard and heading west."

"Why did he sell the market after so long?" Cody asked.

"I think he got tired of fighting a losing battle. A boutique market has been after his market for years. They have three other stores in the state and they loved Mr. Hitchcock's location. The building is the perfect size for them. They only need to move in and take over."

"The market was Mr. Hitchcock's life," Cody said.

"They paid him an obscene amount of money. He'll survive. He might go into another store somewhere. He'll be fine."

"Why'd he give you all that money?" Cody asked, as he stared into the night sky.

"I've worked for him forever. I never asked for what I was worth to him. He knew he wasn't paying me enough. He said he needed to make up for the value I gave him over the years. I didn't expect it but now we have the money to travel. If we keep putting it off, we might never go."

"Funny how things work out," Cody said. "While Floyd was alive, I wouldn't have been able to leave him."

"Isn't it," I said. "You know what Floyd would tell you."

"'Go get that brass ring, baby,' is what he'd say. I haven't cooked since before he got sick the last time."

"Don't worry. After boiling water for instant coffee, I'm helpless. You can do the cooking while we're gone. We can't afford to eat out that much. I have camping gear. I'll turn the cook stove over to you. I've got my eye on a cap for the back of the Silverado. That way we can sleep out of the rain and snow."

Cody laughed.

"I need to tour with Mr. Bing in the fall. It's only a month this year, but he's already scheduled the dates we'll play. I promised him," Cody said.

"I wouldn't miss it," I said. "I've got my banjo if he needs me."

"Sounds good to me. I'll be earning money as an entertainer.

Mr. Bing says it's only the beginning," Cody said.

"And Mr. Bing knows what he's talking about," I said.

"You think so? I hope so, but sometimes I think this really isn't happening. You aren't really happening. We aren't really happening."

"We are a happening," I said. "By the way, sweet thing, happy birthday! You are truly legal now. You don't need to carry your emancipation papers with you any longer. Funny how yesterday you were still just a kid. Today you're an adult. Funny how that works."

"Funny," Cody said.

"This is the start of the gift I have for you," I said. "We're going to see it all. West to East. North to South. Every place in between."

"The Pacific is the next stop," Cody said. "We'll get a good nights sleep tonight and say goodbye to my parents in the morning. Then we'll keep moving until we reach the Santa Monica Pier," I said.

"The Pacific, the West Coast, Portland, Seattle, and that's the first month," I said.

"Thank you, Clete. Thank you for loving me. I knew the first time I looked into your eyes, while sitting on the floor of Dragon's Lair, you were the one," Cody said. "And you are."

"One what?" I asked.

"My Prince Charming," Cody said.

"You insulted me," I said. "You called me a bozo."

"You didn't think I was going to let you know that you were my Prince Charming, did you?"

We hugged and kissed under the stars.

It was a glorious night and the beginning of the rest of our lives.

Final Comment:

Thank you for taking the time to read what's on my mind. As a writer my platform is narrow, but my life has been long. I've seen things, experienced things, that won't make it into history books. I put such things in my novels so they aren't forgotten.

While writing Walking Into Clouds, I saw our grace and dignity as people. It speaks of the wonderful possibilities for our people.

As a child, I was an outsider. I didn't belong. I vowed not to live a lie to have friends, who would reject me if they knew the truth. Tommy slipped through when I was most vulnerable. He showed me I could trust him. He became my best friend. There would be only one. Tommy was a good friend. He grew into a good man, but in those days it was dangerous to have a queer too close to you.

One day I walked out of Tommy's life. I couldn't tell him that I was queer, so he never knew why I disappeared.

I was shamed and humiliated by my parents but they couldn't destroy the kindness inside of me.

I was never allowed to be a child, so, I never grew up.

My autobiography begins: "I was born the year I turned 12."

I can't get you any closer to the truth than that.

At 12 I was drawn out of myself. The bed-wetting, source of all the cruelty and torment, stopped. I met my first mentor. I was away from my crazy house for the summer. I accepted I was homosexual.

I can't say what was created or destroyed, inside me during the cruel years. A shrink might have some sense of it, but it was clear to me that if I intended to survive, it was entirely up to me.

I wasn't asking for acceptance from anyone. I knew where I stood. I invited rejection in order to save time. Why wait for it?

I knew I was on my own.

Once I grew up, and in keeping with what I learned as a child, I was a loner. At the first sign of trouble, I was out of there. I'd had all the disapproval I needed.

I worked construction, drove trucks, and I became a cross country trucker, a childhood dream. As a trucker, I found where the lost and lonely dwell. The misfits, the outcasts, and the throwaways, people like me, were on the side of the highways. They were looking for themselves and a place whee they fit in. Some fit on my truck for a time. They came and stayed, until they got tired of being in motion.

Once a boy began to talk, and not all boys did, he'd talk until he'd said it all. I'd been lucky compared to some of them.

Men like me, from the last century, were given no hope of finding acceptance. Being gay meant exclusion. I lived not knowing what I was looking for, until I remembered that I was a writer.

Writing liberated me. Liberation led to healing. Writing gay love stories connected me to people like me, which validated me.

I heard that gay men were all about sex. Society said that we were criminal and mentally ill sex fiends. When we were portrayed, we were neurotic sociopaths, or we were psychotic, crazy, and self destructive. What did that say about our society?

See the movie The Detective if you want to see how society saw us and how Hollywood portrayed us in the 60s. It was ugly.

I never wanted to portray LGBTQ people as anything but what we are, decent people trying to get along in a hostile society.

Once 'Brokeback Mountain,' opened the door, it became possible to write mainstream LGBTQ love stories. I wrote about Robert and Sven in The Farm Hand, Do and Andy in Outside the Foul Lines, the Taz & Kodak series, Clay and Ivan in The Gulf series, and now I've written about Clete and Cody.

I hope it isn't the last you see of me, but we'll see.

My generation began our fight for equality. We moved the fight as far as we could. If you keep moving forward, you'll finish it.

Had I lived in a better society, I may have been a better man. If you want a better society, you'll need to create it. The Equality Act gives everyone equal rights. What a novel idea. Who could oppose it?

Your future looks better than mine ever did, and I leave you with something I never had, hope for a better future for all of you.

I do wish you well. It's been nice crossing paths with you.

Peace & Love,

Rick Beck

Don't do harm to yourself. Talk to someone who cares and who give their time to being you find peace in your life.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Call 1-800-273-8255 >Available 24 hours everyday (US only)

If you are young and considering ending your life, call the Trevor Project. Let your voice be heard before you go silent forever. Talk to someone who might be able to give you some hope. Everyone can use a bit of hope.

The Trevor Project (212) 695-8850 – A kind understanding voice will help.

The Trevor Project needs volunteers,

It needs your financial support.

You can help stem the overwhelming number of gay kids who decide that life isn't worth living.


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