Rock Island, May 1977
During my junior year in high school, I was acting the Johnny Nazarene, going to all of the church activities, going to the altar, and planning to attend Olivet, our Bible college on the prairie. And dating Verne the Preacher's Son, sort of.
At the same time, I became obsessed with all things Catholic: I read The Little World of Don Camillo and The Seven-Story Mountain, saw Brother Sun, Sister Moon, even bought a small crucifix (which I had to keep carefully hidden from my family, of course).
And I became obsessed with all things Jewish. I read the novels of Chaim Potok, watched Lanigan's Rabbi, and occasionally broke through the crowd of girls surrounding Aaron, the rabbi's son, to ask him a few questions about kosher laws or Hebrew School or his bar mitzvah.
We had a sizeable Jewish community in the Quad Cities, mostly Russian, some Polish. There were three conservative Orthodox synagogues, a Reform synagogue, and the Tri-City Jewish Center, where Aaron's father worked.
Aaron was Reform -- he rarely wore his yarmulke, unless he wanted to make a political statement, and he didn't keep kosher. But he was constantly looking out for Christian incursions into his religious freedom.
In orchestra, he refused to play selections from Jesus Christ, Superstar. In Spanish class, he refused to read a story about "La Natividad." When the English teacher assigned My Name is Asher Lev, he kept raising his hand to point out that the novel was set in a very conservative Hasidic community -- all Jews weren't like that.
Naturally, we became friends.
Aaron was always surrounded by girls, friends and admirers, but he never dated them. Instead he was dating a Lutheran boy named Mike.
He didn't know that he was gay yet. In fact, he was exceptionally homophobic.
One day in May 1977, just after my naked conversation with Verne, we were walking down the hallway when a passing senior invited us to the Drama Club Spring Play, Tom Stoppard's Rosencranz and Guildenstern are Dead.
“And don’t worry, it’s safe to come,” he added. “We deleted lines implying that Rosencranz and Guildenstern are. . .you know.” He flashed a limp wrist.
He walked on. I asked Aaron "What lines imply that they’re. . .you know?”
“I haven’t the foggiest idea!” Aaron exclaimed “I never saw it, and you better believe I’m not going to! Are you?”
“Of course not!" I said. "No way am I a Swish!" I would never go to a play about them!"
"I would never read a book about them, either!"
“Well, I wouldn’t even touch a book about them!”
“I wouldn’t even touch a book that mentioned them just one time!”
“Well, I wouldn’t even be in the same room with it.”
Eventually Aaron won by declaring that he wouldn’t be in the same universe with a piece of paper that had the word "gay" written backwards, in Bulgarian, in invisible ink.
But we had to end the contest. We were meeting our boyfriends for lunch.