Makes me that much stronger
Makes me work a little bit harder
Makes me that much wiser
So thanks for making me a fighter.
— Christina Aguilera, “Fighter.”
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only love can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
— Martin Luther King Jr.

I remember it like it was yesterday.  I’ve blogged about this before, but today: I feel my friend standing behind me.  Skinny. Blond.  Troubled.  Bullied.  And now, gone.  But I feel him, and I remember the first time I stood up for someone.  It wouldn’t be the last.

If for no other reason, I loved S.W. for his tenacious refusal to stop eating lunch in the cafeteria.  I will never fully understand how bullying plays out in other regional arenas, but y’all: in the South it is brutal.  All our mommas knew each other, got their “hair did” together, and all our daddies played golf together.  And so, when S. W. sat there–slowing pulling away piece by piece of his publicly-funded pizza, spit balls flying around his head like heart-breaking falling stars, tears running down his face–and kept chewing like a man on fire?  I knew then.  I knew then that I would lose my “group,” lose my date to the middle-school prom and lose my heart to fight for him.

And I did. You see, it had gotten around my slow, sleepy Alabama town that S.W. was, in fact, gay.  Now, we didn’t call it that then.  I wouldn’t speak the filth that deemed him different anymore than I would desecrate his grave.  His crime was, in all actuality, not about this strange and alien condition in Alabama, but rather that he had stood against an injustice the week before.  Had cowboyed right up, firmly on those scrawny white legs, and thrown his arm around a black friend during kick-ball.  And that was all it took.

S. W. was popular.  He was from a “good” family (heavy denotation in the Deep South), and had incited quite a well of discontented jealousy from other boys in our community for his blond locks, blue eyes and fresh fashion.  Poor thing, he was asking for it, I reckon.  Standing out like that, making others feel all green.  And so, the day he stood against a team of bubbas–those large-nosed, pot-bellied boys who blamed him for their lack–it was all over but the crying.  They had their “crime” to justify their rage and insecurity.  And shit got real, y’all.

The truth was, he was gay.  Now, until this moment: that was all fine as rain.  See, in the South, there’s this quiet acceptance of the homosexual male, long as he stays in the beauty parlor or the antique shop and adopts the position of “quaint.”  Don’t ask, don’t tell.  He’s just a little “funny-like” and decorates the deacon’s house, etc.  That is, until he gets a bit uppity and calls on those friendships.  And then . . . A firey little powerhouse of a sprite decides to call bullspit on the whole thing and sit with him in the cafeteria.

It was my very first Gay Pride moment.  Parade of two.  And: bite me.

Now, he knew what I was: a little witch who played in streams, cast in dreams and drew pentagrams on my math book.  And he held that secret, even as he was drowning.  Mostly, on account of (as he said then at thirteen): Stand together.  Fall separately.  (A strange and Southern mutation of All for One, One for All.  Or United We Stand, Divided We Fall.  The boy read entirely too much legend and took words too literally.)  I took him at his word.  But I think part of me went with him to the Earth.

I thought of him today.  I think of him often.  So thin and brave and more intelligent than the lot of them.  So alone, even as I held his hand in a spit-ball rain.  Strangely, I now think of my friend, Joe.  (What a lunch crowd in my head.  Breakfast Club: Deconstructed.)  Joe: devout Catholic.  Disagrees with me on so much, worries for my soul, stands beside me with his sword drawn on premise.  I suppose, I have become his S.W.–although he would disagree with his homosexuality, as well.  What strange bedfellows religion and politics create for us when hearts don’t align with heads.  Joe gives me faith in the lost values of Christianity, he does.  He doesn’t have to agree with me to love me.  And he knows a bully when he smells one. But that’s just it.

And brings me to my idea today.  Complicity.  How many nobel moments have met dust for it?  How many times have we all thought to ourselves “not my problem?”  How very alone I feel–not for lack of love, that is for sure.  But for lack of comradery.  Where have all the warriors gone?  We see injustice, know its smell, know its footprint across sacral ground, and then rationalize: I could get hurt, too, if I attempt to assuage this path.  They will be fine, we assure ourselves.  I will just be there if they need a shoulder, they say to themselves.

To those who think these (rational) things, I would tell them: you might be right.  You are certainly within your rights.

But then?  I would tell them that S.W. killed himself.  I alone was not enough, at that young age, to give him the support and conviction he needed to build a strong front against bullies.  Sometimes, I lay awake in bed fantasizing about what ifs.  What if the cheerleader, the nerd shaking in a corner, the black football player and the teacher had joined us at that table?  What if it had been enough in his world to know that he was not alone?  What if, later in his life, he had remembered that solidarity and had become someone who did the same thing?  Oh, I’m sure.  It is not our fault.  So many other factors, right?? Right??

On my birthday that year, he wrote me a note.  It simply said: “I wish there were more of you.” Today, I send S.W.’s note out into the world.  Complicity is worse than aggression.  For in it, there are more choices and more chances for change.  As magic folk, as Pagans, we hold the power to become the powerhouse, the voice that breaks the backs of monsters, the arms that rock the future of our children.  What we don’t do will be much more damaging, and historical, than what we do.  

Circa 1982.

Circa 1982.

Y’all know I am not making light of our situation.  Our gatherings, events, circles and Pride days are lovely.  We wear our t-shirts, put badges on our sites and stickers on our car.  It’s just that: it ain’t enough, y’all.  How will we be part of history?  How will our names be remembered in the tapestry of human struggle?  Shall we be complicit, safe and granted immunity in order that our lives remain peaceful and smooth?

Funny how that answer suddenly changes when it’s our ass on the line. (And believe me, the echo of crickets and silence is the loudest sound.)  As for me, I cannot inhabit the spirit of Witch, nor echo that of my ancestors, in complicity.  I reckon: you don’t have to be a warrior to know when to fight for justice–nor be that “adept” to recognize complacency where there should be action. And sometimes, just drawing up a chair is enough.  I see a lot of empty chairs ’round here.  Just sayin’.

I will wait for you in the cafeteria.  Look for the witch child with spit balls in her hair.  (And, S.W.: I am trying to become more.) Seba

For all of us who forced us to fight.  We thank you.

Seba O'KileyComment