There were certain things I knew I couldn’t talk about back home. It’s not that I didn’t want to. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t talk about them. It was just easier not to. The path of least resistance was quieter. It was familiar— back home, Indiana.
Christmas was over. I decided to stay in Indiana longer this year, instead of jetting off to Peru with my girlfriend’s family, or back to my Brooklyn apartment. I usually give myself a 3-5 day rule, yet I also hate rules. I wanted to stay and settle into this place again. I hadn’t really settled into home life since I left in 2010. I felt the inherit distancing from many of my childhood friends. Some bad habits slipped back in as well. I turned to my mom’s beige honda mini-van and a particularly good electronic playlist to get me through. I drove around my hometown and neighboring farmlanda. I photographed houses and a horizon I’d missed for years. I was fixing to head back to my mother’s house when on a crowded residential street, risen amongst a myriad of Christmas lights, proudly waving, there it was— the confederate flag.
I parked outside of the house with the flag—heart racing in broad daylight. I was weary of my camera being met with a shot gun. I spent the rest of the day driving— unable to go home. I came across an old diner, a weathered barn, and another sign “Blue Lives Matter.” I called it a day.
There was always an undercurrent I felt growing up. It was the way things were. The way things were always was and would be, I thought. Now these wats even had a figure at the top to point to. I was in Trumpland— better yet, Penceland— home to our very own vice president, Mike Pence— the 50th governor of Indiana. I had family who voted for Trump. I had friends who voted for Trump. My peers back in New York couldn’t relate— most of them anyway. I remembered it though. I remembered being quiet most of time.
I reached out first to an ex-stepsister of mine. Allie. I have 9 ex-step siblings from 3 separate marriages. She had a girlfriend, Janna. Allie had only come out recently. I invited them over to my mother’s house. Allie hadn’t been back to our childhood home since she had lived there a decade or so before. We drank cheap champagne. I asked the things I’d never said aloud back home before. What was it like coming out here? Does race play an issue?Is everything okay? I brought them to the room where Allie had lived with my sister. They laid down on the bed. They were in love. They were happy. I didn’t know one open openly gay person when I was growing up in Indiana. What else did I miss?
Next. I put a post on Facebook. I got one reply. Caroline. We went to school together from elementary through high school—twelve years, one street. We had never been really close, different clicks— yet we did share a secret together. We’d seen each other at AA’s open family night a few times. I headed over to her house in my van. She greeted me. We smoked a cigarette. It was -3 outside.
I asked her what it was like going to our high school. She reminded me that we had a ‘drive your tractor to school day’. She wore a pair of pants and a flannel— her hair buzzed at the sides and cut short. I also wore a pair of pants and a flannel— my hair longer. She prefers ‘her’ as her pronoun. “Gay is a lot more accepted than trans,” she said. Her room reminded me a lot of mine.
Savannah. We had worked together on a local fashion editorial years back. I’d forgotten that we’d even met that way. It was the pictures of her and her children that pushed me to reach out. A photo of her and her daughter dressed in flowers and carrying various animals would come across my Facebook feed from time to time. They seemed to encapsulate what I always wanted from the country— sunshine, dandelions, dresses, and bugs. I arrived at their home. A group pregnant women waved goodbye to her and Savannah welcomed me in. It was a quaint 1.5 story triangular house tucked back in the country. Their home was outfitted like something of a bohemian fairy-tale. Savannah introduced me to her daughter Artie and her infant son, Hawthorn. The chickens had been slaughtered by a pack of coyotes led by a neighbor’s runaway pit bull. They still had their giant rabbit, Peter. Artie kept Peter in her room.
Savannah had the warm air of motherhood to her. She feed Hawthorne from her breast and met my camera head on. Artie sang to her little brother so that he wouldn’t cry. I asked Savannah about being a mother. We are the same age and I was yearning to learn. Furthermore she told me, “I have some fairly radical views on parenting and religion, and the patriarchy of the Midwest.” I heard that like the ringing of a very near bell. We said goodbye. We hugged.
My dad dropped me at the airport. We embraced for a long while. I took a window seat and watched the harvested fields stretch into amber patches below. Indiana had given me years of feeling stuck between belonging and longing. This time it gave me the chance to talk about the things I wasn’t supposed to talk about. You see I’m a straight white male from Penceland and I have a flag too— but mine has a lot more colors than red, white, and blue.