Homo At Large (09/24/07)

Went to the annual Mohawk Fair here on the rez this past weekend. It's the first time I'd been there in ten years, and even YOU know how much has changed.

I was living in Nashville, but had moved away only two years earlier and if memory serves I was only home for the weekend then. I had spent the better part of the previous year coming out -- if only to myself -- and I'd grown confident I would tell someone during my trip home.

That weekend, I was at the fair for only a short amount of time on Friday night. I was as yet still not a drinker so the beer tent was out of the question. Another reason: I'd planned a drive into Toronto with my friend Noreen the next day. I figured by the end of that day, she'd know all about me being "a gay."

Contrary to logic, because the train and the subway really doesn't hurt, we drove the two hour trek into the city, spent a few hours shopping, eating, just wandering around and, the entire time, I kept wondering when "the best time" is to ... you know, come out to a friend. While we were busy running around town that moment never seemed to present itself.

By the end of the day I'd grown heartbroken. It became obvious that I had (a) become comfortable with myself, but (b) not comfortable enough to share it with anyone. I remember one point in particular that sat with me for a long time. We were driving down the big four-lane highway, on our way back home, and as we passed one of those huge transport trucks, we both at the same time read aloud the same one of the twenty or thirty bumper stickers plastered across the back door.

We both laughed because it was proof that we are good friends, that we have so much in common that rises above mere agreement, and that's what made my awkward silence during so much of the ride so ... sad.

I drove myself to the airport a couple days later and, immediately upon hugging Mom goodbye and pulling out of the driveway, I cried and cried for the next while, so embarrassed I was to come all this way with so much confidence only to lose it all the moment I got here.

Fast-forward ten years. I live here now and, as has often been the case lately, I found myself re-evaluating every assumption I grew up believing.

For one: the fair used to be big. I understand this confusion because, as we -- Noreen and I -- again toured the fairgrounds Friday night, I saw how big a presence the rides, the games, the entire midway was compared to pretty much everything else. I wished I were a kid because as much as it didn't excite me now, I knew I'd have otherwise loved it.

An old friend of the fair and the beer tent, Noreen knew exactly where to go. The demolition derby had already started and, as much as I enjoyed it back in Napanee a month or so ago, it came in a BIG second that night.

With everyone I bumped into, it seemed I could only marvel more: "I recognize SO MANY people here," I said, "but I only recognized them from right here. In the beer tent. At the Mohawk Fair."

There were people who I was positive I've never known, but I recognized them, and only from that setting. It was as embarrassing culturally as it was just plain funny. An old friend from many, many years ago looked back at me when I mentioned it to her and, in her drunken stupor, offered the insight of the night.

She said, "This is like a homecoming. People from everywhere come home for the fair."

Not only that, but it seems the fair brings the hermits out, too. An old grade school friend of mine, who I'd not seen since we were thirteen, stood the distance of the beer tent away when Noreen pointed her out. Earlier in the day, they smiled and waved while each ushered her kid(s) around the midway, anticipating that point later when they, free of kids, could enjoy themselves.

I stood with her and her cousin for the remainder of the night (the cousin another who I recognized from grade school, but at two years my junior she might as well have lived on another planet back then, right?). We shared stories about living away, school, moving home, recognizing folks we never knew in the first place, looking for jobs.

Turns out we have nothing in common. But when the bartenders -- all volunteer firefighters (ain't small town life great?) -- started calling "last call" and you have a bottle in each hand, does it matter that you've nothing in common?

Went back to the fair the next day. Mom and I browsed the grade school displays -- much, MUCH more boring when you've contributed nothing -- along with the agriculture and craft competitive displays. We watched the strong man competition: nothing terribly exciting, yet I don't have to explain to you there will always be some fun watching big menz lift shit.

No surprise: we landed in the beer tent and though Mom doesn't drink anymore, and I stayed away from it myself, we had to stop in because that's where all the family was. Relatives who'd traveled from Ohio were there, relatives who live a mile away were there and, again, so were more people I'd only recognized from my youth, people who in my mind -- like the night before -- hadn't moved from that place where I first found them. In the beer tent. At the Mohawk Fair.

Every now and then I'd smile and look around me, filled with wonder. This is exactly what I ran away from as a teenager, back when I had to prove to the world I wasn't one of them.

Now it's home.

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Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

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