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As I pulled up to my old high school and parked my brand new car in the visitor section, where a decade and a half ago I use to park a classic cherry red mustang that my step dad bought me, that I totaled flying through a red light many moons ago, because parking in this section was much easier to sneak past the security guard than anywhere else in the lot, I saw the huge prison like structure to my left. It was my old high school, that depressing gray-blue building that use to make every single weekday feel already haunted by bad memories sure to come, and I thought, “Holy shit. If ever there was such a sight.”

With my high school sweetheart, Marie, in tow, we walked towards the huge Venus fly trap front doors. It was 3 p.m. and school was out. At first I was confused as to why so many kids were just standing around until finally Marie reminded me that these young folks were waiting for their parents to pick them up. They couldn’t even drive yet. That made me laugh.

We walked into the office, where I once spent way too much of my time defending myself against actions that had just gotten me thrown out of class. My mouth said, “Can you please tell me which room the GSA meeting is being held?” My brain said, “Ya, we all know I’m the big ol’ faggot dyke looking for the queer kids and I KNOW you know that so let’s all just save our breath and skip the small talk here.”

It was hard for me not to feel angry. High school was one of the hardest chapters of my life and the anger that I left behind in this building was clearly still somewhere in it. I hadn’t realized I had any feelings about this place at all until I could see it while driving from several farm fields away and felt my pulse shoot into my throat. As soon as I stepped into the building it was palpable.

Once I was inside, to my surprise, the old dusty anger was clear. I could smell it. Somehow, after all of these years, my anger was still haunting in the echoes of all of the locker doors slamming open and shut. I could hear it. Or it was lingering in the stampede of jocks pushing their self-declared-entitlement through the halls to football practice. I could see it. Maybe my rage was lurking in all of the seconds between some kid calling another kid a ‘fag’ and the teacher that blatantly heard the slur letting it go. I could taste it. Regardless, I walked into that building and felt like I was looking for the safe room, in a labyrinth of endless hallways, for a little speck of safe space on an enormously unsafe shore, where even though I had my own keys to a get-away car now, that no security guard could keep me from anymore, I was in full defense, like I have written before, and practiced most of my life, I was ready to slip my self into a much, much thicker skin at the drop of a threat. I could feel it.

I have learned to sense it, this threat, with all five, individually.

I was on a mission though. I was going to meet the kids; the really young, amazing heroes that have set my heart into constant flutters that only certain Cher songs have ever created, kids that somehow found the courage to go against the thick, hard grain that the fields surrounding them have proven impossible to bend, that would let them out of this hell hole fairly easily if they just went along. But instead they chose to rise up amongst an entire ocean of ‘usual small town’ affairs with a big huge thunderous bang, with grand intention and inherent dignity, to humbly create the newest undeniable dent, ding, scratch, spark, bang, boom, bam into the unsure, unsafe, unpaved path of social change.

Listen closely please: These kids started a Gay Straight Alliance Club in my old high school, in the middle of Smallmindednowhereville, which is everywhere that doesn’t do that.

This is the kind of change that could have saved me from a million demons more than a few years back. These kids, that, as soon as I entered the room, would look up to me like I knew something, with no clue that I was there looking up at them like bright little pimple faced beacons of hope, saving a million queer ships in a second. They had no idea. Their sweet, incorrigible, ignorant, fearless, cotton candy teenage brains could not, in that moment, wrap around who and what they were to me right then – what they had done for the whole world – and maybe they never would. But right then, the hate and anger and fear and resentment that I have unknowingly been toting around with me for more than any of those students’ entire lives just fell off of me, just like that.

All of a sudden, I was free.

All of a sudden, all of that hope that I hear about, that I read about, that I have studied, that I have searched for in dark and in light places, that I have seen on the side of buses, the kind of hope that one recent man made loud and clear, “Yes. We. Can.,” the kind of hope that came free as a kid, where learning to ride a bike was just one more honest-try away, the kind of hope that let’s you fall asleep at night despite everything you can’t stop knowing, the kind we mindlessly sing along to with the radio, the kind that I dream about at night, all of the time, the kind I have kissed once or twice but just can’t always seem to find when I need it, the kind of hope that I’ve always suspected is somewhere near by, and that I keep hearing has been at arms length the whole time, just like that, found me.

And just like that…

BOOM.

There I was.

And there were those amazing kids.

And there we all were, in a room in my old high school, at a Gay Straight Alliance meeting, just staring at each other like, “Holy shit. If ever there was such a sight.”

**Click here for part 2: part 2: jesse james goes to the old high school’s new GSA club

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