I was twelve and staying at home with my two little brothers when my aunt arrived to babysit us. She brought a movie and two board games with her. Clue and Monopoly were (and remain) my favorites, and since she and I were only eight years apart in age, we liked many of the same things. She pushed the videocassette into the player and hit the play button before crashing to the floor in front of the coffee table and tugging the lid off of Clue. The first notes of “Underground” came over the television speakers, and the barn owl flew onto the shiny black screen.
This was the night I met David Bowie.
Labyrinth would go on to stay with me for my whole life; to this day, Jareth, King of the Goblins is one of my favorite villains—and to this day, I also think he was more the victim than Sarah… but that’s probably just my bias, haha!—and Bowie’s songs for the film are some of my favorite songs. In fact, “Within You” is up in my top ten very favorite songs, and if I’m completely and utterly honest, it’s probably in my top three. That year, I begged my mother for the soundtrack for the movie and I played it over and over and over… I think I probably played it until it was dead. I started to write what we now know is fan fiction, and it was called Return to Labyrinth. I buried myself in the story, and wrote on it until I was fourteen. During the interim, I helped my aunt move into her new apartment across town. During unpacking, I saw the cover of the Heroes album and I asked her about it. She told me David Bowie was the man who’d portrayed Jareth in Labyrinth, and that he was a musician.
I wanted to know everything about him, and as was often back in those days, I was able to get pretty much everything I wanted while I was at her house, but as soon as I arrived at home, education was cut short. I did manage to convince my mother I needed his Never Let Me Down album, and I saved my money for a proper stereo, complete with a phonograph and a dual cassette player. His words really cut straight through me in the two albums I had of his. I already knew I wanted to be an author when I grew up, and the dreamer in me felt entirely summed up in these lines from “As the World Falls Down”:
There’s such a fooled heart
Beating so fast,
In search of new dreams,
A love that will last
Within your heart.
I’ll place the moon
Within your heart.
As the pain sweeps through,
Makes no sense for you.
Every thrill is gone.
Wasn’t too much fun at all,
But I’ll be there for you
As the world falls down.
And he was. Bowie took me straight through the end of junior high school, where I didn’t really fit in with anyone, and into high school, with his Never Let Me Down album. I’d dance in my room, twisting and spinning to make the only dress I ever loved flare and swirl. “Beat of Your Drum” and “Too Dizzy” spoke to teenage me.
You can go on dreaming every night
But I’m not letting you out of my sight
I’m ten times the man than any guy around
But you’re just itchin’-twitchin’-itchin’ for a break
There’s too much talking for a night drive
Too much mist in front of my eyes
But I’m helpless in love with you
But you’re just looking for a break
I was always and forever daydreaming, and trying to sort out if I was like all the other girls I knew, or if I was as different as I thought I was. As it turns out, some of the signs I was too busy burying, or convincing myself weren’t what they really were (wanting to kiss my best friend, but telling myself it was just wanting to kiss); were the cause of much turmoil for me. It didn’t help that I was continually bullied. My parents told me what most parents told their kids, “If you ignore them, they’ll stop.” The problem was that they didn’t; I just didn’t talk about it as much, and I tried not to draw attention to myself. I buried myself in writing, reading, and music.
My high school years could take me a zillion years to speak about, and while I was still heavily influenced by my aunt for much of my music taste during those years, we had a falling out my senior year that resulted in us not really speaking for a couple of years. During this quite dark time for me, I spent much time listening to The Cure, Depeche Mode, Bowie, George Michael, and Duran Duran. Bowie started the ascent for me, because these men helped me to understand my quirks give me power, give me an identity which solely belongs to me. I have only one choice: to embrace me for all my imperfections, or to be my own worst enemy and not accept what makes me ME.
Please help me!
Who can I be now? You found me.
Who can I be? Fell apart, you found me.
Now can I be now? You found me.
Now can I be real?
Can I be real? Somebody real.
From 1993-1999, I submersed myself in what I call my “goth years”. This means I let myself do all the things I wanted to do, and I made a wild array of choices. Many, many of them were not healthy choices, and for a variety of reasons. Some of them were good and have stuck with me to this day. On Halloween in 1993, the world lost a bright light as River Phoenix left this plane for the next. I’d been quite enamored with him, and I took his name as my pen name, partially to honor him, and partially to symbolize recognition of my changing life. Six months later, I discovered The Crow, and everything changed after I lost myself inside the dark world of James O’Barr’s world. I must have seen the film fifteen to twenty times in theatres, and when I found out it was a comic, I went hunting.
Love out of tune.
Sweet is the night,
Bright light destroys me!
I rekindled two friendships during this period, and both redirected me back to Bowie. In 1994, one of them brought me into the realms of Simon Gallup of The Cure. In 1995, I went to England with my aunt and thoroughly explored the island to which I’d still like to move. 1996-1997 brought me to Depeche Mode, and then 1998 brought me to terms with all that it meant to be me.
I fell in love. I’m talking arse over appetite, all in kind of love, and it was consuming. I’d posted some of my DM fan-fiction up on an Angelfire website, and linked my Depeche Mode email if they wanted to comment. She did, and we started talking on AOL instant messenger. Things I’d felt, things I’d wanted, things I’d been warned against in all my years of church going but found myself yearning for—they exploded in each conversation with Shanne. I even went up to visit her in Utah for a weekend, and the trip was amazing. A slight miscommunication when I returned to Texas split us up, and it wasn’t until 2002, on a chance instant messenger conversation—we were both in relationships at the time—that we were able to sort it out. Shanne was the one that got away, and she set the bar pretty damn high.
You touch me
I hear the sound of mandolins
You kiss me
And with your kiss my life begins
You’re spring to me
All things to me
Don’t you know you’re life itself?
With Shanne, as I said, I started to realize I was gay, and yet, years of programming still caused me to deny it, to call it bicurious, to call it the result of what had happened to me the night before senior prom. I tried so hard to keep from being what I called a glutton for punishment, by Southern Baptist Christian standards. In 1997, I came out of the broomcloset to my father and it went… well, to be blunt? HORRIFICALLY. I didn’t want that chasm to be reopened, so I kept it hidden. My brothers knew I’d experimented, but I don’t think they entertained it could be serious, that I could really be a lesbian.
Femme fatales emerged from the shadows
To watch this creature fair
Boys stood up on their chairs
To make their point of view
I smiled sadly for a love I could not obey
So I used the AOL personals section after her and started to talk to someone who went by the handle SandNSurf, I think. We hit it off quite nicely, until she came to pick me up for our date with her best bud in the car. All three of us went to the place she was going to take me, but they were closed, so we went back to her apartment, and watched a movie. I don’t remember her name, but when we went to dinner at Denny’s afterward, she told me I wasn’t gay enough for her because I wasn’t out yet. This hurt me and made me angry, because no-one has the right to tell anyone else when they should come out nor how they should do it, and they definitely don’t have the right to demand I do it to be with them.
This really confused me, and I was already confused. Was I gay? Was I straight? My earliest crush had been Jenny Barfield, my first real kiss had been Shanne, but I wasn’t gay enough?
So what you wanna know, Calamity’s child?
Where’d you wanna go?
What can I do for you? Looks like you been there, too.
‘Cause you’ve torn your dress
And your face is a mess…
2001 brought me to my twenty-sixth birthday and a job at an airline in July. I loved that job, and I met the man I’d call home for a year and a half afterwards. It ended horribly, and when I couldn’t function at the end, I picked up the pen I’d put down to spend more time with him, and tried very hard to recapture the level I thought I’d been writing at when I stopped. I started with a good fanfiction, one called Who Wants to Live Forever? and it was an alternate universe timeline, because my main character landed the character of Willow Rosenberg on Buffy the Vampire Slayer instead of her good friend Alyson Hannigan. She and a waiter at a local Italian restaurant, curiously named Orlando Bloom, become good friends, and when her relationship with her girlfriend goes south, she runs to him. Yes, eventually they become a couple, but then I wrote another story, one called I Feel You, and it explored me if I was in a same-sex relationship with a woman. I was able to write it, but I wasn’t able to say it. I still don’t understand why.
I, I can remember
Standing by the wall
And the guns shot above our heads
And we kissed
As though nothing could fall
And the shame was on the other side
Oh, we can beat them
Forever and ever
2005 brought about a friendship made with a wonderful woman, made over Yahoo instant messenger. We met through a writing group, where I was a moderator and she was the archivist. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong that year. I lost the job I’d had for two years, and the one I got to replace it wasn’t paying the bills. My car died a year after I got it, and when it died, I called her and told her I didn’t know what I was going to do. She called me back and told me her husband suggested me moving to Nevada. I laughed, and she told me to hold off until morning, because she wanted to be sure it wasn’t just the alcohol talking. In the morning, she called me and told me he was dead serious. We kind of threw things together over the next couple of months and then October 30, 2006 we took to the road.
I’d fallen pretty hard for her over the year of knowing her, and then over the next couple of years, it became worse. In July 2009, I finally took the step to come out. It was one of the hardest things I’d ever done, and I came out first to my best friend. The second person I came out to was a woman named Cindi, who ran a newsletter of Vegas lesbian/Pride events. I tried hard to make it to events, and I went to their July pool party, and in so doing, met the Hollys. We’re still friends. My job made it hard to get to much past the annual night Pride parade. (As much as I wish that had changed, my job still makes it hard to be active in the Las Vegas LGBT+ community.) I still had not come out to my parents or family in Texas; I was afraid to lose them, and in 2014, I found out my reasons why had merit.
No one can blame you
For walking away
But too much rejection
No love injection
My older younger brother, one I’d been close to for almost the entire time we’d been growing up until I moved to Nevada, decided I’d been the one to put a photo of two men kissing onto my personal Facebook timeline, which meant my entire Southern Baptist family could see it. There’s no way in the world I’d have ever let that happen, and even though my mother knew I wrote gay romance, she didn’t know her daughter was gay. I asked her to go through my whole timeline, and she said she couldn’t find it. I called my brother on the phone, asked him to explain to me where he found such a photo, because I wasn’t finding it. He stated repeatedly that he “wasn’t down with that gay shit,” and he “didn’t want to see two dudes kissing,” and that I “was the only one he could think of that was cool with that.” He told me it wasn’t personal, he just didn’t want to see it, so he was unfriending me on Facebook to avoid it. I told him I had gay friends, and so the only photo I had that was remotely controversial was the pink equal sign overlay on my profile photo that said I was for marriage equality. He stated again that I was the only one, and that he “couldn’t and wouldn’t tolerate that gay shit.”
Because of this incident, I resolved to never tell him I was gay. Also, the influx of his hate created a chasm between us, a chasm that still exists. Sometimes I wonder if it will ever close, other times I’m pretty certain it won’t.
But the film is a saddening bore
Because I wrote it ten times or more
It’s about to be writ again
As I ask you to focus on
Sailors fighting in the dance hall…
I began publishing that year, and this led me to some people who retaught me to write. I learned quite a bit about self-publishing and I learned I am not a good marketer. Another thing I noticed? It was becoming harder and harder not to reveal myself to my mom and dad. Marriage equality and hate crimes against the LGBT+ community, were on the rise. I felt passionately about keeping my brothers and sisters safe, and so many were dying… I talked about it all the time. I got involved when I could, and I broached the subject when I was dating a girl briefly, broached it with my mother.
“What would you do if you found out one of your kids was gay?” I asked, disguising it as research for a book.
“I’d love them,” she replied simply. I think she saw right through me.
You can’t make love with money
You can’t make mistakes with babies
The election campaigning started full blast at the end of 2015 and I finally came to terms with myself. I was going to tell them. I prepared myself for this by writing a short story called “Glittering Soul” in which the events go down, and much of it was premonitory. I wish the love interest part had happened, but I was glad the incident with her brother did not. I looked towards going down for Christmas 2015, and telling them then, but I could not get the time off from the job that paid the bills. I was crushed, and all the tension that had built with knowledge there’d be release, compounded.
I heard David Bowie was coming out with a new album, and it was to coincide with his 69th birthday. Blew my mind he was going to be 69, but I made plans to buy it and I gave the first single a listen. “Blackstar” was (and is) so cool, so addictive, so incredibly Bowie, and I knew I’d love the whole album. After Christmas, things in my life took a swift turn for the worse. At 1:41am on January 11, 2016, I saw a post on Facebook from one of my dear friends, Anna. Simply, it said: “No, no, no, no, no. Not David, not yet.” I answered back, “What’s going on?” Her reply was, “We have lost David Bowie.” It felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. I mean, I’d never thought he was mortal. I never contemplated a life without him. In 1997, when he teamed up with Reznor for the Outside tour and for “I’m Afraid of Americans” I wasn’t certain he even aged, but dead? No… it wasn’t (isn’t) possible! He’s the Starman! He’s Ziggy! He’s the freaking Goblin King!
Live without your sunlight
Love without your heartbeat
How? What part of my life have you not influenced? You taught me it was okay to be me! You taught me it was okay to be different and to revel in it, and you taught me to appreciate life and that its very soundtrack was music. How am I supposed to live without you here? In this world? This world?!
Now. Not tomorrow.
And it happened. It really happened. We lost you. In the coming weeks and months, I’d watch the tributes to you—my favorite was Annie Lennox and Gary Oldman’s intro to Lorde’s “Life on Mars?” I still have it bookmarked in a tab from the day I watched it last February, and I still can’t watch it without tears.
I don’t know how to say it all with the right words. I don’t know how to convey how much my heart still hurts knowing you’ve returned to the stars. I don’t know how to tell you how much I, like many others, miss you. Most of all, I don’t know how to thank you for what all you’ve done in my life. Until the day I figure out my “right words,” I’ll look to the sky and when I see stars, I’ll think of you, resting amongst them, home again.
But man, do I miss your presence among us. I really do.
A city full of flowers
A city full of rain
I’ve got seven days to life my life
Or seven ways to die