RESURRECTION OF A GHOST
BY STACI ZARIMBA
“Dyke!” he hissed under his breath as I walked by the table in the deserted cafeteria. With the final bell, the hallowed halls of Saint Pius X Catholic High School had purged themselves of students, save but a few forsaken children whose parents could not buy them shiny, new cars or leave work to pick them up promptly at 3:15.
He can’t be talking about me…can he?
I started to panic.
Who is he to say? He doesn’t know me; he has never talked to me; and he probably doesn’t even know my name. Just because I have short hair….
I was indignant at his insinuation—and scared—but I just glared at him and his allies and kept on walking. I tried to pretend that their opinion meant nothing, but I could feel their hateful stares following my every step. The word invaded my body. My every breath whispered, “dyke,” and shame crept in through my pores. The image of the four boys became my only memory: brown-haired, brown-eyed carbon copies of each other, lounging at the long, yellow table, with their white, button-down shirts untucked and striped ties shoved dejectedly into the pockets of their gray, flannel pants.
Moments before I had entered through the glass doors to the cafeteria with the naïve confidence only a freshman can have. The fluorescent lights cast a sick glow on the vacant room, accentuating the dirty floor and chipped paint as I took the shortcut to my locker. Laughing self-righteously to myself, I ignored the freshly painted football propaganda screaming “Golden Lions Pride” and the crucified Jesus leering down at my own immorality and sacrilegious nature. My short, boyish hair gleamed cartoon red as I sashayed past the rows of tables, my white button-down untucked and my stiff, plaid skirt rolled well above knee-length.
He can’t be talking about me…can he?
I parked my red Saturn in the senior parking lot with reluctance, longing to keep driving, turn right at the Texaco, and merge onto I-85, heading south toward home. The brick building stood before me as I gathered my bookbag and lunchbox from the back seat and pushed the automatic lock. I dragged myself up the stairs from the parking lot and hurried across the street, dodging parents speeding past just so they could smell the exhaust fumes of rush hour traffic a few minutes sooner. Opening the brown, metal door, the raucous sounds of high school seized me against my will.
It is too early in the morning for this shit.
The bell rang as I walked down the hallway. Around me swirled snippets of conversations interspersed with lockers slamming closed. 25…10…35 The locker door swung open. I deposited my belongings, grabbed the appropriate books, and wandered into first period: Survey of World Religions II. Don’t let the title deceive you; the guidance department got creative so that the students could receive college credit for yet another class on Catholic dogma. That day’s topic: homosexuals and the Catholic Church.
Mr. Ruggiero stood at the podium to take attendance. A trendy teacher in his early thirties, he always managed to make the class laugh, even at his own expense. I couldn’t help but stare at the small, blond streak (a genetic glitch?) in his otherwise brown, spiked hair. I took my seat in the far, right corner of the classroom. After the obligatory Bible passage and moment of reflection, Mr. Ruggiero began.
“Being a homosexual is not a sin. However, homosexual acts are unnatural and thus a mortal sin. Homosexuals are called to a life of celibacy. They cannot get married in the Church because their union is unable to produce offspring, which is the ultimate purpose of sex.”
And on and on and on. Side conversations sprouted up around the classroom.
“Man, if some faggot ever hit on me…”
“I can’t believe Mrs. Wood gave me demerits for wearing the wrong shoes.”
“Hey, Sarah, are you coming over on Saturday?”
Tentatively, I raised my hand.
“Why is it that a married man and woman could engage in anal sex as a means of foreplay, if they so chose, because, ultimately, they could have children together, yet two men who love each other just as much as the married couple are denied the right to marriage and damned to hell for their homosexual actions? And why is it that a woman who is unable to bear children can still get married to a man in the Church, but two women, both of whom are physically capable of having children, cannot participate in the sacrament of marriage?”
Dead silence. And somewhere in America, crickets chirped just for me. Mr. Ruggiero reiterated Catholic dogma without actually addressing the issue; I gave up—frustrated, but not surprised.
Kiss me quickly
Before I fade
I feel like a ghost in these halls
17 days—dwindling quickly…
I scrawled the beginnings of a poem on a blank page in my notebook.
The summer after high school, I started working at Stefan’s Vintage Clothing, located in a small area of Atlanta known as Little Five Points. Little Five Points is a mix of punks, goths, rockabillies, hippies, and artists, with tourists gawking at the weirdos. In the central plaza, homeless drunks and runaways, lovingly referred to as “gutter punks,” take over the benches and harass the innocent bystanders. The area consists of three blocks of stores, but those blocks blend in like a confederate flag in the North. Junkman’s Daughter. The Vortex. Psycho Sisters. Crystal Blue. Village Coffee. Throb. Lucky Devil. Urban Tribe. High fashion, recycled clothing, tattoos, piercings, leather, and vinyl merging with cheap pizza, good bar food, and caffeine. And in the back room of Stefan’s was Chase, diligently repairing the merchandise and trying to bring some organization to the place.
Chase. She was sitting in front of the sewing machine in the back room, her small frame hunched over as she rifled through the thousands of buttons thoughtlessly flung into a drawer. She looked up as I entered the room, brown eyes strained from the tediousness of her work. Her short, brown hair, still rumpled from last night’s sleep, complemented her broad face and sharp features. We exchanged polite smiles as the owner made the introductions, and I continued my tour of the store without a second glance.
For the first week or so, I rarely saw Chase. The owner paid me to deal with the customers and her to deal with the clothes. However, now and then she would come visiting. One particularly slow morning, the flutter of the gray floral curtain caught my eye as Chase pulled it aside and wandered into the store, taking in the men’s suits, shirts, and pants with her discerning eyes. Nikki and I were standing behind the glass counter, pretending to be busy organizing the jewelry case and straightening the rows of vintage glasses. Picking up a lone cufflink from the floor, Chase asked, “Have either of you seen the 20’s dress that Rebecca asked me to fix? It’s floor-length red velvet.” Neither of us had, but she lingered at the counter, leaning heavily on the glass.
“Has Kathy called yet? She promised to bring me lunch today.”
“Who’s Kathy?” I asked, intently trying to color-coordinate the earrings.
“Oh, she’s my girlfriend.”
At the word girlfriend, I looked up. I was floored at her nonchalance—and intrigued. Her openness mocked my own discomfort with my bisexuality, and suddenly, she became one of the most beautiful girls I had ever seen. My eyes swept over the expanse of her body as she leaned against the counter. I couldn’t help but notice the curve of her waist and the soft shape of her breasts. I longed to trace her high cheekbones with my fingertips and the arc of her neck with my lips.
“Hey, Snatch, what’s up?”
Chase smiled mischievously as she strode through the front door of Stefan’s a half hour late, coffee in hand. Laughing with surprise, I took in her outfit: black leather hotpants, black tights, black “fuck me” boots, and a beige cotton shirt.
“Not much, Sexy. What are you all dressed up for?” I teased.
“Well, I promised you that I’d wear the hotpants one day. Man, it’s hot in here. I’m sweatin’ like pignuts.”
“Pignuts?” It took me a second to understand the expression. “That’s awesome! I’ll have to use that sometime.”
“I wouldn’t, if I were you. Not unless you want people to think you’re some ignorant redneck from the backwoods of Louisiana.”
I laughed again as I watched her walk to the back room, my eyes riveted on her leather-clad ass.
I hurried down the stairs to Innovox, hoping that I hadn’t kept Chase waiting too long. As I walked through the door, the large rainbow flag that had once made me uneasy now gave me strength. After ordering a large chai, I scanned the garage sale furniture for her familiar face. Spotting her on the burgundy couch by the mirrored wall, I picked up my black mug with matching saucer and carefully tottered over to her. She saw me approaching and put away her sketchbook.
“What are you working on?”
“Just some rough sketches of costumes. The director wants to see my designs for Joe Lewis Blues by next Friday.”
She continued on excitedly about the play, describing how, with just a few alterations, an 80’s dress could be changed to 40’s style. The clattering of dishes and the lure of other people’s conversations made it hard for me to concentrate. I tried to look her in the face while she talked, but my eyes kept wandering to the mirrors on the wall. The reflected images allowed me to spy on the rest of the room without gawking.
The word floated to my ears, and I started to panic. Slowly, I realized that the voice had held no malice, and the ease with which the four letters floated from the lips gave the word new meaning; it was a reclamation of power. I laughed inwardly at myself and turned my attention back to Chase.
“Chase, do you think I’m in the closet?”
“Oh, no, honey. You’re not in the closet. You’re off playing in a tree somewhere. You don’t even know where the house is!”
Hours later, we emerged from Innovox, the caffeine in our bloodstreams fighting desperately to ward off our weariness. Hugging Chase good-bye, her body pressed tightly to mine, I became aware of just how tiny she really was. My head nuzzled against the soft skin of her neck, the smell of coffee on her clothes, I gripped her more tightly and let out a deep sigh. She brushed my neck with her lips, and, as I walked to my car, I felt a guilty pleasure over the effect her kiss had had on me.
Turning right onto Freedom Parkway, I merged onto I-85 south and headed home.