High School Play, 1970
Where to begin? It’s a story without a beginning but I want a narrative with a beginning and a middle and an end. I like being a narrator, most people do, according to Robert Musil (The Man without Qualities): “What they like is the orderly sequence of facts, because it has the look of a necessity, and by means of the impression that their life has a ‘course’ they manage to feel some how sheltered in the midst of chaos.”
I want to be sheltered, yes. But where to begin? Begin at the very end of 1970, the first few hours of the very last day, New Year’s Eve Day, when I turned 18. When I turned 18 I had to register for the draft, there was a war, the county seat in the county where we lived in Ohio was Ashtabula. My father had taken us to Ohio when I was ten, the same age William Macauley was when his father took them from County Antrim, Northern Ireland to Troy New York, America. My mother never cared for Ohio and when my father died, 6 months after I turned 18, she moved away and for years we never talked about Ohio; Ohio became a secret. I grew up with secrets, as I have mentioned. I was drawn to the theater, which is another story, not quite a secret but code for a crime in other times and places. Ashtabula was the county seat. You went to the county seat to register for the draft, for the crime of being 18. If I had been drafted my older brothers told my mother they would send me to Canada.
One hundred years earlier, May 16, 1870, William John Macauley is born, in Finvoy, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, another boy drawn to the theater. One hundred and eighteen years separate us; one hundred and eight would be nicer, 108 is a sacred number, but one hundred years between his birth and the year I became an adult, according to the records of County Ashtabula, Ohio, situated in Ashtabula the city, and why all this redundancy, the repetitive overlay of names we give to the land, the over-determination of geography? Finvoy, a hamlet and also a civil parish, also historic barony of Kilconway, a part of Ireland called the Glens of Antrim, look at an aerial view, misshapen patches of fields, dividing up the land, parceling it out, this is mine, this is not mine. Ashtabula, Ohio in the County of Ashtabula, is an important destination in the middle of the 19th century on the Underground Railroad for slaves escaping to Canada.
The summer of the year I turned 18 I worked in an antique shop in an old stagecoach stop with a secret tunnel running from the basement to the garden. The Underground Railroad was sometimes literally underground, a tunnel to escape the bounty hunters searching for runaway slaves, I would take tourists down in the cellar with a flashlight to show them the tunnels, sometimes other things happened in the cellar, other secrets.
April 28, 1870, 18 days before William Macauley was born and one hundred years before I turned 18, two young men in London, Frederick Park and Ernest Bolton, part-time actresses and part-time prostitutes better known as Fanny and Stella, are arrested, and their subsequent trial scandalizes Victorian England and the world, revealing secrets, secret lives, reaching so far as to ruin the diplomatic career and ambitions of a handsome young American, John Safford Fiske, United States Consul to Leith, Scotland.
Fiske had worked as a clerk for the New York State Senate in Albany, across the river from Troy, New York, where William would be brought to live with his family from Ireland as a boy. Fiske was appointed by President Andrew Johnson in the 1860s as consul to Leith, a brilliant future lay ahead of him but he was also a boy drawn to the theater, the theatrical, a young man with secrets and he’d fallen in love with Stella on a visit she/he made to Scotland, where a beautiful boy dressed as a girl was bound to draw attention, and with his/her arrest, their relationship was exposed to the world; Fiske was arrested and charged with “conspiracy to commit buggery” when his love letters to Stella were discovered, thus putting an end to the great expectations of the poor handsome young American, born on the 18th of January, 18 days after my own birthday in another year, his on the 18th of January, 1838 in Ashtabula, Ohio, county seat of Ashtabula County, Ohio where I turn 18 and report to be counted, to be registered.
18 is the numerical value of the Hebrew letter, Chai, meaning Life; 18 is the age of consent in 11 states in the United States; there are 18 chapters in the Bhagavad Gita; the war between Rama and the demons told in the Ramayana lasts 18 days; 18 days, 18 years. Love at 18 will ruin a life as much as fix it, mend it, make it bearable. Love at 18 or any age, love in any amount of time, how long do you need, 18 days or 18 years or 18 minutes, love will force you to flee, inspire you to stay long after you should have gone or said goodbye. Love makes us cowards, makes us heroes.
Love is everything.
Love is All There Is.