Last week was a bittersweet one for me. I went on very quick road trip with Richie to handle some business in Texas, where I was born. Although we were there on business, we took some time to try and visit some places from my childhood in Dallas, and some touristy things for Richie. It was bittersweet because on our way we stopped in a little town named Sulphur Springs, population 15,000, and every bit of the stereotypical Texas that people commonly see the state as. Although I know both sides of Texas; the major metropolitan city of Dallas that is progressive, and then the very ‘red’ rural side.
Sulphur Springs is a small city east of Dallas, about an hour and a half away. It has some interesting history and significance in Texas by way of dairy farming, among other things. It also has a historical courthouse that I see as one of the most beautiful in the country, designed and built by famed architect James Riley Gordon (I’m an architecture fan). And it advertises itself as being focused on serving its citizens and friendliness to businesses.
You may be wondering why I am going on about a rather minuscule tiny town in rural Texas. Although the outside world (if not before, then now) see its as the positive paragraph above, I see it as a place that formed my youth, introduced me to alcohol and drugs, became the place I first learned about and experienced bigotry and homophobia, made me learn more about my father than I ever wanted to, and overall thrust me into adulthood much sooner than anyone should have to.
I only lived in this town for about two and a half years, but it had a huge impact on who I am today; good and bad. This was also in my most formative and vulnerable years, my teens. I finished out 8th grade and attended my first two years of high school there. However, parts of my dads family have lived there for years and I visited nearly every summer during childhood. However, I was sheltered by living with my father and not really having to experience the city itself then.
I was just barely attempting to figure out who I was myself, but I had input constantly from everyone else I was living around. I was the guy who just didn’t fit in right to the status quo of southern straight white male with a tough attitude and a propensity to be extremely discriminatory. I was also trying to deal with having an absent father since he spent most of his nights at the bar and not stumbling in until 2 or 3 in the morning. Not to mention my then undiagnosed mental illness. Needless to say, I spent those couple of years without a clue to who I was or if I was actually this repulsive character I was being told I was.
Let’s take some steps back though to my original introduction to Sulphur Springs. During my childhood I remember travelling out to Sulphur Springs every summer to visit my dads side of the family. Sounds innocent enough, until you consider my father was a raging alcoholic and encouraged my first alcoholic drink at the age of 12. He was also psychologically and verbally abusive to me and my brother. My alcoholic father actually introduced me to my first taste of alcohol at a local bar where he frequented. To give an idea of how bad off he was, the worst memory I have of him being drunk is when he came home late from the bar and promptly proceeded to urinate on my book bag and school books while he was in a blackout drunk episode.
My dad would frequently take us to the local bar so he could avoid having to leave us at home alone or pay for some sort of pay for some sort of childcare. It also didn’t help that my dads work was directly next door to this bar. On one of those visits with my father, a girl who happened to be at the bar ordered me a Bloody Mary. My first drink and first step into alcoholism. Although he was unaware that this person had bought me the drink, he didn’t seem concerned, and even encouraged the drinking. Like it was a cute thing to see your 12 year old kid drink alcohol in a bar.
Suffice it to say, my father definitely wasn’t winning dad of the year awards.
As if the drinking and bar sitter life I had wasn’t tough enough, the emotional and psychological impact of being gay and not mentally stable in rural Texas was even more difficult. As you can imagine, growing up in Texas and not being like everyone else, especially in high school, paints a huge target on you for people to hone in on and take out their own teenage frustration. Not to mention them also projecting their home taught biases onto people. Also, not knowing how to mentally process these feelings and interactions made things ten times worse. I felt like I was crazy and an outcast.
I was routinely the target of homophobic slurs and assault. Faggot, queer, pussy, bitch, homo were all commonplace to be heard at least once a day. This caused me to really think about the necessity of actually going to school if all it was going to be was being targeted daily for being different. I did in fact decide to skip most all of my freshman and sophomore years to avoid the constant barrage of hate thrown my way. As you can imagine, this led me into experimenting with alcohol more and also drugs. The drinks and drugs helped drown out a lot of the noise and live somewhere far away for a little while. Obviously this snowballed into addiction issues later in my life.
The couple of short years I lived in this little town, I learned more and more about myself and about others. I did find solace in a few friendships along the way, but even those were strained because of everything else that was going on in my life. They helped for brief periods at a time because I felt like someone actually cared about me. Even though it was a short time I lived in Sulphur Springs, I carried these feelings with me my entire life. I’m hoping my visit to that little town helps me find some closure in those events. Seeing it as a sober guy who is happy with himself was definitely the intent in stopping there.
As you can tell, this pit stop was very difficult for me, but I felt like I needed to see it and write about it to hopefully get some closure on that part of my life. It sounds crazy to think of those experiences as something other than bad, but those experiences formed me into the man I am today. If I didn’t get to see what was so wrong about alcoholism, see how bad homophobia could truly be, and what mental illness can be like when there are no mental health resources available to you, I definitely wouldn’t be the person I am today. I know from these experiences just how dangerous life can be and they helped me produce a very think skin and cautious eye in my life.
Although I wouldn’t go sober, accept myself as being gay, or understand my mental illness issues for many years after this, I can’t deny the impact it has on me today. I use those experiences frequently to remind myself of how much better my life is now.