Fall is arriving. The first hints came some time ago, subtle, and commingled with clear skies. Little silver dollars turning red, fall to the largely domesticated earth. Slugs grown swollen in their abundance, slow even more as cold comes. The many still green tomatoes soon, in the frost of night, will cease their ripening. The harvest moon, just last night, shone like a dim silver myth, illuminating the ghostly shapes of high clouds, the outlines of towering trees, and smaller shrubs gathered in the masses below.
There is something to the clouds in the Pacific Northwest that is not easily explained. Our crazed Alaskan neighbors understand this. But their clouds also hold menace. Our clouds are more subtle. Sometimes people move here because they hear things, and feel that change should happen in their lives. They hear, nice people, smart people, beautiful land, nature-friendly, open-minded, clean, high-tech, etc., etc., etc. Or whatever happens to capture their interest, making them believe that where they are, if they were to stay, would not be as good. Nobody tells them about the clouds.
Jake has taken to being covered completely with a blanket. At first, he couldn’t stand having his head covered, unable to see the things around him. He would grip the blanket in his teeth, scratch at it until he was free, then shake it violently back and forth as if killing it, until he knew it would not bother him again. It became a game we play. He brings me the blanket, so I can cover him. Now, he stays under it, happily chewing on a stick or bone, free to leave at any time, yet content in his cocoon. Sometimes he will hear something and become still. Suddenly, he’ll flail and claw his way out from under the blanket to investigate. Then, when he’s satisfied, he’ll find you with the blanket dragging behind him, in tow, waiting to be covered again.
As a child, I always had the woods outside. But on long, heavily rainy days, I was sometimes known to drape a bed spread between chairs, creating an enveloping canopy. Whatever world there was, was within that enveloping isolation. This is what people who come here, are never told, about the clouds. How could you tell them? You just watch, what it does to them, as each begins living under their unique canopy, with all the many things normally in view, hidden away outside.
I know many people who have come, then returned to their places. We have no straight roads. Lines that should be straight, curve. Flat land rises and falls instead, in hills of earth. Raccoons spill your garbage at night, and stare. Visiting black men from Chicago can be heard to say with contempt, “these niggers here don’t know what it means to be black.” The one thing about the clouds, if you can remain, is that we’re all under them.
Many years ago I was befriended by some Arabic men who frequented a cafe I worked in while I was in and out of university, and between stays in England. The majority of them were Palestinian, but as Palestinians seem to get along well with the rest of the Arab countries, there was also a splattering of other nationalities. One man, physically the largest, walked with a great limp, using a hand crutch. He had been injured in war, and was gruff, cranky, and had the meanest, hardest look I’ve ever seen from another person. I knew nothing about what had happened to Palestine at the time. For some reason, this gruff man took to my honestly ignorant, straight-forward, pressing, and difficult questions. He grew tolerant of me, which was enough, I think, for the others to let down their guard.
I learned many things about the Arab world from these men. The first thing I learned is that they do not offer trust lightly, and offer friendship rarely. I learned also that their notions of these things, and many others, are much different from our own. Friendship is a very serious thing to these men. It runs very deep, very passionately, and very intimately. So much so, in fact, that the intensity of it sometimes made me uncomfortable, and made me feel emotionally inadequate. I remember one night, while I and one of them were alone, being given a little white ceramic pendant with two gold-inlaid goldfish swimming, on a thin gold necklace chain. This incredibly masculine man who exhibited mostly machismo, had tears in his eyes as he put it into my hand, telling me to take this gift so that I will remember him even if time separates us. It surprised me so much, and I did not know what to do, or to say, which is basically what I told him. I told him, too, I have nothing to give him that could be its equal. Then his kissed me on the lips, and holding my face between his hands looked me in the eyes, himself teary-eyed, and told me “you are a good friend.” No, he hadn’t been drinking, nor was he on any drugs. He hadn’t just broken up with his girlfriend, and he expected nothing from me. Later, as I brought coffee to his table, where several of them were gathered, he grabbed my hand between both of his and announced to the table that I was his good friend. From that point forward, they all treated me like an old friend, and made sure that any newcomer was aware of my “status”.
So, in this light, when I heard the Iranian President’s much-reviled remark that Iran has no homosexuals, I heard something much different. I had never seen such passion and love exist between men before, as I did between these Arabic men. Genuine passion and love, through and through. I know, through the undertones, and through personal experience, that this love is sometimes expressed sexually, too. But in their culture, that does not make them homosexual, or even bisexual. They are just men, living their lives, passionately. So, in a sense, I can understand why the Iranian President said that homosexuality does not exist in Iran. Saying that it did would bring far too many deeply-rooted cultural norms into question.
In a way, if an Arab man says he is a homosexual, it can create chaos and doubt. In Iran, a homosexual can be executed, tortured and imprisoned. Often times while they are under arrest, they are raped. But this does not seem to be a homosexual act, even though the officer is having an orgasm with a member of his same sex, and he will not be accused of homosexuality because of it.
Much like that Senator here, who wants to have sex with other men, but is not gay. Or the married man who has sex on the side with a man, but is not gay or bisexual. Or even the man who wants to have sex with another man, but never does. It seems that the word, or the label, holds more significance than the reality.
But is that really so surprising in any culture dominated by a religious perspective? Do we believe that it would be much different here, if Christian fundamentalists ran our government completely? I have heard some very scary things from them. I am certainly not trying to lessen the significance of people being executed for their sexuality. I’m just trying to shed a little more light upon a people who are having to cope with a lot of change and hardships, who come from an ancient culture, and who are currently under attack through politically-motivated media campaigns — under attack just in the media, at least for now.
I don’t see of those men any more, in case someone reading this finds out that one of them might have said or done something suspicious, and in turn thinks it best to torture the will out of me to find out something nobody knows, or just for the hell of it. But every once in a while I’ll run into one of them while I’m walking on the street. Still, it remains intensely emotional, even though the events of our lives have drawn us elsewhere. I feel guilt, like I’ve abandoned someone. And yes, I have even worried, in a cowardly way that makes me feel shame, what might happen to me if one of them is ever discovered to have possibly done something against American interests, since all this crazy stuff has been happening. I don’t like feeling shame. I don’t deserve to be forgiven. Maybe they will. If I ever seek their forgiveness, that is. Which causes even more shame.
So here I am, in the canopy of clouds, where what is within, comes out, and what is without, comes in. The place that drives newcomers into depression, and those accustomed, a strangely warm sense of commonality and comfort. The dog upstairs is barking because he has to pee. When he’s done, he’ll insist on being lifted into bed instead of jumping up, which he is more than capable of doing. Me, I’m just out of a hot shower, using scented soaps that Persephone made, which I just recently found again, buried under a suitcase. After the dog pees, I’ll be heading to the store, under that nearly full moon, doing my business while all but a few are fast, warm and asleep, in dreams that they, perhaps, only know.