Statesboro, Georgia. Jody and I are in a school gym. At one end of the floor rests a stage. Bodies press together to about half court, then the crowd trails off like the tail of a comet with only a few stragglers under the opposite hoop where the mixing board is set up. This is where we are, where floor space is plentiful and we can dance like it’s one of those magical nights at the Dawg.
But it isn’t. That is neither Matthew Knight nor Gerald Duncan from The Accelerators wailing at the other end of the gym. That’s Michael Stipe up there, wearing too much mascara and a tricorn hat. That’s Peter Buck jangling away, and Mike Mills harmonizing and Bill Berry driving the whole thing along with a rusty, weathered beat. Jody and I are having our own little two-person dance party, and R.E.M. is the house band.
We are sweating, jumping, flailing. Mute the sound and add some pews and we’ve found the spirit: ecstasy, epiphany, and a Rickenbacker. I close my eyes and let it wash over me.
And now I’m staggering backward. My chest feels like someone rocketed a football at me. I open my eyes and he’s charging at me, teeth bared and eyes fierce. “Fucking faggot!” he yells.
I don’t know him, but I do. He’s every guy who bullied me in high school. He’s the guy at the gas station who says, “Can I help you, ma’am?” He’s Coach Parsons threatening me. He’s my father growling “I won’t be seen in public with a faggot.”
I’m still stumbling, trying to find my balance, but Jody is between us now. She’s up on her toes and craning her neck to get as much in his face as she can. I can’t hear her, but I watch her blond hair shake as she yells and shoves him backward. She’s like a little pit bull. The murder in his eyes turns to confusion, then fear. He walks away.
Jody turns and starts dancing again. I’ve never loved anyone like this. I want her in my life forever.