“I Knew if She Caressed Me, I Would Die” – Excerpt from Forgive Me if I Told You This Before

queer
Any queer kid from the 1990s will remember these colorful Queer Nation stickers. I remember them stuck to telephone poles and bathroom walls, like beacons of hope, promising me that I was not alone.

“I Knew if She Caressed Me, I Would Die”

excerpt from Forgive Me if I’ve Told You This Before

The club was in a section of town that appeared to be nothing but warehouses.

“I don’t think this is right.” Chloe’s knuckles had been white on the wheel ever since we pulled out of the Singing Oaks parking lot. “I hate getting lost.”

I was not sure if we were lost or if we had simply arrived at the end of the world, but when we turned the next corner, I saw a group of people huddling around a card table on the unlit sidewalk.

“Is that the club?” I asked.

“No,” Aaron said. “I think those are the protesters.” He scoffed. “Supposedly the club is run by this guy who wants to give street kids a place to go at night, but some people say he’s a pervert.”

“They’re all rumors,” Chloe added. “People say there’s drugs, you know, prostitution. Shit like that.”
“But the music is good,” Aaron offered. “I heard they play Joy Division.”

We were sixteen. Pedophiles and prostitution be damned, we loved Joy Division.

As we drove closer, one of the protesters lifted a hand-lettered sign reading, “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin.”

“Is that for the pedophile?” I asked.

“No . . .” Aaron drew the word out as if pondering whether to say more.

He didn’t, and we parked and got out about half a block from the door we guessed to be the entrance, although it looked like a warehouse loading dock. “Are you sure this is it?” Chloe asked.

Some of the protesters beckoned to us. I heard a murmured prayer, or maybe it was just conversation. I caught the word “repent.” Behind their murmurs I heard something else. A heartbeat. Boom. Boom. Boom.

“Let’s do this,” Aaron said, and he took both our arms.

As we neared the loading dock, the protesters detached from the wall and started coming toward us.

“Hey,” one man called. He was a little older than us. He looked like the college students who flooded our town every fall, only harder. His thin lips were set in a mean smile. “Can I talk to you for a second? I just want to talk.”

An older woman in a white rain slicker asked if we wanted some hot chocolate, but there was nothing gentle in her voice. Behind her a man yelled, “Faggots!”

“What the fuck?” Chloe said. She pulled closer to Aaron. I also drew in closer, keeping the protesters in my peripheral vision as we hurried up the concrete stairs that supposedly led to the club.

“Perverts!” someone yelled. “Burn in hell.”

“The wages of sin is death.”

“Do you want a hot chocolate?”

“It’s probably poisoned,” Chloe whispered.

We mounted a short flight of stairs on the outside of a loading bay. When we got up close, I could see “The City Nightclub” stenciled in gray paint on a black door. I pulled on the door, but it was locked.
The young protester was at our side now. “I just want to talk to you. Can’t you even talk to me? Come on. You’re hurting my feelings.”

You’re hurting my feelings. He was Pip Weston all grown up. I’m sorry. Your fly is undone. I just wanted you to know you’re a lezzie Satanist, and you’re going to burn in hell forever.
Aaron pounded his fist on the door.

“Open up,” Chloe called.

“It’s not too late to accept the Lord Jesus Christ into your life.” The protester hovered a few feet from the door, as though he was afraid he might get sucked in.

“I have!” I shot back.

Aaron hit the door again. “Help,” he called.

To my surprise, the door opened. We were hit with a wave of noise and a blast of warm air. Then a man with a bald head and a T-shirt that read, “I had sex in the bathroom at the City Nightclub” filled the doorway. He looked us up and down. I was not sure what he was looking for. In what world would we pass muster? Aaron looked like a pirate, Chloe was wearing her bra, and I was still draped in the long burgundy velvet gown that passed for my nightgown. But the bouncer beckoned us in and shut the door in the protester’s face. We stood in a kind of antechamber lined with black sofas and neon lights.

“Five dollars,” the man roared over the music.

I had not brought my wallet, and I had a vision of sitting outside on the loading bay waiting for Aaron and Chloe. But Chloe grabbed my arm.

“I got you,” she yelled over Soft Cell’s “Sex Dwarf” which blared through the speakers at a heart-stopping volume.

With the bouncer appeased, we moved through the antechamber and into the next room. A dance floor filled most of the room. I could see it clearly because it was composed of illuminated squares, their lights changing to the music. Surrounding the dance floor were huge speakers, the source of the awe-inspiring sound. On the speakers, lean boys gyrated their hips. A girl in a gown not unlike my own strode across the dance floor like a runway model and then twirled, her dress flaring out at her knees.

Sex Dwarf morphed into a Eurythmics song and the dancers changed their tempo.

“It’s cool,” I yelled to Chloe.

“I knew you’d like it.”

Then, as I watched, the whole scene disappeared as the room filled with a heavy white fog. A strobe light flashed through the mist. I caught a glimpse of a leg, the hem of a dress, a girl’s face in white makeup. The fog smelled of vanilla, cologne, and something vaguely chemical.

It was glorious, and it was more than just the dancing. As the fog cleared and my eyes adjusted to the dark, I saw two of the boys lean over and kiss each other, their kiss keeping tempo with the music. On the other side of the dance floor, a tall woman all in black pushed her tattooed companion against the wall and pumped her hips. I saw that the person she had pinned was a girl. It was a girl who wrapped her hands through the woman’s dark hair. It was a girl whose eyes closed as the other woman pulled her close and planted a long kiss in the curve of her neck.

“It’s a gay club,” Aaron yelled in my ear. “I hope that doesn’t freak you out. You know, whatever people want to do, right? It’s their business.”

“It’s not hurting us,” Chloe added. “You don’t mind, do you?”

“Live and let live,” Aaron said.

“It’s cool,” I said. “No biggie.”

On the colorful dance floor downstairs, we danced to Madonna, Erasure, and the Pet Shop Boys. Eventually we found our way to a narrow staircase that led upstairs, where Sisters of Mercy, Skinny Puppy, and Nine Inch Nails boomed from speakers set in the walls. Every surface was mirrored or painted black, and the dancers had lost their cocky strut. The girls danced by swaying backwards, seeming to drop and then swoop upward. The boys thrashed.

“I’m going back downstairs,” Chloe said. Aaron followed her.

I stayed, lost in the music and the infinite loneliness of those songs that were written not for us, but for the lean boys on the dance floor and the girls with no suburban homes to return to. Of course there was another song about suffering, a song for those skinny boys, those hard-faced girls, those street kids for whom this club was a bed and a home. The song blared, “They buried my body, and they thought I’d gone, but I am the dance, and the dance goes on.” I could almost see Him, moving between them, another figure, gaunt and grieving, nothing like the blond-haired buddy who rose from the pages of Jared Pinter’s Bible.

I stood, swaying, when a new girl stepped onto the dance floor. She was petite, with a china-white face and lips painted in a bee sting. With her vintage dress and curly black bob, she looked like a little doll come suddenly to life in the strange forest of light created by the strobe. She started to dance, but she was far more graceful than I, so I backed away to give her space and to watch her. For it dawned on me slowly that I could watch. I was free to watch. She was lovely, and here in the darkness I was allowed to know that.

I was happy just to look, but a moment later the girl moved toward me. I stepped back again. She followed me, moving in that strange dance that all the girls had perfected, gracefully swaying backwards, falling and flying. With each movement she came closer to me until I could see the fine fabric of her dress, thin as new skin and trimmed with lace. I could see the swell of her breasts. I noticed the edge of her bra. Without thinking, I touched her waist with the tip of my finger. To see if she was real. To know if I was real.

Her black eyes flew upward and caught mine. Her face remained expressionless. She took my hand in hers, and we danced to those hard angry songs. We barely touched. Only the outline of our movements intersected. She leaned back, and I leaned forward. She drew an arc in the air, and I followed her motion with my hand. She whirled to my right, and I circled to her left, interlacing the circles of our movement. We were like fire dancers, tracing the air around each other’s bodies. I felt so finely tuned to the world, I thought I could feel the heat her hands left in the air. I knew if she actually caressed me, I would die.

In the back of my mind, I thought of the couples I had seen groping in the halls of my high school, their knees wedged between each other’s legs, their lips so fully enmeshed I was sure they could fondle each other’s epiglottises with their ordinary pink tongues. And I knew what I had always known: I would not trade my loneliness for the halogen glow of their certainty, their dissecting light, their public lust, so bright it scared God away as surely as the conference center lights scattered the deer that wanted to live in the ferns.

***

Author’s Note: I began Forgive Me if I’ve Told You This Before in 1996, four years after Ballot Measure 9, the anti-gay political campaign around which the story is centered.  When I first put pen to paper, I never imagined that the book would be published the same year I legally married my wife.  It took my wife and me fifteen years of happy marriage to finally get the marriage certificate. It took me eighteen years to give birth to this novel, a task I could never have completed without the support, encouragement, and excellent editorial skills of the Ooligan Press staff. This is truly our book.  Thank you. I will be discussing Forgive Me if I’ve Told You This Before at many of the fine establishments.

You can catch me at

Another Read Through Bookstore (Nov. 16 1:30)

Jones Night Club (Nov. 20th, 7 PM)

Powell’s in Beaverton (Nov. 25th 7 PM)

Cloud and Kelly’s Bar, Corvallis (Dec. 7th 2PM)

or at kareliastetzwaters.com

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