Thoughts of Jouska from the Southwest Chief

I was bringing a friend; that was all I said.

His name is Raleigh. Like North Carolina. He plays guitar left-handed like Hendrix or McCartney. Born and raised in Chicagoland. Glasses cover his powder-blue eyes that match the walls of your living room.

Your opinions, like your house, haven’t changed since the ’40s: green drapes, statues… 

“They came with the house,” you say. 

Sure, and Raleigh is coming home with me.

It’s not ’45 anymore; it’s ’77. The Vietnam War was bullshit, the sky is blue, and I’m coming home for Hanukkah, traveling the eponymous direction of the Southwest Chief with Raleigh at my left.

After the train comes into Los Angeles, everyone I know will bombard me with questions—most, I assume, rhetorical.

“Victor! How have you been? You’re going to school in Chicago!? Why didn’t you go to USC with Marlena, that nice Jewish girl from down the street?”

The truth is, I have a boyfriend. And he’s Catholic. And he’s broke. And he’ll be on your doorstep at my side the day before Hanukkah begins.

He’s curious. He’ll try all the food. He’ll even light the menorah one night if you want him to. I’ve taught him prayers and Hanukkah songs.

Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay

Clay. Remember Clay? We always walked home together in third grade. He was my first crush.

In high school, all the other guys fawned over Miss Hanover; I fancied Mr. Lombardo.

Stop trying to hook me up with so-and-so’s daughter or whats-her-name’s friend or that one girl I went to elementary school with who also made her way to the Windy City.

“It’s not natural,” you say. 

Neither is Coca-Cola. Neither is this train taking me to your house. Neither is your God.

Raleigh doesn’t have to stay in my room. He can sleep on your lipstick-colored couch that’s older than I am. Heck, give him my room. I’ll sleep on the bloody couch.

Los Angeles will be colder than Chicago, despite what the weatherman says. The menorah fire will burn cold if lit by people disappointed in their son’s or brother’s or nephew’s or cousin’s or grandson’s “lifestyle.”

I won’t disrespect you. I’ll eat kosher while in your house and go to the synagogue with you. I’ll cook, do the dishes, the laundry, and all the other chores I did in high school with that same smile on my face.

I’m the same person I was then. Don’t think he or anyone else “corrupted” me. I’m the Victor I always was, the Victor you raised.

I’ll stand up at the dinner table to give a toast, but instead say, “Mom and Dad and Veronica and Aunt Rosemarie and Uncle Craig and Annelise and Grandpa Gus and Grandma Hazel…I’m gay.”

That’s what I wanted to say.

I left it at merely “I’m bringing a friend.”

Claire Rosemary is a sophomore at DePaul University studying animation. Originally from Kansas City, she currently lives in Chicago, her KC roots evidenced by the copious amounts of barbecue sauce in her refrigerator. She enjoys train rides and playing cards. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @_clairerosemary.

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