Posts By T.L. Hayes

My Kinda Town

In my edition of Thoreau’s Walden (the Barnes and Noble Classics edition), Thoreau takes up twenty pages just to describe Walden pond itself, as well as a few other nearby ponds. At roughly four hundred words per page, that’s eight thousand words just on a few bodies of water. It’s clear how much HDT loved Walden, considering how many of those words were used just to describe what it looked like.

“The scenery of Walden Pond is on a humble scale, and, though very beautiful, does not approach to grandeur, nor can it much concern one who has not long frequented it or lived by its shore; yet this pond is so remarkable for its depth and purity as to merit a particular description.” 

And he gave one, for two more pages, before moving on to talk about other ponds in the area. But, he came back to give more description of his favorite pond, as well as the conjectured history of its formation. No one has ever loved anything like Thoreau loved Walden. As a fan of romcoms and, obviously, romance novels (lesbian ones, of course), I have never watched, read, nor written about a love like that. It made me ask myself, if I were to write something like Walden, what would be my subject? Is there a place that I love as much as Thoreau loved his pond?

The obvious answer to that question is Chicago. Most who know me would probably say that my love of the city started when I met my first love, who was from there. She solidified it, but she didn’t start it. Andrew M. Greeley started it. I first came upon Greeley at a sidewalk sale one summer of some year when I was still an undergrad. I was home for the summer and was walking down Main St., when I came upon the sale, and my eye immediately fell on a table of books. I started thumbing through them and came upon a novel whose glaring white cover with blood red lettering immediately grabbed me. It was Happy are the Merciful, by Andrew Greeley, a murder mystery, starring a character named Father Blackie, set in modern day Chicago. I was intrigued, so I picked it up and couldn’t put it down. After that, I made sure to read and collect every Greeley novel I could get my hands on. His descriptions of Chicago and environs, as well as his use of local history, made me fall in love with the city, a place I’d never been to before.

I suppose it was inevitable that I would fall in love with someone who lived there. Even when that relationship ended, my love of the city held true, and is still alive and well to this day. I visit often, and don’t mind playing the tourist, as there is so much I haven’t seen. Of course, every time I visit, I make sure to visit favorite haunts. There are a few used bookstores I always make sure to stop into, a few restaurants I always eat at, though I also try new ones every time, and I always walk the Mile. If you’re unfamiliar with the city, the Mile, or One Mag Mile, or more formally, the Magnificent Mile, refers to the downtown stretch of Michigan Avenue. A couple blocks off the Mile is State Street, the one Sinatra called “that great street.” Go another four blocks and you’ll be on Wells Street, under the el tracks (the west side of the loop), the same el tracks Jake and Elwood drove under when they were evading police. If you head back to Michigan and start walking North, in no time you’ll see the Crain Communications Building, the same building one of Elizabeth Shue’s young charges almost slid down the face of in Adventures in Babysitting.

If movies aren’t your thing or you just want something more serious, let’s talk about Grant Park. In the middle of Grant Park is arguably one of the most famous water features in the country, the Buckingham Fountain. Immortalized in the opening sequence of the sitcom, Married With Children, it is a stunning sight to behold during the warmer months, when it’s going full blast. The fountain, in all its magnificence, is not the only thing Grand Park is famous for. For history buffs like myself, and/or for those who can remember, Grant Park was the scene of a massive riot on August 28, 1968. Several anti-war groups converged on the city to protest the war. Their activities coincided with the Democratic National Convention. Over 10,000 protestors filled the park and

“[a]fter four days and nights of violence, 668 people had been arrested, 425 demonstrators were treated at temporary medical facilities, 200 were treated

on the spot, 400 given first aid for tear gas exposure and 110 went to hospital.

A total of 192 police officers were injured.” The Guardian

The protestors burned the American flag, raised the Viet Cong flag, and threw manure and urine at police. Police responded with, what was described by witnesses, as “unrestrained violence”, resulting in a police riot, where many of the injured were innocent bystanders who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The resulting trial, where a group of organizers, who became known as The Chicago Seven, ended in short sentences, which were later dropped.

Or, maybe you want to know something about the gay history of Chicago. During my last foray into grad school I wrote a paper on this topic. There is so much gay history in Chicago, St. Sukie de la Croix wrote a fabulous book about it, called Chicago Whispers: A History of LGBT Chicago Before Stonewall. In there and other sources you’ll read all about Towertown (the section of the Loop where the men solicited each other), The Dill Pickle Club, which was an entertainment venue that often held lively discussions and debates on homosexual topics. You’ll also read about the Vice Commission, whose job it was to clean up Chicago by arresting anyone suspected of participating in immoral behavior, such as prostitution, gambling, and homosexuality. Besides arresting people, the vice commission published a report, The Social Evil of Chicago, in 1911, which, among other things, noticed the correlation between women’s low wages and prostitution, mainly that woman weren’t making enough at “legitimate” jobs, so therefore had to turn to prostitution to make ends meet. Though nothing initially came of their report, they helped pave the way for fair pay for women.

For a city named after the wild onions which grew in the area, a city continuously plagued by problems of flooding and sewage backup, fires, an infamous serial killer, a perpetually losing baseball team with a goat curse, and windy politicians, it doesn’t sound like a place that would have stolen my heart, but  it did. And once stolen, always stolen. I can sit here and list several more negative things about the city, some of which you may have heard, some of which you probably haven’t, but I’d rather tell you what I love. As Mark Twain so rightly observed, it’s never the same city as it was when you last came through. I always find something new or notice that something else has changed. I love the age of the city and artistry of the architecture. The lake effect weather and the over abundance of snow. The noisy, rattling el trains and Van Buren station. The backwards flowing River and the basement garage feel of Lower Wacker Drive. The giant, perpetually moving Ferris Wheel and the giant Flamingo. The ghost of my first love.

Now this could only happen to a guy like me
And only happen in a town like this
So may I say to each of you most gratefully
As I throw each one of you a kiss

This is my kind of town, Chicago is
My kind of town, Chicago is
My kind of people too
People who smile at you

And each time I roam, Chicago is
Calling me home, Chicago is
Why I just grin like a clown
It’s my kind of town

My kind of town, Chicago is
My kind of town, Chicago is
My kind of razzmatazz
And it has, all that jazz

And each time I leave, Chicago is
Tuggin’ my sleeve, Chicago is
The Wrigley building, Chicago is
The union stockyard, Chicago is
One town that won’t let you down
It’s my kind of town

Songwriters: Jimmy Van Heusen / Sammy Cahn

Sung by Frank Sinatra

How I Learned to Unsnap (My apologies to Kirk Read)

As I was trying to think about what to write this week, I was scrolling Facebook trying to get inspired and to wake up enough to write a coherent sentence. Well, I know what I’m writing about, but it didn’t come from my newsfeed, and I just poured my first cup of coffee and my eyes aren’t completely open yet, so let’s see what happens.

            What had come to mind to write about was weight loss, in particular my weight loss journey, as the common phraseology would have it. I had glanced over to the books on the corner of my desk and saw the notebook where I record my daily calories, the amount of exercise I do each day and how many calories I burn while doing it, as well as my blood pressure, which is something else I have to deal with. It got me thinking about what I’ve been through, what my mother’s been through, and what some of my friends are going through.

            For me, the journey goes all the way back to when I was about seven. I remember there was a particular pair of jeans I really liked to wear, though I was only allowed to wear them to school, that had a light blue shiny stripe that ran down the outer seams of each leg. I just thought they were cool. One day when I went to put them on, I exhaled, and the snap fastener popped open. I had developed a small belly and could no longer fit into my pants. I remember finding this funny and I resnapped my pants and repeated the process several more times and giggled each time. That was the last time in my recollection that my weight was a laughing matter to me.

            I tried not to pay attention to it, just went on about my life, playing outside, reading my books, sitting in trees and thinking (a favorite activity when I was nine). I had always been a loner since I started going to school, as most of my fellow classmates seemed mean and would often giggle unkindly about me behind their hands. I knew they were giggling about me, though I didn’t know why, because their eyes were looking at me while their hands covered their whispered insults. So, I kept to myself and learned not to trust. I didn’t miss having friends my own age, as I made friends with older kids in the neighborhood, friends of my brother’s who didn’t seem to always mind me hanging around. Sometimes they did, then I would either leave or start teasing them in a joking way, making some of them laugh, and would often be allowed to stay. It helped develop my sense of humor being able to keep up with the older boys.

            My weight continued to climb and the older I got the bolder my classmates got in approaching me about my weight and saying things outright. Nicknames were given to me, the most enduring one I can’t remember if my brother or my father started it, but they both used it. That one hurt the most. I couldn’t escape it, not even at home.

            As a result of all this, I never had friends my own age until college, as I never did learn to trust that they weren’t really just making fun of me. I tried friendship with a few and exchanged phone calls with a couple of girls in high school, trying to build friendships, but we never hung out at school or elsewhere. It was a mutual thing. I never approached them to do so, like all the unpopular kids in teen movies do, who are so desperate to be part of the group. So, in high school I ate lunch alone and stayed home on the weekends.

            In college I met people who didn’t care what I looked like, as long as I had something fun and or interesting to say. I finally had friends I could trust weren’t talking about me behind their hands. A few years later, I met my first girlfriend through one of those friends. She was tall and butch and hot, and she wanted me. She was even turned on by me. That took a while to sink in, but it finally did. After her there were a few other women who also wanted me, who also looked better than I thought I deserved.

            Fast forward to March 2014. My mother had just died and my then spouse and I were tasked with packing up her apartment while my brother dealt with the funeral arrangements and other business matters. I opened her top dresser drawer and discovered a treasure trove of OTC dietary supplements, of the type packaged to look like and sold near the vitamins. At least half a dozen bottles of them. It made me angry. Later, going through her papers I found some poems she had written years ago, about the time I was giggling about popping the snaps on my jeans, she was writing about how much she hated being fat. When my mother was a teenager, she had been skinny. Beautiful face and nice figure. Then, she got married at the age of nineteen and was pregnant within days. She continued to get pregnant every two years for the first six years of her marriage, though only two of us lived, losses my mother felt throughout her life. Somewhere along the way she developed a thyroid condition and hypertension. These things are just as much genetic as they are weight related.

            I was angry when I saw my mother’s drawer full of dietary supplements because it meant that she struggled way more than I ever thought she did. She never once mentioned it out loud, but it was there if I looked. I started to remember when I was a kid her always drinking diet soda and eating diet chocolate bars, hardly eating anything at dinner. She would make sure my brother and father and I each had meat on our plates, for instance, then only eat the canned vegetable and maybe some potatoes, which usually meant my father would have two servings on his plate instead of the one that my brother and I received. I used to resent my father for this, thinking he was selfish and that he made her do this. Now, I just don’t know. Maybe it was her choice all along. Maybe she thought that cutting back on meat would be good for her weight loss.

            A few years ago, after I was finally able to secure health insurance for myself after not having it for several years, when I went to the doctor, the first thing I said was that I wanted to be checked for diabetes, something else that runs in my family. My numbers were off the charts…in the good way. I was not at risk of diabetes. What I did have, however, was high blood pressure. It was dangerously high, with the top number being over two hundred. I was immediately prescribed pills and my doctor began to monitor me every couple months, with me keeping track at home. After several months of pills and changing and monitoring my diet, it finally regulated. I still have to take medication for it, and I might always have to, though that’s a small price to pay.

            As for losing weight, I started seriously on that journey once several years ago, before my marriage ended. I was exercising, watching my calorie intake, drinking more water, doing all the things. Then, my ex had surgery and my life changed and became more about him and his daily needs. I got out of my routine and couldn’t get back on it when he recovered, and my days were my own again. After our divorce and I moved back to Illinois and my doctor and I started to take care of me, I started back in earnest doing all the things. It was working. My weight was dropping, my bp was dropping, my spirits were soaring, and I was looking towards the future. Then, I decided I wanted to come back to Oklahoma, the place I had moved away from when my marriage ended, because I missed all the friends I had left behind. When finances forced those plans to fall through and I had to stay where I was, I sank into a mild depression and stopped doing all the things and didn’t care what I ate anymore. The weight came back like nobody’s business.

            Realizing I needed to make changes, I sought therapy for a little while, but it wasn’t a good fit and it became cost prohibitive. Instead, I leaned on my friends for support, and they didn’t fail me. I soon realized that if I wanted to make the move it was up to me to make it happen. I knew I didn’t want to sink into depression again. So, I started saving money and doing research on apartments. It took several months of planning and saving, but I was finally able to make it happen. Now that I’ve made the move, I am focusing on my weight loss again. I’m monitoring my calories and exercising every day. One of the things I looked for when I was apartment hunting was a complex with an onsite gym. As luck would have it, the gym at my apartment is no more than fifty feet from my front door.

            Some days are better than others and every day I have to check myself. Just yesterday I had lunch with a friend and didn’t make the best choices I could have. It wasn’t that bad; I just know it could have been better. That being said, I’m not the type to get angry at myself for things like that. I was having a good time with a lovely friend, whose company I greatly enjoy. We had a great day, and the food wasn’t even the best part.

            I know I have friends who are on their own weight loss journeys, and I’m sure they are all at different places and feel different ways about it. I’m sure some of them take the comments from family and friends and strangers and internalize them. To them, and anyone else in that situation, I just want to say this: tell those people to fuck off! You’re doing the best you can. Even on days when you think/know you could do better, you could have made better choices, so what? They’re not walking your journey, only you are doing that. And you’re not perfect, but you’re trying. and that’s all you can do. Just keep trying. And if they still want to whisper behind their hands about you or say it out loud, just exhale and pop open the snap of your pants and start giggling. At the very least, it will give them something else to focus on.

My Invisible Pet Dog Ate My Homework (i.e., why I phoned it in)

I’ve spent the past week making my new place more like a home. I now have a mattress to sleep on and am no long on the floor. Half of my books are unpacked, the other half still in boxes or stacked up by author awaiting more shelves. There are paintings and degrees on my walls, and I now have a vacuum to clean up after my two cats, who, though cute, are not the best housekeepers. I’ve also been working and working out, had some down time and went to see a movie, and been binge watching a lot of CSI. I had forgotten just how much Grissom ended the first scenes of every episode right before the theme song kicked in with a bad pun or dad joke. All he lacked was a pair of mirrored sunglasses and he could have been David Caruso. All of this is leading up to the fact that I haven’t had any inspiration for the blog this week. I was hoping my reading for the week could have done it (Astrophysics for People in a Hurry), but not even NDT could inspire me. So, instead, I’m giving you the first chapter of one of the many projects I’m currently working on. This project currently lacks a title. As with all my books before they have a title, I refer to this one by the name of the main character. Hence, this is Chapter One of Sir Les. Enjoy.

Chapter One

In a kingdom and country no one of current memory remembers, lived a brave and loyal knight errant whom even fewer remember the name of. But, for the sake of telling you her story, I shall tell you her name, as one of the few people who do, in fact, know it. Her peasant mother named her Leslie, but through happenstance, bravery, and a right bit of lying, she became known as Les, loyal knight to her king, the renowned King Stephen. King Stephen was well known for his kind heart, fairness to all, and for being a bit mushy in the head. Even though everyone else in the kingdom knew the loyal Knight Les was, in fact, a woman, King Stephen never seemed to catch on. Neither her long, golden curls, nor her burgeoning breasts would dissuade him from his belief in her manliness. He was often heard to say that Sir Les was the best man he had. No one wanted to tell him the truth, least of all Les. He was a kind man, after all, a man she had often wished had been her father. His willful ignorance made it possible for her to woo many ladies of the court, at least, according to legend, who seemed more than willing to be wooed by her, and they all kept her secrets, as she kept theirs. Heard tell, anyway.

            All of that changed in the summer of her nineteenth year. The good King Stephen had suddenly taken ill and died just three days later. His son Reginald assumed the throne immediately, and the good cheer that had been a staple of the kingdom up until then became a thing of the past. King Reginald was nothing like his father. He was, for all intents and purposes, a self-entitled party boy who didn’t take life too seriously and spent most of his time in the grape with his mates. Though he was not much to look at, he was a trifle vain, as no one dared to dissuade the young prince otherwise. His features were striking in the sense that he looked as if he’d been struck with something heavy and the features of his face had remained out of alignment ever since. No one was really sure if he actually lacked intelligence, or just refused to grow up, but either way, not being much in the know seemed to suit him just fine. He knew nothing of literature or history or music and refused to correct these lapses in his knowledge. He would often joke to his fellows that all one needed to know to run a kingdom was how to win a war and all one needed to win a war was to kill as many of the other army as possible. He wasn’t much wrong on this, but the degree to which he was wrong didn’t bother him in the slightest. In his heart of hearts, he knew his father didn’t want him to have the kingdom and had long suspected that his father would give it to his sister over him, should he ever need to give it to anyone. And Reginald was fine with that possibility. He planned to live out the rest of his days  inebriated and occasionally being shot at by the husband of one or other of the many women in the village as he crawled out a back window. His bum bore many a scrape from a stray nail, and once, the tip of a dagger. But, when his father died suddenly not long after his step mother, who would have been a good queen, Reginald felt, his sister was too young to assume the thrown that should have been rightfully hers.

            Alas, this is not a story about King Reginald, though he has a part in it. This is a story about Les, and we’d best get back to it. Before Sir Les became Sir Les, she was a young peasant girl by the name of Leslie, who lived alone with her mother in a little shack on the edge of the kingdom. She didn’t remember her father, but her mother spoke of him often and he sounded as if he had been a nice man. His death had left them even worse off than they had been, if that were possible, and her mother could barely work hard enough to pay their rent, let alone have any left over for themselves. As soon as she could walk, Leslie joined her mother in the fields doing whatever she could, which amounted to little more than moving stones out of the field. When she was old enough to pay attention to such things, she saw that the men made twice as much money as the women did, and she knew what she had to do.

            Her mother came in from working in the fields one evening, dirt and sweat upon her brow, and saw her teenage daughter pulling on the britches of her late husband. She stood there, amused for a moment, watching from the doorway, as her daughter pulled them on, then the tunic. Amused, Amelia crossed her arms over her chest and asked her startled daughter, “Pants is one thing, but what about your curls?”

            Leslie turned at the sound of her mother’s voice, startled, and almost dropped the bit of rope she was going to use as a belt. Her cheeks turned scarlet as she countered with, “I don’t know what you mean, mother.” She turned her back once more, hoping foolishly that if she couldn’t see her that meant her mother really wasn’t there and hadn’t really caught her.

            “Child, I don’t know what you’re up to but it looks to me like youse a bit of adventurin’ in mind.” She moved into the little shack, trying not to stumble over the chicken that had wandered in, as they were wont to do. She came to stand next to her daughter and shook her head, lost in the memory of the man who used to wear the clothes that her daughter now donned. Sometimes she saw her late husband in her daughter’s eyes, or when she saw her in profile and noticed her chin or high forehead, all features of the man she once knew. It pained her sometimes to look at her daughter’s countenance, but there was nothing to be done about it. There was no denying her daughter was just as handsome as her husband had once been. Maybe moreso. As her face, though strong and determined, was also softened where her husband’s had been hard, and her daughter’s eyes often shone with a dancing merriment that was truly her own.

            Leslie’s tone turned slightly harsh. “I don’t know that I’d call doing a man’s labor adventurin’, but if you’ve a mind to, go right ahead.” She busied herself with securing the rope and ignored her mother’s eyes.

            “A man’s labor? Whatever are you on about?”

            Leslie looked back at her mother now once she had the rope secured. “You know just as I do that the men make twice as much as we do and it ain’t right! We work just as hard and deserve the same!” Her cheeks were coloring and her blue eyes were hard as crystal.

            Amelia chuckled again. “Yes, well, what you plan to do about it? You think a young girl in britches is going to change the way of things?” She scoffed and shook her head at the folly of youth.

            “Well, someone has to! Anyway, I’m not looking to change anything other than our household. Let someone else change the world, I just want a decent meal every now and then. And this is the only way I know to get one. How do I look?” Leslie put her arms up as if presenting herself for her mother’s inspection.

            Her mother took another look at her daughter, at how her husband’s clothes seemed to fall right off her frame and it made something click for her that she couldn’t name, other than to say that it looked right somehow for her daughter to dress this way. It suited her. But the hair was a problem. It was long, to the middle of her back, with loose curls the color of cornsilk and, if washed, would probably shine in the sun, though it hadn’t seen soap for a good long while. She tsked as she approached her daughter, then reached up with both hands to gather the hair behind Leslie’s head, then smiled. “You’re going to have to use some of that rope to cinch this.” Then, she tapped her daughter’s chest with a knowing finger and replied, “You should be glad you haven’t fully come into flower yet, or else they would never believe you.”


            “What? It’s the truth. At least this way, if you want to be taken for a boy you should have no trouble. What shall you say your name is?”

            Now Leslie hesitated, almost as if answering her mother’s question might shame her. “I was thinking Les.”

            Her mother smiled. “Like your father. I think that would be fine.”

            Les, as she now was, smiled at her mother, then allowed her mother to help her cut off a piece of the rope to secure her long curls. She had considered cutting it to hasten the male appearance she sought, but decided against it, as she didn’t expect to be playing this role forever. Someday she hoped to secure a position, somewhere, some way, that would make it possible to live better, and she would do it as herself, without pretense.

            Les set out the next day in search of work. She tried the farms nearest where she and her mother lived, but they all laughed at her.

            “Who do you think you’re foolin’ missy? Britches don’t make you a boy, or able to do a boy’s labor. Go back home to your mama and do as you’re told. And take off the pants, you ain’t foolin’ anyone.” The foreman of the farm down the way continued to laugh.

            Les looked at him defiantly. “I ain’t tryin’ to fool no one! I just want to eat proper! Nothing wrong with that!”

            The foreman laughed again. “Then go on and pick a husband, and let him do a man’s labor, while you go home and make the babies. Go on.” He waved at her with false cheer and all the nearby men joined him in laughter.

            Les kicked the dirt. “You’ll see! I can too do a man’s labor, I’ll prove it to you!” She started to walk away.

            To her retreating form, the foreman said, “Hard to do that when everyone knows youse a girl.”

            Les continued walking, her cheeks flushed and her jaw set, fists balling at her sides. She walked on, and finally on the other side of the kingdom, where no one recognized her, she finally found a foreman who took her at her word that she was a boy, and hired her, though not without looking her up and down first and finally settling on a grin that made her uncomfortable. When she went home that night she was able to tell her mother the good news, then she searched the cabin for an old tunic, and after working with it for a few minutes, she had fashioned something that she could wrap around her chest, then was able to secure it with some of her mother’s pins. Then, she put her father’s clothes back on and felt her new flat chest and smiled.

            Her mother saw her daughter’s new chest, or lack thereof, and the happiness on her face and just shook her head. A tear escaped her. “Where has my daughter gone?”

            Les turned to her mother. “I’m right here, mama. I’ll always be your daughter. I’m just going to work and make things better for us.” Les took her mother’s hands in her own. “I’m going to make things better for you, mama. You deserve to live in a house with doors and windows. A house with a real floor. One where the chickens don’t come in and do as they please.” So saying, she pushed a chicken off the table onto the floor. It screeched in protest.

            Her mother took her other hand back from her daughter and wiped her eyes again and gave her child a small chuckle. “What would I do with a real floor? It would just be something to keep clean. And doors and windows? What about the summer breeze? How would that get in?”

            “We can open them for the breeze. But, wouldn’t it be nice to close them in the winter?”

            Her mother considered. “I suppose it would.”

            “Then, I have to try. For both of us. You deserve those things, mama.”

            Amelia touched her daughter’s face and looked into the eyes that so reminded her of her long lost husband, then leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead. “The Lord gave me everything I needed when you were born.” Mother and daughter exchanged a smile.

Where the Wind Comes Sweeping ‘cross the Plain

Well, I’m here, I finally made it…I’m back in Oklahoma, a place I left nearly three years ago, after having lived here for nearly fifteen. I haven’t been gone long enough for the place to have changed much, other than a few businesses have come and gone, and one republican governor was replaced by another. There’s still road construction on I35, and OU football is kicking into gear and will soon replace everything else to become the dominant Saturday thing in the town I live in. There are some things I’m glad to see haven’t changed, such as the bus system, my favorite coffee shop, my favorite thrift store, and most importantly, the people I left behind here.

            Last night, I had dinner with a small group of close friends to celebrate my return, as well as my upcoming birthday. I timed my move specifically because I wanted to be here to celebrate with them. At the end of the evening my best friend told me she was glad I was back because, “you belong with us.” That sense of love and belonging was probably the best gift she could have given me.

            The last time I moved away from Oklahoma I took only what could fit in my friend’s compact car, which mainly consisted of books, clothes, and my cat. I’ve always been one to travel light, never having much attachment to things so much that I horded them (except books), so getting rid of things was not an issue for me. After my ex took what he wanted from our shared property (much of which he had brought into the marriage to begin with) I set about selling, giving away, or throwing away the rest. Going through the house and making multiple trips to the dumpster became, though tiring, also cathartic. It was visual and solid proof that I was starting over. Out with the old.

            Moving back, I left Illinois with a few more things than I had arrived with, but not much more. Now I also had a desk, a side table, wall art, and a second cat. I am currently sitting in my one-bedroom apartment awaiting furniture to come from multiple sources, friends who have items they don’t need and are willing to give them to me so that I can finally put together a place that is mine. Multiple times, I’ve heard them say, “It’s not the best or the prettiest, but it’ll still work.” None of that bothers me. My only concern is if it fulfills the need. Does it light up? Can I sit on it? Can I stretch out and sleep on it? My friends have been generous beyond measure, and I couldn’t ask for better.

            Speaking upon the items contained in his cabin near the pond and his lack of need for finer things, Thoreau said, “Indeed, the more you have of such things, the poorer you are…Pray, for what do we move ever but to get rid of our furniture, our exuviae; at last to go from this world to another newly furnished, and leave this to be burned.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden. (1854). Nearly one hundred and fifty years before Robert Lilienfeld was urging us all to Use Less Stuff, Thoreau literally wrote a first-person account of how to do just that. Though I’ve never read Lilienfeld’s book and I’ve just recently picked up Thoreau for the first time, despite having multiple degrees in English, I’ve always lived this way. I’m sure part of it harkens back to childhood and the excessive amount of moving around we did. When you move a lot you realize you don’t want to carry a lot. Also, I grew up in a family who was always below the poverty line, so I just never had a lot to begin with. I adapted. The thing that really changed as I grew up was that I could finally buy books, as books were a luxury my family couldn’t afford. But, for material things I’ve had little need of. Especially unnecessary things. I won’t spend money on something that doesn’t serve a purpose in my house. Other than a very few art pieces from local artists, I have no other decorations. I have several pictures of friends on display, as well as my parents. You will not find even one thing which could be considered a knick-knack in my home. I have a long-standing fatwa against them. Anyone who wishes to get me a gift and sees a knick-knack which makes them think of me is clearly no friend of mine.

            So, I am starting yet another new journey, and I’m looking forward to wherever this road may lead. This time around, I won’t be alone on the road.

          “I seem to have run in a great circle and met myself again on the starting line.” Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit.

From Coal Dust to Red Dirt

“Joyce is right about history being a nightmare—but it might be the nightmare from which no one can awake. People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.”    James Baldwin, Stranger in the Village

            In less than a week, I’ll be moving back to Oklahoma for the third time, a place where I once said I wanted to leave before I died there. No, I’m not near death nor am I going there to die. However, if I stay there for the next fifty or more years, whatever my maker has sketched out for me in They’re Book, that’ll be alright with me. I have now lived there long enough to have history there. I have now lived there long enough to have friends I consider my logical family. I have lived there so long, that my own hometown and the people I left behind there, are foreign to me.

            Last week, I spent the weekend with family in my hometown as a way to say goodbye to them one more time. While there, I heard news about people I once knew, former teachers and neighbors, estranged family members. Most of which I hadn’t thought of in years, some I couldn’t remember. I learned that a former teacher from the high school, a man I’d heard of but never had a class with, was now ensconced at the old folks home next door to my niece’s house, where she worked. She said he writes a poem in his journal almost every day. On days when nothing special happens or he’s not feeling well, his entry for that day simply reads, “Nothing.”

            I don’t keep a journal or a diary. I never have. I tried once but found myself boring and figured other people would too, so I stopped trying to record my thoughts that way and stuck to writing poems. I still find myself boring most of the time, and I doubt very strongly I will ever do something so egotistical and narcissistic as to write my memoirs. Part of the reason is that for any and all moments in my life I could choose to write about, I already know how the story ends, so I have no motivation to start writing it. Sure, I could lie like some do and change the facts, but what good would that do? I’ll still know.

            Every time I go home, I also look at the things in town which have changed in my absence. This time, I was lamenting, yet again, the loss of the A & W drive-up restaurant that used to be on the northern edge of town. The restaurant left during my childhood and another business took over the building, until, eventually, the building itself was gone and now a gas station and convenience store set on that spot. On the other end of town, across from the Catholic school, is a CVS, which I supposedly saw last Christmas because we drove right passed it, but I have no recollection of it and don’t remember seeing it at all. When CVS came in, they drove out the last remaining family-owned drugstore, and now my niece has to go to the next town over, more than sixteen miles away, to get her insulin because CVS won’t take her insurance.

            I didn’t get a chance to see much of the town while I was there, as my niece lives on the north side, near the route we would take out the next day. I had been hoping for one final glimpse of the Main Street. Growing up, I had always loved the architecture of the buildings on that street, and often found myself looking up at them, wondering what they had once been, who had owned them, and what was sold within. Many of the buildings which are there now have been there since the early 1900s, and they still bare the marks of that time when there was more attention put to detail, and things were built to last. When I was growing up there, the local paper, which came out once a week, on Thursdays, always printed a picture from the early days of the town. More than anything else, I would poor over these pictures. I would try to discern the outlines of the modern town as I superimposed it in my mind’s eye over the printed photo. One of my favorite photos, however, wasn’t of the buildings at all, but of the old town square. The square is no longer there. Instead, the library and municipal buildings sit on that space now. But, once upon a time it was a park, with benches and trees and lighted paths to walk. The ladies would walk through on Sundays in their best dresses, carrying umbrellas, usually in groups of three of four, their gentlemen following close behind. This is what the picture showed. Years later, when I knew of such things, it would remind me of a Seurat painting, albeit, a small town midwestern version.

            I’ve never been one to care much for world history. This was something I never questioned, thinking history, in general, was just never going to be an interest of mine. Then, some time ago, I realized that I’m always fascinated by local history of wherever I’m living. Once I’m connected to a place, I want to know how that place came to be. Who gave the town its name? Who were the families behind the names of the streets? And what was so special about this spot that someone had to stop and say, “Here I will make a town?” In grade school I was told the story of how the name came to be and I think that was the beginning of my fascination with local history. As the story goes, in the 1800s, when the town felt they were ready to make it official, they filled out the paperwork to become incorporated and sent them off to D.C., naming themselves after a man who had bought land in the area with the sole purpose of making a town square. When the paperwork arrived in Washington, bearing the same name as the name of a town in Virginia but spelled differently (but correctly as far as its namesake was concerned), the postal worker who received the paperwork thought that those Midwesterners couldn’t spell, and changed the name on the paperwork before he approved it. Meanwhile, back in Illinois, the locals of the new town decided it was too much bother to try to change it, so they kept the spelling, but pronouncing it the way it should be for many years to come, until over time, the stress on the vowel hardened to the way we pronounce it now. The myth around this change claims that it changed from a soft “a” to a hard “a” due to the accumulation of coal dust in the throats of the locals.

            This was not the only town I lived in growing up. In my memory, we lived in seven different towns, sometimes making moves within the town during our time there, or moving away for a year or so, then moving back. We moved so much, that I called my father the “Master Mover.” No one could play moving box Jenga like my father. The reason for the moves was either to find more work, to find cheaper housing, or to move closer to work. The moves occurred so frequently throughout my childhood that I rarely spent more than one year at a school at a time. Making friends was next to impossible and getting attached to a particular place was just not thought of. From the fifth grade through high school graduation, my family moved between two neighboring towns four times, until finally settling in the town where my niece now lives when I was a sophomore in high school. After I went to college my parents moved several more times, but that’s a story for another day. Finally, after all that moving around, I was able to attach the moniker “hometown” to a specific place. Now, when asked where I grew up, that’s the town I will name. Of all the places I lived growing up, it is the one I know the most about. I would never claim that I love it or that I long to see it. However, the history of the place is trapped within me, just as a portion of mine is now trapped within its city limits.

Educated Poor White Trash Goes Home

            I just spent most of this weekend with part of my family in one of the towns I grew up in. As mentioned in previous blogs, my family moved around a lot, which resulted in me attending several schools. I spent the weekend in the place where my family lived the longest and where I graduated high school. It’s a small town of no more than five thousand souls, several of whom are related to me and several more are people I went to high school with who never left. All my remaining immediate family lives there, which isn’t much. There’s my brother and his wife, three of their four kids, and four of their six grandkids. I might also have some cousins still floating about there.

            This weekend I was only able to see my oldest niece and her family, as the rest of the family was out of town or working. My oldest niece is the one in the family the most like me. Not to say we have a lot of interests in common, but we both approach the world in a calm way, not letting drama overtake us and content to just sit and be.

            I was at the hospital when both of my nieces were born. Brandi, the oldest, was born three days before my fifteenth birthday. From the start, she was my little buddy. When her mother and I would go places together, people often assumed I was her mother, though I never understood that. The family resemblance between us isn’t that strong, for one. I also felt I was too young to be considered her mother, even though that technically wasn’t true. As soon as she could read, I was taking her to the library and introducing her to books. She read so many one summer that she was allowed to go on the library field trip for summer readers. I was her chaperone on this trip. The destination was Cahokia Mounds, a Native American burial mound that had been a tourist site since I was a child. We toured the museum, watched the video, and climbed the mound. Well, she climbed it, it was too much for me.

            As soon as she could count, we would watch Jeopardy together and she would keep score for me. She cheated for me, however, as she never took off for the ones I missed. That kid could get me to do things I wasn’t normally inclined to do. Such as play games in the yard, play on the swings in the park, or just enjoy a kid’s company for more than an hour.

Then, in 1993, when I was twenty and she was five, I went away to college, only coming home for holidays and some of the summer breaks. Before I left, Brandi gave me a small Pound Puppy to take with me. I named him Rufus and he sat on my bookshelf looking down at me while I sat at my desk doing my homework. By the time I graduated, in 1998, I had missed five years of her life. I spent that summer with my brother’s family, then I went to grad school for two years. Nearly a year after I graduated, I left Illinois for Oklahoma, where I lived for five years. When I came back in 2007, it was to hear my nineteen-year-old niece tell me that she was pregnant and was getting married to someone I didn’t know. I was only back home for a few months before I went back to Oklahoma and this time stayed for nine years. This time when I came back my niece had two children, a boy and a girl, and was still married to the same man that I had only met a few times.

This weekend I informed my niece that when I’m old and infirm, if I don’t have a partner, I want her to be the one who takes care of me. She asked me why. I simply said, “Because I like you.” And I do. But it’s more than that. There is a kinship there that goes beyond blood and I feel comfortable with her. She told me about one of the residents at the home she works at as a CNA. A woman who needs a little extra care sometimes once asked my niece to lay beside her in her bed as she was going to sleep. My niece did so. It reminded me of when I used to put her down for naps as a child. I would put my arm out and she would lay down next to me in my bed. There wasn’t much talking, and she would settle down quickly. It wasn’t long before I could remove myself from the bed and she was sleep for the next two or three hours.

In less than two weeks I am leaving Illinois again, back to Oklahoma. As has been the case with us, I am leaving her yet again. I have always felt some guilt over this, but I know I needn’t worry. She’s happy, she has a good family, a job she likes, a new house they’re working on, and a good husband who is better than my mother ever hoped he’d be. I hope to see them again at Christmas, but we’ll have to see if the budget works out.

I also have another niece, Brittany. I didn’t get a chance to see her this weekend due to scheduling, but maybe next time. Brittany and I had a good relationship when she was growing up, but she was closest to my mother and we just didn’t gel as much. That said, I’ll have to write about her another day.

A Mormon on the Isle of Lesbos

In the Fall of 2001, just weeks after the attack on the World Trade Center, I befriended a young woman, ten years my junior, in a lesbian chat room. She informed me that she came from a strict Mormon upbringing, was currently enrolled at BYU, and wasn’t out to anyone. We quickly became friends and I took on the role of lesbian mentor, albeit from afar. The whole experience inspired me to write poetry about that time, and I’ve recently rediscovered it while packing to move. I believe there were more, but I was only able to find three. Upon rereading them, I believe them to be some of my best work. I do think there is more to tell within the story I created within these poems, and maybe someday I will. The three poems are below.

The Newcomer

A newcomer has come to our little Isle

she seems unsure at times

as if she took a wrong turn somewhere

or meant to stay on dry land—see Athens, perhaps

I make it a point to welcome her

tell her she needn’t write poetry in order to stay

she needn’t do anything, but the longer she stays

she will likely become someone’s inspiration

I think she will be well received here

the ladies will like her and Sapph will

look on her with pleasure

I have prepared a room for her—it is my old room

it is full of books and paintings and paper on which to write

she will find her voice here

as so many of us have

and will learn to cultivate it

and bring out her best

I am to be her servant

she needs anything she need only to ask

tired from her journey, I have drawn her a bath

and will soothe her weary travelers’ muscles

and hope she will look upon me with favor

Sapph gently scolds me for trying to corrupt the young

I remind her that it is a practice

I learned at her side—she laughs at me

and tells me I have learned too much

“Yes, but what I learn has become art”

She smiles gently at me, I am once again her pupil

“To experience is to live and to live is to love…

and to love is to create art”

then she gives me a gentle push

in the newcomer’s direction

and once face to face with her—I falter

Shy, herself, she smiles at me

I remember my voice and offer a welcome

she lowers her eyes and accepts,

not yet knowing the proper response—

which is to merely say thank you

she follows me as I lead her to her room

hanging back, I think she’s afraid of me

I assure her I mean her no harm

and only have her pleasure in mind

and will take my leave if it be that which pleases her

understanding the rules at last, she says, “Please stay.”

The Newcomer’s Servant

I have been the newcomer’s servant

for many months now

she is an undemanding mistress

and still shy about asking me for things

though time and again I have told her

that her simplest wish is my pleasure to fulfill

Sapph says to give her time

that she will become accustomed to me soon

and not still blush and downcast her eyes

when I bow before her and kiss her hand

“She will recognize love soon enough

and lift her eyes to gaze upon it

and the rouge on her cheeks will soften

into a hue of complacency.”

I want to question her on how she can be so sure

but one does not question Sapph

oh, it is not that she doesn’t care for it—

quite the contrary, to enter into a battle of wits

with the tenth muse is to enter into

an argument that can go on for days

she doesn’t need to be proven right

but she will debate and discuss

until you are proven wrong

Then, our Sapph will laugh, though not unkindly

and proceed to write a poem

about you in which she refers to you as her lover

because we all are, after a fashion

and she does love us all

only now and then, she loves one of us a little more

I am selfishly glad that everyone else

is preoccupied with their own inspiration

and have left the newcomer and I in peace

to my knowledge she hasn’t written any poetry

nor has she requested an easel

but I have noticed her watching me

Whether it’s to see how to act here

or with a lover’s eye, I can only guess

she rarely makes a request of me

but when I feel her eyes upon me

I can’t help but wonder what she wants of me

but I can only hope she soon finds her voice

The Newcomer’s Voice

Things have settled into a routine

Fall is upon us and the wind has begun

to rustle the hems of our gowns

and to cover many a brow with strands

of a stray curl here and there

I have seen this happen many a time

to my mistress—I have seen her

blowing the curl away with

a distracted breath—not knowing

that now I am watching her

Sapph has seen my frustration

and each time she walks past

with her hands clasped behind her

she always gives a knowing smile and

a nod of encouragement or puts a hand

on my arm and whispers in my ear

“Faint heart, fair lady—fair chance”

But Sapph doesn’t realize

that all of my bravado

upon the newcomer’s arrival wasn’t real

Sapph doesn’t realize that despite my years here

I still tremble at a lady’s presence,

and that the young newcomer,

who has, on occasion, touched my hand

makes me tremble most of all

The newcomer has seemed to grow comfortable here

she no longer looks down when she addresses me

and has been known to ask my opinion

about which books she should read

and then discusses them with me after

“Why aren’t any of your books here?

I know you’ve written many—where are they?”

I tell her that I gave them all to Sapph

that when I wrote them she was the only

one who understood them—because they were written for her

“So Sapph is your lover?”

This thought makes me smile

the newcomer misunderstands

“Sapph is your lover too—she is lover to us all

as she is sister and mother and teacher”

“And what are you?”

“For, I am your servant.”

“Will you always be?”

“Unless you dismiss me.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Then I will remain as I am.”

“And if I wish to change your duties?”

“I will do as you wish.”

“And if I wish you to come to me?”

“It has already been spoken and I am already there.”

I did get the chance to meet the newcomer a few years later. By then, she had been out for a while and was looking forward to graduating so that she could live more openly. During those early days, I only saw her twice, and no, there is no love story there to tell. As life often does, it went on for both of us, in different directions. It would be nearly fifteen years before I caught up with her again through the power of Facebook. She’s currently living her best life, with Dr. in front of her name, a woman on her arm, with a house and a dog. I am grateful for whatever time and whatever role I was able to play for her. And, if nothing else, knowing her helped me produce some of my best writing and I have a few good stories to tell, none of which I’ll put here.

T.L. Hayes

T.L. Hayes was born in Alton, Illinois, but has never lived there. At the time she was born, her family lived in a much smaller town nearby, which didn’t have a hospital. Her father, Richard, though functionally illiterate, was a hard working man who never let his family go hungry. Her mother, Judy, was a stay at home mom, mother of two children. Due to her father’s inability to read, he lost several jobs during her childhood, forcing the family to move frequently from one small town to the next. This vagabond lifestyle resulted in her attending seven grade schools and two high schools. Later, she attended Blackburn College, a work college twenty minutes from her parents’ home, earning her Bachelors there, before moving on to Western Illinois University, and after a long hiatus, The University of Oklahoma, earning a masters degree at each. In the interim, a lot of life happened. Three relationships, one marriage, one divorce, and several jobs which had nothing to do with writing. But, she has met some interesting people along the way. She published her first novel in August, 2016, A Class Act, with Bold Strokes Books, and went on to publish two more with them, as well as various short stories which appear in anthologies from Bold Strokes Books and Sapphire Books, respectively. She also dabbles in poetry, and has had a few appear on Cajun Mutt Press, but the majority of her writing time is spent on trying to complete three different projects at once. She briefly left Oklahoma after living there for fourteen years, and went back to her home state of Illinois for a brief (nearly three years) sojourn, but has recently moved back to the Sooner state to be closer to her logical family.

Prairieland State Series

A Class Act (2016)

Twenty-five-year-old theater grad student Rory Morgan walks into her Intro to Theater class expecting it to be a piece of cake. She isn’t prepared for the diminutive little fireball of a professor who walks in. She is instantly captivated by Dr. Margaret Parks, her forty-year-old professor, and even works up the courage to flirt a little, which Dr. Parks quickly dismisses. After their first class, Rory finds herself thinking about the professor more and more and spends most of her class time watching the professor as she passionately does her job. Rory really wants to ask her out, but she doesn’t know if the professor is even gay, to say nothing of the fact that she’s her professor. What follows is a romance full of humor, passionate awakenings, and college politics. Can they overcome the hurdles that lie before them and still be a class act?

Sweetboy and Wild One (2017)

Graduate student Rachel Cole is feeling the weekend blues and heads to her favorite lesbian hangout, looking for Ms. Right Now. She is immediately attracted to a brown- haired, brown-eyed, flannel-wearing soulful singer named Bobby Layton. But when Bobby introduces himself to Rachel, Rachel questions things about herself–things like her own sexuality and her very identity. Could she be falling for this sweet boy?

Bobby Layton lost a lot when he came out as trans. And he’s sworn off dating lesbians because dealing with hate from the straight world is hard enough. Who needs the drama? But something about wild girl Rachel Cole keeps him coming back.

Love may be enough to take them to unexpected places beyond their expectations.

A Fighting Chance (2018)

Lou Silver is a stage combat instructor by day, and teaches kung fu on the weekends. When Lou meets Staff Sergeant Stephanie “Steve” Adams through one of her kung fu students, Lou can’t resist her instant attraction, even though Steve’s military background stirs old resentments. As Steve battles to break down the walls around Lou’s heart, Lou must come to terms with her past to give love a fighting chance.

Behind the Scenes (2019)

Rachel and Bobby moved to Minnesota so that Rachel could be closer to her best friend Rory, and so that Bobby could leave behind his past in Illinois and start anew. But, one year later and their relationship is on rocky ground, as Rachel struggles with what she feels is the loss of her lesbian identity, and Bobby is plagued with jealousy. Meanwhile, Rory and Maggie are celebrating their second year of marriage together. Rory is ready to start a family, but Maggie is hesitant, as she wants to wait until her career is in a more stable place, which will happen when she achieves tenure. While one relationship is falling apart, another is growing stronger and expanding.

T. L. Hayes

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

Welcome to the new home for my work. Here you’ll find my weekly blog, links to my books, a list of upcoming events, and whatever else it occurs to me to add from time to time. I hope you enjoy the ride.