I’m From Driftwood, TX.

by nathan manske


For my 13th birthday, in 1993, I wanted Uncanny X-Men #1. It was published in 1963 and was worth, at the time, about $3,400.00. But I didn’t care about the value. I loved the X-Men. I’d hum the theme song from the cartoon, memorize and quote entire episodes, I tiled my bedroom and hallway with the comics, hung the posters and unopened toys meticulously on my walls, I protected the comics with bags and boards and special sleeves, ate the soup, wore the boxers, and best of all, controlled the weather, fired optic blasts from my eyes, and popped adamantium claws from my hands every single day, in the imaginative, evil-mutant fighting section of my mind. Uncanny X-Men #1 simply must be mine.

“Mom, just hear me out.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“If you put in $50, and I know that’s more than usual, but then Dad puts in some, and we get Grandma and Grandpa, the $20 from Granny, maybe Janet and John could throw in, also make it my Christmas gift…”

“Do you want to go look at my checkbook?”

Done. Mom was rarely the “No, because I said so” type of parent. She’d just show me the balance in her checkbook. No amount of foot stomping – my token act of rebellion – could argue with that. Looking at the checkbook always worked because we didn’t have much money. My grandparents let us live on 40 acres of land they had invested in years earlier, in Driftwood, Texas. The population is difficult to determine, but today it still says 21. Since we were a family of six when we moved out there – my three older brothers, my parents and me – I suppose we could argue we owned the town. But with only a cemetery, church, post office, and a restaurant, there wasn’t much reason to.

My dad and some friends had built our house themselves. It was never really completed, but not knowing anything besides what we had at the time, it never bothered me. In fact, I loved our house and land and always thought we were wealthier than most.

As my brothers got older and more observant, they’d kindly remind me, “We live in Texas and don’t have air conditioning.”

“So? We have cows and land. And a tank!”

A “tank” was short for “stock tank”, which is like a large pond to provide drinking water for livestock. All us boys were disappointed upon that discovery when we moved out there and our parents said we’ll have a tank, and we never got the chance to fire heavy artillery. One of my brothers pressed on.

“We don’t have walls in some of our ‘rooms’.”

“So? We have puppies and kittens. And a barn!”

“Our car doesn’t work.”

“…Shut up, jerk!”

I wouldn’t give in. We were rich in my mind, and I would still use my birthday wish to get my grubbies on Uncanny X-Men #1.

It didn’t happen and I don’t remember being upset about it.

By my 14th birthday, my parents’ separation had turned into an official, finalized divorce. While I was riding in the backseat of our 1988 Dodge Ram Charger (it had 4-wheel drive, necessary for our dirt road, which became a mud road after it rained), one of my brothers, who was 18 at the time, and my mom were talking about money.

“Man, I wish we could get just $10,000,” he told my mom. “Just enough to pay off bills and get us ahead.”

“I know what you mean, Patrick. Not enough to make us rich, just enough to help.”

Both my parents were as financially responsible as they could be. Any credit card debt they added up was from buying lumber, Sheetrock, pipes, and other items from McCoy’s, a home improvement store 20 miles away, or at Wal-Mart’s lay-away counter at Christmas time. But now with the divorce, things were a bit tighter. I decided this birthday, I would wish for $10,000. Somehow. Someway. Not enough to be rich, just please, $10,000, just to get us ahead. My wish didn’t come true, but things continued being just fine.

My 15th birthday was approaching and my priorities were changing.

The year before, during the time my parents were separated, my brother Matt, who I was closest with growing up because we shared a room, a love for comics, and were just 18 months apart, talked about the “d-word.” We were so afraid that our parents might get a “d-word” we wouldn’t even say the “d-word.” But the “d-word” happened, the year went on, and there I was staring down at the 15 candles glowing and melting on the Mississippi Mud Pie, my family surrounding me, smiling, waiting for me to blow out the candles.

I didn’t know what to wish for – rather, how to wish for it – when I couldn’t say the very personal, very hidden, very secret “g-word,” so I improvised. “Please…I don’t want to be…don’t make me…just, please God, make sure I’m straight.”

As I assume most children of divorced parents do, they start to find good things about the divorce. And boy, did I ever this year. Sure, two Christmases and double the gifts are great, but I get to double up on my birthday wishes! Double the wishes means double the chances of it coming true.

At my Dad and Step-Mom’s, one more time, with clarity: “Please, God. Make sure I’m going to be straight.”

By the time my 16th birthday rolled around, I still wouldn’t even say the “g-word” in my head. I was more comfortable with the positive spin – “make sure I’m going to be straight” instead of “don’t make me g-word.” Last year, for my 15th birthday, I felt that God or Fate or My Mind – I wasn’t so sure about God anymore, but was willing to try anyone and anything that might listen – hadn’t decided on my sexuality yet, so I had wished He would make me straight whenever He does determine my sexuality.

Throughout the past year, though, after a few special dreams and slower walks through the men’s underwear department at Mervyn’s, I figured God had made up his mind. It was time to change my wish strategy.

“Please, God. Make me straight.”

You see there? I was now already made one way, but now I need to be changed. Man, this is getting tricky.

17th birthday. Oh, boy. My family, friends, and girlfriend finish singing “Happy Birthday”, intentionally way off-key as a running joke, tell me to make a wish and hurry so we can eat.

“Don’t. Let. Me. Be. Gay.”

Fine. I’ll think the word “gay.” Gay gay gay. It’s just a word. And it’s just in my head. But I don’t want to be that gay word. Patience wearing thin. I’m so sick of wishes not listening to me, so I made this wish as clear as I could. I also made sure every last candle was completely extinguished, otherwise my wish might not come true.

By my 18th birthday, I had gone off to Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas. The town was slightly bigger than Driftwood, but coming from a small town, I figured I’d be comfortable there. My girlfriend went with me, but we soon broke up. The Internet still wasn’t perfect back then, and I had a frustrating problem with my connection, so I could only be online for 34 minutes at a time before I was disconnected. But it was enough time to quickly look at images of men online and chat with guys hundreds of miles away. I had lucked out into a dorm room with no roommate, and used the private time to come up with a creative little way to prove to myself that I could be straight. Using pictures of men, I would “get close.” But once I reached the point of no return, I would just switch over and think of my ex-girlfriend. See? I can technically have an orgasm thinking of women. It felt so good being straight.

I couldn’t figure out a differently worded wish that year, so I recycled my 17th birthday wish, half-heartedly. “Don’t let me be gay.”

It was 1999 and it was my 19th birthday. Sul Ross only lasted one semester, I moved back home in December, and enrolled in the Community College in nearby Austin. My family, friends, and boyfriend (“friend” to my family) sang poorly, told me to hurry, and that’s when I made the most important wish I had ever made in my life.

“Please let my family be okay with it.”

By my 20th birthday, my previous wish had been fully granted. I was looking down at the 20 candles glowing and melting on the Mississippi Mud Pie as my family, friends, new boyfriend (“boyfriend” to my family) sang poorly, told me to hurry, and I made my wish.

“Please let me get Uncanny X-Men #1.”

26 Comments:

  1. this is so well written and actually made me cry. spidey! i’m at work, i can’t be in tears! really wonderful. i’m so proud of you for getting this site up. and its not just up, its totally rox!
    hugs,
    k

  2. This is beautiful Nate. This whole blog is amazing. I’m so proud of you!!! Hugs and kisses.

  3. You did it! Well done my friend, I am so impressed!

  4. Mom,who adores you

    My perfect, educated, creative, personable, loving, tender hearted, funny son! What a fabulous site! I am incredibly proud of your progress in life. You have set examples and helped many to be able to open up and come out. I love you. Mom :-)

  5. Nate, this amazing, just like everything you do. So proud of you!

  6. How wonderful. Congratulations on your new site!

  7. I’m proud of you too nathan. You’re a an eloquent writer and an ever better friend. Congrats on the site big guy.

  8. nothing i will write in this little box can express 1) how much you kick ass for making something like this happen — you little movershaker you, 2) what a tight writer you are — that’s what he said and 3) how much it makes me miss you! oh and the best… mervyns mens dept. love it.

  9. well now i really want to get you uncanny x-men #1

  10. Aw, don’t sell your hometown short; there are *two* restaurants in Driftwood!

  11. You are an inspiration – what an amazing story! I am so thoroughly impressed, you’re writing is beautiful, and you are really making a difference. Congrats!!

  12. You seamlessly touched upon so many interesting aspects of want and desire. Very cool :) I’m so happy you brought all of this and us together; thanks for putting your efforts into something of such value. You are brilliant. :)

  13. It’s really nice to be miles away and hear so much heart come through an electronic medium, truly a sign of a great writer. I miss sitting next to you and hope we can grab one of our signature smoothies soon. You’re damn straight (ahem) I’m telling my friends about this. :) Much success Nate!

  14. That story made me smile :) I’m glad you got you’re wish. I don’t even know you and I feel proud of you and you’re family. And remember, birthday wishes are the only ones with any true validity, so keep wishing. :)

  15. Professor X would be proud of you.
    And if I am not mistaken, I distinctly overheard a short, grumpy Canadian slurping a Molson’s after saying:
    “Here’s to you, Bub.”

  16. This is a beautifully-written story. Funnily enough, the X-Men story has a few parallels with our own struggles. Sometimes we all feel like a mutant; an outcast, and it feels as though the entire world hates us. But then there are people and places and stories like this which make us feel part of a big family.

    Thanks for sharing this, and congrats on the site; I wish you every success.

  17. Heart-wrenching. Beautiful. Kudos.

  18. meh. typical good guy/bad guy story. and to think i was usually in the mervyns with you, thinking to myself how to pronounce ‘lingerie’ (lingery…?). and i’m sorry i wasn’t more supportive as a 17-year old, but i had my own problems (wishing for a michael jordan rookie card). i’m happy that most of your wishes came true. and who knows, with all the IFD income, maybe that final wish can come true. much congratulations on the site, baby bubba. this is gonna bloom.

  19. Nathan,
    My office mgr. e-mailed this to me. How similar,. our thoughts were, when we were “praying” to be straight…When I came out, it was like “popping a Big Pimple”!…I just WALKED INTO THE “Place” where I was comfortable and Wnen I was ready…I wasn’t as young as you when I came out and got my boyfriend (that 1st night). I was 25…
    Good Story Nathan.
    Sincerely,
    …David.

  20. Congratulations on the site, Nate! What a great accomplishment – you’ve created your own international community. Also what a sweet story!

  21. Great site Nathan, congratulations and all the luck with the site!!!

  22. Great read Nathan! I always find the experiences people go through when coming to terms with their sexuality very interesting. Now I feel inspired to write a story of my own about my experience, which is very very different than yours. Maybe someday when I have an abundance of time I will. =) I really enjoyed reading about how your living situation was growing up. But, my favorite part was the last one-line closing to the story. Brilliant.

  23. Nathan-
    I am glad you started this site with your own story. Like you and many gay people, I also prayed to be straight. Many, many times. Just like you, I learned that change is good but you should never change who you are. Thank you for this amazing site.
    Roger

  24. Nathan,
    I know I’m a little late commenting on your story, but I just found the site today. I like going back to the first posts on new blogs I find so I can see how everything started.

    We grew up not far from each other, you and I. I grew up in a small town in Northeast Texas about 4 hours from Driftwood, and while we have about 3000 more people in town than did you, the attitudes are likely pretty much the same. I’m out now, sorta…everybody knows but I’m still too scared and ashamed to live it — if that makes any sense at all. Who knows what makes sense anymore, right?

    Anyway, thanks for telling your story and for sharing others. Maybe sharing mine here would be good for me. I don’t know…but maybe.

    J

  25. You are awesome!!!!! What you are doing is awesome. A mutual friend, Holly Bennight Foster, has been talking about this for several days now and I finally decided to take the time to read this. You are an inspiration.

  26. Pingback: Я из Дрифтвуда, Техас | Моя гей история

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