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.”
“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.”