The War Years
A Ten-Minute Play
by Charles Stephens
Black gay man. Around 27 years old.
Black gay man. Around 25 years old.
Atlanta. 1988. Paris’ Living Room.
Scene opens as two African-American men in their 20s are seated on a couch
PARIS: Will you stop tapping your leg? I can barely hear myself think.
JERICHO: I’m not tapping my leg.
PARIS: Yes you are. Now repeat back to me what I just told you.
JERICHO: (robotically) You storm the stage. I block the ushers. The rest will chant and hold up the signs.
PARIS: Wrong! The group will chant. Then I storm the stage. Then you block the ushers. Got it?
JERICHO: You’re talking too fast. Give it to me slower.
PARIS: (to himself) And this the bitch with the college degree. Give me strength.
JERICHO: I don’t know. David got some pretty big brothers. I can block the ushers, but if the brothers jump in, I don’t know if I will be able to block them.
PARIS: Figure it out Jericho. You always bragging about being a former high school athlete. Oh my God, this migraine.
JERICHO: And you know what else?
PARIS: What Jericho?
JERICHO: What if they call the cops?
PARIS: Then they call the cops.
JERICHO: You got that charge from last year. Did you think about that?
PARIS: No Jericho, I actually forgot all about it. It’s the darndest thing. I woke up one day and I forgot I went to jail. Whew boy. I forgot being in the back of that police car. I forgot my wrists being sore from the handcuffs being so tight. I forgot the mugshot.
JERICHO: I’m just saying Paris. When you go up before that judge again, mommy and daddy may not be so willing to bail your ass out.
PARIS: Anyway, did you reach out to the media contacts I gave you?
JERICHO: Media contacts?
PARIS: The list. The list I gave you last week. Did you call them?
JERICHO: Oh yeah. The list. Shit!
PARIS: Jesus help me Lord.
JERICHO: Well. I misplaced the list.
PARIS: Misplaced? Jericho, what is going on with you? You’ve always been kind of flighty, but Jesus.
JERICHO: Can we just, can we just slow down a bit? This is going too fast.
PARIS: I am so glad David ain’t here to listen to you carry on like this. Now, let me see if I can find my address book. Maybe I can still get somebody to cover this thing. I done sucked enough dicks in that newsroom.
PARIS: What Jericho? What now?
JERICHO: How you holding up?
PARIS: (sighs, pauses) Well, I started back smoking again.
JERICHO: Give me a cigarette.
PARIS: No! Both of us shouldn’t die of lung cancer. Not to mention you lost my media contact list.
JERICHO: My parents don’t even treat me this way.
PARIS: You done? We need to beat the crowd there. Let me start looking for my keys. I swear to God I need to start tying my keys to my wrist like some latch key kid. Can’t never find them bastards. Can’t find my keys, can’t find my address book. Go ahead and make one of your wisecracks, about me being a disorganized community organizer. Go ahead.
PARIS: What Jericho? You know, it’s your fault I got this migraine. I would rather have a threesome with Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan than plan an action with you again.
JERICHO: Maybe we haven’t thought this all the way through.
PARIS: Excuse me?
JERICHO: Look, I know you live for the high drama of these sorts of things.
PARIS: It’s happening. With or without you. But since you decided to wait until the last minute to start this shit, I may just knock you out, staple a picket sign to your arm, and drag your black ass to the funeral and leave you on the front steps.
JERICHO: I was with him until he kissed death. You know that? Held his hand as he faded away. Could have used your company though. Don’t know if I ever saw you around.
PARIS: Bitch, you want a parade?
JERICHO: All right. All right, fine. But before you storm the gates tomorrow, there is one more thing you should know. And I don’t, I don’t quite know how to say it.
PARIS: Ok, let’s hear it. My head already splitting a part. Maybe this will put me out my misery.
JERICHO: On the night before David passed away, I went to see him at the hospital. When I leaned over to kiss him on his forehead, he grabbed my hand and pulled me in. Then he said to me, he said to me, in a whisper, that he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. That he repented. And he had been forgiven. He then begged me to do the same. To repent before it’s too late.
PARIS: Now why you have to go and tell a lie like that?
JERICHO: You never listened to him Paris. Or anyone else for that matter. So he would have never shared that part of himself with you.
PARIS: He told me his daddy beat him for hitting a cartwheel when he was 6. He told me he had sex for the first time when he was 13 with a man in his 30s. He told me he wished he could have been a father. He told me his favorite color was Tiffany blue. He told me that when he saw The Exorcist the first time he wet his pants, mind you he was 19. Hell, he even told me about the time the two of you tried to play love birds. Bet you didn’t know I knew that, huh? I know that man’s secrets better than I know my own.
JERICHO: Where were you then?
PARIS: I visited him, Jericho.
JERICHO: When? When did you visit? I was there all the time and I never saw you. And on top of that, he wanted you there. He sent for you. Paris, he sent for you and you never came.
PARIS: All right. Maybe not the most recent time. But I went before.
JERICHO: Before ain’t now.
PARIS: He knew my work. He knew our work. We all make sacrifices for the greater good.
JERICHO: Too busy to visit him at Grady. Too busy to hold his hand while he faced death. But now you have time, now you have time to show up at his funeral and insult his family.
PARIS: Fine. Judge me. I don’t care. But you can be sure of one thing, I won’t let them deny who David was. Where are my goddamn keys!
JERICHO: But can you be a friend when the camera’s not rolling?
PARIS: Don’t do it Jericho. Don’t you dare do it.
JERICHO: I’m just saying.
PARIS: Remember your volunteer interview? Talking about “I haven’t told my family yet.” Normally I don’t hire closet cases. But we was so desperate. So I took a chance. I could feel it. You didn’t have it.
JERICHO: Excuse me?
PARIS: And then when they made the Minority Outreach Position full-time, my position, they hired you over me and wanted me to work for you. When you went for that shit, I was like “see, not only is he not ready, he can’t be trusted.”
JERICHO: The job required a degree. And since you want to do this with me, let’s talk about the countless times Donna dragged me into her office. You told that lady I didn’t know how to manage people. She would be all crying, talking about “you guys are both my friends. I don’t know why you two just can’t work it out. People are dying.”
PARIS: Fuck her crying. I bathe in white tears! Oh but my resignation letter, it was glorious!
JERICHO: At least now you can do your activism full-time which is what you wanted to do anyway.
PARIS: They hired you over me. All because they know you won’t go on cameras talking about “death to whitey and death to the breeders,” like me. Admit it!
JERICHO: What I will admit, is that I don’t think we should go through with this action.
PARIS: Don’t worry pumpkin. I got some shades and a big hat you can wear. Or maybe my afro wig. You wanna wear my afro wig darling? I know you don’t want Donna to see you on channel 2 disrupting a funeral service with the other crazy black homosexuals. Cause you know, you a good homosexual. Not like the rest of us crazies.
JERICHO: I was the one that shut down Sale Hall at Morehouse two years ago because that student got beat on campus and they didn’t do shit. And I was the one that threw that pie in Bill McKinney’s face cause he thought it might be good legislation to quarantine us. And when Ramon was murdered by trade, I was the one that went down to the station everyday demanding that APD get off they ass and take this seriously. I battle honey, don’t you worry, I just pick them carefully.
PARIS: You seen this? (pulls out obituary) Not a single word on here about who David really was. Just a bunch of lies. So pick this one. Tick tock Miss Jericho. Tick tock.
JERICHO: It’s not the words, or them not saying the words. Its what’s behind the words that’s most important.
PARIS: I’ve gone to what, 20 or 30 funerals over the last two years, and they never say the words. Never.
JERICHO: They could say the word gay or AIDS 500 times at the funeral and it won’t bring David back. Look Paris, do whatever you must. But trust, David would not want this.
PARIS: Don’t worry baby. I will. You can count on that.
JERICHO: Fuck, Paris. David’s family doesn’t have to erase that part of him. He did it for them.
PARIS: Or so you claim.
JERICHO: You wave that obituary around, but I know what David whispered in my ear.
PARIS: Whatever David may or may not have told you, in less than an hour we go to war. I’m going to grab the mic, and I’m going to say, David James Miller was a proud black gay man. And he was a leader and a warrior and a poet. He was a revolutionary. He was a hero to us all. You mourn him and yet you have his blood on your hands. You’re monsters, every single one of you.
JERICHO: When he was on his death bed, begging Jesus to forgive him, where were you Paris?
PARIS: I was fighting Jericho. That’s where I was.
JERICHO: When David called out to you, had you answered, maybe he wouldn’t have had to call Jesus. I see a little blood on your hands too baby.
PARIS: Why do you assume I didn’t know about David?
PARIS: What makes you think I didn’t know that David changed?
JERICHO: Cause you just said it was a lie.
PARIS: He told me once. That he wished he didn’t have to be gay anymore. I tried to make myself forget it but he did tell me that once.
JERICHO: What did you say?
PARIS: I told him I understood. But inside I was seething with anger.
JERICHO: How could you be angry with him about something like that?
PARIS: I’m tired of us falling apart. I’m tired of seeing us unravel.
JERICHO: You of all people should know what it means to be who we are.
PARIS: We don’t all fall apart, Jericho.
JERICHO: Not all of us. Of course not.
PARIS: I’m tired of being strong. Why don’t I get to fall apart? Why can’t I come undone?
JERICHO: You chose this path Paris.
PARIS: Did I? It doesn’t always feel like it.
JERICHO: Or maybe history chose you.
PARIS: Maybe some of us have to remain intact to clean up after those that don’t.
JERICHO: I love you Paris.
PARIS: And you know what else? I miss beauty in my life.
JERICHO: I know you do.
PARIS: And I miss simplicity and lightness. It’s too heavy.
JERICHO: I can carry you part of the way. On my shoulders I can carry you. Let me.
PARIS: No. I may need it too much. If I let you carry me I may depend on you. I can’t depend on you. I can’t need you. And we both know there is a cost.
JERICHO: I owe everything to you. There is no cost.
PARIS: I’m going to the funeral.
JERICHO: I know.
PARIS: I will bring gasoline and matches and burn that fucking church down before I let them erase my friend.
JERICHO: We on the same side Paris. I am not your enemy.
PARIS: By erasing him, they erase all of us. They erase me. Don’t let them. Don’t let them erase me Jericho. Please. Don’t let them.
JERICHO: I won’t Paris. I won’t let them erase you. I will never let them do that to you.
PARIS: And don’t let them make me repent. Don’t let them make me change. Don’t let them make me hate myself. Promise me Jericho. Please. Promise me. I don’t want them to do that to me.
JERICHO: Shhhhh Paris. Shhhh. (embracing PARIS) I got you, boy. I got you.
Charles Stephens is a writer and activist. He is the founder and executive director of the Counter Narrative Project, co-editor of the anthology Black Gay Genius: Answering Joseph Beam’s Call, and columnist for The Advocate. Charles is a 2015 Rockwood Leadership Institute Fellow for Racial and Gender Justice Leaders in the HIV/AIDS Movement and a 2015 Arcus Leadership Fellow. He has also been a fellow at the CDC Institute for HIV Prevention Leadership and the Black AIDS Institute Community Mobilization College. His writings have appeared in the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Creative Loafing, Lambda Literary Review, The Gay and Lesbian Review, RH Reality Check, HIV Plus, and the Georgia Voice.