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Authors: David Levithan

Wide Awake

BOOK: Wide Awake
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To Rachel
(for her wake-up calls)

and

To Rob
(for his faith in faith)

Acknowledgments

The idea for this book came to me on a bus shortly after the election of 2004, while I was listening to Green Day’s
American Idiot.
That album and Bright Eyes’
I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning
provided the fuel for the fire, as did songs by U2, Jens Lekman, Jimmy Eat World, Le Tigre, and Dar Williams. Long live protest songs, in whatever form they take.

I would like to thank my parents, for teaching me principles. And the rest of my family and my friends, for helping to uphold them.

Mr. Sachsel’s lesson on Bleeding Kansas from seventh-grade American history clearly left its mark on me, so I must thank him significantly after the fact for that. More recently, the book
What’s the Matter with Kansas?
by Thomas Frank was a big help, as were the Kansan perspective of Beth Bryan and the eyewitness accounts of Nick Robideau.

I have to thank all of the people who have shared their stories with me about being gay and religious—there are truly too many to name. The book’s first two readers, Rachel Cohn and Rob Brittain, helped me a great deal with their insight and encouragement. Billy Merrell and Nick Eliopulos deserve kudos, as always, for listening to me as I write.

Thank you to all the librarians who care. You completely inspire me, because you show how the right book at the right time can matter, and how the right person at the right time can matter.

Finally, thank you to the people at Knopf, for being so amazingly supportive. Thank you to Allison Wortche and Melissa Nelson, for rising to the occasion. And, most of all, thank you to my champion editor, Nancy Hinkel. There’ll be time enough for rocking when we’re old. In the meantime, let’s make some noise.

         

In the near future…

PART ONE

one

“I can’t believe there’s going to be a gay Jewish president.”

As my mother said this, she looked at my father, who was still staring at the screen. They were shocked, barely comprehending.

Me?

I sat there and beamed.

two

I think it was the Jesus Freaks who were the happiest the next day at school. Most of the morning papers were saying that Stein’s victory wouldn’t have been possible without the Jesus Revolution in the church, and I don’t think Mandy or Janna or any of the other members of The God Squad would’ve argued. Mandy was wearing her J
ESUS
I
S
L
OVE
T-shirt, while Janna had a L
OVE
T
HY
N
EIGHBOR
button on her bag, right above the S
TEIN
F
OR
P
RESIDENT
sticker. When they saw me walk through the door, they cheered and ran over, bouncing me into a jubilant hug. I wasn’t the only gay Jew they knew, but I was the one they knew best, and we all had been volunteers on the Stein/Martinez campaign together. After the hugging was done, we stood there for a moment and looked at one another with utter astonishment. We’d done it. Even though we wouldn’t be able to vote for another two years, we’d helped to make this a reality. It was the most amazing feeling in the world, to know that something right had happened, and to know that it had happened not through luck or command but simply because it was right.

Some of our fellow students walked by us and smiled. Others scoffed or scowled—there were plenty of people in our school who would’ve been happy to shove our celebration into a locker and keep it there for four years.

“It was only by one state,” one of them grunted. “Only a thousand votes in Kansas.”

“Yeah, but who also got the popular vote?” Mandy challenged.

The guy just spat on the ground and moved on.

“Did he really just
spit
?” Janna asked. “Ew.”

I was looking everywhere for Jimmy. As soon as the results had been announced, I’d gone to my room to call him.

“Can you believe it?” I’d asked.

“I am so so so happy,” he’d answered.

And I was so so so happy, too. Not only because of the election but because I had Jimmy to share it with. I had two things to believe in now, and in a way they felt related. The future—that was it. I believed in the future, and in our future.

“I love you,” he’d said at the end of the call, his voice bleary from the hour but sweetened by the news.

“I love you, too,” I’d replied. “Good night.”

“Very good night.”

Now I wanted the continuation, the kiss that would seal it. The green states had triumphed, the electoral college was secure, and I was in love with a boy who was in love with me.

“Somewhere Jesus is smiling,” Janna said.

“Praise be,” Mandy chimed in.

Keisha and Mira joined us in the halls, fingers entwined. They looked beamy, too.

“Not a bad day for gay Jew boys, huh?” Keisha said to me.

“Not a bad day for Afro-Chinese lesbians, either,” I pointed out.

Keisha nodded. “You know it’s the truth.”

We had all skipped school the previous two days to get out the vote. Since most of us weren’t old enough to drive, we acted as dispatchers, fielding calls from Kennedy-conscious old-age-home residents and angry-enough agoraphobic liberals, making sure the ESVs came to take them to the polls. Other kids, like Jimmy, had been at the polling places themselves, getting water and food for people as they waited hours for their turn to vote.

I felt that history was happening. Not like a natural disaster or New Year’s Eve. No, this was human-made history, and here I was an infinitesimally small part of it. We all were.

Suddenly I felt two arms wrap around me from behind, the two palms coming to rest at the center of my chest. Two very familiar hands—the chewed-up fingernails, the dark skin a little darker at the knuckles, the wire-thin pinkie ring, the bright red watch. The bracelet with two beads on it, jade for him and agate for me. I wore one just like it.

I smiled then—the same way I smiled every time I saw Jimmy. He made me happy like that.

“Beautiful day,” he said to me.

“Beautiful day,” I agreed, then turned in his arms to give him that
this is real
kiss.

The first bell rang. I still had to run to my locker before homeroom.

“Everything feels a little different today, doesn’t it?” Jimmy asked. We kissed again, then parted. But his words echoed with me. I was too young to remember when the Supreme Court upheld the rights of gay Americans, and all the weddings started happening. But I imagined that day felt a lot like today. I’d heard so many people talk about it, about what it meant to know you had the same rights as everyone else, making anything possible. I knew that this time it was just the Presidency, and that Stein was likely to become more moderate to get along with Congress, especially since we’d only won by the margin of Kansas. But still…everything
did
feel a little different. Yes, the kids walking the halls around me were the same kids who’d been there yesterday. The books in my locker were piled just the way I’d left them. Mr. Farnsworth, my homeroom teacher, waited impatiently by his door, just like he always did. But it was like someone had upped the wattage of all the lights by a dozen watts. Someone had made the air two shades easier to breathe.

I knew this feeling wouldn’t last. As soon as I realized it was euphoria, I knew it wouldn’t last. I couldn’t even hold on to it. I could only ride within it as far as it would carry me.

The second bell rang. I sprinted into class, and Mr. Farnsworth closed the door.

“I expect to see you standing today,” he said to me.

This was the deal we had: If Stein won the Presidency, I would stand for the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time since elementary school. Even back then, I hated the way it seemed to be something rote and indoctrinated—most people saying the words emptily, without understanding them. I didn’t want to drone it unless I meant it.

I’d always said the six last words, though. And today I said them extra loud, standing up.

With liberty and justice for all.

When I went to sit down, I found that my chair wasn’t there. I landed butt-first on the floor.

“What’s the matter, Duncan?” Jesse Marin’s voice taunted. “Head in the clouds much?”

There was some laughter, but most of it was Jesse’s. He cracked himself up on a regular basis.

“That’s how it goes,” he went on. “You stand up for something, you end up falling down on your ass.”

Jesse’s parents were big Decents in our town, and like most Decents he wasn’t taking defeat very well. You would’ve thought he’d be used to it now, with all the changes that had happened over the past few years. With each one, the Decents had sworn it meant the demise of civilization. But, of course, civilization did okay without the Decents proclaiming what needed to be censored and what needed to be “protected.” They’d been smart at first—labeling everyone who wasn’t a Decent as
indecent.
The initial reaction to that was to say “No, I’m not indecent!” or “What I’m doing is not indecent!”—which immediately put us on the defensive. It was only when we could say “Actually, I’m decent and you have no right to call me otherwise” that changes began. The rise of the green states. The Jesus Revolution. The All Equal Movement. Stein’s idea of the Great Community. And now the election.

The Decents didn’t even call themselves “the Decents” anymore. We’d won back the word, just as we’d won back words like
moral
and
right
and
compassionate
in earlier years. Because words mattered. Winning the words was a good part of the battle. And we won them by defining them correctly.

The principal’s voice came over the speakers and read the morning announcements. He made no mention of the election; to him, the only part of the future worth noting was the Conservation Club’s bake sale next Thursday and the football team’s game against Voorhees on Saturday.
School is its own country,
he seemed to be saying in all that he wasn’t saying.
I am the leader here, and I am not subject to any election. What happens in the world at large remains at large while you are here.

I wanted to say something back to Jesse, to gloat or to cut him down. But then I thought of what Janna and Mandy would do, and I decided that I couldn’t let winning make me any less kind. The whole point of winning was to build the Great Community. Telling Jesse that he was an asshalf prickwad Decent wouldn’t be working toward a community at all.

I could see Mr. Farnsworth keeping watch over me, wondering what I was going to do. When the bell rang, I made eye contact with him and received a small, approving nod. Then, as I was about to pass by his desk, he asked me to stay back for a second.

Once the other students had gone, he said, “If I’m not mistaken, you’re in Mr. Davis’s class first period.”

I nodded.

“Look, Duncan, be careful today. He’s not taking this well. He wants to detonate on someone—don’t let it be you.”

I looked at Mr. Farnsworth. I knew nothing about his life—where he lived, how he voted, who he loved. But I could see he was genuinely worried. For me, yes. But for something bigger, too.

“I’ll be careful,” I promised.

And then I headed to Mr. Davis’s class.

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