Like anything in Gray House, I start in a place of not knowing where to begin, this now my fifth or sixth time landing on GO, having forfeited all my money to whoever owns Boardwalk today. I should feel lighter, but I don't. It should seem streamlined, perfected by now. But I don't, I just feel robbed of all the crutches I would need to limp my way through this mess.
Well, make a mix, Rosie helpfully suggests.
And when I look to Brad, to ask him where to start, like I do with almost everything else in my life, he smiles sly and dangerous.
You gotta start where everyone else does with us, he says, stretching his arm to prop up his head on his flattened and graying pillow, missing a case. You gotta start on the outside, and work inward.
From the outside, Dragons are a gang. A gang of violent teenagers, full of unknowable secrets, densely arranged into intricate patterns of the unspoken rules created by rank and file, order and rebellion. Rosie wrote you about Lost Boys, and yes, they're Dragons. The Pan Lost Boys are Dragons. The Warriors are Dragons. The Jets are Dragons (my GOD, the Jets are Dragons). The Barrow gang are Dragons. The Outsiders are Dragons.
And you know them, by name if not by sense. Clyde being the smartest and strongest and quietest is our leader. Brad is his greasy-haired and homicidal henchman. Adam is the dark and sociopathic assassin. Matthew is the vengeful anarchist who lights the fires in the trashcan we gather around, the rage in his eyes made momentarily blank by the flames. John is the one nobody can really account for, his shyness moving aside to do the shocking and say the defiant when no one is expecting it. Nick is the one who keeps the general peace, and retains the fiercest loyalty.
You watched them move through the halls of your high school, the low-born and snarling mongrel dogs nipping short barks to one another, bound together by some...force of will that went undefined, even by them.
I was always ambidextrous enough to be both the youngest male member of this gang, the most prone to bouts of wild moody violence.... well, here, Adam says it better:
"All your abrasions are combined into one boy who will be seventeen forever. Your shoulder blades were sheathed in cotton and plaid, caught in moonlight as you turned away from me. The violet color of the sprays of matted mohawk on your head disappeared as you wandered into the woods. But I followed you, and we got drunk at a CBGBs with sticky chairs. Even now, I can hear the sound your palms made on the concrete floor when you threw yourself from the stage. Your nose piercing was still healing, that night. I imbibed the drippage of vodka from your face upon which you splashed it for sanitation."
As well as the Wendy Darling of all their hopes and expectations:
"The will, of the true Wendy, our Wendy, is one strong enough to permit the breaking of foundations, the erasures of comforts, the losses of home, and pay the closest attention at her disposal to understand, understand, please, God, understand, you Neverleave Neverland, no matter the season of our moods, the wishes we’ve left unfulfilled, the nightmares so tightly grasping us, the gritty, drying sweat of so much change, the endlessly nauseating journey, by bathtub, you’re made to endure under our unmanned helm…"
It's a talent I was born and bred for, in the backwaters of my childhood. It's the greatest high-wire act on earth; to be a boy of no consequence among them, and the only girl on earth at the same time.
Wrong Side of the Road
My last name is Waits because I come from the father of all Dragons, Tom. One of the first things I knew about myself, for sure for sure, in my adulthood and after all my awkward formations of being this variation or that of any other teenage girl, was that I had no idea if I was his daughter or his wife, but I'd bailed him out of the drunk tank too many times to count, and only blood or alimony would keep me doing it this long.
I used to say his was the only name I'd get tattooed on me, but that was before Brad. I imagined it inside a blue heart, tucked away somewhere awkward to explain. It would ensure that even though I denied it to the end, anyone who found it would know I was his girl forever. In broken hearts and hopeful dreams alike.
Tom is the father of Dragons because he can wrest magic from the jaws of the devil, and plant it in the salted earth to grow again (not that the devil isn't clearly also a Dragon). His hands are hard from forming the endless chords it takes to make the mundane into the marvelous, to peel back the layers for people to see what shines underneath.
Every Dragon has the impulse to do this; to look the cavernous dark of the empty Sac-and-Save and see it for it's glory as a pagan temple of forgetting. To notice the glimmer in dust motes when they catch the sunlight slanting in from the boarded windows. To consider all graffiti was written as a personal message to them, and understand them all to be warnings or portents from the future.
Dragons believe the legends of the mall ghosts in the lower mezzanine bathrooms, and know for certain the wind will change when the circus comes to town. They know that every day is Halloween for those willing to look for it. They are masters of a starved kind of ritualism, broke and thin, drinking Mountain Dew from the can to imbibe the blood of Christ.
Because all words are spells, are they not? Tom himself would tell us so, when he says that singing is just "something interesting to do with the air." If all words are spells, then surely all houses are temples, and all marriage beds altars, and all dinner tables the places where church law is decided. And so it follows....
That all dumpsters are where the forbidden magics were discarded, and whores possess the secrets of a thousand priests. It's all not all censors and stained glass, he reminds us. Sometimes it's winos and porn.
And this is what it looks like, from inside the gang of rabid hyenas, looking out at the rest of the world. We protect an ancient bloodline of magicians, who make thought into form. We make music to pray for rain. We sing to call out to God so we aren't forgotten (although I think we'd all say we already have been, what with the Garden mess and all).
But we could probably make him remember us, with the right words. Or become him ourselves. Shall we?
Tom promises that it won't all be grand. That earning your birthright sometimes means performing scrapeknuckle voodoo at the crossroads at night, your throat sticking with dry panic. It sometimes means being alone and without your tribe, and sometimes means screaming bloodthirsty into the silent vacuum created when two opposing factions of a war collide - the dull ear-ringing silence of murder that Brad is always retreating into. Sometimes love is a whisper, and sometimes it's the sound of a bone snapping.
But from inside the tribe of us, the air itself can be woven into the patterns that still elude modern sciences, and if asked to explain, we might just smile, or ask you to dance.
All of the priests inside us are people you know, and are embarrassing for us to admit out loud. Like the pauper turned prince, the morning after a night in the desert is met with blushes about what happened, and who we turned into. Magic is what refines us. Magic is how we sharpen a bone into a blade. Your most magical basic instinctive self, Jack, who is it? Synthesis. Who is he, really, and have we met him already? Drama already told me you were Brian Eno, but he doesn't seem the desert shotgun wedding type. Among the boys, I watch them turn into high priests and low beasts with heavy limbs and furrowed brows. Jim Morrison. Bob Dylan. Robert Smith. Ian Curtis. Anyone you've ever loved through music. Shamans, all of them.
My Wild Love
Marilyn is still a secret so ridiculous and newfound even saying her name feels like licking a battery, but she's who I am as a Dragon. Finding her inside meant I was afraid of never being able to meet Brad's eyes again - where they would look at me blue and disbelieving at how he could've gone so long without knowing. Yeah, it was the certainty I was the most afraid of.
I called Grady from a Los Angeles hospital to ask him the question that burned a hole through my nerves, the smell of the payphone receiver bluntly plastic.
Human frailty is so strange, don't you think, Joe?
The animal in us dictates that if we are weakened in some way, we will fall behind. But we grew this terrible... lobe which shudders in distaste of ever being the intellectual or emotional subservient to another, and so we employ the instincts of animals to our cotillions and we think that makes logical sense. When I could looked at him in the eyes again, Brad lifted my chin with his knuckle to remind me, in this sea of GI's, that there's a truth beneath the speculation about anyone, even Marilyn, and even me.
Animals fuckin' cry, Evie.
The word for what I do among dragons is called the Madonna; the girl in the wallet photos who makes their failed experiment of civilization into a home.
On a late summer night in 1944, Lucien Carr killed a man in Riverside Park. In small increments over long distances of time, a killer is formed by impressing the will to survive onto a poet.
Survival is important to a Dragon because he was starved since birth and told by his old man he would never amount to anything. Dragons grow up with hard knuckles, and graduate into violent adulthood. By being told he won't survive another day, he finds the means within himself to do so, carrying the anonymous switchblade of Brad in his pocket, and forcing his will onto the world by killing what he can't fuck, or force to grow under his strict tutelage.
What I'm saying is, we don't keep houseplants.
At our campfire we've created together, you and me, Brad slithers out from the darkness, his Ted Bundy smile slow and knowing. He brings us one ingredient to our Dragon ritual, survival. Is there safety in numbers? I don't know, maybe. Maybe if we with strange hearts could band together, we'd be safe from that which comes for us in the darkness.
That which is outside the circle is strange to us, Brad agrees, his drawl slow and dropping the casual nature of the excited mid-western boy I know him to be. But we don't fear it. We teach it to fear us.
And slow, he will slit the throat of the virgin girl, and lick the gravel from the scrapes on her knees, and comb her hair with gentle fingers, reading to her lifeless ears the words of his most secret poetry.
We're here because we all want to survive. We want to twist fingers into the skin of another with a force so hard it makes our fists ball up with the compulsion, be it violent or sexual, and it was Brad who taught me that. Brad, whose purpose in life might be to force something of himself down the throat of anyone he's ever loved, to carry inside them. To force anything at all, whatever your purest will might be, onto the earth itself.
To kill your darlings, Rosie smiles at me.
Rabbit Will Run
If having Brad as a brother feels like knowing I'm related to a storm, then having John as a brother feels like knowing I'm related to the quiet which follows one. Does that make me the anticipation of one still gathering? We position ourselves into threes, where once Brad and I were only some duality. Brad and I looked at John and nervously asked him, Did you know you can't divide anything evenly by three?
And John's answer is what he brings to our ritual.
Why would we divide anything in the first place?
Where Brad is sometimes too hot and dangerous to touch, John's hard palms spread warm and wide over the span between my shoulders and I burrow into him, into the dark. I curl into his lap across from you, where through the flames you can see the scars in the shadows on his face. Bringing the still caution of a prison inmate, and all the wisdom earned from his correspondence degree, John evens the roughness of us to recognize a common cause among ourselves; that we are all soldiers in the service of something. John's quiet thoughts remind us we're all doing time for something, and so we might as well do it together.
There's a mentality a Dragon must have, which is the willingness to order themselves, however rigidly or loosely, under the organization of the Pack, and understand how this order contributes to the function of the whole. Before John, we got by, but what we needed was the unwinding ramble of his thoughts low under the sharpness of Brad, a cool barrel into which Brad would plunge his reddening steel.
As a Patriot, it's John who reminds us all in his silence of what we're all fighting for to begin with. It's not just about survival; but also the country in which we intend to do it.
Uncast Shadow of A Southern Myth
Nick, loping off into the darkness, speaks to what knowledge a Dragon is compelled to collect, a broad and easy quilt of references, dictated by the source which he finds valuable.
No, I haven't read, because he's a twat, Nick argues with Adam about Galen the physician. But you know what Larry Flynt says about just that...
They argue back and forth about the mysteries of the female reproductive system, and jibe one another about having never seen one in person, but their jokes fall just short of an uncomfortable truth: a Dragon has read all the hidden books in his parents house, the absorption of knowledge almost as illicit as sticking the pages together with adolescent semen. Whether it was pages of the Kama Sutra or the drier parts of the Bible doesn't matter, because all knowledge has the capacity to make one more powerful, and so learning anything is akin to injecting a steroid.
Nick is the keeper of almost all of the mosaic of the knowledge of Dragons. It's not uncommon for him to drop into any conversation to correct an insignificant historical fact with something romantic and personal, rendering the conversation gentler in his wake, having made Napoleon somehow lovable, and Caligula somehow fearless in a heroic way.
But then, he is the source we trust and find valuable. We as Dragons don't trust him for the accolades he's achieved, or the books he's read, but the likelihood that he touched some piece of that history himself, and inhaled the smell of it through his nostrils in the cool morning of a distant memory. Adam has read, yes, but Nicholas has lived.
I did know him, Elvis, he reminds me as I listen to this song. Went through two gallons of sweet tea with me and insisted on playing pinball until one of us had to piss the floor. Still owes me a fiver.
I ignore this information because it was unsolicited, but now can't get the image out of my head.
To convene this way and set fire to ourselves in service of our devotions is a task which takes the pride of a specific caliber to even consider. We're becoming the God of our forgetting, and so first we have to assume that such a feat is even possible. For that, we have Matthew.
Matthew's black sulk is one that oils the periphery of our bonfire and his French cigarettes burn unfettered into the August night. He has a virgin's lust for discovery of the unknown, and so questions us with his condescending tone to pull specific political triggers.
I do not see why Brad is always saying the first chant. I do not think it's right that we meet in the same place all the time. I did not BRING a chalice because I was not ASKED to bring one.
Matthew told me once he loves himself more than he loves anyone else, as a method of survival, yes, but also because he had not yet met anyone who could answer to his satisfaction his questions about love and trust. If Matthew had a religion, it would be the anarchy of destroying all the other ones already in existence because his pride demands irreverence.
Irreverence is often misconstrued as disrespect, but Matthew would say it seems that way because people get more defensive the closer you are to the truth. I don't know if he's right about that, I mean he is the devil.
So if we actually DO succeed in bringing God's attention back to us tonight, I kind of hope Matthew's asleep by then.
To make the proper ritual mess, you must have in your company a Dragon chemist. Adam is the man who draws into the sand the designs of the dances we will do, his interest in the mechanics of people and interactions only the germination point of the function he serves as... well, our alchemist, when he isn't our midwife.
Dragons collide, changing chemical components and in fact becoming different people in the reaction. We have a melting point, and a freezing point. We are volatile elements which adapt and remain static. Love is the most mystifying of these reactions, and is achieved by pushing most of us to higher temperatures than we are comfortable.
To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, he reminds me, slipping his hands under the hem of my dress, and I giggle and push him away.
Could we not use our own diseases? he wonders at the rest of us, who stay quiet. Surely our diseases, or maladies, even of the heart, would be the cure to some other affliction.
He says this last to me, and the fire licks his wrist as he passes the joint to Nick. Having reached a melting point, he evaporates from a chemist into Dylan, his rough voice asking me, Hey, you know what I mean, darlin?
He doesn't seem like it, but it's the chemistry which will dance the hardest, and lose the most in it's own reaction tonight. No one goes wild quite like Adam does, from a machine to man that writes songs like Isis and cusses out the payphone operators.
Tango in the Night
My dog tags, which are the same as Brad's, read Caroline T. Justified, and the T stands for Tango. Why?
Because it takes two.
Yeah. At the end of the day, kick-starting any tribe requires a certain amount of blood, and that's me. The place where all the blood resides, the red water of the blood river of Eden. If they don't have it already in their veins, they drink from it's shores and call it the same; brother to brother, arm in arms. Every tribe needs a starting point; a Genesis, and where do any men begin but Eve?
To Wish Impossible Things.
Clyde is our leader because...
Maybe it was my job to make this place a home, or John's to make it a tribe, but...
We all loved Clyde before we loved anyone or anything else. But I can never say that without making him sound like Charlie Manson. Not that... he's not... Charlie Manson.
If it was Drama that brought us all together, Clyde was his instrument to do so. Most of us knew Clyde as children, through the intercession of some magic or other. Most of us have been brought back from the brink of self-destruction by his hands, held fast against a tide of injustices by his arms, dug up from our graves by his shoulders. I don't know anyone who wouldn't do anything he said, because doing it might prove to the world that there's such a thing as true love.
Shy, he is sitting next to you, and still as a work of art. His hair is hanging in his eyes, and he will do nothing but watch tonight, and maybe takes swigs off of a Dr. Pepper and smile when Brad points to him and says None of that faggot chanting shit again, just take off your fucking pants.
It's true love that we're trying to prove is real, wouldn't you say? If God's going to show up at all, it'll be how in love we are that is the standard measurement of his presence, and it'll come through Clyde. If it wasn't for him, most of us wouldn't believe in love at all.
This is the song Dragons believe has the power to conjure from the distant wastes the unknown members of our house. Be they Angel or Dragon, this is the song which carries long miles to the dreams of others, waking them up slowly to our existence.
You can watch us play by the fire, drinking pink champagne from the bottle Nick insists is "classy" and vodka Matthew had in his car and stole from a Save-Mart (but I pass on it. I know better surrounded by Dragons and fire than to get drunk). You can watch us remove articles of clothing a little at a time, dance hard enough to kick up dust, tell stories and laugh, try to turn the rotation of the earth by incantation, and disappear under blankets for the odd hand-job. Bu the time in the night will come that we all settle down and sing this, strummed along with John's guitar, and it will be to you.