I remained in the denominational church for all my high school years and into college. I auditioned for and won a full one year's scholarship to study theater at a small, Methodist, junior college in North Georgia named Young Harris. One year of college paid for was accomplished! I worked over the following summer and saved enough for the fall quarter of my sophomore year. A man in my denomination and I became acquainted through the current pastor, Reverend Williams. This gentleman paid for my second quarter out of his pocket. I am grateful today, but Wow! I just realized I have no memory of ever writing him a thank you. I hope I did! My sophomore year was a struggle in a variety of ways.
It boiled down to frightening confusion over where was I headed with my life. I didn't know. A very large issue for me was whether or not I could remain a Christian. I struggled with whether or not Christianity was the answer. Two experiences guided me. One, I had a serious sexual sin problem that I never felt safe to expose to anyone except others who experienced it. Reverend Dunlovey and Reverend Williams both helped me, but I never framed their help beyond the paradigm of "they did their job." I liked the youth pastor, but something about that relationship never made me feel safe to be honest about who I "really" was.
Second, what was my moral obligation to God anyway? I had taken a course at school on comparative religion. We studied Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Christianity. I determined there was a common thread in each, the Golden Rule. Chewed up by confusion, I cast my future into "whatever happens." I applied for and was hired for a summer job in Wyoming at Yellowstone National Park. The "whatever happens" had turned into a job offer across a continent and required dropping out of college at the end of my sophomore year, second quarter. I plunged deliberately into whatever.
For the next four and half years I drifted around the United States. I lived from one job to the next; I stayed with people randomly; I hitch-hiked and slept on the side of the road several times; I rented rooms or shared houses or apartments with friends and acquaintances. I was a law unto myself in New York, San Francisco, DC, rural Georgia, and Key West, Florida.
In Key West, during the last hour of daylight, the pier facing west morphed into a stage before an enormous ocean auditorium stretching past the wharf. The hot tropical sun was the only patron of an epic circus: clowns and jugglers and balloon sellers; people wanting to be made by people on the make; tan, hunky young men in rough clothes who worked the shrimp boats and those in designer duds who rarely worked, but both were drinkers with a Hemingway angst angering then eating their youth; rich and strong, beautiful, high-brow women, who were loose, lonely and despised by the men who feared to approach them and the dour women who envied them; children with a parent; people openly toking joints striving toward the next relaxed high; and the low folks with no brow at all plowing the gutter's wash. A huge family reunion of the varied types inhabiting the island, dancing their dance, with curious tourists watching from the wings both appalled and fascinated before the now orange and bulging sun.
The sun tired of the show, then silently slivered on the horizon's blue-steel edge abdicating the rule of day over to a waiting, lusty night. The rumbling tremor of the crowd carelessly rattled higher. As the last slip of sun hissed out, the colors of the ocean and sky abandoned normality for a momentary, frenzied abstract of the spectrum. Darkness reached claw-like from the east, and the people on the pier erupted into clapping whoop-cheers, the banging of drums, the kissing of lovers and the kicking of dogs. Night in Key West had begun.
In lawless Key West, I felt normal.