If I had to name the god of the beginning of my marriage, I would name it Formulaic.
The first job I got after dropping out of college was as a Weekend DJ on a “Secular” Adult Contemporary radio station. Within a few months I was promoted to a full time position as the Overnight Announcer on 99.9 KTDY and -simultaneously- the board operator at NewsTalk KPEL. The 3AM hour was a nightmare. I’d have to do some basic algebra to time my songs on KTDY so they didn’t end while I was supposed to be hitting the play button on a prerecorded episode of Rush Limbaugh on KPEL, which was on the opposite side of the building. I’d also have to manually switch the satellite frequencies in a closet so that I could get off of the overnight show and jump over to the feed for the national morning news in that hour. The entire time I was doing my KPEL duties I would have the KTDY speakers rattling the whole building so that I could hear both stations at the same time.
Any time I screwed up, I got the stinkface from Ray Sutley, the Program Director of KPEL. And that motherfucker had a stinkface. His evil eye could melt a soul. I know because I felt mine wither inside of me quite a few times. I remember one night/morning, I was in the 5AM hour, celebrating a job well done, when I noticed that the office line had been ringing for, like, twenty minutes. I picked it up and heard Ray’s deep voice growl, “You’ve had the farm report on for twenty minutes.” I had forgotten to switch satellite frequencies so Lafayette’s conservative radio listeners got to learn about weather patterns in Iowa instead of starting their day with outrage at Bill Clinton.
I got the stinkface. My soul withered. But CJ, my “real” boss, was happy.
When I first got the job, CJ, the Program Director of KTDY, told me that I could let KPEL have mistakes on air and I would not get in trouble but if I made a mistake on his station, I’d get in trouble. As a result, I lived in fear of dead air on KTDY much more than the Farm Report on KPEL. SorryNotSorry, Ray.
The job was more exhausting when I wasn’t running back and forth between control rooms. I would lean my head back and close my eyes while the motherfucking Titanic Theme Song played for the thousandth time or some goddamn Michael Bolton ballad haunted my near-sleep. At the last possible second, as the song that was playing faded out, I would swing my whole body forward, lunge for the “On” Button on the board that automatically started the CD player on the next song, change out the expired CD for a new one, and repeat the whole process.
I remember one time Steve Wiley, the music director, had me playing some absolutely atrocious song twice a shift. I mean it was horrible. I was having none of that so I staged a mutiny. I played the Duncan Sheik single from the Great Expectations soundtrack in place of that horrible song every time it came up on my playlist. A few weeks later, I got ripped a new one by Steve in a meeting… I had royally screwed up a deal he had made with a record label to play that horrible song during the graveyard shift. I never saw Steve mad before or after that, which made that one outburst so terrifying.
I was good at my job and I had the arrogance of an early twentysomething to go along with it. I mean, I was on “the air,” man. I had hundreds of gas station cashiers, nursing mothers, and insomniacs all tuned in to listen to me. I was a big deal, man.
One night I was filling in for the Evening DJ. He did Love Songs at Night, the local version of Delilah’s request-and-dedication show. I think I preferred six hours of graveyard to four hours of sappy love songs and cheesy requests. Anyway, on that particular night I had the box to the engagement ring open in front of me as I dedicated the last song, a song by Sting, to my girlfriend, Carrie.
After I got off the air, I drove to her house and went up to her bedroom. Carrie’s parents had left the door open for me. I woke her up and asked her to come outside to be with me. I told her that since it was her first day of student teaching, I wanted to celebrate with her.
When Carrie came out into the front yard to join me, she realized that something was up. I had lit a bunch of candles and laid them out around a blanket. On the blanket I had sparkling grape juice -because good little Evangelicals in The South don’t drink- and strawberries. We talked for a while about her day and then I reached my hand into my pants. Carrie was about to ask what the hell I was doing until I pulled out the ring.
She said yes and almost choked me she hugged me so hard. She woke her family up to show them the ring and tell them the news. I remember her dad eating cereal and griping about how tired they would all be the next day… but he was still happy. We all were.
Carrie and I were getting married.
The god of my twenties was pretty formulaic. He was a red thread woven into the American Dream. While my Southern Baptist days were behind me, I still held to most of their theology. My god wanted me to work a full time job and make money for my family… known in the church and America as “providing.” I wasn’t responsible for providing for my family emotionally, intellectually, or any way other than with money. All of that other stuff fell to my ladyfriend or it wasn’t even thought of as a familial need.
Somehow I was supposed to find deep fulfillment in this role of Economic Provider. I was also supposed to find joy in yard work, sports, and manhood in general. I never found joy in any of those, other than the occasional Saints game… and this was before Drew Brees so those enjoyable games were few and far between.
In our Premarital Counseling -yes, that’s a thing and yes, I recommend it- we got advice and mediation from our Pastor. He told me that my Two Pile Laundry System (kinda dirty & really dirty) probably wasn’t going to work in our marriage. He made us talk about expectations in the bedroom and was totally surprised that True Love had actually Waited. The thing I remember most about our sessions with our Pastor is that he actually saw me. Not the “me” that I projected to the world but the “me” I did my best to hide from everyone.
I can’t remember if he actually held in one hand a crumpled piece of paper or told us to imagine it there. Either way he told Carrie, “This is Dallas’ heart. It’s been trampled on and crumpled. Despite that, he’s trusting you with it.” I had to hold back tears because he somehow saw me and saw what I was giving Carrie.
Remember when I told you that Carrie and I were a great couple? If not, I wrote it a few thousand words ago, so I understand how you might forget it. What I said was that we had complementary strengths, were both groomed for leadership, and that we dutifully stayed inside the boxes we were given to play in. To give you an idea of how much we stayed inside those boxes, every detail of our wedding was stereotypically what you’d expect for a wedding, other than the Evangelical Gymnatorium with the huge projector screen where a cross should have been. All the guys wore black tuxedos with black ties. All the women wore light blue dresses except for Carrie in spotless white. Every t was crossed and every i was dotted. Our wedding was beautiful but, looking back on it, both Carrie and I admit that we had a pretty boring ceremony. We did exactly what we were supposed to do. That summed up our beliefs about God pretty well, too.
We were both trying so hard to be what everyone, including the Evangelical interpretation of God, expected us to be. She was supposed to be a dutiful, submissive wife. She was supposed to find her deepest joy in our kitchen or folding our laundry. I was supposed to be a providing, dominant husband. My deepest pleasure was supposed to be in our recliner or taking out our trash. We both were doing our best to live according to the Bible, tinted by the colors of the American flag.
My favorite picture from our wedding day was taken by my former sister-in-law. In the photo, we are in my car and about to leave our reception. I have the biggest shit-eating grin. My True Love didn’t have to Wait anymore. Four and a half years of me waiting were about to be over in about twenty seconds of pure ecstasy. In the picture, Carrie is weeping, like she knows what is in store for her that night.
Until just now, I’ve only seen comedy in the picture. However, knowing the end of the story and thinking back on it, this picture is pretty damn tragic.
That night I did the marriage thing pretty good. I held Carrie while she wept… for a long time. I had a huge wet spot on my shirt from her tears. It hit her that she had left her family for me and I was patient with her in that moment of grief. I understood that I didn’t understand what was happening inside her and I was just there for her.
We honeymooned in Gatlinburg, TN. We were both very naïve and spent most of the week overcoming our naiveté. I remember being right outside our cabin one afternoon, picking flowers and looking up at Carrie. She was on the balcony, looking down at me. Both of our hearts were full in that moment and we could see it in each other’s eyes.
I got a promotion the week we got back from my honeymoon. My predecessor had made a faux pas by hanging out with her competitor (they were friends) on a private promotional trip paid for by our station. I was a 23 year old that had spent most of my life in the world of men. My target demographic was women with kids. I knew nothing about their lives and it showed.
After a few months of bad radio, a consultant mercifully moved me to our sister Country station- Today’s Best Country 97.3 The Dawg. I hated Country music with a red-hot passion and my one demand in the meeting with my new boss, Bruce Mikells, was that I not have to buy boots or a cowboy hat. I learned in my first week that I hated it more for the lifestyle it symbolized than the musical content. I found myself singing Little Past Little Rock in my sleep because it was so catchy. I was surprised that the music wasn’t as twangy as I worried it would be. If anything, it was similar to the Contemporary Christian Music I had played in my first radio gig.
My target listener was a man wearing an LSU shirt, wrangler jeans, and cowboy boots. He drove a Ford F-150, hunted on the weekends, and worked in the Oil Industry. In other words, he was everything I was not, which is why I hated the idea of Country Music so much. I still do. The dissonance I felt between my life and the lives of my listeners is why I was so surprised when I got my ratings in for the one ratings sweep I was on The Dawg. It was the best ratings I ever had in radio. I doubled the person before me as well as the person who came after me. It turned out that the consultant knew what he was doing.
I hated the job not only because of the perceived disconnect with my audience but also because I never saw Carrie. She was a first year teacher and I was an Evening DJ. We only saw each other on weekends. I called my former boss, CJ, and started crying as I told him how frustrated I was.
I needed a way out, so I started flirting with the competition in order to gain some leverage to negotiate with my General Manager. I struck up a conversation with the evening DJ of a Pop station and sent him an aircheck (a resume for DJs). Once I knew an offer was coming, I told my GM and demanded a different job. He called my bluff and said “no”. I sat in the chair speechless… didn’t he know I was a big deal?! Apparently not.
The GM, Mike, did move me off of The Dawg and put me in charge of all the commercials along with a dude named Dave Steel. I’d had the position before and done a decent job. A few months later, after the competitor had filled the open slot, Mike layed me off. It was a mercy killing. He had grounds to fire me but the layoff let me collect an unemployment check while I looked for work. It remains, to this day, the best lesson I’ve ever learned in business.
Thank you, Mike. I’m a better person because of you.
What happens when someone who has this dark, twisted “sin” inside of them spends a lot of time home alone, bored, and free from judgment? They act out.
When Carrie and I got married, I inherited a wardrobe. Granted, I have a more edgy/punk/adventurous taste in clothing and she’s a little shorter than me but everything Carrie wore fit me pretty well. She would leave for work, I would wear her clothing for a few hours, apply for open positions with radio stations around America, feel a crushing guilt for being such a sinner, take off her clothing, and vow to God that I would never do it again. Only to do the whole thing again the following day. And the day after that. And the week after that. And the month after that.
I kept it all hidden from Carrie. I folded everything exactly as she had folded it. I stacked everything in the exact same order she had stacked it in. I hung every item up in the same order and direction she had hung it up in. It was my burden to carry and I didn’t want to weigh her down with it. I had been carrying it for 22 years and was used to the weight.
I went back to school after getting laid off and finished my Associates Degree. Once I had a piece of paper, I got a part-time job with a Christian Station and found it so… boring. It just lacked the competitive edge and innovation of “secular radio.” I still don’t understand why the people who claim to descend from the God who created everything out of his imagination lacked that imagination with their music and broadcasting. Everything was so sanitary and safe.
Also, I hated answering the phone, “KAJN, Jesus loves you.” What if the person was an asshole and Jesus thought as much? What if they were a religious prick, like the Pharisees, and Jesus was pissed off at them? What if they were a horrible sinner like me and Jesus just wanted them to get life right? Why couldn’t I answer the phone “KAJN, you’re a sinner in the hands of an Angry God.” Or, “KAJN, God loves you but he thinks you’re too judgmental.” Or, “KAJN, Jesus knows what you did last night.”
I finally, with a large amount of desperation, drove down to Corpus Christi and forced a meeting with a Program Director down there. Clayton was patient with me but, after a couple of hours with him, I could tell I was getting nowhere. He introduced me to a couple of other Program Directors who oversaw English language stations in their company and then I drove back to Lafayette.
I got a call from one of those PDs a couple of weeks later. Paula had an opening for an Evening DJ/Event Coordinator/Webmaster/Festival Director with her Rock station. My initial drive down there to meet Clayton had put a face with the piece of paper that was already on Paula’s desk. A few days later, I was in Corpus Christi for an interview/offer which I immediately accepted.
I called Carrie once I got back to my parent’s house in Houston to tell her the news… we were moving to Corpus Christi!
I grabbed Carrie’s intimates and was getting ready to stuff them into my pants when Carrie came home and caught me holding them. I threw the set behind the heater in our bathroom. Carrie walked over and looked behind the heater. I confessed that, since I worked alone, I was going to wear her intimates under my clothing at work.
What I didn’t tell her was that I couldn’t wear a cute dress or jeans and a tank top outside of our house, so I was limited to wearing her intimates to lower my constant anxiety (and, looking back, gender dysphoria). I still didn’t allow myself to give much thought or attention to my “sin”. I had been taught by the church that what you feed grows so I did my best to ignore and repress.
Two weeks later I parked my car on the beach in Port Aransas, TX. Carrie had just moved to Corpus Christi. We sat in my car again, just like we had sat in my car when we dated and I had initially told her about my “sexual sin.” This time, we watched the waves roll in and crash against the Texas coast. Waves of conversations rolled in and crashed against long stretches of silence as we talked about “it.” I had run a knife through Carrie’s heart and had shattered her notions of who I was. I thought my marriage was over in its first year. Carrie surprised me, again, when she stayed. She was supposed to forgive me, though. That was the formula we were called to live by.
From that day forward I worked extra hard to make sure that I never acted impulsively in my “crossdressing.” I knew it would be over if she ever caught me again.
And I lied.
Read the next chapter: A God named Restless