Sometimes, I think the last time I felt joy in my life was at St. Patrick’s, a Catholic primary school that my parents enrolled me in even though they were not Catholic, had never been Catholic, and did not know anyone else who was Catholic. But they sent me to Catholic school anyway to get ‘discipline’, and they eventually took me out of Catholic school because I was getting too disciplined in matters of faith and not enough in matters of academia as an 11-year-old. What could I say? I loved Jesus, or more accurately, Jesus’ body, especially the one hanging above the altar of the St. Patrick’s Catholic Primary School church, whose abs were rippling and glossy.
The only person I was attracted to more than Jesus — or attracted to in the pre-pubescent sense of wistfully staring at someone and willing them to spend all their time with you, which I guess is exactly the same way I am still attracted to people — was M, a boy one year older than me who had the same first initial as me, which I always wanted to point out and turn into an inside joke but never could, because someone sharing the first initial as you is neither rare nor romantic.
I met M at after-school care, which took place in a large school hall about 10 minutes away from St. Patrick’s. M actually went to St. Patrick’s too, but we never saw each other during school hours. Sometimes it felt like we were co-workers having a clandestine affair, except we were an 11- and a 12-year old who were not having any sort of affair, let alone a clandestine one; only, if I was lucky, a shared seat on the 10-minute bus ride to after school-care, during which we would not talk to each other at all.
When I think about that year, which was more than a decade ago, I can remember only a few things. One of them is Just Dance by Lady Gaga, a song about getting half-psychotic sick hypnotic got my blueprint it’s symphonic. Just Dance wasn’t a song that had any sort of relationship to M, but I played the song so much in 2008 that now I can’t imagine a single thing happening in that year without Just Dance also playing in the background, like staring at the Jesus above the altar of the St. Patrick’s Catholic Primary School church with Just Dance playing in the background, or being punched in the stomach by Cassandra Bonfa with Just Dance playing in the background, or being forced to join M’s cult with Just Danceplaying in the background.
When I say forced, it was more like forced by my own pre-pubescent crush to join M’s cult, so what I really mean is I joined M’s cult for love. When I say cult, though, what I really mean iscult. M had the kind of charismatic personality that only a queer person could have, as in he was loud and attention-seeking at a time when I was also loud and attention-seeking but didn’t really know how to make people believe that being loud and attention-seeking could be charismatic rather than deeply annoying.
This cult was centred entirely around a rejection of technology, making M the first boomer ever, or potentially the real identity of Banksy. I was enticed into it as part of M’s master plan to form critical mass — his logic was that once a certain number of people had joined, there would be no choicebutfor other students to join, lest they wanted to be part of a minority, which no-one wanted. (I was already a minority, since I was a fervent Little Monster and everyone I knew had no thoughts at all about Lady Gaga, but I joined anyway.)
Every afternoon, M would come around and check to make sure we were not using any form of technology: that we were not playing snake on our Nokia phones, or so much as watching other people play Mario Kart on the Nintendo 64, and definitely not listening to Just Danceon our iPod nanos. This last one was very difficult. Often, when I could not bear the struggle anymore, I would stalk off to the bathroom, put my Kmart earphones in my ears and listen to Just Dance alone in a bathroom stall, just once because I didn’t want M to come looking for me and find me listening to Just Dance alone in a bathroom stall, and also because I wanted to maximise my time with M before my mum picked me up every day, and 4 minutes and 1 second — which is exact length of time Just Dance runs for — seemed like a good amount of time for a break and no longer.
On sunny days, M would gather us up on the grassy knoll above the very big school hall, like Children of the Corn. On the knoll, we would hold hands, free from the shackles of technology: no Nokia phones or Nintendo 64s or iPod Nanos with Just Dance as their only song loaded onto them distracting us from what was in front of our very eyes, which at that moment in time was M in the centre of the circle.
Sometimes he would deliver a sermon. There is one line I remember most clearly, because he said it again and again on different days — “technology rots your brains”, which was meant to strike fear into our hearts, but what he didn’t know was that my brain was already rotten and the only thing left was the song Just Dance by Lady Gaga.
Sunny days like these were the most cult-ish but also the most blissful, and those days make me understand the appeal of religion beyond staring at rippling abs hung above altars. M’s charisma — or his loudness and attention-seeking disguised as charisma — was addictive in a way that being with him felt like a permanent high, galaxy-braining towards him, my king, at the centre of that circle and also every circle. He was addictive in a way that made me forget about the world, until it was time to go home and listen to Just Dance on my iPod Nano for hours in the dark until I could see him again the next day, the next day, and the next.