When Desmond goes off to college, he allows himself to be more open about his attraction to men rather than the secreted-away experiences he’s had in the past.
As Desmond grapples with the pressures and expectations society forces upon him, while trying to understand what his heart is telling him to do, he is initiated into a high-class gay underworld and attracts the attention of an influential—and potentially dangerous—closeted businessman.
Set in the fictional coastal town of Oakvale, New Jersey in the mid-1970s—a decade of alternative eroticism, experimentation, and promiscuity—When Love Calls Your Name follows Desmond as he discovers who he is and who he is expected to be.
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When Love Calls Your Name
LBJ Harris © 2021
All Rights Reserved
Fantasies. What teen doesn’t have them? We’re taught that boys’ fantasies revolve around lust, while girls dream of love and romance. As a young man, I certainly fit that mold. And while my boyhood fantasies came true—to an extent—they evolved somewhere along the way, from lust to love. Moreover, they ended up clouding my judgment so completely and ruling my heart so firmly that they changed my life forever.
That evening, thoughts raced through my head as I stepped onto the field at the Oakvale High School stadium. The band played “Pomp and Circumstance” from the stands, and I wondered to myself, How many times have I sat up there, playing this same damn song for past graduates? How many times have I watched others walk the full length of this football field and wished it was me? Now it was my turn!
I scanned the stands for my family, but the crowd of faces was a blur. Carla—my senior-year sweetheart—was by my side, and she had never looked prettier. Now, it had taken a little manipulation on my part to get her there next to me, but it had been worth it. Or so I thought.
The day couldn’t have been more perfect. Ask, visualize, claim it, and it will be so.
At the height of the day, it had climbed to eighty degrees: warm enough for us to catch a swim at the Ocean Club. Around four in the afternoon, a light breeze cooled the air down to seventy degrees. The glowing full moon peeked over the eastern horizon, the sun not yet having set, far to the west, with a cool pink and blue salutation. High above, the heavens were a dome of sparkling diamonds. The stage was set. My high school graduation had arrived.
My name is Desmond Cameron Dawson. I am a Pisces, born on March 19; the middle of three children. My older brother is Calvin Vincent Jr., aged 25, whom we called Vinny. He attended law school at George Washington University in DC. My younger sister is Nina Nicole, who was to be a freshman at Oakvale High that upcoming fall.
I had what was known as bougie parents (upwardly mobile Black people), who achieved their success ten years ago. They decided to move us away from Newark, New Jersey, to this white, ocean-side town called Oakvale. It was just off the Garden State Parkway, halfway to Atlantic City.
Calvin Vincent Sr. and Mildred Nicole (Cal and Millie to each other; Mom—or, endearingly, Momma—and Dad to us) owned a small but prosperous advertising firm, with the original branch in Newark and a newer one here. Business was good—so good that my folks had achieved upper-middle-class status. They were good United Methodists too, raising their children in a predominantly African American church. We kids were acolytes; we sang in the choirs, did youth ministries. If you’re a United Methodist too, you know the drill.
So, what the hell were we doing in good old Whites-ville, USA? To hear our parents tell it, they’d moved us down here to ensure we’d get a good education.
And speaking of education, isn’t it funny, the things that run through your mind at milestones in your life? For instance, standing with my fellow seniors, waiting to march across that field, I thought to a time when—only five years old—I had been so sick I was unable to start school with the other kids my age.
I’d spent a year visiting over a dozen specialists, undergoing every test conceivable, trying out all sorts of medications—all to no avail. My illness had been so bad, making me weak to the point where I couldn’t get out of bed even to go pee, that doctors had finally given up hope, telling my parents the devastating news they would likely lose their youngest son at some point that year.
Momma wouldn’t accept it—not at all! She prayed long and hard—feverishly hard—and God answered her prayers. Miraculously, some weeks later, I had a full recovery. From then on, she would always tell me I was her prizewinning fighter.
I skipped from this memory to a present one—to what I considered my second major accomplishment of my life (after surviving my illness). Imagine this, if you can: I was about to become the first African American in my predominantly white high school to graduate at the top of my class. First out of three hundred and ninety-six students! Yep—I beat all those white folks to the top of the list! And despite being in law school, my brother Vinny hadn’t come close to matching me in the brains department: he graduated high school forty-fifth out of three hundred and fifty.
My parents were proud of me, to say the least. Their crazy-acting, late-blooming middle kid managed to get his shit together and come out on top. Top of my class, awards in French, history, and politics, captain of the debating team, top track athlete, and in the marching band, to boot. Momma cried tears of joy when the guidance counselor called to give her the news; Dad couldn’t stop calling our relatives to boast about his boy.
You want to know how hard it was to become valedictorian? Well, I knew for a fact the girl who finished second to the top hated me with a passion. Miss Dirty-Blonde-Bombshell-With-Glasses had worked her ass off for every top grade she earned. But as for me? By the time grade nine rolled around, I’d figured out the game. From that point onward, I found all this school shit straight up easy. Yeah. I’m one of those kids.
To an outside observer, everything in my life looked pretty good, right?
The truth was, I couldn’t wait to be done with it. I was ready to leave this small, meddlesome, dysfunctional community that would have chewed me up and spit me out without even blinking an eye, had I let it.
It was all good, though—I was on the verge of being done and had a foolproof plan to get out of here: I’d aced all my courses in school, gotten involved in the “right” extracurriculars, and scored 1600 on my SATs. And halfway through my senior year, I found out I had been accepted to some pretty prestigious universities, most of them with full scholarships: Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Temple, and Dartmouth.
Not wanting to be too far from Momma but needing to put a bit of distance between me and Oakvale, I chose Temple University in Philadelphia—an hour and a half down I-95. Temple had a great communications and journalism program there—rated one of the top ten programs in the country. I’d decided I was going to be a television correspondent, and come September, I would be taking my first step toward television stardom!
But back to graduation day. That ended up being a condensed reminder of the things I wanted to forget about high school, beginning—and not ending—with the memory of Samuel Garrison, an unexpected fantasy twist.
I guess I need to explain some things before I go on.
Samuel Garrison. My best and oldest friend in all of Oakvale. He and I had both been having…problems with our girlfriends that whole year. We’d ended up talking and consoling each other for much of that time. And before you ask the all-important question of who was getting poontang and who wasn’t: well, I was the less fortunate.
Samuel and I spent a lot of time barhopping during that year as well. Two years prior, they had lowered the legal drinking age to eighteen. We had died and gone to heaven, my posse and I—they turned eighteen at different points during our senior year, while I had reached the drinking age the year before. And believe me, they didn’t miss a beat trying to catch up to me. We quickly established some favorite watering holes we took girls to, but we also reserved a spot for gents only.
Every Friday night, we would sneak out to this strip club called The Cabaret. We couldn’t get enough of the place. Well, at least, Samuel couldn’t.
Back to the posse—there were four of us who went through Oakvale High School together: Matt, Samuel, Michael, and me. We all played trumpet in the band together. We ran indoor and outdoor track. Two of us were on the yearbook committee. Matt and I acted in school plays together. We may as well have lived together, we spent so much time in each other’s company.
I was the oldest of our group and the only brother. Did that make me feel uncomfortable at times? Yes! I was the butt of Samuel’s too-frequent racist jokes, and as I look back now, he was a real redneck. Yet there was more to him than that.
When I moved to Oakvale, I was just an average seven-year-old kid. I didn’t know anything about racism or prejudice. All I knew was that I wanted a friend—someone I could simply play with. Samuel was that person.
The day we moved in, I sat on the curb outside my new home, “staying out of the way of the movers.” Across the street sat a little boy, watching me. We stared at each other wordlessly for quite a long time. Finally, he yelled across the street, saying, “My name’s Samuel; what’s yours?”
I called back, “Desmond.”
Then he surprised me by saying, “You wanna be friends?”
And not wanting to seem overly keen on the idea, I said, “Mmm…okay.”
He stood up, looked both ways, and ran across the street. He held out his hand and I mine. We shook. And then he hugged me. It felt really strange, like a spark arcing between us; from that moment on through high school, we were essentially inseparable.
Despite being close, Samuel and I didn’t attend the same school until high school. His parents didn’t care much for public schools, so he attended St. Catherine’s Catholic School until the end of eighth grade. The Catholics didn’t have a high school, so he had no choice but to transfer to Oakvale High for ninth grade. I introduced him to Matt and Michael, and just like that, he was one of the boys. I knew from then on, high school life would take me and him to another level. And it did.
Meet the Author
LBJ Harris was born on October 1, 1958 in Neptune, New Jersey. He is one of seven children born to civil rights leaders. His mother chose his first name because it was unique, as she knew her baby would grow to be.
When he was seven years old, his parents moved the family to an all-white community, to ensure he and his siblings received a good education, and to guarantee their safety against opponents of their parent’s civil rights work.
Harris knew from an early age that he loved performing on stage. Throughout his early years and young adulthood, he performed in church choirs, his high school band, and in the high school drama club. Upon graduating from high school, his love of the arts led him to West Chester State College in Pennsylvania.
In 1979, Harris earned his Bachelor of Arts in Speech, Communications and Theater. While at college, he worked for the Three Little Bakers Dinner Theatre as a performer, lead dancer, and stage designer. His set designs and acting roles earned him major acclaim in local newspapers.
In 1981, he moved back to New Jersey where he formed a two-man performing duo, a joint company KapSig and eventually his own company, ‘Le Noir Cabaret Repertory Theater Company’.
Harris would move to writing, directing and producing originally written musicals for his local community as founder of Le Noir Cabaret. Those works included: ‘Moments in Love’, ‘An African American Musical Review’, ’SIBONISO’, ’Anna Mae’, and ‘Ashbury Cove’.
Harris and his theatre troupe toured his musical SIBONISO in 1994 at the newly renovated Paramount Theater, Asbury Park, NJ, and at the Carver Community Center in San Antonio, Texas.
In 1989 Harris chose to become a single father, adopting the first of his four children. He elected to place his arts career on hold after the arrival of twins in 1998. Over the next 15 years he focused on raising his four children and one grandnephew.
In August of 1999, while completing a second Master’s Degree in Education, Harris saw the birth of one more child: his novel, “When Love Calls Your Name”. He finished the manuscript in April of that next year, though ultimately shelved it, along with a number of other unpublished works.
After his youngest two children graduated from high school in June of 2014, Harris chose to return to the stage. That October, he appeared in the ensemble cast of African American men entitled, “Messages from Men: Machismo, Magen, Mirth & Maturity” at the Cape May Playhouse. He wrote and performed an original piece, “Letter to My Children”, in dedication to his children.
With a renewed yearning to pick up his career where he left off, Harris anticipates publishing his first fiction novel, “When Love Calls Your Name” in the fall of 2021.
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