By Nolan Yost
When you’re a 17-year-old, regardless of your gender, orientation, race, or religion, you’re a bundle of nerves, angst, misplaced anger and emotion, and you tend to make stupid decisions because of those emotions. When I was 17, I was going through all of that turmoil and angst, and made two very important decisions: the first being to dropout of high school and run away and live with my then drug dealer boyfriend (ten years my senior), and the second decision was that I agreed to be a co-director of the Fairy Forest of our local Renaissance Festival for that year. These two decisions were made almost around the same time, and both had an enormous effect on each other, and on the trajectory of the rest of my life.
I was absolutely smitten with J (name omitted for privacy), and in meeting him through the popular gay dating website of the time, Manhunt, I saw how much money he made dealing what he did, and how easy it was to live independently with that kind of income. My parents were (and are) the pinnacle of great parenthood and I had a wonderful home life, I had a scary enough reputation at school that I wasn’t bullied too much extent, and there was nothing really wrong with my situation, other than the fact that I was bored at school and would rather be living independently and doing something that interested me.
I’ve always had a strong independent instinct and had no issue following it right out to a skeevy apartment in Independence, Missouri, a suburb of Kansas City, in the middle of a random Tuesday night just for the hell of it. In the first few days of being cashless, I had to figure some way to make money (I didn’t take my car as it was my parents so I couldn’t get to my server job anymore), and J and I figured that since I have absolutely no poker face that I couldn’t deal like he did. I ended up doing what a lot of young gay boys were doing at the time, and I became an escort through the now-defunct Rentboy.com and Adam4Adam. The cash was really good because I was legitimate jailbait, and it’s needless to say that the close proximity to any kind of hard drug imaginable coupled with my new ‘hustle’ and my highly addictive personality, I stumbled into the influence of both methamphetamine and the occasional opiate. Methamphetamine became my crutch because it kept me going, it kept me skinny, and I generally respond more positively to ‘uppers’ rather than ‘downers.’
While this was all happening, the Festival Season had started, and with my best friend as the director, and me and my three other best friends as co-directors, we were busy with auditions, choreographing maypole dances, attending general Faire rehearsals and promotional events. I’m naturally a very private person and like to think that for the first few months my drug use and new ‘night time job’ went unnoticed by the fairies and the Fae Counsel (the term we used for us directors). There was one boy during the audition process (who didn’t end up getting cast) that picked up on a couple of ticks that I’d acquired, as he was also a user, and asked me about it which shook me a little bit, but I’d grown confident in my continual bluff and as far as I know, the faeries only knew that I had dropped out of high school (I said because of bullying, the easy catch-all excuse) and that I was living in Independence near some other Renaissance Festival performers. This bluff grew to be my first ever, and now permanent, poker face. As things got worse, my resolve to keep a straight and steady face for my group of fairies grew even stronger. My best friend had graciously asked me personally to be on her counsel, and as silly as the words ‘Fae Counsel’ sound to a normal person, it was a role with a degree of responsibility that I’d have rather died than shirk that responsibility or let my ability as a director go into question.
When the Festival Season started (the Faire runs weekends from Labour Day to Columbus Day each Fall), my other life had begun to implode. My boyfriend wanted to begin getting away from drugs which cause an uproar with all of his friends, and I wanted to move back home and not have to sleep with men 40+ years older than I was for rent money. I kept my poker face on at Faire, until the second to last weekend a ‘client’ of mine whom I’d stolen $500 from confronted me at Faire right on the cobblestones, and I spent the rest of the day in hiding, The facade kept cracking and I was trying my hardest to repair each crack, until the week before out end of the year cast party. Due to legal reasons and with respect to his family's privacy I will only say that my boyfriend J was shot and killed that week beforehand, and I’d been injured trying to help him. Two evenings later the Fae Counsel had gathered together to learn the choreography to Bad Romance to cheer up one of us who’d just been through a breakup, and I came clean to my 4 closest friends about my job and what had happened to J. I kept the drug use, escorting, even my entire relationship with J completely separate from my fairies, so I only disclosed the most important information so as to not overwhelm them. What I didn’t tell them for quite a while, is that with J gone from my life (and all those associated with him), and I moved back into my parents house, my supply to any of my drug habits was cut clean, and I knew of nowhere to go to get any of those substances.
I was never a HEAVY user of anything that I did, but I was a regular user, and with that comes withdrawals. A lot of drug recovery stories involve rehabilitation and counseling, or support groups or sponsors, and I can never stress enough the importance of what they do, but because of my poker face and my deep shame of even mentioning that I’d been foolish enough to let myself get caught up in any drug use, I never reached out for any of those assets, save for a 1-800 number that I’d called during a few bad withdrawals.
I was stuck at my parent's house, now working at Abercrombie and Fitch, and had no supply or way to find an outlet, I was in a self-created cold turkey rehabilitation. I was alone, the man I was with almost daily for 9 months was dead, and the double life I had was completely shattered and gone, the Fae Counsel knowing 75% of the story and my parents knowing even less. The only thing I had that was familiar was my poker face, the one that I wore whenever I was with my fairies, a truly wonderful group of 20 or so young men and women who had bonded immensely through the months of performing and rehearsing and had grown into becoming almost like a group of siblings.
I started making a point that Winter after the Faire season to constantly be making plans and events with however many fairies I could gather just so I could put on my ‘everything is ok I’m in control’ face, and now ten years later it’s still commonplace for me to be screaming in all caps in our Facebook group trying to wrangle everyone to get together for a holiday party or a hangout when I’m back in Kansas City. It started off as my own means of self-preservation, needing to have a purpose to pretend like everything was ok, and through all those shopping trips, theme parties, or hookah nights where I got to wield my poker face, my poker face became my reality, if that makes sense.
My position as a Fae Counsel member came with the responsibility of making sure everything was in control and taken care of for our group of faeries. This initially only meant for things that were related to the Festival, but as our group grew and flourished, it meant making sure that all of our faeries, our friends, were taken care of. I admit, I somewhat selfishly utilized that role to help myself recover from the hell of recovery and losing a loved one, but it gave me a purpose again after losing myself and what I’d come to know, and it gave me a group of people that still, now exactly ten years later, are there for each other like they were unconsciously there for me the Winter of 2009. It may not be the normal story of addiction and recovery, nothing with faeries is ever normal, but I feel it is greatly owed to them to put this story in writing so that even if we’re now just a group of 20-30 somethings who still call ourselves ‘faeries’, that at one point in time, if not many others, they accomplished something very magical.