Big Mike: Don Belton Lives

December 31st, 2009

Anybody who wonders why Don Belton is dead — and there are plenty here in Bloomington, Indiana asking just that — should know that he died for somebody else’s sin.

Let me amend that — he died for a lot of people’s sins.

DonBelton

I never met Don Belton but I’m told he dropped into Soma Coffeehouse now and again. I sit at Soma every morning, clacking away at these keys, trying to leave something worthwhile for people to discover and read long after I’m gone. That’s the driving force behind many writers. If it drove Don Belton, then he succeeded in his life.

He wrote constantly, maybe even compulsively. There are two types of writers on this Earth — those who sit in front of that blank screen and feel paralysis and those who feel paralyzed when they’re not tapping or jotting away. Don Belton seems to have been the latter type. Me? Only in recent years have I joined the compulsive club. I spent too many years grappling with faulty brain wiring before I finally found enough peace to begin really writing.

When I was younger, I always envied my contemporaries who could produce on demand. People like Benny Jay and Amy Krouse-Rosenthal, people with talent and wit, smart people, sensitive and eager to share what they’ve learned about this crazy, mixed-up world. They seemed to be putting something new out every other day. Oh, I’d produce for a few months at a stretch, then I’d go through an equally long stretch sitting paralyzed in front of that blank screen.

So my journey from there to here has been, well, a long story. Don Belton’s story must have been just as lengthy and circuitous.

Don Belton was a man as well as a writer. The man had just met someone who made him swoon. He said so in the last of the hundreds of daily journals he’d kept throughout his life. He’d met someone, he scribbled, who made him happy.

Boyce, the computer geek who often sits next to me at Soma, tells me that whenever Don Belton walked into the place, he lit it up with his smile. The few pictures I’ve found show him to be a handsome guy who looked about twenty years younger than he was. I could imagine his smile making someone’s heart beat a little faster.

How much was he smiling from the time he met this new someone until he hit the kitchen floor a couple of days later? I hope a lot of people saw that smile. It would have been a beautiful parting gift.

Don Belton was an assistant professor in the English Department at Indiana University. He wrote the novel “Almost Midnight,” edited the journal “Speak My Name: Black Men on Masculinity and the American Dream,” and contributed to dozens of magazines, newspapers and literary compilations.

Who wouldn’t want to meet and spend some time with a fellow like that? Who wouldn’t be infatuated? Heck, I’m straight and Don Belton looks to me as if he’d be a hell of a catch!

Maybe when I was younger and not yet settled down with The Loved One, I’d even hope to have a fling with him. I’d been around the block a few times during my 20s and 30s. I wasn’t averse to pushing the boundaries of my sexuality. Once I asked one of my platonic gay pals, How do I know I’m not gay? He said simply, Who do you want to kiss passionately, a man or a woman?

That question was a good enough answer for me. There’s nothing in the world like kissing a beautiful woman. It can make me high as a kite for days afterward. Kissing a man? Meh.

Many people, though, would react a tad more strongly to the idea of kissing someone of the same sex. Some people even get angry just thinking about it. Others become so enraged that they lose their minds.

And some people hear two voices in their heads. One tells them that they want to passionately kiss someone of their own sex. The other tells them that if they do, they’re going to burn in hell, they’ll be worthless little shits, their lives will be ruined. That voice sometimes tells them they ought to beat the living bejesus out of anyone who succumbs to that temptation. Punish them. Break their heads. Make ‘em bleed. Kill ‘em.

It’s a Christmas party. Don Belton is the host. A handsome man. Young looking. Smart. Interesting. Accomplished. Utterly likable. People gravitate toward him. Imagine a young man in his early 20s seeing Don Belton for the first time. Perhaps this young man has been fighting temptations for a long time. Maybe he even joined the US Marine Corps to prove to the world as well as to himself that he was a real man and not some worthless little shit who wants to kiss fags.

Perhaps the alcohol is good. Everything feels comfortable and warm in the host’s home. Perhaps the former Marine forgets he’s supposed to fight off all those temptations that have been crowding his mind for too many years. Perhaps he falls into Don Belton’s arms after the last of the guests have gone home.

Don Belton’s so happy he crows about it in his journal. He’s high as a kite for a couple of days because he has passionately kissed a beautiful man. That beautiful man, though, might be stewing. He is a worthless little shit who kisses fags. And it’s all Don Belton’s fault for being so attractive, so inviting. God damn him.

But sometimes god works too slowly. Sometimes, we have to do the work of god ourselves. The beautiful man visits Don Belton at his home. The next day, one of Don Belton’s friends discovers him dead on his kitchen floor with a half dozen stab wounds in his back.

The next book I read will be “Almost Midnight.” Don Belton’s gone. I never knew him. But he’ll come alive as I read.

And the next time some son of a bitch tells me gays don’t deserve to marry each other or that their homosexuality is wrong or sick, I’m gonna tell him to go fuck himself.

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