Civil War Fantasy and My New Book, “For The Love of Samuel”
“For The Love of Samuel” is my latest work of erotic gay romance, a story of love lost and love found, set in contemporary New York City and Fort Lauderdale. After a series of romantic missteps, Billy Veleber, a fifty one year old aging gay man living in Manhattan, is given the chance at eternal youth and meeting the love of his life through the magical prowess of the dog tag of a long dead Civil War soldier, Samuel Evans, the “Samuel” of my title.
So where did l get this idea from?
Well, l’ve been an amateur Civil War buff since l was a teenager and read a magazine article, “If the South Had Won the Civil War.” It wasn’t the battle strategies as much as the war’s larger-than-life qualities that intrigued me. Over the years, l’ve been to Civil War battlefields, both North and South, including Gettysburg, have visited the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, PA, and The Museum of The Confederacy in Richmond, collected numerous books on the subject, became a devotee of Matthew Brady who created war photography, subscribed for many years to “Civil War” magazine, and have collected numerous memorabilia, works of art, and trinkets depicting the great conflict of The War Between The States
In my readings l discovered two little known facts: that the idea of dog tags originated with the Civil War on a haphazard basis with soldiers having their names and infantries engraved on coins; and that Walt Whitman, the celebrated author – though not in his time – of “Leaves of Grass” who led an openly gay life for his day, served as a volunteer nurse at the Armory Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he cared for injured and dying Union soldiers.
I used the dog tag, Whitman’s hospital service, the romance of the valiant soldier, and other facts from Whitman’s personal life and combined them with that eternal theme of humanity – the quest for everlasting life – to come up with the fantasy premise of my novel: that certain dog tags were bestowed with the life force of their long dead owners and, provided its present day wearer had or had had love in his life, these magical relics would return their wearer physically to the age of the soldier whose dog tag he now possessed died. Most Civil War casualties died in their twenties from infection, the result of their war wounds.
When my story opens in 2012 in Manhattan’s West Village, Billy’s life is one train wreck. His long-time lover and mentor, the older Gus, has been fallen by a stroke, abruptly ending his career as one of Manhattan’s leading neurosurgeons; and the hospital Billy worked at as its marketing director has gone bankrupt, leaving him to take a lowly copywriter’s job at a two bit ad agency.
Billy goes for a job interview in Chicago where he hopes Gus and he can start new lives; and to attempt to rekindle an affair with his former meth head lover Mitch who now lives there with his enabling parents. But both his interview and reunion with Mitch, a hopeless addict, go nowhere.
Killing time before his flight back home, Billy visits a thrift shop in Halstead in the heart of Chicago’s Boystown where Tad, its young clerk who suffers from cerebral palsy, recites the magical history of the dog tag he himself wears after Billy tells him of his own plight.
“You sound like an educated, sophisticated guy. You ever hear of Walt Whitman?” asks Tad.
“Sure. Leaves of Grass. He was gay “
“Yea, but what most people don’t know was that he served as a nurse during the Civil War in the hospitals in D C. where he lived at the time working for the government. And some of these dying soldiers he took care of him gave him their medallions – ”
“Their dog tags -”
“Yea, their dog tags as a thank you for taking care of them, many of them just before they died. Well, good old Walt had a handsome Irish lover, a trolley car conductor named Peter Doyle who Walt left a few of these medallions to when he died in 1892.”
“Okay. And …” I say waiting for the punch line.
“Doyle had a couple of fuck buddies, Horace and Gustave. He gave them two of the medallions, and an amazing thing happened. When they wore the medallions they gradually became – became young again, the age the soldier whose medallion they wore died.”
“They didn’t give you eternal life but as long as you wore them and you had love in your life, eternal youth was yours till the day you died.”
“Fucken unbelievable. But how does that connect with you and your lover David?”
“Well, these medallions were passed down from one pair of gay lovers to the next for generations. Most were nameless, but then they were those like Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward and Tennessee Williams who used the medals only on occasion because they had public personas to become young men for their own young men. Who knows, maybe these experiences inspired them to write Dorian Gray and Sweet Bird of Youth. Then there was Rock Hudson who hoped they would cure him of AIDS. You know how that ended. How my David came about them he never told me but he was convinced the spell they held would somehow cure me. You see, most people with CP don’t make it to their fifties. All you see is my withered leg but there’s a lot of other shit going on inside me the docs can’t fix.”
“But you look, you look like you’re twenty – “
“Twenty one to be exact. The age my soldier Samuel Evans died. Dave’s medallion belonged to a soldier who died at twenty two. So we put them on, and within a few days we were young again. Young with Dave’s trust fund and we thought time forever after.”
“But it didn’t cure you of your CP.”
“No it didn’t, and that devastated David more than me…I tinkered with fixing people’s laptops just to keep my brain occupied but Dave, Dave lost all ambition and took to drugs. Heroin.”
Tad’s eyes begin to tear up.
“We were together ten beautiful years when Dave just couldn’t deal with losing me, my CP biological clock was running down, and one day I came home to find he had OD’d. He left a simple note, ‘It’s better this way.’”
I begin crying too.
“I was ready to OD myself but couldn’t … So I came here about three months ago and took this job…Now the docs can’t do much more for me and I’m constantly in pain. Billy, I turned fifty this May. It’s time I gave up my medallion to someone who can benefit from it, maybe better than Dave and I ever did.”
Tad lifts his medallion from around his neck, gets up from his stool and, walking ever so slowly to me, his face grimaced in agony, grabs my hand and places it in my palm.
“Someone with love in their life. Someone like you.”
After several plot twists, Billy puts on the dog tag and begins his strange and fascinating odyssey as a young virile gay man, and explores “For The Love of Samuel” for himself.
“For The Love of Samuel” is now on sale as an ebook on Amazon.