Chapter 1
Copyright ©2008 by Ronyx
All Rights Reserved
A Bridge to Yesterday
Chapter 5
“What do you mean? Joey has a son?” I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard Star
announce. A son? The kid looked to be at least twelve or thirteen. Joey was with
Allen at that time.

Star reached down and gripped my hand. “He’s adopted, Gene,” she said. “Joey
adopted him recently.”

“Why?” I stammered. The thought of Joey having a son somehow upset me. I don’t
know why. Selfishly, I guess I was hoping that he was lonely and miserable since
Allen’s death. But it seems he had moved on with his life, and he appeared to be
happy.

“To make a long story short,” Star informed me, “Nicky’s mother died, and Joey
was there.”

“Nicky?” I stared blankly at Star. For some reason I couldn’t comprehend what she
was trying to say. Perhaps, it was too hard for me to accept.

“What is wrong with you, Allen?” She squeezed my hand tightly. “I don’t know why
you seem so upset. You haven’t seen Joey in a couple of years. You’re acting like..”
She dropped my hand, stood up and stared down at me.

“You’re still in love with him!” She said loudly. I jumped up and grabbed her hands.

“Would you shut up,” I pleaded. “Someone’s going to hear you. And no, I’m not in
love with Joey. That’s absurd.”

“Is it?” She stood facing me, and I could feel my cheeks begin to redden.

She let out a sigh and sat down. “All these years and you still have feelings for him.”

“No, I don’t,” I insisted. “He was Allen’s lover.”

“Yes,” she said softly. “He was Allen’s lover.” She looked deeply into my eyes. “And
he should have been yours.”

I buried my hands into my head. Years of the avoiding the truth seized me, and a
fountain of tears started running down my cheeks. Star put her hand around my
back as I lay my head on her shoulder and trembled. Pandora’s Box had finally been
opened, and its contents lay exposed before me.

“There isn’t a day...” I couldn’t finish my statement for the heavy weight of years of
agony that had tormented me.

Star continued to rub my back and attempted to comfort me. Suddenly, the door
opened and Ticker stuck his head inside. Star got up, walked over and spoke softly
to him for a minute before he retreated. She walked back over and sat down beside
me.

She asked, “Do you love him?” It was more like a revelation than a question. I think
she had thought all that had been buried in the past. I felt a tremendous weight on
my shoulders. I knew if I answered her with the truth, then the burden would be
lifted. But I wasn’t ready to face the truth myself.

“No,” I insisted. I stood up, walked across the room and looked out the window.
Below, I could see people gathered on the patio below offering words of
condolences to my mother. An elderly woman reached out and hugged her.
Standing protectively beside her was Nicky.

A wave of anger surged through me. I saw myself beside her as a boy, and I felt
that he had replaced me. In my absence I realized that time had moved on, and
now this young boy was the recipient of the love that should be mine. Not only did
he possess Joey’s love, he also possessed my mother’s.

I turned and shouted as a man in rage. “No!” I screamed. “I hate him!” A startled
looked appeared on Star’s face as I turned and hurried from the room.

I ran across the hallway and into the bathroom. Once inside, I fell to the floor,
pulled my legs to my chest and wrapped my arms tightly around them. “I hate
him!” I vowed. “I hate him.” Tears started once again flowing down my cheeks.

“Are you all right, Allen?” Star was rapping lightly on the door. “Let me in, please?”

“Go away, Star!” I shouted. “I’m all right.” She knocked a few more times without
saying anything. A minute later I could hear her footsteps on the stairs.

Once again the tears emerged. “I hate you, Joey Carpenter,” I whispered mournfully.

                                           *********

Mr. Albright’s funeral was held on a rainy Wednesday afternoon. The church was
filled with mourners from all over the country. People had been flying in daily and
stopping by the large estate. Mrs. Albright remained composed and stoic
throughout the ordeal. If she was hurting, it wasn’t obvious to the casual observer.

Reverend Joseph McInnis gave the eulogy. He had been a golfing buddy of Mr.
Albright, and he had known him personally for over twenty five years. He was able
to lighten the sad occasion by injecting amusing golf stories into his sermon. In my
grief, even I found myself laughing several times.

I sat in the front pew with the Albright family. Gene sat beside his mother, and I sat
next to his beautiful wife, Tina. Nicky sat on my right. It comforted me when he
reached down halfway through the service and held my hand.

I looked at Gene and was surprised by the angry look in his eyes. He looked down
at our entwined hands and then gave me a glare so menacing that it sent chills
down my spine.  After the service I tried to offer words of sympathy to him, but he
walked away.

“What’s wrong with him?” Nicky asked me softly. “He’s weird.”

“He’s just upset,” I assured him. “It’s not easy for him to lose his father.” However,
I was beginning to feel like Nicky. Gene’s actions were weird.

The ride to the cemetery was equally awkward. Nicky and I sat opposite Gene and
Tina in the funeral limousine. Several times our eyes met, and he gave me a cold
stare. There didn’t seem to be any life behind them. His expression was empty and
sad.

Nicky and I rode back to the Albright home with Star and Ticker. They had a van,
and the two boys sat in the back.

“I don’t like Gene,” Nicky announced from the rear of the van.

“Nicky,” I admonished him. “That will be enough.”

“Well, it is true, Dad,” he continued. “He was looking at you strange.”

“He was looking at you strangely.” Star attempted to correct his usage.

“Yeah, he was,” replied Nicky. “He did look at me strange, too.”

“He looked at you strangely,” remarked Star.

“That’s what I just said,” insisted Nicky.

Star looked at me and rolled her eyes. “I give up,” she sighed. Just then the two
boys got into an argument over who could spit the farthest.

Ticker shouted, “Don’t try to prove it in the car!” Everyone in the van started
laughing. I turned and gave Nicky a warning look when I heard him clear his throat.

“What?” he asked innocently.  

“Chicken,” giggled Jeffrey. That set off another argument that lasted until we pulled
into the Albright driveway.

The home began to fill quickly. Mrs. Albright had hired a caterer to provide food for
the guests following the funeral. Soon people began to laugh, and the atmosphere
in the home was that of a party rather than mourning the loss of a friend. Lines
were forming at the bar which contained wine and a keg of beer.

I was amazed when a DJ showed up and began playing music. She started off
playing soft jazz, but after an hour it had turned to louder and faster tunes. An
area on the patio was provided for dancing, and several couples were enjoying
themselves. When the DJ played a song called The Electric Slide, the dance floor
filled quickly.

“Not exactly in a mourning period, are they?” Star exclaimed as she walked up
beside me as I was getting another soda.

“Don’t you find it a little disrespectful?” I asked as I looked around at the revelers.

“Do you think for one minute Mr. Albright would want people sitting around and
moping?” she asked. “These people are doing exactly what he would have wanted.”

“I guess,” I replied. Actually, Star had made a very good point. Mr. Albright loved to
have a good time with his friends. Hardly a weekend went by when he wasn’t having
some kind of get-together on the deck.

Just then Jeffrey ran up and grabbed Star’s arm. He was trying desperately not to
cry.

“Mom,” he whined. “Nicky’s threatening to push me into the pool, and I don’t have
any clean clothes if he does.” Nicky came running up to me and gasping for air.

“Whatever he told you, Dad,” he said quickly, “it’s not true.”

“What’s not true?” I asked as I tried to refrain from laughing.

“I’m not going to push him into the pool.”

“Are too!” Jeffrey screamed.

“Am not!” Nicky replied.

“That’s enough, Boys!” Star shouted. She looked at me and I broke out in laughter.

She pointed to the door. “Go outside.” Both boys frowned and walked away.

“Some help you are,” she looked at me and huffed.

“They are boys,” I reminded her.

“So that just makes it all right?” she asked. “Look at JoEllen.” She pointed to her
fourteen year old daughter sitting on a sofa talking to an elderly woman. “She’s
acting like a mature, young lady.”

“That’s because she’s a girl,” I offered, receiving a slap on the arm. I turned to look
back at JoEllen and noticed Gene sitting alone in a chair and staring intently at me.

“What’s with Gene?” I asked. “He’s hardly said a word to me since he arrived. When
I try to talk to him, he walks away.” I looked back over and he was taking a drink
from the glass he was holding.

“I don’t know,” replied Star. “When I tried to talk to him, he started crying.”

“Crying? Why would he be crying?”

“I don’t know,” Star replied. I looked at her and could tell she wasn’t telling me
everything. I’d known her for over twenty years, and I could tell when she was
worried about something.

“Spill it,” I insisted. “What’s the matter?”

“I really can’t tell you,” she stated as she started to walk away. I reached out and
grabbed her arm.

“What do you mean you can’t tell me?”

“You have to trust me on this one, Joey,” she responded worriedly. I knew it was
useless to continue to push her for more information. Knowing Star, she’d tell me
when she felt the time was right. When I looked back at where Gene was sitting, he
had disappeared.

I was mingling with guests when I heard Nicky shout, “Dad!” When I turned, he
came walking into the kitchen. His clothes were wet and his hair was plastered to
his face. I tried to contain a smile, but soon found myself roaring with laughter.

He shouted, “It’s not funny, Dad!” Everyone started laughing as he stood in the
middle of the kitchen and formed a puddle of water below him. Just then Jeffrey
came bounding into the room and stopped suddenly when he noticed everyone
staring at Nicky. Nicky turned and tore out after him. Seconds later we heard the
splash of water from the pool, followed by a very loud, “Mom!”

                                               ********

When I was in high school, I remember reading a book entitled, ‘Stranger in a
Strange Land.’  I don’t remember what it was about, but the title fit the feeling I
had all evening. Except for Star, Ticker and Joey, I didn’t know any of the people
who had attended my father’s funeral. I’m sure that I had met many of them when
I was younger, but that now seemed so long ago.

So much had changed. Star still looked amazing. Even with two children, she still
managed to stay young looking. She moved effortlessly among the guests all night
and assumed the role as hostess for my mother.

I still regretted that I had exposed myself to her. On several occasions, I saw her
and Joey talking quietly together. Joey would look at me, but I’d avoid eye contact
with him. If Star could figure out my deep secret, then there was the possibility
that he could too.

And Joey. What can I say? My attraction to him is overwhelming. For years I have
convinced myself that it was just a teenage infatuation that I had somehow
managed to cling to in desperation. I felt that once I was faced with reality, then my
feelings for him would no longer exist.

But no. Seeing him makes them surge to the forefront. They overpower me, and I
hate him for making me suffer. It is a pain that boils within me. Irrational as it may
seem, it is real to me. And I can’t dismiss it as infatuation. I love him- long for him.
And yet, I know I can’t have him.

That is the most torturous condition of the heart- to long for something with
desperation and never being able to achieve that which the heart needs the most.
Love can be a healing condition, but it can also destroy. It can undermine one’s
purpose in life, and it can set a path for destruction. My path was set twenty years
ago. Now I hate Joey Carpenter for being the cause of all my failures.

My marriage failed because of him. My career is failing because of him. And most
importantly, my sanity is failing because of him. I am no more a man. I have
become a person obsessed with loving someone I can not have.

I can see it. I don’t mean anything to Joey. He looks at me as if I am an oddity.
I mean no more to him than the stranger who shook his hand at my father’s
funeral. He speaks pleasantries to me, and then he moves on to the next person.

His love is now for the child he calls his son, Nicky Carpenter. A child who only
recently came into his life; however, he gives him his complete love. I have known
him for over twenty years, and he treats me as a stranger on the street. I have
shared a kiss with him, and it was now forgotten.

That kiss is ingrained into my memory and never to be forgotten. But it has meant
nothing to him. It was a stupid mistake in his eyes. He easily dismissed it as a
drunken flirtation. He probably even laughs about it when he is with others. Poor
Gene. The tormented gay kid who refused to realize his sexuality, hid it away,
sought counseling and is now recovered.

But they can’t see the agony I feel. They can’t feel my heart shattering from the
weight of a repressed love. They don’t notice the thousands of bottles of gin and
whiskey that have served as barriers to my thoughts.

I hate Joey Carpenter.

                                            ********

“What is it, Gene?” Tina was surprised when I crept into her bedroom and snuggled
up beside her. The final guests had left hours earlier. The house was quiet as I lay
in my bedroom thinking about how I could make Joey jealous of me.

Suddenly, a thought crept into my mind. A child. If he could have a son who loves
and adores him, then perhaps I can too. If he would see a son or daughter wanting
my affection, then just maybe it would make him realize the love he is missing.

Tina seemed apprehensive when I shoved my erection against her. She started to
push me away, but years of longing overtook her. We found ourselves engaged in
a mad passion that had never existed in our lovemaking.

My anger for Joey made me a great lover. With each thrust, I cursed his name. This
was what he was missing for not loving me. A deeper thrust. He could be in my
arms, loving me as I was now making love to Tina. Another deep thrust. Tina
wrapped her legs around me and thrust forward, making up for all the months of
rejection. I could feel her sweat against my bare chest. Deeper and deeper. And
then it was over.

I rolled off her, and an immense feeling of guilt engulfed me. I had used Tina to
seek some form of revenge for the love I could not have. When Tina put her arm
on my chest and rubbed her hand over my silky hair, repulsion once again
overcame me. I arose and walked naked back to my room. I dressed and left the
house.


                                            ********

I looked into my rearview mirror and saw flashing red lights behind me. “Shit,”    
I hissed as I pulled over and waited for the officer to approach my car. I quickly
reached into the console beside me, grabbed a breath freshener and popped it into
my mouth.

After leaving Tina, I had ended up in a bar downtown. I was afraid to go to a gay
bar for fear someone would recognize me. So I ended up spending most of the
night trying to avoid flirtatious women and hookers looking to make a fast twenty
bucks. One woman threw a drink in my face when I told her she looked like a tired,
old hag. The bartender laughed as he poured me another drink.

I was startled when the cop tapped on my window. Slowly, I let the window down
and stared into his ruddy face. He was fat, and the buttons on his uniform were
straining to break free.

“Where’s the fire?” he asked as he leaned closer to the window. “I clocked you
doing 63 in a 45.”

“Sorry, Officer.” I tried to make my words coherent. I had consumed a lot of
alcohol, and the drink that had been tossed at me made the car reek.

He opened the door and ordered, “Would you step out of the car, Sir.” The next
twenty minutes consisted of me failing an alcohol test. When he asked me the
letters of the alphabet, I left out the letter G, and I switched D and E.

I stumbled several times when he had me walk a straight line. After shaking his
head, I was put in handcuffs and placed in the backseat of a police cruiser. After
twenty years of drinking and driving, it was the first time I had ever been arrested.

I was booked, fingerprinted and placed in a holding cell. I lay down on the dirty
mattress and quickly fell into a drunken slumber. Several hours later I awoke, and
for the first time became aware of the seriousness of the situation I found myself in.

I heard the outer bars being opened, and a few seconds later an officer opened my
jail cell door. “Someone has made your bail,” he stated. I followed him down a
narrow hall and into the registration area. I stopped suddenly when I saw who was
awaiting me.

My mother.

“If you’ll sign these papers, Sir,” instructed the officer behind the glass, “you’ll be
free to go.” I quickly completed the required paperwork and headed out the precinct
doors. My mother followed closely behind me. She had yet said anything to me.
However, it didn’t take long.

She grabbed my arm. “Gene.”  I stopped and faced her.

“Do you know where they towed my car?”  I looked away because I couldn’t stand
to see the pained expression on her face.

“Gene,” she repeated. “You have to talk to me about this.”

“What’s to talk about?” I shouted. “Your precious son is a drunk. I’m not the
perfect son Allen was.” As soon as I said it, I felt regret. Bringing up Allen’s name
after the loss of my father was unbearable for her. I could tell it on her face.

“What has happened to you?” She started to cry. “Since you’ve returned, you’re
like a stranger.”

“Maybe I always was,” I replied sharply as I turned and started walking down the
sidewalk. I saw a bar on the next corner. I looked at my watch. It was only 9:42 in
the morning. It was too early for it to be open.

She walked up beside me and gently touched my arm. “Gene, please,” she pleaded.
“Let’s go somewhere and talk.” I looked around and saw a Starbucks about a block
away. I headed for it with my mother trailing about six feet behind me.

“What do you want?” I asked her as I stepped to the counter.

“Just a coffee,” she responded. I ordered two house blends, and then we headed to
a small table by the window. It was several minutes before either of us said
anything.

She asked timidly, “How long have you had a drinking problem?” I sat back and
started laughing.

“I guess this is the part where I deny I have a problem,” I laughed. Soon my
shoulders began to shake, and I found myself crying uncontrollably. I buried my
head in my arms on the table and openly wept. She scooted her chair next to mine
and gently rubbed my back.

“You’ve got to get help, Gene,” she whispered softly. “Tina says something has
been bothering you for years.”

“No one understands,” I cried into my arms.

“Is it your job?” Again, I found myself laughing. I looked at her through wet eyes.

“I wish it were that simple,” I replied.

She asked worriedly, “What is it then?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “Things seem so out of control.”

“You’ve got to get help,” she responded. “We went through this once before and
you got better.” I leaned back in my chair and roared with laughter.

                                          ********

“Can I ask you something?” Nicky was sitting beside me on the sofa with his head
against my shoulder. We had made popcorn earlier, and we were sharing a large
bowl that was sitting on the  coffee table in front of us as we enjoyed some old
Arnold Schwarzenegger movie on the television.

“Sure, Nicky,” I mumbled with a mouthful of popcorn.

“How come you never go out?” The question took me completely by surprise.

“I go out all the time,” I replied as I attempted to avoid the topic. “Just last night
we went shopping at the mall.”

“Come on, Dad,” he whined. “You know what I mean. How come you never go out
on a date?”

“Why do I need to go out on a date?” I turned and looked at him.

“I don’t know,” he said shyly. “I mean, don’t you miss, you know...” I tried hard to
suppress a laugh.

“No,” I kidded. “I’m not following you.” I watched as his face turned several shades
of red.

“Come on, Dad,” he whined again. “You know what I mean.”

“Look.” I pulled him closer to me and put my arm around him. “I’m happy with the
way my life is. I’ve got you.” I ruffled his hair. Surprisingly, he didn’t object. “I’ve
got a good job. We have a good life together.”

“I know,” he said as he rested his head further into my shoulder. “But I just think
you’d be happier if you had, you know, a man.”

“I had Allen,” I assured him. “He’s the only man I’ll ever love.”

“Okay, Dad.” He leaned up and kissed me on my cheek. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” I replied as I kissed him on his forehead. He put his head back on
my shoulder and I felt him relax. Within minutes he was asleep.


Chapter 6                                  Return to TMJ