Chapter 17
Brittle as a Bird
I called Star, and we picked her up on the way to see Gene. Allen decided that it
would be best if he didn’t go. Mrs. Albright was frantic. I buckled my seat and gripped
the door handle tightly. Fortunately, we didn’t pass any police.

Billy Joe was standing by the barn when we arrived. He motioned for us to park the
car and join him.

“Where’s my son?” Mrs. Albright yelled.

“He parked his car in the barn,” he informed us. “He’s sitting in it, and he won’t come
out.”

“Oh, dear,” exclaimed Gene’s mother as she headed toward the barn. Star started to
follow, but I grabbed her arm.

“Let her go talk to him alone,” I said. Star nodded as I led her over to a bench and
sat down. We waited nervously while his mother disappeared inside the barn.

“That is one stressed out dude,” remarked Billy Joe. “He came roaring up here earlier,
opened my barn door and drove his car inside. I couldn’t get him to come out. If you
hadn’t called when you did, I was going to call the sheriff.”

“He’s been through some things today,” replied Star.

“No shit.” Billy Joe let out a low whistle as he looked at me. “Man, I can’t fucking
believe that guy tried to kiss you. I always thought he was straight.”

“He was drunk,” I insisted.

“Yeah,” he replied, “but that didn’t stop Barry from kicking his ass into tomorrow.
That mother fucker went ape shit.” He looked down at Star. “Oops, Sorry.” He looked
back at me. “He fucked your face up pretty good, too.”

Billy Joe walked back inside his house, leaving Star and me waiting outside. We kept a
vigilant eye on the barn door, expecting it to open. Finally, after about twenty
minutes, Mrs. Albright came out. She walked slowly over to us, wiping tears from her
eyes.

“He’s locked himself inside his car. I can’t get him to say anything to me,” she cried.
“He won’t open the door and he’s staring off into space. I’m really scared.”

“Maybe I can talk to him,” suggested Star. When she took a step toward the barn,   
I grabbed her arm.

“Let me go first,” I insisted. “Maybe I can get him to come out.”

“He hardly knows you,” replied Star. “I’ve known him all my life.”

“But I know how’s he’s feeling,” I answered. “I’ve been there all my life.” Star nodded
and gave me a hug, and then I headed slowly towards the barn.

When I entered, his car door was open; however, he wasn’t inside. I looked around,
but I didn’t see him. I started looking inside horse stalls and grain bins. I couldn’t find
him anywhere. I began to think that he had somehow slipped out the back when we
weren’t looking. As I started to head back outside, a piece of straw came from above
and landed on my shoulder. I looked up to where there were bales of straw stored
above.

I looked around and found a ladder leading to the storage area. Carefully, I climbed it
and peered around. I couldn’t see him. I quietly walked around and searched between
large bales of straw. Finally, I noticed him sitting in one corner of the barn. He
appeared to be crying.

I approached him cautiously. I didn’t want to alarm him and have him run from me.
He heard the straw rustling under my feet and looked up. He looked so dejected and
alone. As I neared him, I tried to decide what I was going to say.

When I got about six feet away, I noticed a gun in his lap. He reached for it when he
realized I had seen it.

“Don’t Gene,” I whispered softly. “You can’t do this.”

“Why can’t I, Joey?” He put the gun to the side of his head. “Huh? Why Joey?”

“You just can’t.” I didn’t know what to say. I was at a loss for words. What do you
say to someone who is intent on dying? I’d been there before, and I was trying to
find words that someone could have said to me to prevent me from jumping off the
bridge. I realized I couldn’t think of anything.

“You want me to live like you, Joey?” Tears were falling down his face. “You want
people to laugh at me and call me a fag the rest of my life. Is that what you want,
Joey?”

Panic consumed me. I was afraid he would pull the trigger and kill himself right before
my eyes. “I know how you’re feeling,” I said. “I’ve been there.”

“Yeah, I heard. Some fucking cop saved your life.” He wiped the tears away with his
sleeve. “Don’t you hate the fucker for saving you?”

It was the first time I had been asked that. I never did consider whether I was glad I
had been saved. My life was turning around since then, but was I glad I had survived?

“No, Gene,” I answered with sincerity. “I realized one thing. You get only one go
around in this life. It’s up to me to decide what I do with it, no one else. So what if
people laugh at me behind my back? I don’t give a shit. I know who I am and what I
want. Am I glad I’m alive? Hell yes. It sure beats lying dead in a casket six feet under.
I may not have the best life in the world, but I’m alive. That’s all that matters.”

“I can’t be gay?” His hand shook as he held the gun to his head. I was sure he was
going to fire it.

“What’s so bad about being gay?” I asked hurriedly. By the look on his face I knew
time was not on my side. “It’s who you are. It’s a part of you. It’s not a disease. You
don’t have cancer or some shit like that. What if every gay guy in the world felt like
you? Huh? What if we all wanted to shoot our fucking brains out? Would that solve
the problem?”

“I can’t be gay.” He started sobbing. As he did, he lowered the gun slightly. I kept
edging closer, hoping I could grab the gun away from him.

“It’s not the end of the world,” I said softly. “You deal with it and move on.” When he
raised his sleeve to wipe the tears from his eyes with the hand he was holding the
gun, I saw an opening and lunged forward.

I heard the gun shot and felt an incredible sensation in my left leg. The pain was
intense.

“Mother Fucker!” I screamed. I looked down and saw blood beginning to ooze onto
my jeans. Even in my pain I made sure of one thing- I had the gun in my hand so
Gene couldn’t grab it.

“God, Joey!” Gene wailed. When he approached me, I tossed the gun through a large
gap so that it fell to the floor below. With the pain I was in, I was sure I wouldn’t be
able to stop him a second time.

He ran over and grabbed me, and we both tumbled to the ground.

“Jesus Christ!” I yelled. I reached down, grabbed my leg and pulled it to my chest.

“Oh, God! Oh God! Oh God!” Gene was holding me, rocking me in his arms. “I’m so
sorry, Joey!”

I could tell by the small amount of blood that was forming on my pants leg that I
hadn’t been shot too badly; however, it didn’t minimize the pain I was feeling.

“What the hell is going on?” I looked up and saw Billy Joe emerging from the ladder
and running towards us.

“I killed him!” Gene screamed as he continued to rock me.

He pushed Gene away. “Get off him and let me see. Where did he shoot you?”

I pointed to my left leg. I screamed out when he pulled my leg down and examined it.
“Mother Fucker!” I hit him on his shoulder.

“Settle down, Joey,” he warned. “I need to see how bad you’re hurt.” He pulled a knife
out of his pocket and cut my pants leg up to my knee. He then turned my leg and
examined it closely.

“You’re lucky,” he announced. “It’s only a graze. The bullet didn’t penetrate your leg.”

Off to my right I heard Gene let out a sob. Billy Joe asked, “Where’s the gun?”

“Downstairs,” I replied. “I tossed it down that hole there.”

“What’s going on?” Star was yelling frantically from below. “What’s happened?”

“It’s all right,” shouted Billy Joe. “Give us a minute and we’re coming down.” I could
hear Star and her mother crying beneath us.

Billy Joe looked over at Gene. “You all right, Man?” He was standing above us shaking
violently. His eyes were red as he stared wide-eyed at me.

“Help me get him up,” he told Gene. They carefully lifted me to my feet and helped me
over to the ladder. The pain was intense, but I felt better knowing that I hadn’t been
hurt seriously.

Gene went down the ladder first. I went next as he and Billy Joe helped lower me.
When I reached the bottom, Gene threw his arms around me and cried into my
shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Joey!” He wept. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” I wanted to move away, but
he had a tight grip around my waist. Finally, his mother came over and was able to
pry his arms from around me.

“Are you all right?” she asked worriedly. I nodded my head. “Do we need to call an
ambulance?” I looked over at Billy Joe.

“Naw,” he said. “It’s just a flesh wound. I can clean it up with my first aid kit.”

“If you don’t need me,” she said, “then I’m going to take Gene home and see if I can
get him some help. Are you sure you’re all right, Dear?” She reached out and ran her
hand through my hair.

“I’m fine,” I looked down at the blood on my leg. “I think.”

“I’ll call you later then,” she said as she put her hand around Gene and walked from
the barn. For the first time since coming off the ladder, I realized I hadn’t seen Star.
She was sitting on a bale of hay and crying softly.

“Come here, You.” I held out my arms and she rushed up to me.

“I’m so scared,” she cried. “I was afraid one of you was dead.”

“We’re both all right,” I assured her. Billy Joe threw his arm around my waist and held
me up as I hobbled toward the farmhouse. Star steadied me on my other side.

                                         *********

We had to call Ticker to come get us. We had to laugh, because in her haste to get
Gene home, Mrs. Albright had forgotten she left us without a way to get home. Billy
Joe said he’d take us, but we would have to wait about three hours until Camilla
returned with his van. She had gone to a neighboring city to visit her brother.

Ticker kept looking worriedly at me on the way back into town. Several times tears
welled up in his eyes, but he blinked them away. “I’m all right,” I insisted on one
occasion as he was staring at me. He nodded his head, but I could still tell he was
worried about me.

I asked, “Can you drop me off at Allen’s?”

“Shouldn’t you go home with me?” suggested Ticker. “You have just been shot, you
know.”

“I’m fine,” I insisted. “The bullet only grazed my leg.” I looked down at my torn pants
and the gauze that Billy Joe had wrapped around the wound. Much of the pain was
gone, leaving just a burning sensation.

“I’ll be with him,” remarked Star from the backseat.

“No.” I turned around and faced her. “I’d like to be alone with Allen.” Star raised an
eyebrow, and I began to blush.

“Get your mind out of the gutter,” I laughed. “I just want us to be alone, okay?”

“Yeah,” she giggled. “Sure you do.”

When they dropped me off, Star accompanied me to the stairs and waited at the
bottom until Allen answered the door and I was safely inside.

“What happened to you?” Allen asked as I hobbled over and sat down on the couch.
He walked over and sat down beside me.

“Your brother shot me.” I started laughing when I saw the surprised look on his face.

“What!” he shrieked. I then told him what had happened since his mother and I had
left his apartment. He reached down and examined my leg, touching it gently.

“Does it hurt?” He looked worriedly at me. “Don’t you think you should go to the
hospital?”

“I’ll be fine,” I assured him. “I think if I hadn’t stopped him, Gene would have used the
gun on himself.”

Tears welled up in Allen’s eyes. “I should call Mom and see how he is.” He got his cell
phone and walked outside. I went to the window and watched as he paced up and
down in front of the building. Occasionally, he’d look up and see me looking down.

Ten minutes later, he walked back into the room and sat down. I sat down beside
him. He stared blankly at the television for a couple of minutes.

I finally asked, “You okay?” The silence was becoming unnerving.

“Mom’s at the hospital,” he replied. “She had Gene admitted. She said he was talking
crazy. He’s upset he almost killed you instead of himself.”

I took his hand and held it. “He’ll be all right,” I tried to be reassuring, but I was also
upset. I was worried about Gene. If he tried to kill himself once, would he try to do it
again?

I lay my head back and closed my eyes. I was having trouble trying to understand
everything that had happened recently. Why did all three of us feel we had to end our
lives to solve our problems? And yet, our lives had become entwined with one
another.

I had tried to kill myself, only to be saved by a stranger. Then Allen entered my life
and gave me a reason to want to live. He had wanted to die, but I had saved his life
and gave him a renewed will to live. Then ironically, I was the reason Gene wanted to
die, but yet I prevented him from doing it.

“What’s wrong?” Allen interrupted my thoughts.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I’m just trying to understand what’s going on.” I then tried
to explain it to him. The expression on his face told me he was as confused as I was.

“It sounds like a soap opera,” he laughed nervously.

“I don’t think even a soap opera could be this confusing,” I responded. I sat up and
looked at him.

“Why did all three of us feel the only solution to our problem was dying?”

He looked thoughtfully at me. “Do you ever think about it?”

“No,” I responded. I reached down and took his hand and squeezed it. “I’ve got a
reason to live now.” Tears welled up in his eyes. He leaned over and embraced me
tightly.

“Me, too,” he whispered into my shoulder. “Me, too.”

                                        ********

Gene was in the hospital for three days. Star kept me informed of his situation. She
said that Mrs. Albright had admitted him to the suicide unit because she feared that if
she took him home, he would do something again.

Rumors were running rampant at school. On the next day back at school, I had
cornered Billy Joe and Camilla and begged them not to tell what had happened.

“Man, we ain’t going to say anything,” he assured me. “Dude is hurting bad. It  
wouldn’t be right.” Of course, Camilla reached out and grabbed my arm.

“I can make you forget your problems,” she offered. I rolled my eyes as I took her
hand and removed it from my arm.

Since Gene hadn’t been in school, there were wild speculations where he might be.
Barry was going around school fueling the rumors. He had convinced most people
that Gene was afraid to show up because he was scared that he was going to kick his
ass again.

“Is it wrong to hate your own brother?” Star asked as we were sitting in the cafeteria
watching Barry talking animatedly with his friends at the table reserved for football
players. Their status at school had diminished since football season was over. Now all
attention had turned to basketball.

“You can if he’s a total asshole,” remarked Ticker angrily. We watched as Barry
strutted around between tables trying to get people to laugh at him. He stopped and
stared intently at us when he noticed we were watching him. His eyes locked on me,
and he sneered. I quickly looked away.

“What a jerk,” said Star when she noticed. “He’s going to get his some day.”

“I doubt it,” replied Ticker. “Guys like him go around their whole life with the mission
of making everyone else’s life miserable.”

“True,” I agreed. “Makes you wonder how somebody grows up like him.” I looked over
at Star. “You both had the same parents, yet you’re as different as day and night.”

We started laughing when Star smiled and replied, “I think he must be adopted.”

Barry was jumping around, trying to make the guys at the table laugh. “You should
go to the zoo and see if you can find his real parents,” remarked Ticker. Star hit me
on my back when I started choking on my milk.

                                         ********

Star grabbed my hand and squeezed it. “You ready to do this?”

We were standing outside the small frame house that had been turned into a clinic
years earlier. It was located in the poorer section of town so that it would be available
to prostitutes and drug addicts. They offered free drug, alcohol and sexually
transmitted disease screenings.

Except for a small sign on the door that read, Community Outreach Center, it would
appear as any other house in the run-down neighborhood.

“Maybe I should do this some other time.” I turned and started to walk away. Star
grabbed my arm and stopped me.

“Joey,” she said sternly. “You’ve got to know. We’re here now, so you might as well
go in.”

“What if they ask me a bunch of questions?”

“They won’t,” she assured me. “Their brochure says that all testing is done
anonymously. You don’t even have to tell them your name.”

“What if someone sees me go in?”

Star grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the building. “I’m with you. We’ll just tell
them I was getting a pregnancy test. Now come on.”

The small office was empty when we entered. I let out a sigh of relief. It was funny
that it hadn’t bothered me when some girls saw me get out of a car with a guy;
however, I was worried someone would see me getting tested at a free clinic.

“May I help you?” The woman behind the window seemed friendly. She looked at me
and then Star.

“Are you here for a pregnancy test?” I couldn’t help it; I started laughing
uncontrollably.

“No, Ma’am.” I stopped laughing when the receptionist gave me a stern look. I stood
before her unable to speak. Star nudged me with her elbow. The woman looked
sympathetically at me, and then walked over and opened the door leading to the back
rooms.

“Why don’t you come with me,” she said as she grabbed my arm.

She introduced me to Dr. Gomez, one of the part-time doctors who volunteered their
time at the center. After interviewing me for several minutes, she was finally able to
coax out of me the reason for my visit.

“So you have been sexually active?” I nodded.

“And you’ve had unprotected sex?” I dropped my head and nodded.

“Come with me.” She led me to another room where she had me sit in a chair. She
swabbed my finger tip with alcohol, pricked it and drew a small amount of blood.  

“Can you wait around for about a half hour?”

“Are we done?” She smiled when she saw the astonished look on my face.

“See,” she grinned. “It didn’t hurt at all. If you’ll go out and wait in the outside office,
I’ll have the results shortly.”

The next half hour was excruciating. Star tried to get me to sit still, but I couldn’t. I
paced around the room, stopping occasionally to look out the window. Several people
came in and asked to speak to the doctor, and the receptionist would lead them to a
back room.

“I’m scared,” I stated as I sat down beside Star. “What if the results come back
positive?”

“Then we’ll deal with it.” She looked warmly into my face. I sat back and closed my
eyes.

The door opened and the receptionist looked out at me. “The doctor will see you,”
she said.

My heart stopped. Within minutes I would know. “Can she come with me?” I grabbed
Star’s hand and gripped it tightly. She led us to the room I was in earlier, and we
took a seat. A few minutes later Dr. Gomez walked in.

She walked over and patted me on my shoulder. “You’re a lucky boy.” Tears started
falling down my cheeks. “The tests came back negative.” For the first time in my life
something had finally gone in the right direction.

She spent several minutes lecturing me to be more careful. She handed me several
brochures to read. “Do you need these too?” I laughed at the astonished look on
Star’s face when she handed her a stack of pamphlets.

“Nooo,” stammered Star. “I’m practicing abstinence.” I don’t think her face could have
been any redder. I thought, poor Ticker. Then I thought how lucky he must be to
have a girlfriend who he knew was a virgin. She was lucky too, because to my
knowledge, so was he.

“Here.” Dr. Gomez handed me a plastic bag. I looked inside and saw a bottle of lube
and several condoms. Star peeked inside and blushed.

Dr. Gomez walked over, took my hand and patted it. “I see a lot of kids. Many  don’t
have the same results you had. I don’t know your story, but look at this as a new
start.”

“Thank you, Doctor.” I gave her a quick hug and then grabbed Star’s hand. When we
got out onto the street, I leaned against the building and cried.

“It’s okay, Joey.” She put her head on my chest and comforted me. “Everything is
going to be all right.” I wiped the tears from my eyes, and we continued slowly down
the street arm in arm.

When we passed an art gallery, I stopped and looked at a small framed picture in the
window. It was a scene of the sun peeking over the horizon. The background was a
field of wheat. The way the sun hit the top of the wheat made it seem to come to life
and shimmer.

“That’s pretty,” remarked Star as she saw me admiring the picture.

“It is,” I responded. “It’s kind of like how I feel right now.”

“It’s a good feeling to have,” she said as she grabbed my arm and we continued on
our way.

“Yes,” I thought. “Finally, I’m moving forward without going back.”


Chapter 18                                  Return to TMJ