Chapter 19
Brittle as a Bird
“When did you realize you were straight?”

Ticker and I were sitting in his room late one night. I had spent the day thinking
about Allen, Gene and myself.

“That’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever asked me,” replied Ticker. I rolled over on
my side and faced him. He was in his bed reading a sports magazine.

“That’s my point,” I said. “Why can straight people just accept the fact they are
straight, but as soon as a gay person realizes that they are gay, then they have
to hide it.”

Ever since Gene told me he couldn’t be gay, it made me wonder why. Then I
recalled all the things that had happened to me because I was gay- my father and
mother’s rejection, the gay comments and shoves in the hall, the snickers and
snide looks.

Ticker was straight and he could walk down the street, hold Star’s hand and no
one would say a word. But if Allen and I decided to hold hands, most people
would immediately be repulsed. When was it decided that our love was offensive?

I thought of how gay boys and girls at some stage in their lives begin to realize
they are different than others. We hear the crude comments beginning at a
young age about queers, fags and lezzies. We sit in churches and listen to
preachers talk about the sins of those who do ‘unseemly things.’

Then one day we go to gym and look at a guy or girl taking a shower, and we
realize that the feelings we have are different. Lying in bed at night at ten years
old with our best friend playing a game of ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me
yours,’ becomes more than just a game.

Then at thirteen it becomes, ‘I’ll suck yours if you suck mine.’ However, the next
time you suggest doing it, your friend refuses because it’s just ‘too gay.’ But
you still want to play the game.

At some point a young boy or girl realizes that they are what everyone jokes
about. They are the fag, cock sucker, lesbian. They are the sinner that the
preacher warns about at church on Sunday. Gay becomes the word that now
defines them.

It doesn’t matter what they do, what they become or how they live their life;
being gay becomes an overwhelming fear. What if my friends find out? Will Mom
and Dad be disappointed? Will I be teased, or even hurt? Will everything I do
until the day I die be defined by that one word?

Some people accept who they are. They won’t let the word consume them. They
take control of it and build a life around it. It becomes a part of who they are, but
their entire being isn’t determined by it. I’m gay. I’m proud, but there’s more to
me that that.

Then there are those who meet it half way. I’m gay. I’m me, but I’ll only let those
who I trust share that part of me. They will accept me because they love me. So
they go about their lives with an awareness of who they are, but careful that
those around them don’t know. They go to school or work during the day hiding
behind a facade, but step away when they return home.

Then there are the Genes of the world. Those who deny who they are, and they
decide they will live a lie to those around them, and most importantly, to
themselves. They try to live as the preacher says is moral, or as others say is
right.

But who determines what is moral and what is right? Doesn’t each person have
that right to decided what is right for him or her? Isn’t it more wrong to deny
being gay, than it is to accept what one knows is right for them?

“Are you okay?” Ticker startled me. “You looked like you are a million miles away.”

I rolled back over, looked at him and stated, “I’m gay,” He gave me a quizzical
look.

“I know that,” he answered.

“I know. I just wanted to say it. I’m gay,” I said again, this time with pride. He
shook his head and went back to reading his magazine.

                                              ********

“I still can’t believe it,” remarked Star. I followed her eyes to where she was
looking. We were sitting in the cafeteria and I was trying to eat something they
called a riblet. I’m not even sure I would have fed it to a dog, if I had one.

Gene had entered the cafeteria with Belinda Michaels on his arm. I had known
Belinda since the third grade. She was beautiful. I wasn’t attracted to most girls,
but even I found her exceptionally pretty. She had auburn hair and bright green
eyes that sparkled when she talked to you. She was one of the few students who
wasn’t afraid to speak to me the past few years.

“I thought he was gay,” said Ticker. “Maybe he changed his mind.” We watched
as they approached.

“You can’t change your mind about something like that, Dumbass,” I laughed.
Just then Gene and Belinda passed us. Our eyes met briefly, but he didn’t say
anything. Gene grabbed Belinda’s hand and pulled her away when it appeared she
might stop and say something.

They walked over to the table with their friends. Since Barry had been expelled,
the rumors had stopped. Occasionally, I’d hear someone say something about
how I had taken advantage of Gene when he was too drunk to stop me.

Watching him as he talked to his friends, I felt pity for him. I guess he had
decided to deny his sexuality in order to survive. Maybe someday he’d be able to
look in the mirror and accept the person looking back. I guess he had decided
that high school was not the time to do it.

“She practically lives at his house now,” said Star. “I see her getting out of his car
all the time. I went over there once, and he asked me to leave. I think he was
afraid I would say something.”

I looked back at their table and sadly shook my head.

                                             ********

“Hey!” Allen was sitting on the sofa watching television when I entered his
apartment. I was practically living at his place. He was becoming used to me
coming by after school and spending several hours working on my homework at
the kitchen table.

I was disappointed because no matter how much I insisted, he wouldn’t let me
sleep in bed with him again. When I spent the night, he always made up the sofa
for me.  

We’d been together for several months, and other than some heavy petting, he
still wouldn’t have sex with me. His response to my pleas was always the same,
“It’s not the right time.”

“When will be the right time?” I’d ask. I was beginning to wonder if he really
found me sexually attractive. There was no doubt that we enjoyed each other’s
company. After I’d finish my homework, I’d curl up on the couch beside him. Allen
made me feel safe. I’d never experienced that before.

“Soon,” he’d say. Then we would continue making out. We’d both get rock hard,
and he’d let me rub his erection; but when I would try to unzip his pants and
take his cock out, he’d grab my hand and ask me to stop. Several times I got up
and went into the kitchen to pout, but he would never relent.

“What’s behind your back?” When I entered, I was holding a small sign, hiding it
from him.

“Tada!” I shouted, holding the sign up that read: HELP WANTED.

“Okay,” he said. “Now tell me what that means.”

“I got a job!” I responded excitedly. Since I was no longer hustling, I didn’t have
any spending money. Mr. Wendelmeier and Ticker were always putting money in
my pants pockets when I slept, but I felt guilty taking it. They would never hand
it to me directly because they knew I would refuse it.

“Where did you get a job?” Allen asked.

“Downstairs,” I grinned.

“Downstairs?”

“Yes, Dummy,” I replied. “Shultz Dry Cleaners. I’ll be working at the counter after
school.”

He asked worriedly, “Are you sure you can do that and keep your grades up too?”

“Sure,” I assured him. “I’m brilliant, remember?”

“No,” he frowned. “You’ve got to keep your grades up so you can be
valedictorian.”  

We had talked about it on several occasions. Being valedictorian was a free ticket
to the local university. They awarded a four-year, all expenses paid scholarship to
the valedictorian and salutatorian at our high school. Since I had no means of
paying for college, it was the only chance I had to further my education.

“I talked to Mr. Walters today,” I assured him. “He said my grades were good
enough to have a part-time job. If they start to slip, I’ll quit working.”

“I don’t know,” he replied worriedly. I sat down beside him.

“Be happy for me,” I smiled. “At least I’m making an honest living.” He leaned in
and kissed me.

“I guess this calls for a celebration.” He got up, walked into the kitchen and
returned with two root beers and a bag of potato chips.

“You don’t spare any expenses, do you?” I laughed.

“Nothing is too good for the guy I love.” He kissed me again. It was the best root
beer I’d ever had.

                                            ********

                                             
  ‘18’

“I still don’t know why you guys are doing this.” I was getting ready for my
birthday party. I was trying to act unconcerned, but inside I was elated. I hadn’t
had a real party since I was eleven. Even then, it had been Uncle Mike who had
bought everything. My parents had come into the kitchen for some cake and ice
cream before disappearing back into the living room to watch the evening news.

I can still recall how thrilled I was when Uncle Mike led me out to the garage and
gave me my gift. He had hidden a bike under a sheet. After seeing what he had
bought me, I jumped into his arms and hugged him. It was the last time I ever
got another birthday gift.

Fortunately, my eighteenth birthday had fallen on a Sunday, and everyone had
gathered around one o’clock in the afternoon. They tried to keep most of the
details of the party from me.

“Just go downstairs and act surprised,” pleaded Ticker. I had been complaining all
week about them throwing me a party. Truthfully, I was afraid I’d break down
and make a fool of myself. To them it was just a birthday party; to me it was
much more. It was the realization that I had friends who truly cared about me.

After one final look in the mirror, I followed Ticker downstairs to the living room.
When I walked in, everyone stood and started applauding. With tears flowing
down my cheek, they sang a very loud and lively version of “Happy Birthday to
you.”

Allen approached with a smile on his face. He pulled me into a hug and
whispered, “I love you, Birthday Boy.” It only made me crying harder. After
wiping away the tears, I looked around the room. It was filled with everyone who
had in some way or another touched my life over the past six months.

Ticker and Star were standing with their arms around each other smiling at me.
Both approached and hugged me. Mr. And Mrs. Wendelmeirer walked over, and
Ticker’s father shook my hand and his mother gave me a hug.

Mrs. Albright approached and gently pushed Allen aside. “He’s mine for a minute,”
she laughed. She then hugged me tightly. “I couldn’t be happier,” she whispered
in my ear. “You’re like a son to me.”

When she stepped aside, Billy Joe and Camilla walked up. Billy Joe shook my
hand and Camilla hugged me. “Happy Birthday, Sweetie,” she said. She looked at
me and smiled. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to come on to you.” She looked over
at Allen. “I see you have someone else doing that now.” She laughed when my
face reddened.

Mrs. Wendelmeirer started clapping and everyone turned to her. “Please come
into the dining room.” Everyone stepped aside as I lead the way into the room.  
I stopped suddenly when I entered. The room was decorated with streamers and
balloons. On one wall was a huge sign that read, “HAPPY 18.”

“I did that,” remarked Arnold proudly when he saw me standing in front of the
sign.

“Thanks,” I replied. He smiled and then walked away.

The table was filled with wrapped gifts. I was having difficulty fighting back the
tears. Mrs. Albright came into the room carrying a large sheet cake with eighteen
candles burning brightly.

“Make a wish and blow out the candles,” she exclaimed. I took a deep breath and
blew them out.

Allen asked, “What did you wish for?”

“It won’t come true if I tell you,” I replied. He smiled and kissed me on my cheek.

The next half hour was filled with joy. I felt like a small boy once again as I ate
ice cream and cake. It still overwhelmed me that everything was for me. Allen sat
by my side making sure that I was having fun. I think he was enjoying it almost
as much as I was.

“Time to open up the gifts,” shouted Star as she walked over and handed me a
package wrapped in blue paper. “I’ll start.” It was so beautifully wrapped that I
was afraid to open it. I had to choke back tears when I finally did. It was the
picture of the sun shining over the wheat field I had admired outside the art
studio the day we left the community clinic.

“Thank you.” I reached out and hugged her tightly. “I love you so much,” I
whispered in her ear.

“Just don’t let Ticker know that,” she giggled. She stepped back and held my
hands. “No one deserves to be happier than you do, Joey. I love you too.” Tears
welled up in both our eyes as we hugged each other once again.

“Here, Dufus.” Ticker walked over and handed me a crudely wrapped gift. It was
obvious he had done it himself.

“Thanks.” I tore off the paper and smiled when I saw what he had bought me. It
was a cell phone. “Damn, Ticker, thanks.” I said appreciatively.

“It’s more a gift for me than you,” he said. “Now you’ll stop borrowing mine to
call Allen all the time.” Everyone in the room started laughing. I looked over at
Allen, and he was blushing.

“Here, Honey.” Mrs. Wendelmeirer walked up and handed me an envelope. I
opened it up and read the comical birthday greeting. There was also another
smaller envelope. I opened it and found a gift card for $100 to a local music shop.

I gave her a hug and then walked over and hugged Mr. Wendelmeirer. “Thank
you,” I said.

“You’re more than welcome, Son,” he replied. Once again I had to fight back tears.

Camilla handed me a gift. “It’s not much,” she said. “It’s from me and Billy Joe.”
They had given me a couple of DVD movies that had just come out. One I had
seen and enjoyed; the other was one I had been wanting to see.

I reached out and hugged her. For once she didn’t try to run her hands over my
body. I guess too many people were around. I then shook Billy Joe’s hand.

I looked at the table and there was one remaining gift. It was beautifully wrapped
in silver paper with a huge white bow. Mrs. Albright motioned for me to come
over to the table.

“It’s a little to large to stand and open,” she announced.  Everyone gathered
around the table. Allen stepped up beside me and held my arm. I carefully
unwrapped the paper to reveal a box that contained a laptop computer. Allen
squeezed my arm when he saw tears well up in my eyes.

“I can’t accept this,” I said. “It costs too much money.” Mrs. Albright walked over
and took my hand.

“It’s a gift, Joey,” she smiled. “You have to take it.”

“No one’s ever given me something like this before,” I said as I looked down at
the computer box.

“You need it,” responded Mrs. Albright. “I’ve watched you for several months
trying to juggle going to school during the day, and then working at the dry
cleaners at night and Saturdays. The rest of your time you spend at the library
so you can use the computers there to complete your school work.”

“I don’t know what to say,” I replied as I walked over and hugged her.

“You don’t have to say anything,” she replied. “I’ll get my reward next year when
you graduate.” She stepped back and smiled. “Besides, you can use it when you
go to college.” Everyone surrounded me started hugging me. It had definitely
turned out to be one of the best days I’d ever spent in my life.

We were sitting around the living room chatting when the doorbell rang. Mr.
Wendelmeirer answered it. We were surprised when Gene entered. He walked
over to his mother and kissed her, and then he walked over to me. I could sense
Allen tense up beside me.

“Happy Birthday,” he said as he handed me a small box wrapped in gold paper
with a yellow bow. “Don’t open it right now, though,” he insisted. “Open it when
you and Allen are alone, all right?”

I nodded, and then he walked away. Mrs. Albright kissed him on his cheek and led
him into the dining room for some cake and ice cream.

“What do you think he gave you?” Allen whispered in my ear.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” I replied. “Must be something he doesn’t want
others to see.”

Everyone sat around the room and talked. Billy Joe and Ticker were having a
contest to see who could tell the grossest joke. I kept watching Allen looking into
the dining room at Gene as he sat alone at the table eating.

Suddenly, he leaned over and kissed my cheek. “I’ll be back in a minute.” He got
up and walked into the dining room. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but
several minutes later they walked through the kitchen and left through the back
door. Star looked over and gave me a puzzled look. I shrugged my shoulders. I
had no idea what was going on.

I sat nervously on the sofa, curious where Allen and Gene had disappeared.
Fifteen minutes later, I excused myself, walked into the kitchen and peered out
the back door. Allen and Gene were sitting on the patio in lawn chairs. It was
obvious by their red, puffy eyes that they had been crying. I turned and walked
away before they noticed me watching them.

They returned about a half hour later. Gene walked over and wished me a happy
birthday before leaving. Allen sat down beside me, took my hand and squeezed it.

“Is everything okay?” I asked worriedly.

“Yes,” he replied. “We’ll talk about it later.” I nodded and went back to listening
to Billy Joe talking about some woman who found a mouse inside a can of soda.
She had drunk half the soda before discovering it. I thought Star was going to
vomit when she grabbed her mouth and groaned.

It was around four when everyone began leaving. Mrs. Albright was the first to
leave. I hugged her tightly and kept thanking her repeatedly for the computer.
She finally laughed and pushed me off. “I’m glad I didn’t get you something like a
car,” she giggled. “You would have smothered me to death.”

I threw up my hands. “I promise I won’t,” I laughed.

“Maybe next year,” she winked. Everyone laughed at the surprised look on my
face.

Star and Ticker left about ten minutes later. I hugged them both and thanked
them for the wonderful gifts they had given me. “This has been the best day of
my life,” I told them. “Thanks for everything.”

After they left, Allen grabbed my hand. “Let’s go to your room and talk.” He
pulled me up and led me upstairs. We fell onto Ticker’s bed and started kissing.
We were soon lying comfortably in each other’s arms.

“You have fun today?” he asked.

“You have no idea,” I replied. I leaned in and gave him a quick kiss. “There was a
time I thought I’d never see this day.” He reached up and wiped away a stray
tear that fell down my face.

“I guess neither of us did,” he said. “I’m glad things turned out the way they did.”

“Me too,” I replied as we cuddled closer.

After a few minutes I asked, “What were you and Gene talking about? You said
you’d tell me later. Later is now.”

Allen sat up in the bed and looked at me. “We really talked,” he said. “He
apologized for the way he’s treated me the past few years. Like I thought, most
of it had to do with his father. He’s really afraid he’s going to find out he’s gay
and kick him out of the house like he did me.”

“So what’s he going to do?”

“Right now, nothing,” he said. “He’s dating some girl named Belinda, and he’s
going to try and keep his father from finding out.”

“There’s something totally wrong with that,” I responded. “He can’t live his life a
lie.”

“He believes he has to,” Allen said worriedly. “And to tell you the truth, I kind of
agree with him. I know what it’s like to lose everything, and I don’t want Gene to
go through that.”

“But he’s going to lose himself,” I said angrily. Allen took my hand and squeezed
it.

“That’s the risk he’s willing to take,” he responded. “Mom has him in counseling,
so he’s getting help. Someday he’ll be able to deal with it. Just not now.”

I leaned into Allen, rested my body against his and let out a big sigh. I really felt
sorry for Gene. Then I thought of my own life, and how it would have been much
easier if others hadn’t found out I was gay. I’d probably still be at home with my
parents. But then I wouldn’t have met Allen. So I guess all things happen for a
reason. I leaned in and kissed Allen passionately.

“What was that for?” he asked breathlessly.

“Does there have to be a reason?” I asked. “Can’t I just show you how much I
love you?”

“Yep,” he said as he leaned in and kissed me. “You have my permission to show
me anytime you want.”

We cuddled for a few minutes until I quickly sat up in bed. “What’s wrong?” Allen
asked worriedly.

“I just remembered something.” I jumped out of bed, went downstairs and found
the box Gene had given me still lying on the table. I returned to the bedroom and
dropped back down in bed.

“What is it?” Allen sat up and looked at the small gift I was holding.

“I don’t know.” I unwrapped the gift. It was from a local jeweler. We both gasped
when I opened the lid. Inside was a pair of gold wedding rings. I carefully lifted
one out and examined it closely. I handed it to Allen. “This one is yours.”

He gave me a quizzical look. “How do you know?”

“Read the inscription.” He rolled it in his hand and read inside the ring. It read,
‘Allen and Joey 4ever.’

He asked, “What does yours say?” I took the other ring out and looked at it. The
inscription read,
‘Joey and Allen 4ever.’

“Damn him,” Allen said as he began to cry. “All these years I’ve hated him, and he
does something like this.” I reached over and pulled him into me, holding him
while he cried softly. When he stopped, I had him sit up and face me. I took the
ring from his hand and held it to his finger.

“I will love you always,” I said as I slipped the ring on his finger. He then took
mine from my hand and placed it at my finger.

“I will always love you more,” he said tearfully as he pushed the ring onto my
finger. We leaned forward and kissed.

He suddenly sat back. “I want to give you my present now. I wanted us to be
alone when I gave it to you.” He got up and disappeared from the room. He
returned a minute later and handed me a small bag. I looked inside and grinned.
I then leaned over and kissed him.

“Does this mean?”

“Yes.” I pulled out a box of condoms and a small tube of K-Y jelly. “I wanted to
wait until you were eighteen.”

I got off the bed and held out my hand to him. I pulled him off the bed and
started leading him to the door.

“Where are we going?”

I leaned in and kissed him. “I want to take you to my special place.”


Chapter 20                                Return to TMJ