“Hold up!” Star grabbed my shoulder and turned me around. I had run out of Allen’s room, and I was heading back to mine. “What is going on?”
“Just forget it,” I insisted. I couldn’t explain my feelings. When I entered the room and saw the angry look on Allen’s face, I was filled with my own frustration. It seemed like we were two cars colliding on a dark, deserted highway.
Since that day on the bridge, Allen’s sad countenance had been etched into my mind. I lay at night thinking about him, wondering if I would ever see him again. I had even visited the coffee shop a few times hoping to run into him. However, the look on his face, the anger and disgust, took me by surprise. So I ran.
“Joey,” begged Star. “Please stop and talk to me.” I had been trying to pull away from her so I could get back to my room.
I stopped and faced her. She asked, “Do you two know each other?” I stared into her blue eyes, trying to figure out the emotions I was feeling.
“We’ve met,” I confessed.
“You know Allen?”
“I said we’ve met.” I turned and started walking away.
“Would you stop and talk to me!” she shouted. I looked around the hall to see if anyone had heard her outburst. A nurse’s aide looked out a nearby door, but then she disappeared.
“Let’s go to my room,” I said as I turned and walked quietly down the hall.
Once inside my room, I dropped into a chair and buried my head in my hands. Star entered the room apprehensively and took a seat next to me. After a minute, she took my hand in hers and gently rubbed the back of it.
“Would you like to explain to me what is going on?”
I sat a minute, and then I let out a deep sigh. I looked at the anxious look on her face. I then proceeded to tell her about my brief encounter with Allen. She seemed upset when I told her that he wanted to commit suicide. When I was done, she got up and entered the bathroom. I could hear here crying softly inside. After several minutes, she returned. Her face was tear-stained, and she looked extremely upset.
“I knew he was depressed,” she said, “but I had no idea he wanted to die.”
“What’s wrong with him?” I had been wondering about his health since we met. For someone so young, he looked like he was at death’s door.
“I can’t say,” she replied tearfully. She began to cry uncontrollably. I reached over and pulled her into my shoulder as she continued to sob.
“Is he your boyfriend?” I asked when she finally regained her composure.
“No,” she laughed nervously. “It’s nothing like that.”
“Then what is it?”
“Allen was my next door neighbor,” she responded. “I’ve known him almost my entire life. The past few years have been very hard for him.”
“I gathered that much,” I said. “What’s his problem?”
“He’s very sick,” she said. “But I don’t want to go into that. He also has a problem with his family.”
“Who doesn’t,” I laughed.
“You know Gene Albright, right?”
“Yes,” I spat. My face began to flush with anger.
“He’s Allen’s brother.”
“But they don’t have the same last name,” I said.
“They have different fathers,” she informed me. “Allen is from the first marriage.”
“If Gene is his brother, then no wonder Allen is so fucked up.” I added nervously, “I'm still afraid he's going to try and get back at me for getting him suspended.”
“That sounds like Gene,” she replied angrily. “Allen left his house because he was so hateful and homophobic.” A surprised look appeared on her face after she realized what she had said.
I asked, “So Allen is gay?”
“That’s not for me to say,” she replied embarrassedly.
“Just what can you say?” I laughed, trying to ease some of the tension in the room.
“You never did give me a reason why you ran from the room.” She stared intently into my face.
“I can’t really explain it,” I confessed. “It just took me by surprise, I guess. Seeing him in that bed, and then the look he gave me.”
“It was rather strange,” she replied. “Allen has his problems, but he’s really not so bad a guy once you get past his thick exterior. From what you told me, it sounds like you guys kind of bonded.”
“Daring me to jump off a bridge isn’t exactly bonding,” I laughed. “Besides, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.” Star looked at me worriedly.
“Sorry,” I apologized. “I guess you don’t think that’s very funny.”
Just then, the door opened and Ticker came bounding in with a grin on his face. “You ready to go, Bitch?” He stopped suddenly when he noticed Star.
“Oops.” His face began to redden. “I didn’t know you had company.”
“Star,” I said. “This fat head is my friend, Ticker. Ticker, Star.”
“I’ve seen you someplace,” Ticker stood staring down at Star. “I never forget a pretty face.”
“Better be careful,” I laughed looking over at Star. “He’s turning on the charm.” She started to blush.
“I’m a friend of Billy Joe’s,” she informed Ticker.
“That’s where I know you from,” he replied. “Aren’t you also Barry’s sister?”
“Yes,” she answered.
“He’s an asshole,” spat Ticker.
“Yes he is,” laughed Star.
Ticker turned and looked at me. “Are you ready to get out of here? Dad’s signing the papers now.”
“I’ve never been more ready,” I admitted. “This place sucks big time.”
“Then let’s go,” Ticker said as he threw his big arm over my shoulder. “I have a ton of homework.”
“Fucker,” I laughed as I removed his arm from my shoulder. “Give me a minute alone with Star, will you?” Ticker raised an eyebrow as he looked back and forth between us. I was going to tell him it wasn’t like that, but I thought I’d keep him wondering for a while.
After he left, I asked Star if she was going to go back to Allen’s room. She said she was going to spend a few hours with him.
“Tell him I’m sorry for leaving so suddenly.”
“I will.” She stood on her tiptoes and kissed me gently on my cheek. “Maybe you can come with me and visit him sometime.”
“I don’t think so,” I laughed nervously. “Somehow I’m not sure he’d like that.”
“You’d be surprised,” she said knowingly. She turned and left the room.
On the way to Ticker’s house, he kept questioning me about Star. He was very careful not to mention that I was gay in front of his father. I couldn’t help but laugh as I watched him choosing his words carefully. I know he was dying to say something like, “What is a gay guy like you doing with a cute girl like Star?”
Ticker’s family is- interesting. I guess you could say they are a dysfunctional family, but in a good sort of way.
Ticker’s dad is a quiet man. He doesn’t say a lot, and he seems happy if everyone just leaves him alone. As soon as we entered the house, he went to a lazy boy chair, sat back and began reading the newspaper. I don’t think he came from behind the paper for over an hour.
His mother, on the other hand, is just the opposite. She wants to know everything. She immediately sat me down at the kitchen table and began interrogating me. I jokingly asked her at one point if she was a police detective. She replied, “I’m just a mother with four children. I have to know what they are doing.”
I looked over at Ticker and gave him a knowing grin. If she was so interested in their activities, then how was he able to sell weed without her becoming suspicious? He later told me that she’s very naïve. If she ever found his stash, she’d be the kind of person who would believe it was oregano, if he told her that was what it was.
Ticker is one of four children. He has a two brothers, one younger and one older. Jeremy is nineteen and still lives at home. He works at Radio Shack, so he’s hardly at home. Ticker said he comes in late and leaves early.
Arthur is his younger brother. He’s thirteen and still in middle school. He’s somewhat of a computer geek. Ticker said he’s always in his room dreaming up new programs. He says Arthur wants to be the next Bill Gates.
Greta is his older sister. She is a junior at the state university, majoring in criminal justice. She wants to become a probation officer. “Maybe she’ll handle your case someday,” Ticker said with a grin.
“Naw,” I laughed. “Arthur can hire me a good lawyer since he’s going to be a billionaire.”
Another striking thing about the Wendelmeir family is the fact that they are all so skinny- except Ticker. You could almost take his two brothers and fit them into one pair of Ticker’s pants.
Eating dinner with them was an interesting experience. Ticker piled his plate with food, fit for an army. His mother and father hardly ate anything, and Arthur played with his food most of the time. Ticker ate like it was his last meal, while the rest of his family seemed like they had just finished a big meal and couldn’t eat anything more.
“Let’s go for a walk,” Ticker suggested after we had finished eating. Without his mother noticing, he blew out a couple of puffs of air. I knew what he had in mind.
We walked to a playground about two blocks from his house. Since no one was around, we sat on the swings and Ticker lit a joint. We passed it back and forth without saying anything for several minutes.
“When we get back,” Ticker looked at me and grinned, “I have some geometry that needs to be done.”
“Damn it, Ticker,” I responded angrily. “I’m not going to be doing your homework everyday.”
When he noticed how upset I was becoming, he apologized. “Please, Joey. I’m really struggling in that class. You’re smart. You can help me.”
“I’ll be glad to help you,” I said, “but I won’t do it for you. You’ll never learn anything that way.”
“You sound like my dad,” he laughed. “I can’t talk him into doing it, either.”
Suddenly, I became depressed. It had been a week since I had been in school. I had missed a lot of work, and it was quite possible that my grades would suffer as a result. I really wasn’t worried about that as much as the reaction to my appearance back in school the next day.
I guess the media had covered my suicide attempt for a couple of days. The cop who rescued me had become a hometown hero. He had been interviewed several times on television. At the same time, the local paper had somehow acquired an old photo of me when I was in about the seventh grade. Everyone now knew my story.
“It won’t be so bad,” Ticker said as if he had read my mind.
“Yeah, sure,” I responded sadly. “Easy for you to say.”
He passed me another joint. “Smoke it all,” he insisted. He lit another for himself.
“I don’t know what to do, Ticker.” I looked over at him sadly. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes, but I didn’t care. “It seems like I’m always taking one step forward and three steps back.” The weed was hitting me, and I was becoming extremely emotional.
“Damn it, Joey!” shouted Ticker. “Don’t you ever have a happy thought? I’ve known you for over ten years, and you’re always a sad sack.”
“Fuck it!” I spat. I rose and started walking away. Ticker ran up and grabbed me. He turned me toward him, and then he pulled me into his large chest. I started crying uncontrollably.
“I’m so tired of living like this,” I sobbed.
“It will be alright, Joey,” he said reassuringly. I couldn’t believe it when he kissed me on my forehead, like my mother used to do when I was a little boy and was scared.
“You fag,” I laughed as I pushed him away. His gesture had been so tender and filled with brotherly love, that I didn’t know how to respond. Even though we had been like brothers, we had never outwardly expressed our feeling for each other before.
“Shut up, Fucker,” he responded nervously. I laughed even louder when I saw how embarrassed he was. I guess he hadn’t really considered what he had done.
“Thanks.” I stepped toward him and gave him a hug. He tentatively put his arms around me and squeezed back. We separated and headed back home without saying anything more about what had happened at the playground.
My worries about school were not unfounded. When I entered the school Monday morning, everyone stopped and watched me walk down the hallway. It was as if Moses was parting the Red Sea. People stepped out of my way as I approached.
Then the verbal assaults began. “Fag, pathetic, loser, fucker.” Every derogatory word they could think of was hurled at me. They stood in their little groups and berated me like I was something inhuman. A couple of students looked at me sympathetically before casting their eyes downward and scurrying away.
I stared forward, acting as if I couldn’t hear anything they said. It really wasn’t all that difficult anyways. I’d been the target of their abuse for many years. Only this morning it was a little more explicit.
“Should have died,” one girl said angrily as I passed by.
“I don’t know why they let him come back to school,” another student replied. “We don’t need his kind around here.” I continued walking, ignoring their hateful comments.
The PA system blared with the announcement, “Would Joey Carpenter please report to Mr. Walters’s office.” I turned around and headed for the office, passing the same students who had just hurled their insults at me.
I walked into the office and plopped down in a chair in the waiting area. I figured it would be a few minutes until Mr. Walters could see me. I really wasn’t in any hurry to go into this office, anyways. I knew he was going to question me about what had happened.
About ten minutes later, he stepped from his office and motioned for me to enter. The secretary gave me a look like I was some freak in the sideshow. I sat down in a chair across from Mr. Walters’s desk and waited patiently while he thumbed through some papers on his desk. Finally, he finished and looked at me. He studied me a few seconds before speaking.
“How are you feeling?”
“Okay,” I responded flatly. This was bullshit. He was going to dance around the issue. I knew he had of questions, but he wasn’t sure how to approach “it.” After the reaction of my classmates earlier, I wasn’t in the mood.
Without thinking, I stood and said, “Sorry, Mr. Walters, but I quit.”
I walked out of his office, hurried down the hallway and exited the building. It didn’t matter any longer. Who was I fooling to think that if I went to school every day and studied hard, I could climb my way out of the shithole I was in.
Isn’t that what teachers tell you? “If you just study hard, you can be anything you want to be.” Bunch of fucking liars. Just because they did it, didn’t mean everyone could.
“Hey, Kid. Looking for some action?”
“Sure, why not.”
I climbed into the car with four guys, all about twenty. They took me back to their apartment, and we spent the day drinking, smoking and having sex. They wanted to fuck me, but I told them I had had a bad case of diarrhea the day before and it might not be a wise idea. I did manage to suck all of them off, one guy three times. They fucked each other, and I fucked two of them. It was the first time I had ever performed anal sex on someone. I guess you could say I lost my virginity that afternoon.
We must have gone through about three bottles of whiskey and smoked a huge bag of weed during the five hour orgy. I was extremely fucked up by the time I left the apartment. Somehow, I managed to stagger back to Ticker’s house.
His mother was in the kitchen preparing dinner. She started to say something to me, but then a look of horror appeared on her face when she noticed the drunken state I was in. She stood aghast as I stumbled past her and headed to Ticker’s room and collapsed on the cot he had put in his room for me.
I woke up sick about one in the morning. I could feel my stomach bubbling as I rushed to the bathroom and vomited violently. I was still spitting into the bowl when Ticker opened the door and entered.
“You all right?”
“Yeah,” I replied sarcastically. “Everything is fantastic.”
“Joey,” he said worriedly, “You got to pull yourself together. You’re killing yourself.”
I arose and stood before him. “What the fuck do you care, Ticker? You ain’t my mother!”
“Please what?” I spat. “You gonna hug me again?” Tears started streaming down my face as I looked into his hurt face.
“Goddamn it!” I shouted, and then I rushed from the bathroom. I ran down the hall, opened the front door and once again ran away. I had run away from school earlier in the day, and now I was running from the only person who even remotely cared about me.
Life fucking sucks.
So where do I end up? Where I always do- Sullivan Lake. As soon as I got here, I stripped naked and jumped into the cold water. I swam across the lake twice before I pulled myself on the beach, exhausted and gasping for air.
“Why?” I rolled onto my back and looked up at the stars. “Why, me?”
I spent the next few days just wandering aimlessly around the city. I made enough money turning tricks to buy myself something to eat. However, my clothes were beginning to get soiled. I was able to keep myself clean by swimming in the lake, but my clothes wrinkled terribly when I tried to wash them out.
Thrift stores are a great place to buy things inexpensively. I was able to buy a few clean shirts, pants and underwear for less than ten dollars. For another dollar, I bought a school backpack to keep them in. As long as the weather didn’t turn too cold, I was sure I could survive.
On the street you loose track of time and days. I didn’t know how long it had been since I left Ticker’s home. I thought several times of calling him, but then I figured he’d just try to talk me into coming back.
Ticker was a good guy, and I didn’t want to ruin his life like I had mine. It seemed like everything I touched turned to a pile of shit. At least by staying away, I could prevent him from catching the Joey the Hoey curse. I cared that much about him to at least do that.
After several more endless days and nameless sexual encounters, I was heading back to Sullivan Lake to find solace. As I started to cross the bridge, I noticed a familiar thin figure propped against the wall with his arms wrapped tightly around his legs. He had his head resting on top of his knees.
When I approached cautiously, he looked up briefly. I walked over and slumped against the wall beside him. Without saying a word, I pulled my knees into my body and rested my head on them. We sat for about ten minutes without saying a word.
He finally asked, “What was it like?”
I took a minute before answering him. “I wasn’t scared,” I finally replied. “I just did it.”
He looked over at me. “Yeah?”
“What happened?” he asked. “You didn’t die.”
“I don’t know.” I looked at him and our eyes met. “Suddenly, I didn’t want to die. I don’t know. All of a sudden it seemed so.. permanent. You know?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “I hate my life, but when it came time to ending it, it was like I wasn’t ready. I can’t really explain it.”
“I know,” he sighed, as he rested his head back on his knees. “Permanent is a bitch.”
“Yeah. A real bitch.”
We sat for several minutes without speaking again. I looked over a couple of times and he was completely motionless. Then his shoulders began to shake, and soon he was sobbing loudly.
I scooted over closer to him, put my arm around his neck and pulled him into me. His head fell into my lap, and I stroked his hair as we both wept.
We were two lonely figures huddled together on a deserted bridge.