“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.
“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.