“There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Pastor Simpson held the door open and said, “Come in, Matt.”
“Why am I here?” I asked as I stood defiantly on the sidewalk. Pastor Simpson descended the stairs and grabbed my luggage.
“We’ll discuss that later,” he replied as he trudged back up the stairs carrying my luggage. “Get the door for me,” he ordered. I opened the door and watched him walk inside. Hesitantly, I followed behind him.
Pastor Simpson is a large man. He’s tall, and he looks like a retired basketball player. He must be about fifty years old, but I’m not very good at guessing people’s ages. He has a hard face. In all the years I’ve known him, I don’t think I have ever seen him smile. When he tries, it is obvious that it is forced. I guess preaching about sinners all the time has given him a bad outlook on life. You would think if he was such a Christian, he would be filled with love and compassion, but he seems to me to be filled with hate and resentment.
The house was huge, much larger than ours. From the foyer I could see into the living room on the right and a dining room on the right. There were large religious pictures on the walls. Most appeared to be portraits of Jesus. One I recognized from a book I had seen in art class last year. It was a picture of a man touching the finger of God. It was on the ceiling of a church somewhere.
Pastor Simpson continued down a wide hall. I trailed behind. He came to a room at the end and opened the door. “Here is where you will be staying, Matt. I hope you don’t mind, but you’ll be sharing the bedroom with another young man.”
I looked around the room. As with all the rooms in the house, it was large. There were two twin beds on opposite walls. There was also a dresser with religious images on top. In between were two desks with lamps. There was a small sofa against another wall. And again, large religious pictures hung from the walls. The room was clean, but very dark and gloomy. Heavy blue drapes were blocking most of the sunlight from coming into the room.
Pastor Simpson took my luggage and placed it on the bed to the left of the room. The bed on the right looked like it had been hastily made. The covers were crumpled and messy. I wondered who I might be sharing the room with.
I crossed my arms and asked, “How long do I have to be here?”
Pastor Simpson laughed and replied, “Relax, Matt. You haven’t been sentenced to jail. Your father will decide how long you stay based on my recommendations.”
I asked skeptically, “What does that mean?” If my father decided when I had to return, then I might never be able to leave. He seemed like he didn’t want anything to do with me this morning.
Pastor Simpson walked over and patted me on my shoulder. “Why don’t you unpack your belongings, and we’ll discuss this after dinner.” He looked at his watch and said, “I have to be at the church soon. I will see you later.” He turned and left the room. I jumped when I heard him lock the door.
I hurried over and tried to open it, but it was locked. “What is going on?” I asked out loud. I tried to open the door again, but it wouldn’t open. ‘I’m a prisoner,’ I thought to myself.
I rushed over to the window and threw back the heavy drapes. It faced the backyard, looking out into a wooded area. There were also bars on the window! “I am in prison,” I shouted. I tried to open the window, but it appeared to be bolted down. My heart began to pound. I was being held captive, and no one but my parents knew where I was. I could be murdered and buried in the wooded area, and who would look for me? For the first time in my life, I felt fearful.
I sat on the side of the bed and wept. “I’m too young to die,” I sobbed. What had I done to deserve this? Maybe I had overreacted the other night when I told my parents that I hated them, and I wished they weren’t my parents. But I was angry with them. It still didn’t deserve the punishment I was going to receive.
I had no idea what was going to happen to me. I didn’t know Pastor Simpson very well. I had attended a few of his services years ago, but he was the main reason I didn’t want to go back. He scared me. He was always shouting about how everyone is a sinner, and we were already destined to hell if we didn’t change our ways. At twelve, I couldn’t imagine what I had done wrong to go to such a place filled with fire and brimstone. I still don’t know what brimstone is, but I’m sure it is bad.
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to unpack my things because then it would seem that I was going to stay. I walked over to the desks and looked around. What I assumed was my desk contained a Bible, a couple of pencils and two notebooks. I opened one, but it was empty. I hesitantly opened the one on the other desk and it contained writing. Scanning through it, it looked like passages from the Bible had been copied down. The handwriting was written in cursive and legible. Whoever wrote it seemed to take their time. As I flipped through the notebook, I stopped when I came to a page near the back. On it was written a passage from Roman 1:27, In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
I closed the book and sat on the side of the bed. I now knew why Dad had sent me here. He thought I was gay, and he wanted Pastor Simpson to change me. Whoever had written in the notebook must also be suspected of being gay. Pastor Simpson must have had him write those words to make him realize that being gay is a sin.
I walked back over to the door and attempted to open it, but it was locked. I had to find a way to escape. There was no way I was going to stay and listen to Pastor Simpson tell me how bad a person I am because my dad thinks I am gay. Even now, I’m still not sure. I guess after what me and Ricky did last night kind of confirms it, I may decide tomorrow that it was all a big mistake. Tears again filled my eyes as I imagined what my life was going to be like until my father decides that I have changed. I lay on the bed and cried myself to sleep.
I awoke about an hour later, and I had to use the bathroom. I went to the door and pounded on it, but no one answered. Either no one was home, or they were ignoring me. I walked around the room, and I considered peeing into the trashcan beside the desk. I noticed a couple of doors I thought were closets. Fortunately, one was a bathroom. I rushed in, pulled down my pants and relieved myself. When I was done, I looked around the room. It was bare except for a linen closet with fresh towels. I looked into the medicine cabinet, but it too contained little. There was a toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant. I assumed they belonged to the other person in the room. I was hoping I could find some pills. If I did, I was going to take them. That would serve my father right if they found me dead. However, he just might be happy that he no longer had to put up with me.
I went back to my bed and sat down. I thought, how can parents just give up their son so easily, especially when I hadn’t really done anything bad. I told them I hated them, but what teenager hasn’t yelled that at some time in their life? I did everything they ever asked me to do without complaining. Well, except for attending church with them. Besides, I knew that complaining would be useless. They didn’t care how I felt about things. They decided, and it was my duty to comply. Now, I’m afraid I may never be able to return home. I’m only sixteen, and I have nowhere else to go. I know I can’t stay here. I’m a prisoner locked inside a bedroom. I don’t even know where I am. I was so upset with Dad when he picked me up at Ricky’s house, I really didn’t pay attention when he was driving. I know it isn’t far from where we live, but it still would be a long walk, and I would probably get lost trying to find my way back.
I don’t have any relatives I can live with. My parents don’t have anything to do with them because they think they live bad lifestyles. I’ve met my grandparents a couple of times. They usually leave after getting into a fight with my father about one thing or another. Once, his parents left the dinner table when they got with Dad about something happening in Israel. I didn’t understand it, but I know it made my grandparents mad. They went to their room, packed and left. I haven’t seen them since.
My mother’s parents are treated even worse. I guess my mother was born before they got married. She accused them once of having to live with a shameful birth that God condemned, and now she has to atone for their sin. I don’t understand it because they both seem like really great people. But according to my Mom, they will be going to hell because of her.
They both have brothers and sisters, but they never visit. I never thought it was very Christian to turn your back on your blood relatives, but if I had said something, I would have been punished.
I jumped when I heard the front door slam shut. Pastor Simpson must be returning from his meeting. I then heard footsteps coming down the hall. It sounded like two people. My heart started racing because I thought my dad might be with him. I froze when I heard the keys in the door, and the door unlocked. Suddenly, the door opened, and…
Charles Ward walked in.
He was followed by Pastor Simpson. He stopped suddenly when he saw me sitting on the bed. His eyes widened, and he looked quickly at Pastor Simpson.
“Matt,” he ordered, “Stand up.” I stood as he approached. “This is Charles,” he said. “You two will be rooming together.”
“But, Sir,” Charles started to speak, but he was interrupted by Pastor Simpson.
“You boys get to know one another,” he said as he headed toward the door. Before leaving he turned and announced, “Dinner is at six. We’ll have our prayer session immediately after that. Then you boys can complete your written assignments.” When he left, he locked the door.
Charles gave me a puzzled look and asked, “What are you doing here, Matt?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I think I’ve been kidnapped or something.” I went over to the bed and sat down. Charles hesitated before he came over and sat down beside me.”
“What are we doing here?” I asked worriedly. I was hoping he could at least make some sense of what is going on.
Charles looked at me and responded, “We’re being deprogrammed.”
I asked worriedly, “What’s that?” I didn’t like the look in his face when he said it. It gave me a feeling of doom.
“You’ll find out,” he said as he rose and walked over to his desk and sat down. I rose and followed him.
“What do you mean we’re being deprogrammed? For what?”
He swung in the chair and stared into my face. “Are you gay?”
“What?” I asked. “Am I gay?”
“Yes,” he replied. “You must be, or you wouldn’t be here.”
I sat in the chair at the next desk. “What are you talking about?”
He sighed and replied, “Pastor Simpson does gay conversion therapy here. He is trying to make me straight.” Tears filled his eyes, and he began to cry. “There’s nothing wrong with me, but he makes me sound like I’m some kind of a beast.”
I wanted to reach out and hold him, but I didn’t. I asked worriedly, “What’s he do to you?”
Charles wiped the tears from his eyes. “You’ll see,” he replied. “After dinner he is going to hold a prayer meeting. Sometimes it gets pretty scary. Then he’s going to make us come back up here and copy passages from the Bible.” He reached for the notebook and held it up and showed me. Since I had read it earlier, I knew what it said.
“Is he allowed to do that?” I asked worriedly. “I thought things like that were against the law.”
“Not if your parents signed forms to let him like mine did.”
“What?” I rose and started pacing around the room. “You mean my parents gave him permission to do this?” He sadly nodded his head. I returned to my seat and sat down. I pulled my chair nearer to his.
I stared into his face. Charles is very pretty. His complexion is light brown and flawless. It looks like silk. He has dark brown eyes, long eye lashes and dark eyebrows that looked like they had been sculptured to his forehead. Since he is a sophomore like me, I assume that he is sixteen. Looking at him up closely, he appears to me to be around fourteen. I don’t know why I had never noticed him before. But then again, I wasn’t exactly looking at any other boy. I hadn’t even picked up that my best friend is gay.
He noticed me staring and smiled. He reached out and touched the side of my face. “Is this what James did to you yesterday?” I nodded. “Does it hurt?” he asked as he gently touched my bruise.
“A little,” I said, “but not as much as last night.”
“Thanks for helping me,” he smiled slightly. “You really didn’t have to. I’m used to boys like James picking on me.”
“But it was wrong,” I said angrily. “You weren’t doing anything.”
Tears welled up in his beautiful brown eyes. “I exist in their world, and boys like James feel threatened.”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
He replied tearfully, “You will.” We sat for minute and just looked at each other. Charles reached out and ran his finger around the dark bruise on my face. I closed my eyes and felt his gentle caress. “I’m really sorry you had to suffer for trying to protect me.”
“It was nothing,” I smiled. “I would do it all again if I had to.”
He reached down and gripped my hand. “Are you gay?”
I answered, “I don’t know.”
He gave me a puzzled look and asked, “What do you mean you don’t know?”
“I don’t know,” I said as I looked down at his hand holding mine. “Until a couple of days ago I didn’t think I was.”
“I’m not following you,” he responded. “What happened?”
I said, “I’d rather not say. Something happened and now I’m not sure.”
“Is it Ricky?” he asked.
“What!” I said excitedly. “Why did you ask me that?”
He smiled and said, “Ricky talked to me at school yesterday.” I suddenly remembered seeing them walking down the hall together. “He came out to me, and he said something happened that he regretted.” He gripped my hand tighter. “It just makes sense that something happened between you. I’ve seen how close you have been since grade school.”
“What did he tell you?”
“I told you, nothing,” he replied. “But since both of you now seem to be coming out at the same time, I figured something must have happened.”
I hung my head and confessed, “Ricky kissed me.”
Charles laughed and said, “That’s it? I figured you guys have been doing some stuff for years.”
“No,” I replied. “We’ve never thought about it until the other day.”
Charles asked, “So Ricky kissed you, and now both of you think you’re gay?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Ricky and I talked last night. I guess he’s known he is gay for a few years. He was just afraid to tell me.”
“And now you think you’re gay too?”
“No,” I blurted out, “Not after what happened last night.”
He raised his eyebrow and grinned. “And what happened last night?” He laughed as my face turned a bright red.
“Nothing,” I stammered. “Forget I said that.”
“Okay,” he laughed as he squeezed my hand tightly. I had almost forgotten that we were still holding hands. He gave me a mischievous grin. “But someday I’m going to make you tell me.” We both sat back and laughed.
He stopped and gave me a serious look. “You still haven’t told me why you’re here. Why did your parents bring you to Pastor Simpson’s house?
I was reluctant to tell Charles that he was the reason. Finally, I confessed, “My dad and I got into a big fight over you.”
“Me?” he asked excitedly. “What do I have to do with it?”
I then explained how I had told them how I got the bruise by protecting him. It was embarrassing to tell him what my father had said about him, and how he had told me that he thought that I should have let James bully him.
“I get that a lot,” he responded sadly. “Sometimes adults can be worse that kids our age.” He gave me a puzzled look. “I still don’t see what you did that made them send you here.”
I replied, “I got tired of hearing his crap, so I told him I hated him. I told them I wish they weren’t my parents. Then, I ran away.”
“You ran away?”
I giggled, “If you want to call going to the library running away.” Then I told him about Ricky coming to the library and taking me home with him, and that I spent the night with him.
“I see,” he responded with a mischievous grin. “So, you spent the night with him, and now you know you’re gay?”
I released his hand and gave him a gentle shove. “Shut up.” I rose and walked around the room. I knew if we continued the conversation, I would tell him just what Ricky and I had done.
I paced around a minute, and then returned to my seat. “Why are you here?” I asked Charles.
Tears welled up in his eyes. “My parents don’t want a gay son,” he replied sadly. “They are hoping that Pastor Simpson can change me and make me straight.”
“That’s crazy,” I replied angrily. “He can’t do that.”
“Wait until tonight,” said Charles. “It’s almost like torture.”
I asked worriedly, “Does he hit you?”
“No,” he replied. “But sometimes I wish he would so I could have him arrested. But he scares me. He really believes that God is going to make me straight. He gets to praying and shouting so loud that I almost pee my pants.”
“Wow,” I said worriedly. When I was little, his sermons made me feel the same way. I had stopped attending church because of it. Now, my parents were submitting to one of the worse punishments I could imagine.
“Then when we get through praying,” he explained, “I have to come to my room and copy passages from the Bible that talk about how bad being gay is. Sometimes I have to copy them twenty-five or thirty times.”
“How long have you been here?”
“About a week,” he replied. “He takes me to school, and then he picks me up when I get out. That’s why I had to leave the other day when James and you got into a fight. If I’m late, he’ll make me do extra writing.”
“Have you seen your parents since you’ve been here?”
Tears again welled up in his eyes. “No,” he cried softly. “I don’t think they want me to come home anymore.” I leaned over and took him in my arms as he continued to cry.
He cried for a few minutes before sitting up and wiping his eyes dry. “Thanks,” he said as he looked at me and smiled gently. “I’m glad you’re hear. I was about ready to lose my mind.”
Suddenly, we heard footsteps coming up the stairs. We rushed to our beds and sat on the edge. To Pastor Simpson, it would just appear like we were talking across the room.
He opened the door and stepped in. “Dinner is ready, Boys.” We followed him out the door and down the stairs.