Brittle as a Bird

Chapter 4

Who came up with weekends? What lame brain said that we should not go to school, but instead take a couple days off? I hate the weekends. It’s really lonely for someone like me.

What do I have to do? I leave home before my old man gets up and starts drinking. I don’t want to be around to be his whipping boy just because he feels like taking his shit out on someone. My mom has been listening to his crap for eighteen years. She has this amazing ability to just shut him out, and he’s defenseless against it. He’s never once hit her, which means I became the object of his resentment. So, I just get the fuck out of Dodge.

What does someone who has no friends do when there is a forty-eight hour opportunity to do anything you want to do? I usually drink and get high, just so I can forget that I have no friends and nothing to do.

That is why I like school. At least I have something to do to take my mind off my miserable existence. The way I see it, since I’m there, I might as well make the most of it. That’s why my grades are so high. My mind is a sponge for information; the same way my liver is a sponge for alcohol. I think they are in a race to see which one goes out first. My vote is for my liver. That is, if my lungs don’t win the race from all the weed I’ve smoked.

I’ve made my way to Sullivan Lake again. It’s warm out today. I have taken off my shirt and I’m basking in the warm sun. It feels good. It makes me almost glad to be alive. Almost.

And what was that shit with Allen the other day? I stopped by the coffee shop this morning. I even checked out the bridge; you know, just in case he decided to do it this morning. But he wasn’t anywhere.

For the past few nights, every time I close my eyes I keep seeing the emptiness behind his. It terrifies me. I guess I shouldn’t give a shit, but I do. I can’t explain it. In my short life, I’ve met a lot of lonely and tragic figures. Guys have poured out their hearts to me after I’ve sucked their dicks. They feel this need to seek absolution, I guess. By telling me their miserable life stories, they feel it will justify what we did.

But Allen is different.

I love it here. It must be what God meant for the Garden of Eden to be like- calm and peaceful. Wouldn’t it be great if the world was like this? No shit going on. Just, what’s the word I want? Yeah, serene. People getting along and things like that. No fighting, wars or other things that we’ve fucked up.

Peaceful and calm. Sometimes when I’m lying like this, I wonder if this is what eternity is like? Wouldn’t that be great to spend forever feeling like this? No one yelling at me, telling me what a miserable fuck I am. No more sucking a stranger’s dick just to get some money to be able to do the things I shouldn’t be doing in the first place.

But for a few hours each week, I still got this. It’s the one thing I think I’d miss if I ever left this fucking place. Sullivan Lake. It’s the only place I am not me. I don’t know what I mean by that. It’s like I leave for a while and become something, I don’t know- spiritual, I guess. There’s nothing here that defines me. No sex, drugs or alcohol. No screaming fuckhead of a father, and no disappointed look on my mother‘s face. I don’t have to put up with the condescending looks of my classmates, and there’s no ‘fag’ or ‘Joey Hoey.’

It’s just calm and peaceful. It’s what I want to be, but I don’t have a fucking clue how to achieve it. How can I take what I’m feeling this minute and hold it? I get about a mile from here and return to the real world, and the same old shit starts all over again.

And where the fuck is Allen? I want to bring him here to Sullivan Lake. Ever since the other day, I want him to come here and experience what I feel. Maybe the sun will penetrate his vacant eyes and give him a minute of peace.

Then again, maybe I won’t. This is my thing. It’s not meant to be shared. If I share it, I will be giving away a part of it to someone else, and I can’t do that. I know that sounds selfish, but what else have I got?


“Yeah, Kid?” Louie asks as he cracks the door open and looks angrily out.

“The usual.”

“Hang on.”

Louie returns a minute later and hands me a paper bag with the cheap wine wrapped inside. I give him a ten, and he slams the door shut.

Suddenly, I hear some footsteps behind me. I turn and two police officers are running toward me.

One of them shouts, “Don’t move!” Instinctively, I turn and haul ass. It’s not the first time I’ve had to run away from a situation. I hear one of them running about six feet behind me. He must be a young cop. The older ones usually don’t last too long.

I jump over a fence and head down an empty alley. I can still hear him behind me, but now he’s gasping for air and he’s fallen a few feet further behind me.

“Stop running, you Son of a Bitch!” He hollers in exasperation. I laugh to myself, knowing he’s rapidly tiring.

“Gotcha!” I didn’t see the cop step out from behind a building and take me down. He must have played football in high school, because he grabbed me around the waist and we both tumbled to the ground. Before I regained my senses, I was handcuffed and being placed in the back of a police cruiser.

“You don’t look so smart now.” The younger cop who had been chasing me was leaning against the door, still gasping for air. I wasn’t doing much better. My chest was killing me. The weed was affecting my wind capacity. I used to be able to run for miles without even breathing hard. A few blocks and I now felt like I was experiencing a heart attack.

He slammed the door shut, jumped in the car and drove off. I thought he was taking me to jail, but we headed in the wrong direction. He drove up to Louie’s and parked outside. Within a few minutes, Louie and two of his clerks were brought out in handcuffs. Louie looked inside the cruiser at me and shook his head sadly.

I feel like a miserable piece of shit. Because he felt sorry for kids like me, he was now probably going to serve some time in jail. Louie is one of the good guys, know what I mean? He understands street kids, and he never tried to take advantage of us.

“Are you taking me to jail?” I asked the cop after we pulled away.

“Nope, Kid.” He turned around and looked at me. “You’re only seventeen. It’s juvie for you.”

Damn. I knew what that meant. Since I was being taken to a juvenile facility, they’d have to call my old man. Shit. I’m screwed. If they had taken me to adult jail, I would have been locked up until my court appearance without my parents knowing anything about it. They probably wouldn’t have even noticed I was missing.


“So tell me Mr. Carpenter, why did you want the alcohol?” The elderly woman who had been assigned my case was looking down and reading my arrest report. She looked tired. I’m guessing that she could probably give a rat’s ass why I drink. I’m just another folder on her desk that she has an obligation to handle as quickly as possible.

“I wanted to give it to the dog,” I answered sarcastically.

“I see,” she said, removing her glasses and glaring at me. “Listen, Smart Ass. We can do this my way, or we can do it the hard way. I think you’d much prefer my way.”

I tried to hold her gaze, but I looked away after a few seconds. She’d dealt with guys much worse than me over the years. This was my first arrest, and I was way out of my league.

“Sorry,” I apologized. “It’s just something I do now and then.”

She put her glasses back and spent several minutes thumbing through a folder that had my name on it. For someone who had never been in trouble before, there was quite a bit of material in the folder.

She stopped reading and studied me for a minute. “Why is a boy with a 4.0 GPA sitting across from me being charged for underage consumption of alcohol, failure to comply, evading police and resisting arrest?”

I hung my head. I had no answer to give her. What was I to do? Tell her my whole life story that lead up to the answer she wanted. Even if she had the time, I’m sure she wouldn’t care to hear it. She just wanted to get this over with as effortlessly and painlessly as I did.

“You have nothing to say?”

“No, Ma’am.”

The silence in the room was deafening. As I hung my head, I could tell she was still staring at the top of my head. There was no noise, no shuffling of papers or the interruption of a telephone call. Just silence.

She finally cleared her throat and spoke. “Look at me, Mr. Carpenter. Joey.” I raised my head and looked into her sympathetic eyes. 

“I noticed that you go to Southwestern High School.” She thumbed through some more papers on her desk. “It was a little difficult since it’s a Saturday, but I got hold of Mr. Walters, the assistant principal. After reading your school records, I realized I wasn’t dealing with a boy who is prone to a life of crime. We don’t get many honor students in here. I found your case intriguing.”

She looked up and gave me a questioning look. “So I’m trying to understand what brought you here today. My guess is a lot of it has to do with your father.”

At the mention of my old man’s name, my mood changed to anger. I sat erect and became extremely defensive. I didn’t know where this conversation was going.

Sensing my anger, she said, “Calm down, Joey. After talking to your father on the phone, I am quite sympathetic. He’s a real asshole.”

I bit the top of my lip, trying to stop a smile from appearing on my face. The last thing I would expect a juvenile counselor to say was that my father was an asshole, even though it is true.

“Mr. Walters shared a little bit of information with me.” She sat back and once again studied me quietly. “I don’t think incarcerating you will do any good. In fact, it could be detrimental to your case. Despite a bad home life, you go to school and make exemplary grades. He tells me that you may well be this year’s valedictorian, depending how you keep up your grades the remainder of the year. I have to admit, I find that very respectable.”

“So, what’s going to happen to me?” I asked. She seemed to want to help me; but there didn’t seem too much she could do, considering my present circumstances.

“Is there any responsible adult who can come and sign you out?”

My head sprung up, and I looked into her smiling face. “You’re releasing me?”

“Yes,” she responded, “and I hope I’m not making a mistake. I’ve been doing this for twenty six years and I’ve never been wrong yet with my hunches. Please don’t be the first to prove me wrong. You’ll be eighteen in a few months, and by the time this made its way through the juvenile system you’d be an adult.”

“But I don’t know anyone,” I sighed. “Did you talk to my mother?”

“Yes, I did.” The frown on her face made it apparent the position my mother took. She had to keep peace at home. If it meant abandoning me, then it was the price she was willing to pay.

I suddenly had an idea. “Can it be anyone who is over eighteen?”

She nodded her head. “As long as they are eighteen and willing to be responsible for your conduct.”

So Ticker arrived an hour later. He met with the counselor, who I later learned was Mrs. Fulton. She had Ticker sign a few papers. Most were rather routine. She was treating me basically as an adult, which she said wasn’t all that unusual for someone who was approaching the age of eighteen.

When I asked about the charges against me, she said they would be dropped, assuming I stayed out of trouble until I turned eighteen. I was also banned from going anywhere near Louie’s. That wasn’t a problem, since I was pretty sure Louie would never want to see me again.

“I told you that some day your vices were going to get you into trouble.” Ticker grabbed me, pulled my head under his arm and began giving me a noogie. It had been several years since he had done this. I tried to pull away, but since he was twice my size, it was futile.

“Stop it, Fucker!” I squealed. “That shit hurts.” He let me go, throwing his arm protectively around my shoulder.

“What are you going to do now?” he asked worriedly. “Your old man isn’t going to take this too well.”

“Tell me.” I couldn’t decide if he had chosen decapitation or castration as a suitable punishment for my rebellious behavior.

We got in his car and drove away. “Where do you want me to take you?”

“Home, I guess.” I didn’t know where else to go. I knew I’d have to face his wrath sooner or later. It had been a couple of years since he last beat me, so maybe he thought I had gotten too big to hit any longer.

“You sure?” He looked over at me with a worried look. He knew how angry my father could be. Ticker was the only person who had really seen the bruises my father had inflicted on my body when I was younger. He would daily look at the bruises on my back and tell me what color they were. I was always relieved when he told me they had disappeared; then I could go swimming again in the local pool- at least until the next time.

“Not really,” I replied, “But where else am I going to go?”

Ticker dropped me off a block from my house. That was the usual routine. I wanted my father to think that I was walking wherever I went, just in case he was watching my activities.

When I approached the house, I could see my mother peeking out through the curtains of the living room. She closed them when she saw me look at her.

When I walked around to the side of the house to the garage door, my clothes were thrown all over the yard. It looked like my father had taken my dresser drawers and just dumped them out. There were a couple of garbage bags nearby. I suppose that was my mother’s contribution.

I tried my key in the door, but it wouldn’t work. My father had changed the lock so that I couldn’t enter the house. Dejectedly, I turned and stuffed the small amount of clothing strewn over the yard into the trash bags. Once done, I threw them over my shoulder and headed off down the sidewalk. I didn’t have a clue where to go.

One thing was certain, I needed money. There was only one way I knew to make it. I hit the streets, and by midnight I’d been picked up by six guys. One was a regular who tipped me nicely. I now had $150 in my pocket. At least I’d be able to eat for the next week.

Finding someplace to sleep was a different problem. I had no where to go. I had no family in the area and no friends. I couldn’t stay at Ticker’s house. He came from a large family. There were three teenage boys in the home. The last thing they needed was another mouth to feed. Besides, if Ticker did ask me to stay, I’d probably refuse. I knew it would cause a problem with him and his family, and I didn’t want to come between them.

Sullivan Lake is cold at night. I’ve layered almost every article of clothes I own, and I’m still lying here shivering. A small breeze is blowing across the lake, and it’s almost unbearable. But where else am I going to go? If I stayed in the city, I’d have to sleep in an alley somewhere. I was sure to be beaten and robbed by morning.

I may be a street kid, but I don’t have a lot of street savvy. I can pick up a john and score some weed, but I don’t know how to defend myself. That was evident when Gene Albright wanted to kick my ass. A real street person would recognize my weakness immediately.

So I came out to the lake. At least I knew I’d be safe. Although I did lie awake most of the night because I wasn’t used to the strange noises that the outdoors produces. I kept hearing the leaves rustling around me, and I was worried that some stray animal would come suddenly upon me. And then there was that damn owl. He hooted in the tree over my head most of the night.


“You look like shit.” Billy Joe was the first person to notice me Monday morning when I entered school. Camille even wrinkled her nose when I approached. I was carrying my two bags of clothing, hoping I could cram them into my locker.

“I feel like shit,” I responded as I wandered off in the direction of my locker.

I tried to sleep during first period; however, Mrs. Vandyke, my physiology teacher, was lecturing. She had a habit of walking around the room and standing deliberately over students whom she thought weren’t paying attention. She seemed to be spending an unusually long time at my desk.

“Would Joey Carpenter report to the main office?” Everyone turned to look at me when the announcement was made over the PA system. I arose from my desk and hurried from the room. “His boyfriend is here to pick him up,” someone said loudly as the rest of the class started laughing.

When I entered, the school secretary asked me to have a seat. She said that Mr. Walters would like to see me. He was on the phone, but he would be with me shortly. Fifteen minutes later, he walked out and motioned for me to follow him to his office.  When I sat down, he leaned back in his seat and put his hands behind his head. He stared at me for about a minute before saying anything. “You got yourself into a little trouble over the weekend?” He continued to stare at me as he rocked slowly in his chair.

“Yes, Sir,” I replied embarrassedly. My head was down as I watched an ant slowly make its way across the floor.

“I talked to Mrs. Fulton, and she told me she released you with some conditions.”

“Yes, Sir.” Again, I refused to look up.

“I’ve known for some time that you’ve had problems at home,” he said softly, “but you seemed to be all right. You come to school and do well. I know that you’ve had trouble with other students sometimes harassing you, but you seemed to deal with it. And I’ve heard the gossip of what you do once you leave these doors.”

Goddamn it! NO! Not fucking tears. I can’t stop them. They’re flowing down my cheeks; and no matter how quickly I wipe them away with my sleeve, they still keep falling.

Mr. Walters handed me a handful of tissues and sat quietly while I composed myself. I don’t think I had ever been so embarrassed in my life. Even going to school with bruises on me wasn’t as bad as breaking down in front of another man. I don’t know what happened. I guess it was the gentle way he was talking to me. It kind of reminded me the way Uncle Mike would talk softly to me- like he cared about me.

“You look unclean, so I’m guessing that you didn’t stay at home this weekend?” I just sat looking down and shook my head.

“You want to tell me what happened?” Again the tears began to flow as I sadly shook my head.

“Here.” He leaned across the desk and handed me a piece of paper with an address on it.

“What is this?”

“It’s the address of a halfway house,” he informed me. “We have three other students who are currently staying there. You’ll be safe. I called Gerald McAfee, the director, and he’ll be expecting you after school.”

“Thank you.” I reached out and took the paper and put it in my pocket. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be using it, but at least I had an option if I needed it. “Can I go now?”

“Joey,” he said almost in a whisper. I looked up at him and saw a concerned look in his eyes. “You’re a bright boy, maybe one of the best we’ve ever had at this school. Honestly, I don’t know how you do it with all the things going on in your life. Why bad things happen to good people, I don’t have an answer.”

I sat and let the tears fall from my face unashamedly. Across from me sat someone who genuinely cared for me, that I knew. The least I could do was listen to what he had to say.

“Regardless of what you’re thinking now, you have a bright future ahead of you,” he said. “You’re too smart to throw it away.”

I started nervously laughing. “Maybe my future is bright, but right now things are fucked up.”

“Give Gerald and his staff a chance to help you,” he assured me.

“No disrespect, Mr. Walters,” I responded sadly, “but I don’t think anyone can help me.” I turned and walked out of his office with tears flowing from my eyes. I had been consumed with depression before, but nothing compared to the way I was feeling.

I didn’t even bother to go to class. I just headed for the nearest exit and left the school. In my mind, it would probably be the final time. I was determined never to return.

I roamed the streets for most of the day, looking into cars for someone to pick me up. I got in the car with one elderly gentleman and we drove into a nearby alley. I sucked his cock and jumped out of the car before he even had a chance to pay me.

Fuck it. What’s the point anymore?

Night time in the city is a scary place. I had walked around endless hours before, but I always returned home. This time I had to survive, and it was frightening. I roamed the dark alleys trying to find a safe place to sleep. My head was hurting, and I just wanted to lie down for a few hours.

I heard a song on the radio a few years ago which I found amusing. The lyrics said something about the creeps coming out at night. That was never truer. I don’t know where they hide during the day, but they permeate the streets at night.

They look hard. Most appeared empty and lifeless. They just wander in search of something. For some, it is a discarded cigarette butt lying on a sidewalk. For others, it is a naïve person who will give them a dollar handout. For others, it is sex. Not the kind you pay for, but the kind you just take.

I found a place to hide that I thought was reasonably safe; but within ten minutes I was approached and asked for money. One guy went so far as to go through my pockets. Luckily, I had hidden it in the bottom of my shoe.

Another guy sat down across the alley and just stared at me. He’d nod occasionally, but I wasn’t sure why. I soon found out. He took out his cock and started masturbating. When he got, walked over to me and pointed it in my face, I ran out of the alley and into the street.

The clock on the bank said it was 2:13. It had been over three days since I had had a decent sleep. I felt like a zombie walking the eerily quiet streets. It’s funny how things just suddenly go silent. Earlier, the noise had given me a headache. Now the silence was making me uncomfortable.

As I walked down the street, I had a weird feeling that I was being watched. I kept stopping every minute or two and looking back to see if I was being followed. I peered carefully into every alley as I passed by, expecting someone to jump out at me.

I fumbled in my pocket and retrieved the number to the halfway house that Mr. Walters had given me earlier in the day. I was able to find a phone that worked. It has always baffled me why people pulled out the receiver and left it lying in the phone booth. Was it done by an angry boyfriend or by some vandals getting a momentary thrill?

I dialed the number, but I got a recorded message. A fucking recorded message. I thought they were in the business of helping kids. How in the hell can they help someone on the street late at night when all you get is a recording saying, “We cannot answer the phone at the moment. Please leave your name and number, and we will get back to you shortly.”

I slammed the phone down. Out of frustration, I ripped the receiver off the hook. I guess that answered my question as to who would do something like that. I wonder how many other phones have been ripped out by some desperate kid needing a safe place to stay at night?

I then headed to the only place I knew where I would be safe- Sullivan Lake. Since I was on the other side of town, I had to pass over the bridge where I had met Allen Foster a few days earlier.

I sat down in the middle of the bridge and pulled my legs tightly against my body. The wind was blowing a cold breeze from the water below. Depression consumed me like never before. I had hit rock bottom. I felt there was no hope and no way out of my current situation. The black paint had been splattered completely against the easel. There was no trace of any color- just utter darkness. I stood up.

Fuck it.