That summer flew by. I had taken a job at a bank in their lockbox department. For those unfamiliar with this department it basically works like this. You write a check to Texaco or Sears or Georgia Pacific or Southern Bell. The bill is actually sent to the bank where the company has its accounts, so the p.o. box is actually in the bank building itself, not at Texaco or Sears or whatever. The reason for this is to cut down the time that the payment is flailing around in the mail, so people who live in and around Atlanta will have their accounts credited quicker than if they had to send the bill all the way to Alaska.
There are basically two processes in the lockbox department. The first is where the bill is physically opened and the remittance removed. Some companies require that you keep the envelope. Some require that the remittance be stapled in an exact location to the envelope. Some companies want the amount of the payment circled if it matches the amount of the check. Big deal, say you. How hard is it to open a bunch of envelopes. Well considering that we had mail opening machines which oftentimes didn't open all of your mail, it could be a pain in the ass. By the end of the shift you might process hundreds, sometimes nearly a thousand or more, bills. Big deal, right? Try having two dozen different accounts, each of which likes their mail handled in their own particular way. Luckily the mail was pre-sorted so all you have to do is find the accounts on your list and get going. Now let's talk about paper mites. They look like little white pieces of dust, very innocuous things, the fuckers. But they itch like a bastard by the end of the day. Once my group was done with our process, the checks went to a computer room where a dozen or so people actually keyed them into the computer to be credited to the various accounts.
My shift was on Saturday mornings from 7:00 to 4:00 and then Sunday morning from 7:00 to 3:00. The pay was good; over six dollars an hour at a time when minimum wage was just over three dollars. One of the bennies was that if you worked there full time then the bank would contribute to your tuition at Georgia State University on a graduated basis. If you earned A's in class they'd pay 90%, B's paid 80% and C's paid 70%. I was only a part-timer so I didn't qualify. I absolutely hated getting up at 5:00 in the morning and catching MARTA down to the city. There were basically three sections of processors with four people in each section. I sat near a woman named Gwen who was the funniest person I'd ever met. She cussed like a sailor and had some really wild stories from when she was in college. There was another woman named Hilda who had a really dry sense of humor and was also great to work with. Every morning between 8:00 and 9:00 we'd all take a break and head over to the Hilton for breakfast. We'd go down to the employee cafeteria and the food was awesome and cheap. I remember that there was this really hot bell hop named Billy. Billy was from New York or New Jersey, which you could tell from his accent. He had short, wavy, brown hair and was just sexy as hell. He must've been in his late twenties because he had this really mature look about himself, physically. Shit, I lusted after him. From afar. Menus look good but there's only one entree' for me, and we all know who he is.
Boring you? Sorry. My life can't be full of excitement.
The thing that really sucked was that all of my friends would naturally party on Friday and Saturday nights, and I had to leave early because I had to get up so friggin' early in the morning. Glen and Philip both started working at one of the theaters on the strip. Scott had been working at another theater since our junior year; then he took a job at Stone Mountain Park as one of the money counters. They had a friend who'd graduated the year before us named Blake. The more I was around them the more I was around Blake as well. I don't really remember where Matt worked. Odd. We all went out pretty regularly on the weekends and sometimes Alan would come along. He worked at yet another movie theater on the strip. Needless to say I saw a lot of free movies at that time.
As the summer wore on I really started dreading my job at the bank. It made sense to keep working there but I really hated getting up in the mornings that fuckin' early. If I haven't mentioned this before, I hate mornings. I'm more comfortable at midnight than 7:00 a.m. But I was earning money fast which is what I needed since I had to pay for my own college come fall.
The months slipped by and before I knew it registration for fall classes was around the corner. Charles was headed off to Tech. That really sucked becuase he and I had talked about being roommates. I'd talked to Scott Dell a few times that summer but he was busy doing real grown-up work. At least I considered working with his uncle as "grown-up" work. By the end of the summer I'd lost touch with him. It was a shame and I had enjoyed hanging out with him and Alan. Unfortunately it would be years before I'd run into him again. And boy, was I ever in for a surprise when that happened!
When I was a senior I'd gone ahead and taken college Algebra and Trig. I'm glad that I'd had that foresight because I was able to take one fewer class in the fall and concentrate on PolySci, Literature and still take some other bullshit core class. Glen and Philip were enrolled at Georgia State, Scott (jazz band) was off at UGA. Because I'd had an opening in my core classes from taking the maths earlier, I went ahead and signed up for some silly computer class, which should have been taken in my second year. It was required but I say the class was silly because it wasn't much different than the computer class I had taken back in high school. The only difference was that this went over Lotus 1,2,3. Stand back!
The computer class was a Tuesday/Thursday class. The others were Monday/Wednesday/Friday. Tuesday comes around and you'll never guess who winds up in my class. Never in a million fucking years.
You've got to be fuckin' kidding me, you're thinking. I couldn't believe how crazy things turned out. I mean, I hadn't spoken to the guy, basically since Christmas the year before. And now here he was in my computer class - another computer class. This was a total random display of freakiness as far as I was concerned, because for all I knew he was still up in North Carolina playing shortstop for whatever farm team was up there. When he walked into the room I laughed and shook my head. No fucking way was this happening. The irony of him showing up in another computer class. This time, however, it couldn't have been engineered. When he heard my laugh he turned and looked towards me, then came over and sat down, slapping me on the knee.
"How's it goin' Lyons?" He asked it like he'd just been cleaning his oven, not like he hadn't seen nor called me in months.
I snorted. "What the fuck are you doin' here?"
"Long story. But I'm back home."
"I guess so." If he thought he could pick up where he left off the night I gave him his back massage he was on black tar heroin. Either that or crystal meth. I've never been one to drop friends like they were paper weights, but I'd had a year to heal from that and my head was in a much better place.
"So how ya doin'?"
I looked at him. "I'm not as nice as I used to be." Don just laughed at that and I rolled my eyes, shook my head slightly and looked away.
I won't deny that part of me enjoyed being in the class with him again. Hell from a purely sexual perspective he was still hotter than hell, and plus he'd beefed up a bit while he was off at school, and we all know that a fantastic bod never really annoyed me. Now he was trying to sport a mustache.
"Dude," I asked, "who killed the mouse on your lip?"
"Fuck you," he laughed. I just looked at him. He really did expect to just slip back into this old shoe. Dickwad.
Later that day when I talked to Alan on the phone he sat silently for a minute after I told him who was in my class. I could hear the wheels turning but I knew everything would be alright. He affirmed exactly that thought but was more concerned about me and my feelings than about me and my loins. I was fine. Don was out of my system. I could still be around him and as it was I didn't have much of a choice. I couldn't exactly drop the class or sit somewhere else in the room because then I'd look like a total shit-ass. I mean hey, he may have not turned out to be the greatest friend but he wasn't evil. I did, however, decide to confront him on one thing but it would have to wait until Thursday. I could have called him on the phone but I really wanted to see his face when I talked to him.
Thursday after class he and I were walking to our cars so I flat out asked him if he'd ever said anything to Alan's brother about him thinking that I was gay. Gee, ya think I took him by surprise with that one? He threw his books into the back seat and stood there looking really uncomfortable for a minute.
"It's okay if you did. I guess you've got pretty good gaydar, pal."
Okay, that shook him up. "Paul, what's the problem? Come on man, I was just talkin' shit." He tried recovering with a dimpled smile.
"You're fuckin' kidding me." I tried to keep quiet as I could because other students were walking to their cars. "One minute you're my friend, 'oh Paulie,' " I mocked " 'will you rub my back?' Next thing I know you're blabbin' to people that you think I'm gay. What pissed me off is that I didn't think that's how friends treated each other. I dunno, maybe I'm dumb, but I take that sort of thing personally." I was standing my ground pretty well with him and he still looked uncomfortable. Confronting people in this manner wasn't normal for me but this was going okay and I hitched up my drawers even more. "For the record, Don, I am. Maybe you're smarter than you act sometimes and you were able to figure that out. If you did, then you had me figured long before that night, and the massage didn't seem to bother you." Okay, maybe I was still a little hurt and pissed.
He sat there with his jaw open. I think that he was surprised for two reasons; one, I had blitzed him there in the parking lot and two, because I'd admitted to him that I was gay. "No...I didn't know."
"Bullshit. Either way, thanks for talkin' about me like I was a bastard at a family reunion." I turned to walk off, then spun around. "I was always there for you. And I never asked you for anything. Not anything more than your friendship." At this point one or two people looked our way but kept walking on by. "For a while I didn't understand what happened to you when you went to school, but I'll tell you what. After a while I didn't care." That seemed to have an effect on him. I could see concern in his eyes. I stepped a bit more into his space. "There wasn't a fuckin' thing I wouldn't'a done for you. Not a God damned thing. You ask for me to put my hands on you and then run to your friend, tellin' him 'hey, I'll bet Lyons is gay'. I'll bet you never mentioned asking me to rub your back, you jerk. No, that woulda made you look gay, and we can't have that now can we."
"Paul, you wanna calm down-"
"Fuck no I don't wanna calm down! I got a lot to be angry about! You see, Don, I'm the kind of guy who fights for his friendships and for what he believes in. I thought you did too. Looks like I was the stupid one to depend on your friendship, asshole. Apparently you're the kind of guy who....shit, I dunno what. I'm so fuckin' pissed....." And at that point I really didn't know what else to say. I wanted to beat his ass for how he'd hurt me but that wasn't an option. I wasn't an ass-beating kind of guy, but I sure wanted to kick him in the balls.
"Can't talk, can ya," he grinned, all dimples.
He shook his head, still smiling. "You're definitely not the same guy I remembered."
"I told you I'm not as nice as I used to be."
"So what's with all the fuckin' drama?"
I took a deep breath. "You...hurt me."
Oh hell, maybe I'd gone over the line a bit, gotten too dramatic. But I held my finger up to his face. "Don't do it again."
"I'm...sorry, Paul," he repeated.
I put my hand down and turned to walk off.
"I gotta admit, Lyons, ya got balls."
"You'll never see 'em," I spat over my shoulder.
"Don't want to."
I held up my bird finger as I walked away and said, "Fuck off." I heard him chuckle and I smiled to myself. Whew! That felt good.
* * * *
When I told Alan how I'd cussed Don out in the parking lot he laughed his ass off. I really don't think that he was worried about my feelings towards Don. With the exception of being attracted to him there were no other feelings. Wait, I should revise that statement. Like boys who grow up and fight one minute before rolling around with laughter the next, I was pretty much the grown up version of that mentality. I'd gotten what I'd needed to off of my chest and therefore had no problem being friends or hanging out with him again. I knew that the feelings of being "in love" with Don were somewhere out on a baseball field in North Carolina. He took them with him when he left. I mean "left" both figuretively and literally. Being the swell guy that I was (excuse me, am) I knew that if I'd blown off my steam that I'd feel just fine about him. Luckily, the pussification of men in America hadn't so infected me that I couldn't shrug off a stupid and immature action on his part and we could remain friends.
It didn't take a whole lot of convincing on my part with Alan. He wasn't upset that I had no problem remaining friends with Don. I guess he hadn't become pussified either. By "pussified" I mean this: you ever notice when girls argue it's never forgotten? Boys can clobber each other one day and they're best friends the next. Go figure. I'd love one woman out there tell me that I'm wrong in my thinking. Guys in general don't hold grudges. But a lot of men in general have just become.....what....so friggin' whimpy. Maybe that'll start an interesting thread. Anyway, like I said, Alan was cool with me not hating Don.
Alan's bod was starting to look even cooler, too. The football team had started training a month before school began and he was beefing up even more. Hubba hubba! A gay guy (or at least a guy who really liked looking at other guys) had to have come up with the football pants. Where the hell Alan put his package when he was in his uniform is beyond me. The guy was definately a show'er and must've worn a really tight jock or whatever. He was working out more and I think that my protein shakes were helping him a little bit, too. His arms and his chest were beginning to thicken a little bit, unlike some of the 'roids who'd inflated like Spongebob Squarepants. I was always tempted to hang out at the practices after school had started but I thought it would look a little funny. I always went to the games, though. Nothing too odd there.
For a week or so after I'd blasted Don in the parking lot we didn't chit chat a whole lot during class, but it didn't take long before he and I had an easy banter going on back and forth again. For some reason he seemed even more at ease around me than before. I think that in general we'd both matured a bit from high school. I know he missed playing baseball and wasn't exactly thrilled to not be on the farm team in the upcoming Spring again. Still, he wouldn't tell me exactly what had happened; why he was going to a community college instead of the other college. If it were a thing about grades I think that he would've said something to me. Whatever. If he wanted to tell me, he would. I know that baseball was his life and he was dying for his chance at the majors. It would've been his dream to play for the Braves but that seemed like an impossibility at this point.
That year, just before Christmas, the movie "Nuts" with Barbra Streisand and Richard Dreyfuss was released. I thought it was a fantastic movie and as the story ended it seemed to trigger something in me. I was always cynical before but seeing the topic of sexual abuse portrayed in the movie made me even more so. I ended up seeing it a couple of more times with other friends. Each time I did, I started to get really angry about what had happened to me as a kid. There were certain lines in it that left my heart cold: When asked why she had an abortion Streisand's character Claudia responds that she doesn't believe in childhood. Throughout the movie everyone insisted that they knew what was best for her, and if she didn't agree with their thinking then she was "nuts." Seeing that movie, I experienced a dichotomy of feeling both released from my past and somehow trapped by it. Perhaps because it showed how a kid who just wants to be loved gets their life ripped apart because of someone else's deviancy. It stirred up feelings in me that I'd suppressed for years. Great. Who needs that shit.
A few weeks before Christmas, Matt went into the Navy. If you'll remember, Matt was the guy who'd loaned me his coat the night of the pageant. The group of us took him out for dinner and bought him a really nice watch. Later that night after we dropped him off at home we snuck back and rolled his house. They had about eight large maple trees in their front yard and it looked like a Currier and Ives print with all of the toilet paper fluttering in the breeze. When we were done we stood at the street near our cars and hollered out the "Anchors Aweigh" song.
Christmas had come and gone and up until then I had spent a lot of time with Philip. Too much time, I think. Part of my problem with him is that I was starting to want to be around him a lot, almost as much as Alan. Now there's a conflict I never saw coming. I'd call him a lot or just stop by his house to hang out. Right after Christmas I kept getting this really weird vibe from him and whenever I asked what was wrong he'd just say that there was nothing. Finally in January I called him and said basically 'dude, what's up, we need to talk,' so he stopped by my house on his way to the theater. Incidentally my job at the bank had become so friggin monotonous and the trips down to Atlanta were driving me crazy, so I asked if Philip would talk to his boss and see if there were any openings at the theater. He seemed really uncomfortable, still I didn't know why.
When he came over my house for out little 'come to Jesus,' I told him that I'd always be his friend whatever his problem was. If there was something wrong with me or how I'd acted then I wanted to know. That was when he informed me that I 'bugged' him. His words. How fuckin' weird was that! Not exactly what I was expecting to hear. He went on to say that he'd gotten sick of my phone calls and my stopping by his house uninvited. Shit! Okay. He apologized and said that it wasn't anything he could help, but that was how he felt. Period. After we were done talking I knew our friendship, however short, was over for good. No it didn't make sense one iota but what was I going to do. Ironically I ended up getting the job at the theater, so now I'd have to work with him.
To say the least things were tense working at the same theater as Philip. But Glen was there too and he was such an easy guy to get along with that his personality helped balance things out a little bit. In general I had a total blast working at the theater. You might remember back when I was a junior in high school I sat next to a guy named George Heaney in Spanish class. Turns out he also worked at the theater. All the people there were close enough to my age that hanging out with everyone felt natural. Sometimes we'd head over to Chili's or to Applebees after work and grab a bite to eat before heading to someone's house for a party. Nothing big, just hanging out. At that time all of the movie theaters on Memorial Drive had been bought by one company, so technically Alan and I had the same employer, we were just in different places. After a while I started learning how to run the projectors. This was cool because it meant that when everyone else was shlepping around helping customers at the concession stand I could stay upstairs for a good part of that time threading and starting the projectors.
One cool thing that we always did was have preview parties. Movies are delivered in canisters that hold three to four reels each. You have to build the movie on one of the movie platters on Thursday evening. By 'building' I mean you have to set your leader tape, then splice on any previews or promotional advertising, then the movie itself. Because one film comes to the theater broken down into six to eight individual reels they also need to be spliced together; the "foot" of the first reel spliced to the "head" of the next, and so on. Because humans are involved there's the risk of an incorrect splice and what happens is the movie goes "out of frame". This is where you see a person's foot at the top of the screen and their torso on the bottom. We always had to preview movies to make sure that they were spliced together correctly, but the only time to do this was after all of the movies had ended for the evening. If the movie was a good one then we'd usually wait until around 11:00 so people from all of the theaters could come down. Of course we had popcorn, but people would bring Krispy Kreme, Krystal burgers, whatever. Alcohol. You name it.
I started working at the theater the weekend that "Good Morning Vietnam" opened. This was about the same time that I noticed a swelling in my neck. At first I just thought that it was from having a cold, but then once the cold was gone the swelling never abated. I saw it there every day when I shaved but didn't really think anything of it. During the second week of January I woke up one morning with what felt like extremely bad stomach cramps. I had no appetite and even missed one day of school. This was abnormal for me. The next day the cramping was gone and I just chalked it up to really bad indigestion.
In February I had the stomach cramping again. It was about as painful as the first time and I stayed home again from school for the day. I had a doctor's visit in March to show her my neck. She said that if the lump either moved, grew, became enflamed, etc. that I should let her know and we'd take action. After that I had another stomach cramp attack. This time I was at Alan's house spending the night. It was during the week but we were both off because of Spring break. The pain was so intense and I'd noticed that the evening before my stomach would cramp up I'd feel a dull aching in the center of my back. A few people said that this was the signs of an ulcer. Whatever. I woke up that morning doubled over and it felt like someone had stabbed me with a hot poker. I tried drinking water but threw it up almost immediately. I had trouble walking and Alan helped me out to his car, then took me to the hospital.
My parents met us there and as I lay on a gurney in the emergency room hallway I was completely delirious. I had pulled my knees up to my chest and was continually shifting around on the bed. Total agony wracked my body and it seemed eons before someone hooked me up to an i.v. and started hydrating me and giving me pain meds. I was in the hospital for a couple of days and nobody could explain the cramping.
The school year was really flying by as Winter quarter rolled into Spring. Kent, who was in my chemistry and lit classes in eleventh grade wound up in my psychology class that quarter and Don was taking some other classes. I'd see him between classes but that was about it. Sometimes we'd have lunch in the cafeteria but nothing much more than that. Alan and I continued to grow in our relationship but I had some concerns about his impending graduation. Yeah it was months away but he would also be going off to UGA on a football scholarship. UGA is a party school. I wasn't worried that much about him as I worried about the distance. Things were still somewhat stressful at work with Philip. It still felt strange to be around him, to say the least. Alan had joined the baseball team at school and all of the extra workouts in the gym were really making him fill out a bit more. God he was gorgeous.
April came and so did the fucking stomach cramps, again. This time my dad ended up taking me to the hospital. Again, the same agonizing, stabbing pain. This time a g.i. specialist doped me up with valium (a lot of it) and used a scope down my throat to see if there were any ulcers inside my stomach. I vaguely remember him telling me to "swallow." Nothing was found. No ulcers. I stayed in the hospital two more days for observation. This was over the weekend and the only thing on was golf. I hate golf. More than getting up in the early morning. You hear these two numbskulls whispering "birdie, par, par, birdie, birdie." They're in a fuckin' booth so far away from the action I don't think that the golfers are going to hear them. I wanted to jump out the window. Fuck! But Alan's birthday is also in April, and it was a week or so after the hospital stay.
Here comes May and I'm a mother fucker if the cramps didn't come back! But hey, this time I received a barium enema. How charming! The day after I was admitted, once the cramping had subsided, I got to take that Fleet nightmare that cleans you out completely, just before they douche you with two goddamn gallons of water to rinse it all out. The next day I go into this procedures room, having not eaten for a couple of days, and they warn me about this pinky-sized tube they were gonna shove up my ass to administer the barium. Okay, so they give me the tube, then raise the bottle of barium and my lower g.i. is filled with creamy fluid. Then I'll be goddamned, they want you to do fuckin' acrobats on the table as they take x-rays from a myriad of positions. Then they tell you, "Okay Paul, you need to go to the bathroom and evacuate your bowels." You're goddamn right I do! I've got ten gallons up my ass and I squat/run to the commode before my ass explodes.
So after having a television tube shoved down my throat and another one up my ass, I was found to be healthy as a horse. Literally, that's what all of the doctor's concluded. One came just short of saying that the pain might be psychosomatic, or brought on by stress. I went for the latter, simply because I was horrible about voicing the things that stressed me. I internalized everything and sometimes I still do. Times were bad working with Philip; I was still reeling internally with awful feelings from being molested and having those feelings surge up again; I was worried about Alan going off to school, even though that wouldn't be for months. I was seeing and visiting Don off and on at school. I had a friggin' lump in my throat. Basically I was a fucking mental case.
But as I'd been able to do with other major events in my life, once I was confronted with or identified a problem, making a decision on how to handle it was easy. I decided that I could no longer be a basket case. I released Philip from my mind and just considered him another stranger that I worked with. I decided to stay cool about Alan, let the relationship go where it went and just see what happened in the fall; I could take it. Don could go on the back burner. The lump hadn't moved so I really didn't need to worry about it. Whew!
Well, whatever I'd done or however I started thinking must have worked because I've never had stomach cramps like that again. They came out of the blue and then never resurfaced after that May. Thank God!