“Alrighty Mr. Dell,” I said. “Tell me about your life.”
All of a sudden a sadness fell over him like a ton of bricks. Instantly I regretted asking that question. “Dude, sorry, I just like to get to know people, is all,” I said.
“No, man, it’s alright.” He smiled weakly and said “I’m just trying to figure out what parts to leave out.”
“Hey,” I said, chuckling a bit, “I didn’t mean to stir up something bad, just was asking.”
“Really, it’s ok. Oh, man” he said, sighing. “Where do I begin.”
* * * *
“Look,” I said, “I didn’t mean to pry. It’s just that since we’re going to be together for the next five weeks I thought-“
“Oops. Eight weeks-that now’d be a good time to get to know you. We can talk about something else if you’d like. Wanna talk about Christmas?” Now I was trying to make light of the situation.
He chuckled a bit. “Logan, it’s alright.”
“You know, nobody’s ever called me that. It's always been just Mike.”
“Not Mikey?” with a grin.
“Uh….no. Don’t go there. I always thought that nicknames were cool on some people; just never had one myself.”
“Logan it is, then.”
“Well, at least I’ll know who you’re talking to. Now if you ask me for sex....” referring to the drink the night before, and I just let it go at that, laughing at my own dopey joke.
“So tell me about yourself. Other than the fact that you cuss a lot.”
I laughed a bit. “Yeah, I do cuss a lot, don’t I.” I noticed how deftly he’d changed the subject from him to me.
“It’s all part of your charm,” Scott said.
“Now you’re talkin’. Well, what would you like to know? Hey,” I stopped walking, “will this be, like, our first date? With all these questions….well, you know.” He laughed at that.
We continued walking. “Well, for starters, are you from Georgia?”
“Nope. I’m originally from New York.”
“Yankee!” he said with a big smile. Perfect teeth, dammit. God, I dug that smile.
“Yeah? Fuck off. I got enough of that bullshit from you when I moved here,” I said half-heartedly.
“What do you mean?” He looked kinda puzzled.
“You don’t remember, do you.”
“No, I thought you said you were from Arizona yesterday.”
“I said I moved here from Arizona, but I was born in New York.” He snickered at that. “What?”
“I’m not gonna say it.”
“Yes,” he laughed a bit.
“Idiot. And what’s up with that shit anyhow? War’s over, pal.”
“It’s just how I….” and his voice trailed off.
“How you what?”
“Well, I was gonna say how I was raised, but I should correct that and say how I wasn't raised.”
“Well why’d you leave New York? City too big?”
“No, we lived Upstate near Rome. When I was nine my dad took a job near Phoenix and we moved out there.”
“One extreme to another,” he laughed.
“Yep. We lived out there for two years. I really liked it; had some good friends. Then dad took a job here and we moved to Stone Mountain right after I finished sixth grade. It’s funny because I remember thinking that Georgia would be the same as Arizona, with the city laid out in a grid and you could ride your bike to the store or the arcade or school. It’s just so damn hilly here that’s almost impossible.”
The sidewalks in this part of town are old and kind of crumbly and just then the poor cameraman stumbled and fell. We both helped him up and asked if he was ok. He said that he was but his camera was not and he’d have to get a replacement. He called one of the producers and they brought out a car to get him, but not an extra camera. Then we both realized that they were leaving us without a cameraman. It kind of confused us because we were told that we could never leave the studio without a cameraman in tow. Technically, though, we hadn’t. They were tailing us and then left us. Oh well. Nobody told us what to do so we continued our walk.
“I wonder if they’ll try to catch up.”
“How do they know where we’re going?” Scott asked.
“Well, nut, we’re on video tape. Their own, to boot. If they can’t figure that out then I can’t help them.”
“Go on with what you were saying….about just moving here from Arizona.”
“Oh yeah. In Arizona I had quite a few friends and I was, well, not really a ‘leader’ but I was someone who was always goofing off, sometimes getting in trouble. Then I moved here and it was quite a culture shock.”
“Well, there’s all this Southern pride and lots of people still fighting the Civil War. Add that to me moving here and starting school in seventh grade, when everyone was already in their own group. It was just tough. What can I say. But then, what are ya gonna do.”
“You said you knew me in elementary school?”
“Oh man, I tried to steer clear of you,” I said chuckling.
He chuckled a bit too and asked “How come.”
“Man, let me tell you this as gently as I can….you were the biggest asshole to me.”
“That was gentle?” he asked, looking over at me.
“Oh my God. I guess I also forgot what it was like to be the new kid on the block after I moved here. I was the newbie in Arizona too. Some of the guys there who were shits I actually ended up befriending and most things turned out pretty cool. I actually benefitted from the Arizona experience because oddly enough, after Christmas break out there was when some of the douchebags became pretty cool to me. So I figured that the same thing would happen here. Believe it or not once Christmas break was over the year I moved here I made more friends as well. I sorta knew it would happen. But then, some of you guys were just…..shitty.”
He laughed a bit at that. “Man, I’m so sorry.”
“Hey,” I said. “Don’t sweat it. I don’t hold any grudges. I mean hell, that was years ago, right?”
“Oddly enough, even at that time I had…” I almost told him then that I used to have a crush on him. I guess I could have, seeing as there were no cameras around. But I try not to get my sexuality involved in most conversations. I mean, straight people don’t walk around saying “Hi, I’m Bob and I’m straight.”
“You had what.”
“You know,” I laughed “right as I said that I lost track of what I was saying. I have to say, though, that you stood out in my mind as the worst of all the guys.”
I paused for a moment. “Is it really important?”
He stopped walking and touched my arm with his hand, turning me towards him a bit. “Yes. It is.” I could see in his eyes that he was sadened, or upset, or something.
“Man, you were pretty friggin’ mean and it didn’t stop until after ninth grade.” We continued walking. By this point we had just turned onto Piemont and were heading north towards the park.
“What’d I do?” he said quietly.
I sighed. “Well, first there was that time you slugged me in the back in Miss Harris’ class. For no reason at all. I actually turned around and you said if I hit you back you’d kill me. Nice move. You used to throw my books from my hands, break my shit. The hardest thing for me to forget, since you obviously want to be tortured with your past,” I said smiling over at him “is when you sorta body checked me in ninth grade.”
He looked over at me. “Sort of?”
“Well, we were up in the wrestling room during gym class. I was walking towards the weight room and you came running across the mats and dove feet first into me, knocking me over. The hardest thing I think to get over was I knew that my pride was really hurt.”
“Well, if I had known how to defend myself, stand up to guys like you, or at least how you were then, I….I don’t know how to explain it. I guess I lost a little self respect.”
“No. I don’t buy into the whole ‘self-esteem’ psycho-babble. I lost self respect because I didn’t have the balls to try and defend myself. Not that I ever could, mind you. You were tougher than I was. Hell, for that matter my cat was tougher than I was.” He smiled at this. “So in a way I lost some self regard for not standing up for myself.”
“Why didn’t you? I mean, why’d you take it?”
“Didn’t want to make enemies. Didn’t want to make things worse. Sort of like Europe appeasing Hitler by surrendering Poland. Knew I’d get my ass kicked and didn’t want to cry in front of everyone. I’m tellin’ you man, I was a wuss. I knew that nobody’d be on my side. What was I going to do? I actually smiled after you did it, so I wouldn’t get upset.” I sighed and said “Scotty, you really were a prick.”
“I’m sorry.” I could hear in his voice that he was and he kept looking away from me.
“Hey pal, don’t worry about it. Trust me. I got over it.”
“No, I really am sorry for causing you that kind of pain. I know I used to be a real shit-suck, but I’ve never talked to any of the people I’d picked on. You know, I actually remember doing some of that stuff. I just asked because I wasn’t sure if you had. Frankly I’d kinda hoped that you hadn’t. Mike, I really am truly sorry for that; for how I was.”
“Dude. Don’t beat yourself up too bad. We all have our ‘shit-suck’ moments,” I grinned at him. We continued on in silence until we got to the park where we headed over towards one of the park benches overlooking the lake, or pond, and sat down. I’ve always enjoyed Piedmont Park. Unfortunately there’s an area where lots of guys are cruising for sex. I think it’s a shame because lots of families like to come to the park, and they have to put up with that bullshit going on.
After sitting in silence for a while I looked over at Scott. He had this far away look on his face; looking down the hill toward the pond he had a stick that he was peeling and throwing onto the ground. We were sitting at a good “I’m not gay” distance from each other and I could see his features really well. Good square jaw and the goatee begged to be chewed on.
“Your hot,” I said. “Wanna neck?”
He burst out laughing at this, which was my intent. “Logan, you say the damndest things.”
“Well, I had to bring you out of the depression basket. Shit man, where are you?” I asked, tapping his head with my finger.
“God I wish I could take it all back,” he said, shaking his head a bit.
“I’m sorry I brought it up. I really am.”
“No, not just that. I wish I could rewrite history.”
“Puhhh” he exhaled, “because it can suck.”
I didn’t say anything.
“I was not a nice kid.” He looked so sad. “I hated everything. Everyone. You know I never told anyone this-“
“Are you sure you want to?” I interrupted. “I mean, we just really met yesterday.”
Scott took that in for a moment and said, “Yeah, but there’s something about you.”
“You got gaydar too?” I smiled.
“Idiot,” he smiled back. He didn’t get the gaydar comment. “You say the damndest things. I’m serious, though. You seem like a really nice guy.”
I sat back, breathed out heavy and said “I am!” sarcastically.
“I’m sorry. I’m working on taking compliments better.” He looked over at me. “Go on,” I told him.
“Well, you’ve been nothing but friendly to me since we ran into each other. Always cracking jokes, you’re easy to talk to…I don’t know. It’s like….how do I say it. It’s like, something I can sense. I must sound like a dope. I know we just met and all, but I…there’s a connection I can’t quite put my finger on.”
“Actually, that’s one of the nicest things anyone’s said to me.” After a moment I said, “So Scott, what did you want to tell me?”
“Oh God,” he said. He looked down at the water, still peeling the stick. “I haven’t shared this with anyone.” He looked over at me but I didn’t say anything. “When I was a kid my step-dad was mean to me. Not just mean, but fuckin’ cruel.” He looked up and shook his head slowly. “He did some evil things. Not just to me, but to my brother as well. My sister lucked out because she had already moved out once Mom got remarried.”
I just sat and listened.
“At first it started with the switches. He’d get so mad at us for no reason, and then he’d start hitting us with a switch. Hurt us like a fucker. Mom actually made him go see someone about that, but then he got smart. He’d hurt us in ways that you couldn’t see.” Scott looked down at the stick he was still peeling. “I think that she was miserable and wanted to have a man in the house; she must have known what was going on. For months he didn’t lay a hand on us.”
“How old were y’all?”
“Probably eleven or twelve, my brother John’s two years younger. Then he started paying us for chores, but they were chores that we didn’t ask for. I guess he figured if he paid us we wouldn’t mind.”
“Wouldn’t mind what?” I asked, my suspicions growing.
He let out an exasperated, cynical laugh and said, “Sex.”
I took a deep breath and looked around.
“What? Am I freaking you out?” Scott asked with a blank look on his face.
“No. I’m making sure that the camera guys are still gone,” I simply stated.
He sat up. “See. Just that kind of thing. You’re concerned about this winding up on television. I don’t think that most people would give a crap about that.”
“Well, baby, I ain’t most people,” I replied, playfully backhanding his shoulder. He smiled at that. “Don’t say a word,” I warned sarcastically.
“Yep, Frank paid us for sex.” He looked off towards the old granite boathouse, but you could tell he wasn’t seeing it. After what seemed like an eternity he went on. “At first he’d do something like take our hands and rub them on his ass or his crotch. Then he’d fling a dollar or a five at us and tell us that we’d earned our keep.” Turning to me he gritted his teeth a bit, shook his head and muttered, “I can’t believe I’m telling anyone this.” He sat back against the bench and put his hands on top of his head, still looking at the boathouse.
“It means a lot that you trust me enough to tell me.”
Scott smiled at that. “It took me a long time, so fuckin’ long to trust anyone again.” Looking over at me he said, “I can trust you, can’t I?”
I leaned up and said, “Do you trust your instincts?”
He sat for a minute. “Now I do.” I could tell this was really hard for him. “Weeks went by and he’d get even worse; what could we do. But hey! The money was good!” he said bitterly. “Oh God, what an evil fucker he was. Is.”
“Did you tell your mom?”
“Please. I think somewhere deep down she knew her kids were being peddled for sex. No wonder she drank so much. It got to the point where even taking a shower wasn’t safe. Frank would pick the lock on the bathroom door. Then he’d rip that shower curtain back and push me to my knees.” At this point the tears starting rolling down his cheeks. I closed my eyes and wished a silent prayer of death upon Frank. I honestly believe there is a special hell for people who hurt children. “When he left the bathroom there’d be a twenty on the counter. Fuck!” he shook his head.
I sat there and was horrified that someone could violate a kid like that. And that the kid’s parent could sit back as it happened. I didn’t want to show a ton of emotion, or horror, for fear that he wouldn’t be able to continue. He needed this, and even if we were only going to be together for eight weeks, I wanted to be there for him. Hey, deep down past my cynnical assholeness (there’s a new one for ya), I’m really a good guy.
“How long did it last?” I asked him.
“Oh God, long enough.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean-“
“I know. It’s just that I missed out on so much. I hated everyone, everything. I guess I took out my anger on whoever I saw was weak, like I saw myself.”
“Scott, you weren’t weak. You were a boy for Christ’s sake.” He started sobbing a bit at that, with his eyes resting against his fists. “Man, there are some things that we absolutely cannot control, and sometimes horrible things happen to really great people. But you were a boy!”
“I should’ve stood up to him!”
I paused a minute. “Would you put up with that shit if he started it today?” I asked.
Turning to look towards me he said, “Oh, shit no.”
“And why’s that.”
“What the fuck kind of question is that!”
“A damned good one. Why wouldn’t you put up with his shit today.”
“Because I’m a fuckin’ grownup, that’s why.” I think he was getting kinda irritated with me.
“Exactly,” I said. “Because you’re a grownup. You’re bigger now. Stronger. You’re a grown man, not a boy anymore. You weren’t weak. He’s a sick, twisted fuck.”
Scott just shrugged his shoulders. I could tell he wasn't totally buying my logic.
“Alright ‘strong boy-man at twelve’, how many firemen did he rape?” I asked.
“Huh?” he said, puzzled.
“You heard me right. How many firmen did he rape? How many cops did he force himself upon?” Sometimes I have to get real forceful with people to get my point across and I thought this was the slap in the face he could use.
“None. That’s a stupid question, dude” he said, wiping his eyes.
“No it’s not. The reason he didn’t attack any of them was because they were grown men who would have ripped his head off and shat down his neck had he tried on them what he did to you.” This made him pause for a minute.
“Damn right it’s true! You became the target to a sick bastard. Don’t give me this ‘I was weak’ crap. You were a boy.” I leaned toward him and put my hand on his shoulder. “God damn, man, you were just a boy.” I said this part a bit quieter and oh man, he really broke down at that. I was glad that we were somewhat shielded from the walking path because I didn’t want him to feel embarassed thinking someone was watching him cry. His crying broke my heart and soon I had tears rolling down my cheeks and a big ole’ lump in my throat. I knew I needed to be strong for him. He needed a friend.
After he finally calmed down a bit I asked him about John. “What happened to him.”
“Shit, poor kid really went into himself. Where I picked on people, he started drinking.”
“Yeah, he saw mom hide her life in a bottle; figured he could too. Then he started doing drugs.” I shook my head. “Eventually he started whoring around.”
“Promiscuous, huh?” I said.
“No, actually whoring around. He became an escort, or something worse. Last I heard he was walkin’ the streets, hookin’ up with whatever John came along. Hah,” he laughed bitterly, “John picks up Johns.” He shook his head again. Suddenly it dawned on me about his questions regarding the guys who cruise the park.
“Scott, there’s absolutely nothing I can say or do, but-“
“Yes there is, and you’ve already done it.”
“What?” I wondered.
He turned to look at me. “You were here when I needed someone. I’ll never forget that.” More tears rolled down his cheeks.
This time I got tears in my eyes – again. I smiled at him and said “Anytime.”
Scott popped my knee a couple of times, in a manly “I’m not gay” sort of way and said, “C’mon, let’s finish our walk.”
We headed out around the pond towards the main parking lot. Unfortunately this was where the cruisers were. All of a sudden this really cute guy came running past us, wearing only jogging shorts. It was getting late in the morning and with all of the rain yesterday I could tell it was gonna be a hot and humid day. I’ll bet the jogger thought that it was so hot and humid that it felt like there was a gigantic, sweaty walrus sitting on top of his head. And I’m sure all the gay men, small children and elderly grandmothers were watching him as he ran by. I remember thinking, “Hello, Nick.” I sighed inwardly.
As Scott and I walked towards Park Lane, which was where one of the park exits was, I spied a family standing at the top of the hill, next to the bridge, overlooking the abandoned train tracks below. As we strolled over the bridge I could tell Scott was looking at the cruisers. I wondered if he expected to see his brother. I wanted to distract him so we walked over to the railing so I could show him a restaurant that had opened up in the old golf clubhouse. When we got to the railing we looked down and saw what the family was waiting for: their mom was at the bottom of the hill, beneath the bridge, with her purple panties down around her ankles, taking a piss. I started hollerin’-laughin’ like I never had before. Poor thing must have been embarassed as hell. I couldn’t stop laughing though. Scott started pushing me down the street; he was laughing too but was in more control of himself than I was.
Once the laughter subsided he asked me a strange question.
“Logan,” I really liked hearing that, “what do you think of gay guys?”
Uh-oh. I gave him my honest answer. “I don’t.”
He looked kinda surprised and said “Huh?”
“I don’t,” I repeated. “I mean, I don’t just sit around thinking about gay guys, or lesbos, or trannies, or blacks, or Mexicans, whatever.”
“I mean, well, do you know any gay guys?”
I couldn’t tell if he was on a fishing expedition or not. “A few” I lied. A lot of the guys I knew were gay.
“Does it bother you?”
“A Dirty Sanchez would bother me, or an Angry Pirate.”
“What the frig are those?” he asked.
“Well, after you have a little butt-love you pull out, stick your finger in there and then wipe it on their lip like a Ricky Ricardo mustache. Hence the name, dirty Sanchez.”
Scott stopped and laughed so hard I thought he was gonna have a stroke. This time tears of laughter replaced the tears of sadness from earler. I just stood there watching him convulse with laughter. I tried my damndest not to laugh. When his laughter died down a bit he asked, “Well what’s an Angry Pirate?”
“Oh this one’s really cute. It’s where you blow your load in your partner’s eye and then kick ‘em in the shin. With their eye closed they go “arrrrrr” from the pain in their shin.”
“Oh God!” he hollered. “Oh shit!” This time I had to join him. We both laughed like complete friggin’ morons.
We continued walking and turned south onto Monroe. “So it doesn’t bother you that some of your friends are gay,” Scott said.
“Um. No. Why should it.” Oh boy. Here we go.
“I don’t know. Just more conversation, I guess.” We walked on a bit more and the street traffic had gotten a little bit heavier.
“Can I ask you something personal?” he said.
“Shoot,” I replied.
He was getting uncomfortable. I knew what was coming.
“Well, I really like you, and I honestly do consider you a friend, even after such a short time….”
“And?” I said.
“I’m just curious. In high school there were lots of rumors.” Oh goody gumdrops. Here it comes.
“There always are.” I was starting to get a little shifty, nervous. “About me, I take it.”
“I’m probably jumping ahead of the question a bit, but do you remember what I looked like then?”
Scott said “Yes, I do.”
“Would you have dated me?”
He chuckled a bit. “Probably not.”
“Ok. Does that answer your question?” There that settles that! Or so I thought.
“Are you gay?” There it was. The question of the century. We walked on for a second before I answered him.
“Out of curiosity, whatever the answer is, would it change how you treat me?”
“Would it change your trust for me?”
“Would it change the flavor of my weeks at the beach?” I asked, smiling.
“Your ‘sex’, Logan.” He returned the smile. Oh man! I’m dyin’ here. I opened my mouth to answer him when all of a sudden we heard a car horn beeping. We turned around and saw Mr. Happy Camerman hurrying over to us with a new camera. I closed my mouth and turned back to Scott.
“Looks like we’re back on the camera, Scotty ol’ boy.” I smiled a big grin.
“So you’re not going to answer,” he said with his eyebrows raised.
“Let’s finish our walk.”