When we got back to the house Don was waiting impatiently. He wanted to see me before he left for home.
"I gotta leave, Dave. My family's waiting on me. I just hope we're still friends after all the crap I laid on you. I didn't even want to tell you all that, but we decided it's best if you know. It's better to know it all in case there's ever rumors, or it pops up somehow."
His words surprised me. "I'm not mad at you guys, not at all. I'm better off knowin' the truth even if I don't like it. And I know how hard you worked to find everythin' out. I can't believe you went to all that trouble."
He gave me a sad smile. "I didn't think I was gonna spend that much time. I guess it turned into a quest. Are you gonna be okay?"
"I'll be fine," I mumbled.
"Are you gonna be good? You need some direction, Dave. You're no little kid anymore, and you should stop fucking around and start lookin' at your future. I'll tell you one thing. You're going back to school next month and you're gonna work your ass off until you exercise that brain back into shape. I'm gonna hold the whip this time, so no excuses!"
I almost smiled at the threat. Don struck me as a pretty sensitive man, but he was also pretty big, so I responded meekly, "I'll be good. I promise. I know I have to think about the future. Am I going to school up here or back home?"
"I can't tell you that yet. You do have to face up to your Mom pretty soon. We’ve been givin' her report cards, but she needs to see you. She loves you, Dave. You can't stay away forever." He looked at his watch. "I gotta get going. You giving out hugs to anybody that wants one, or just Timmy and Mary?"
He didn't wait for an answer and pulled me into a tight embrace. "Be good, Dave. Be good. I know you have it in you. I'll see you soon."
"Thanks, Don. Thanks for everything."
I walked outside with him and we all said our goodbyes to him before he drove away. I went back into the house and got a real surprise. A guy was coming down the stairs. He looked about Kenny's age, maybe a little younger. He had a baby face with a little moustache. "Hey, how ya doin', kid. I gotta hit the road, too."
No mistaking that voice. It was Jimbo! I just stared at him, though I think some little noises might have been coming out of my mouth. The wild hair and even wilder beard were gone. His hair was combed. He was a different person.
"Jimbo! You look so different!"
"Like it? We're havin' a baby and I don't want the first person he sees to be Charles Manson." He looked in a little mirror on the wall. "I guess I gotta get used to it, too. I forgot how good lookin' I was."
Timmy couldn't believe it, either and he laughed pretty hard. Mary came down the stairs beaming about her barbering skills. Doc was worried that his septic tank wouldn't work anymore. It was all pretty funny, but Jimbo turned out to be a nice looking guy, and he looked about half his former size without all the hair. And he had lips!
Jim left, then Barry wanted to talk to Tim and me before he had to go. We went out to the little back porch.
"What did I hear this morning? Are you guys taking a different path?"
"I guess," Tim said.
"I don't know, Barry. I really don't. I'm sorry, Tim. I love you, I really do. But it scares me, I mean ... I never ever thought about this stuff. And I don't want to say somethin' I don't mean. You're the first person that ever told me out loud that you loved me. It means a lot. You'll never know how much that means, but I don't wanna be reactin' to just that either. What's it like, Barry? You're gay and you're old. What's it like? If we are gay, what's our life gonna be like?"
Barry smacked the back of my head hard. "I am not old, you little shit! What's it like? It hasn't been a lot of fun for me. I'm lucky I have the friends I do, really lucky. At least you guys know other people who're like you. When I was a kid I was the only queer I knew about - nobody would admit it. At that age, it didn't really matter much. It was different times and not too many guys had real girlfriends, either. I wasn't a sissy or anything, but I never felt like I fit in anywhere. I was always looking at the wrong people - the other guys."
"Like Kenny and them?"
"You will NEVER know that! It was pretty hard for me when I was your age. When I told my friends how I felt, they mostly bought it - hey, it was the sixties. But Ken freaked out. Timmy, maybe you know how I felt. When he took off on me I felt like one of those knights you see in movies gettin' knocked off a horse, except the lance went right through me. I just felt so empty. I thought Kenny hated me for it. I was a wreck. Jim and Don stuck with me, but Butch left right after Ken. I thought he was taking his side. If Butch hated me, I was dead. He was the most popular guy around and everybody kinda followed his lead.
"When I went home that night, Kenny was waiting for me and I thought he wanted to fight or something. He just wanted to say sorry and be friends again. I felt better when he told me about Butch gettin' all over his case about it. I was glad I still had my friends, but it didn't help my love life any - they're all straight. When I got out of school I met some other guys like me, but nobody ever really clicked. By the time I was around thirty I pretty much gave up looking. I'm not really sad about it. I've got great friends and like what I do, and I make a good living. The way I see it, I probably would have ended up a bachelor even if I was straight. My sex drive just ain't that strong that I think I need somebody."
Tim looked at Barry. "You must'a broken a lot of hearts."
"I guess a couple of the guys I saw wanted more out of it, I just never made any commitments I didn't want to keep. That's just me, though. It's the way I am. I never really fell for anyone. Dave, you gotta do some soul searching. Don't go doing anything dumb until you know who you are and what you want. You should ..."
"I know ... talk to Mary. She wants to talk to me, anyhow. I guess I'll go find her. Are you leaving, too?"
"Yeah ... I think I'll head back. You're takin' all this pretty well. You finally tryin' to grow up or something?"
"I guess I don't have any choice."
"That's good. Just don't take it too far, and don't let the kid part die. If you let that go you'll just get old. There's lots of ways to have fun in this world. Make sure you keep finding them."
"You want me to grow up to be like you guys?"
"I want everybody to grow up to be like us guys. I ain't bragging, but the world would be a lot happier place."
"It'd be a lot wackier place, that's for sure."
"There's nothing wrong with wacky. Go find Mary and let me get packed." Barry headed upstairs and Tim and I went to find Mary.
She was on the deck with Ken and the Doc. Ken wouldn't let her leave until Barry was gone, so I talked to Tim for a while. It occurred to me that it might be a good idea if he sat in when I talked to Mary. It would save me from saying everything twice, and most of it involved him.
Barry came down and tossed his things in the van, then came over to say goodbye to everyone. We were all standing at the deck rail as he got in the truck. When he started it up all hell broke loose. Smoke and sparks started shooting out from underneath and it sounded like a million firecrackers going off. Ken was laughing his head off. Barry opened the door and a huge cloud of smoke came out from the inside. He jumped out and ran about five feet, then turned around to watch the show. When it stopped he looked at Ken, smiled and shook his head, then got back in the van and drove away.
"What was that? How did you do that?"
"Just an ignition bomb. Well, ten ignition bombs if you must know. I think I'm in trouble now."
"Why? He didn't look mad."
"He didn't yell. That look was to let me know he's gettin' even. Nobody's better at gettin' even than Barry. I think I'll just go fall on my sword right now and save him the trouble. Hey, you can have Mary now. Maybe we can still get outta here today."
"Mary, can Tim sit with us? Is this a session or just a talk?"
"Just a talk, David." She thought about it for a minute, then smiled. "Sure, Tim can hear what I have to say. Go scare off Ken and Gerry and we can sit out here."
Ken and the Doc decided to take the chairlift up the mountain. Mary, Tim and I pulled lawn chairs together.
"David, I just want to make some observations and see if you agree with them. Okay?"
"First, outwardly you seem to be handling this very well. Far better than any of us expected. Is that really how you feel or are you putting on a little act while you bury it in your mind?"
"I'm not tryin' to bury it, honest. I mean, I hate what I heard, I really hate it. But I can face it. It wasn't about anything I did myself. And thinking about it helped me understand more about why I'm the way I am."
"Don't stop. You're doing fine."
"Well, the thing about not caring about anything. I think I was taught that. All I heard all my life was that people who aren't family don't matter. Like anybody outside the family is something less because of it. Everybody else is stupid or useless. No wonder I never made friends. It was a worthless thing to do because they could never be family, just a bunch of other people clutterin' up the landscape. I never got to know anybody before I started going to Ken's house. When I did start making friends it surprised me. Everybody I got to know seemed better than me, not worse. I got better at making friends, and I had a lot of fun, but I never felt like I was good enough for them."
"Good job, David! Let's look at your last statement. Every person on earth is born with equal merit and value. Circumstances and events affect absolutely everything about a person from the moment of birth on. It's way too much to get into right now, but there are many, many things that have an impact on how each individual matures. The value of a person can increase or decrease depending on that person's ability to use those circumstances and events to positive or negative effect. The merit of a person never changes. We all have the inherent right to occupy a little space on this planet, to breathe, to eat and drink. When you say you aren't good enough for people, you're talking about your value to them. I can't possibly tell you what that is, but I think it's a good idea if you just ask them."
"I should ask people what my value to them is?"
"Hee hee. It's a good question, but why not just ask your friends what they really and truly think about you. Ask for a no-holds-barred answer. Then listen carefully. The one thing I don't think you'll hear is that you're not good enough. They wouldn't be offering the effort of friendship if that's how they felt."
"I can do that."
"I'll bring the barf bags."
"Thanks, Tim. I really needed that."
"Just trying to be supportive."
"Yeah - where'd ya learn that one? Don't even answer. She's sittin' here."
We all had a little laugh. "The other thing I thought about was love. I know my father loved us, but he never said it. Not once that I remember. I grew up thinking love was a new toy, or a pat on the head, or a trip to the ball game. I never got hugged. I never got kissed. I sure never heard anybody actually tell me they loved me. I think I felt it all around, but nobody said it."
"David, if you only knew how common that is. I'll be a bit unprofessional here and just tell you what I think. You're lucky enough that you at least felt loved. Telling a child that he or she is loved seems to be a difficult thing for many parents to do. I think it should be the easiest, and wish it was the most overused. I get so many cases where parents really love their children, but the kids feel unloved. Nobody ever tells them that simple little thing. If the child doesn't feel it in a lot of other ways like you did, they can start to look at it as a lack of love, even a lack of interest. Pardon my French, but how the fuck hard can it be to hug your own kid a few times a day?"
"I'm sorry, but that's my big button you just pushed. I'm so sick of hearing parents tell me all they do to prove their love, but they never just say it. By the time the kids need to see me it can be kind of late to change, even when they're willing. It can sound false when it comes all at once after never being said before. I'm giving you a big fat A for feeling loved when nobody told you they loved you."
"It's a big change for me to really think about it. A couple of months ago Timmy asked me to tell him about love and I couldn't think of a thing to say. This morning I gave him a lecture about it. If I ever have kids they're gonna know. They're gonna hear it every time I see them."
"Good boy! Let's continue with your thoughts."
"Well, I think the big one is how I hurt myself. Like I thought I deserved it. I'm not sure, but it's a combination of everything. Me thinking I'm not good enough. Me not having any way to express love to anybody. Me seeing what I saw with my uncle when I was little. Me thinking nothing mattered. I think it was in my head that if nothing mattered how could I matter myself. Does that make sense?"
"It's good thinking, David. Very good. Feelings add up to different things in different people, but at least it's a path we haven't taken before. We'll work on that one in our private sessions, okay?"
"Okay. Ken said the best place to find the truth about my family is from Artie Loomis. Should I go there? I mean, I really want to know what they did - how much they knew."
"Well, I hardly think it's the best place. It may be the only place. Do you feel that Artie has any kind of hold on you anymore?"
"None. It's funny, but I don't hate the guy, either. I saw him in my dream. He was just a scared little kid. Whatever he is now, that's where it started. If my uncle was doing that stuff, then my father knew about it. I gotta know all of it. Artie knows what happened back then, at least what happened to him. I think I'll go crazy if I only have what I know now. I know I won't like the rest, but I need to know it."
"Well, information is power. You've dealt with the rest of this very well, and what Mr. Loomis knows is really just more of the same thing. I say go for it. Just don't go alone. I don't think you should be alone with that man ever again."
"I'm hoping Don will go with me. He knows so much, he should be able to see any bullshit."
"Excellent choice. I'll give him a call myself and ask him to go with you. David, you have a truly impressive group of friends. The support they're giving you is way beyond anything I've ever seen. These are some wonderful men that you've managed to find. Hang onto them. Hang on tight."
Tears formed in my eyes. She was so right! These guys didn't know me from Adam, but they just pulled me into their lives and taught me about what's real in life, about how good things can be. They each put out effort to improve the life of one little punk that didn't really care. When I fucked up they doubled, then tripled their efforts on my behalf. They had no obligation to me, moral or otherwise. They had their own happy lives to live. They needed me like a hole in the head.
But they gave and gave and gave, of their time and their money. They were so much different from one another, yet so much alike. Four big men trying to send one little boy down the right path. They never got mad. They made impossible threats sometimes, but nobody ever touched me. They didn't brag about it what they were doing, and I don't think they even thought about it. They just did it. I was overwhelmed.
But that passed quickly. I owed one to Ken.
"Do you know what Ken really does for a living?"
"He's a mechanical engineer. He builds power plants and paper mills."
I leaned in close and whispered. "Not really."
"He blows them up."Next Chapter Previous Chapter