Journey to Love
Chapter One - The Birthplace
Edited by Cole and Peter
Stanton, Virginia. If there is a town in the world more mired in its own brand of prejudice, self-importance, self-righteousness and pettiness than my birthplace, it would have to be twice the size of Stanton. To give you an idea of the character of the place, one of its claims to fame is 'The Birthplace.' When you hear someone from Stanton speak of 'The Birthplace' you get visions of a stable, singing angels and kneeling wise men. Truly. Or, you expect the birthplace to be a shrine to some holy martyr at least as well-known and revered as Mother Teresa. Maybe if you are a true—which means white, middle class or better—who traces the family tree roots back to some Virginia planter or patriot—often ninety-ninth cousin, couple hundred times removed--you might think of one of the greatest men who ever lived. Of course, he’d have to have been a Virginian. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington or Robert E. Lee, especially Robert E. Lee, would all qualify. But no, “The Birthplace” is where Woodrow Wilson, the twenty-eighth President of these United States was born—and lived less than a year. A President, by the way, no present day self-respecting Stantonian would vote for. He was, after all, a Progressive, dirty word.
Do I sound like a bitter person? I’m not really, just that from the time I understood anything, I understood Stanton was not for my kind. I mean, I got beat up when I was eight or nine and my class was touring 'The Birthplace' when I said, “I guess the Reverend Wilson had someone on the side because I am a Wilson too.” The teacher ignored the asshole mayor’s grandson who dragged me outside and whipped my ass while he yelled about a lazy, poor, sorry-assed nigger claiming to have pure, white Wilson blood in his veins.
See, I am black; well, I’m kind of a dark chocolate, African-American and I am from a poor-working class family. So I have two strikes against me. Now in the African-American community, my family is better off than most as my Mom works as a cook at the Stanton School for the Deaf and Blind, the state boarding school for handicapped youth, where she has worked since she graduated high school at seventeen. My father also works for the state as a groundskeeper at Western State Hospital, a state mental hospital. He has worked there since he got out of the Army—he joined as soon as he finished high school. Also, and this is very important, my Granny Lotz (another prominent name among white Stantonians) is the African-American community matriarch. Nonetheless, in Stanton, being black and poor are two strikes against you.
To be honest, I have another strike against me, but no one knows it and no one would as long as I lived in the lily-white armpit of Virginia, Stanton. My third strike? I’m gay. I have known that since I was maybe ten, certainly by the time I was eleven. I mean, I knew I was gay before I knew gay. I just knew I liked boys a whole lot more than girls and I daydreamed of boys, not girls. I may not have known the words, but Derek Edward Wilson was and is queer, a faggot, gay. So, I guess, I really am bitter, but that’s more than enough about being among the repressed and oppressed minority in beautiful Stanton, Virginia.
I have only one sibling, my brother DeAngelo, who is a year older that I am. And he is DeAngelo, not Angelo or anything else. He has never permitted anyone to call him anything other than DeAngelo. We have always been real close. When he started middle school, he got very involved in sports, especially basketball, and I tagged along when he went to practice. Occasionally, I’d get to play when it was just free practice or the coach needed someone to fill out a team. DeAngelo took after Dad and by the time he started R. E. Lee (R. E. Lee was Robert E. Lee High School, Stanton city schools' high school) he was six three and real muscular, the defined kind of muscular hulk. He took after Dad, but did have Mom’s lighter skin, more coffee and cream than milk chocolate. In that I was like Dad. Anyway, by mid-season of his freshman year, it was pretty obvious he was a rising star. I, of course, no longer got to go to practice with him—I was still in middle school—but he had started running to build endurance when he was still in middle school and asked me to run with him. We both found we really loved running and our runs got longer and longer.
The summer after I finished middle school and had turned fifteen, I was well into a growth spurt and pushing six one. DeAngelo was now sixteen, had his driving license—for all the good it did him as we didn’t own a car—and was pushing six five. It wasn’t legal, of course, but we got a job doing scut work and being gofers on a construction job. We were paid under the table and well below minimum wage, but we made enough to buy decent school clothes and supplies. There was no question about our continuing running. During the week, we got up early enough for a three to five mile run before going to work. Saturdays we ran ten to fifteen miles before tackling our Saturday chores: we cleaned house, did the laundry, took care of the yard—Mom and Dad both worked hard and we took care of the housework. Sundays we didn’t run as Mom thought it was wrong to dress in shorts and run on the Lord’s Day.
The second Saturday in September dawned bright and beautiful, so we decided we’d do a twenty-mile run, from Stanton to Buffalo Gap and back. We'd made the run to Buffalo Gap easily and had turned around and headed for home when my foot hit the edge of a rock and I turned my ankle. I managed to stop without falling flat of my face, but just barely. DeAngelo heard me yell and turned around and ran back to where I was sitting on the ground, hugging my ankle. “What happened?” he asked, running in place in front of me.
“I stepped on a fucking rock and turned my ankle.”
DeAngelo stopped running and sat beside me to check out my ankle. As he manipulated it, I almost pissed my pants. “Damn! Take it easy!” I said, hating the tears forming in my eyes.
“Sorry, Littl' Bro,” he said. “I don’t think it’s broken, but you damn sure can’t walk on it.” We couldn’t afford cell phones—although many of our schoolmates were in a tighter economic bind than we were and had cell phones. It was a status symbol. “There’s no way we can call for help and I damn sure am not going to leave you helpless beside the road out here among the wildlife—regular and human.”
As if to underscore his point, a jacked-up pickup--complete with a full gun rack—came down the highway. When it reached us, it slowed down and a dirty, snaggle-toothed man leaned out of the passenger side window and shouted, “Serves you right, nigger, for being out here in where your black ass ain’t welcome.” Fortunately, the driver jammed his foot to the floor and they roared off.
Nothing else passed and DeAngelo finally said, “Littl' Bro, we’re going to have to start back. You’ll just have to use me as a crutch.” I wanted to argue, but I could see no other option, so with my arm over his shoulder and his around my waist, we started down the road. We had walked maybe a half mile when we both knew we’d never make it, but neither was willing to admit it.
We were walking on the edge of the highway since the shoulder was too rough to manage with my ankle and human crutch. I heard another vehicle approaching and when I turned, saw another pickup. This one wasn’t jacked which was a good sign. I watched as it drove past and the passenger turned around and looked back at us. The truck slowed, pulled to the extreme side of the road and began the maneuver to turn around. “Oh, shit!” I said, “been nice knowing you, Big Bro,” I said, as the truck headed back toward us. We had stopped, me still leaning on DeAngelo, and watched as two tall, very well-built white men got out of the truck.
“What’s the problems, boys?”
Now you need to know, if you don’t, that you don’t call an African-American ‘boy’, regardless of his age and it was obvious neither of us was a kid, but we knew when to keep our mouths shut. “My brother stepped on a rock that rolled and messed up his ankle,” DeAngelo said.
“Think it might be broken?” one of the men asked. “By the way, my name’s Sam and this is my partner Brad.”
DeAngelo stuck out his hand and said, “I’m DeAngelo and this is my brother, Derek.”
“Mind if I have a look at that ankle?” Sam asked.
“No sir,” I replied as DeAngelo helped me sit down. Sam was very muscular and I was surprised at how gentle his touch was when he took my ankle in his hand After examining the ankle, he said, “Well, Derek, I don’t think it’s broken, but it’s swelling pretty badly and you definitely have a serious sprain there. I’ll get in the back with you and ice the ankle while we get you to the hospital for an x-ray to make sure. Any problem with that?” I shook my head. “By the way, I’m a certified PA—physician’s assistant--and Brad’s a physical therapist who is also a licensed personal trainer, so you’re in pretty good hands.”
The truck had a camper cover. Sam crawled in, then DeAngelo and Brad lifted me and got me inside as soon as Sam had unrolled a foam mattress in the truck bed. They closed the back after Sam had switched on the light in the top of the cab. Sam grabbed a zip lock bag from a box of camping stuff, opened an ice chest and put ice and water in the baggie and started moving it over my ankle. “If I’m correct and you didn't break anything, you’ll need to use ice for the next forty-eight hours. No more than twenty minutes at a time and forty-five minutes to an hour between applications. I’m sure the doctor will give you other instructions, but do treat this seriously. It’ll hurt like hell and take time to heal with good treatment and you can do permanent damage if you don’t follow instructions.”
As soon as we were under way and Sam found a signal, he phoned the hospital and said, “I’m bringing in a friend who has turned his ankle.” As soon as we arrived, he pushed the bell button and had a gurney in no time flat. As he and Brad wheeled me into the emergency area, a nurse guided us to an examining room.
I heard the woman at the desk giving DeAngelo a hard time because he didn’t have his insurance card. “You people never have insurance and you always claim you’ve lost your card or left it at home or something. You people are one of the reasons we all have such high taxes and high medical costs.
Sam looked at the ER nurse and said, “Beth, my five says he lasts a whole minute.”
“My five says less than . . . ”
She never finished her sentence as Brad said in a calm, clear, icy voice, “Just where do you think he’d carry a fucking insurance card? The kid was out running, as is obvious to any half-wit since he’s wearing fucking running shorts which are sweat-soaked. If he had crammed the fucking insurance card up his ass, you’d fuss because he got it shitty and if it was in his jock, it would scratch his cock and balls and besides, once you got a whiff of it, the kid’d not be safe. So cut the crap. And the way you say ‘You people’ sounds like a racially pejorative expression to me, which is, I believe, against hospital policy. So call the kid’s parents and go pick them up or send someone for them. NOW!”
Sam pulled a five-dollar bill from his wallet and handed it to the nurse. He grinned at me and said, “Brad grew up here and suffered because his old man was a mean drunk who almost drank away a business and left the family destitute in the eyes of the 'right people' after they had been part of Stanton’s first families. You can get by with murder in Stanton, but not going broke. Brad suffered abuse from his old man but in spite of the family being held in contempt, he was a big man at school as he was a football hero. Even though he didn’t dress right and the family finally lost their house and had to move next door to an African-American family, he was still a top dog. Then his family and the town tossed him aside, made him an outcast. He’s gentle as a lamb until someone crosses the line—that’s showing any kind of prejudice or superiority and then it’s Katy bar the door. He’s been working with a therapist ever since he moved back here and part of that has to do with controlling his anger. All his friends know about it and, well, there’s always a bet as to how long he’ll maintain his cool.”
I guess it was a slow day in the emergency room and having been rescued by Sam and Brad didn’t hurt because it only took an hour to get the x-rays and another half hour before the doctor finally came in, plopped the x-rays on a viewer and said, “No breaks, just a damn bad sprain. Sam saved you a lot of pain by icing it. Here’s an instruction sheet about how to care for your ankle and a dozen pain pills. Ibuprofen would probably take care of it, but for tonight, you might want one of these every four hours. Keep up ibuprofen after that until the swelling is gone. Unless you think something's not right, you won’t need to come back and should be all okay in a couple to three weeks.”
“I can’t run for a couple weeks?”
“Run? I’d say that’s six to eight weeks in the future. I mean you’ll be off crutches and walking normally in a couple weeks, if you’re careful. You have a grade two sprain and it’s going to take time to heal and for you to get the ankle and leg back in shape. The instruction sheet I gave you has some suggestions for rehab which I urge you to take. Also, you can’t run for awhile, but you can swim.”
“Just where would I do that?” I asked. “Gypsy Hill pool is closed and I cannot afford membership in a private club—if they would accept me as a member, which they would not. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m one of ‘you people.’”
“We need to talk, Derek,” Sam said. Turning to the doctor he said, “Thanks, Doc. I’ll see the young man does what he needs to do. Come on, Derek.” He said, handing me a pair of crutches after showing me how to use them.
After I had proven I could at least stay up on crutches, with Sam providing backup I hobbled out to the waiting room where Mom sat with Brad and DeAngelo. She hopped up and rushed toward me. “Take it easy, Mom,” Sam laughed, “Derek’s going to be okay, but if you touch him, he’s likely to tip over. He’s not very good with crutches yet.”
Mom gave me a careful hug, then we managed to get to a chair in the waiting room. When we were all seated, Sam told her about my injury and what needed to be done about it.
Brad said, “Derek’s covered by your state employee’s health plan and that will cover some rehab. I work at the rehab center and will take him under my wing. “You guys have bikes?”
“Just an old worn out one,” DeAngelo replied.
“Bike riding would be good for Derek. He won’t be running for awhile and as you two like to run together, I suspect you’ll like to bike together. Anyway, let’s get you home, your ankle properly elevated and start the icing and binding.” The two took us home and Brad said he’d give us a call tomorrow morning to see how things were going.
The next day DeAngelo tried to beg off church to take care of me, but neither Mom nor Dad were having any of that, so I was home by myself when Brad called about 10:00. “We’re on our way to church,” he said. “We’ll drop by afterward if that’s convenient, say around quarter of one? We like to talk to you and DeAngelo.”
“DeAngelo will probably not be back until 2:00 or later. He’s at church.”
“Man, that's too much church for me,” Brad laughed.
“I’ll be here,” I laughed in return, “and I agree, but you have no choice around here.”
It was almost exactly 1:00 when Brad and Sam arrived. I hobbled to the door to let them in and the first thing they did was ask if I was using ice, keeping off my foot, keeping it elevated and using the Ace bandage, etc. Sam took a look at it and said, “I’m not saying it looks good, but it looks good for the shape it was in when we got you to the hospital and better than I expected.”
“DeAngelo set the alarm and ice massaged it every hour. I slept on my back—lay on my back is more like it—and kept my foot elevated, just as I was told to do. I want to get back to running as soon as I can.”
“Okay, Derek, Sam and I have done some serious talking about your recovery and rehab. I’m asking for a treatment slot for you at 3:30,” Brad said. “At least for next week, Sam or I will pick you up immediately after school and take you to the rehab center. You need to plan on spending an hour there and one of us will bring you back home. The rehab center has a therapy pool, so you will get some pool therapy and physical therapy. Think you can handle that?”
“Sure, I guess so,” I responded, “but you need to know I can’t really swim, just dog paddle.”
“Not a problem, at least right now. You up to it?”
“Sounds good to me,” I said around a huge grin, “but Mom and Dad will have the final word on that.”
“Of course,” Brad said. “Give us a call.”
It was 2:30 by the time the family got home from church. DeAngelo helped Mom and soon Sunday dinner was on the table. Our parents were very strict—well, especially our mom--but loving except when Dad was drunk—he was a mean drunk—or lost his temper over something. Then he could be pretty bad. Both worked hard to provide for us and we, generally, did what we were asked and behaved ourselves and one of the cardinal rules was Sunday dinner was a ‘must do.’ The food was always the best of the week and we took our time enjoying it. While we ate, we talked about our past week, mostly about school and how we were doing there. During basketball season there was talk of the week’s game and more of the coming week’s. Dad was obviously very proud of DeAngelo as we all were.
There was, however, a new note creeping into conversations around our house and even Sunday dinner conversation. Dad was becoming increasingly—well, there’s no other way to put it—racist in his outlook. It had always been just under the surface, and had come out in the open from time to time, but for the past several months, it had gotten pretty bad. It got real bad about six weeks ago when there was an opening for a grounds supervisor and he'd applied for it. Instead of hiring him, they hired a white guy with five years less experience. At first, DeAngelo and I were very angry and as incensed over it as Dad was, but at school a few days after it was announced when DeAngelo and I were walking back from working out in the school weight room DeAngelo asked, “Derek, you know Peanut Brown? He’s a ninth grader, I think.”
“Sure, his dad works with our dad.”
“Yeah, that one. Well his brother Zake is also a sophomore, but we never had a class together. Then today he was transferred into my history class for some reason. Anyway, another classmate congratulated him on his dad’s promotion. You know what Zake said? ‘Thanks. I’m glad he got it. He’s worked his butt off to get it. Maybe he’ll be home more now since all last year he was taking night classes in landscaping management or something.’ After class I asked him about it and he said his dad thought Dad should have the position because of seniority and said he had done everything he could to get Dad to take the classes, especially since they were free, but Dad said he didn’t have the time and wasn’t interested. Maybe we should back off a little from thinking it was Dad’s race that kept him from getting the job.” Gave me a lot to think about.
The next time Dad said something about being passed over because he was black, I asked about the classes and he went into a tirade about the classes being a way to pass over him and not be accused of racism. Then he added a sentence which made my blood run cold, “The only black man that has a chance against a white man is if he’s a candy-ass nigger. Queers outrank anybody else when the state hires or promotes these days. Damn queers are taking over. Fucking cocksuckers should all be shot, especially candy-ass niggers.”
Dad’s mounting racism was the reason I wasn’t surprised at Dad's response when I told Mom and Dad Brad and Sam had come by to talk about my rehab and what they had proposed. Mom, of course, thought it was nice of them , but Dad started ranting about our getting too involved with honkies and we better not start turning oreo—black on the outside and white on the inside.
“Alonzo,”—Mom usually called Dad Al and when she used his full first name, it meant she was serious—“Alonzo, I think the young men who picked up your son from the side of the road and took him to the hospital where he could be treated deserve thanks and respect.”
“White guilt,” Dad grumbled.
“What if it is?” Mom asked. “You think Derek’s ankle cares the reason it is being cared for. I don’t care what the reason is if it’s getting my baby the care and attention he needs so his ankle heals right and does it right quick.” That, and the fact that Mom gave Dad ‘the Eye’ ended that discussion.
Monday, by the end of the school day, I was very tired and sore from struggling with crutches. Most of my teachers gave me permission to leave class a few minutes early so I wouldn’t be knocked down and trampled to death getting to the next class, but crutches require using muscles you don’t use or that you don’t use in the same way, so I was sore. A few teachers allowed me to use a desk chair to elevate my foot and ice it, but most didn’t. I spoke to DeAngelo as he came by before heading for home, then hobbled to the entrance to wait for Sam or Brad to pick me up. I had been waiting only a few minutes when Brad drove up in a bright red Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder. Fortunately, it was another bright, sunny, warm September day and he had the top down. He waved and got out of the car. He walked around to the passenger’s side, opened the door and helped me climb in.
On the way to the rehab center, he asked how the ankle was doing and how I managed during the day. I told him I was tired and sore and felt I’d like to just go home and climb in bed. “Sounds good, but not good and not gonna happen,” he laughed.
When we reached the rehab center, Brad said, “Damn! I forgot to tell you to bring your swim trunks.”
“All I have are cut offs,” I said.
“Won’t do. I’ll get you started with Sam and go get you a pair. End of summer so should be on sale.”
Once inside, I was asked to sign in and when I did, the receptionist said, “Oh, you’re one of Mr. Houston’s private patients. I’ll page him.”
“Derek, how’s the ankle?” Sam asked as he came into the waiting area.
“Not so good,” I responded. “I didn’t get to ice it as I should at school. In fact, only two teachers allowed it. Of course, same with elevation. Also, I’m sore and tired from the crutches.”
“Maybe I can help with some of that. Got your swimsuit?”
“Brad’s gone to buy one. I didn’t know I needed one and, in fact, don’t have one.”
“Then we’ll talk about what we’ll be doing here, put you through some exercises and have you repeat them to make sure you’re doing them correctly. By the time we’re through with that, Brad should be back and you can spend a few minutes in the whirlpool, then the therapy pool.” And that’s exactly what happened and how each day ended.
By the end of the week, the ankle was not bothering me a great deal and I was moving well on crutches. I still felt the need for a run, but was told that was still weeks away. Saturday was especially hard as I couldn’t do a whole lot to help DeAngelo and realized he was missing running as much as I. 'Why?' I asked myself. No reason he couldn’t run. “DeAngelo,” I yelled as he was in the laundry room. He came running and asked what was wrong. “What’s wrong is you are here and not running. Why haven’t you been running?”
“Littl' Bro, you . . . ”
“DeAngelo, get your ass in running shorts and get out of here. You’re making both of us suffer because I can’t run. Go! Git! Scat!”
DeAngelo got a huge grin on his face, gave me a kiss on the forehead and said, “Thanks, Littl' Bro.” Five minutes later, he hit the road.
An hour later he was back, said he had met Brad and he would call Sunday morning about our coming out to their place.
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