Journey to Love
edited by Cole and Peter
I had injured my ankle the second Saturday in September and a month later, I had reached the point that I thought I was over the injury, but I still was not permitted to get back to running. But by that time, Derek and I liked biking so much, I wondered if we’d take up running again when I was given the okay to do so. We were up every morning to get in a ride—never less than ten miles and usually closer to fifteen—before school. After our rides, we went to the Center—the Alexander Physical Fitness Center—for workouts Brad had designed for us.I Then we showered, got dressed and went home for breakfast. Saturdays we did a long ride—twenty to thirty miles--did the housework, our homework, then went to the Center. I fell in love with swimming and diving and hoped we’d have an aquatics team and I’d get good enough to make it. Angelo loved swimming too, but he wasn’t interested in a possible aquatics team.
Everyday after school we headed immediately to the Center. DeAngelo had taken the assistant janitor’s job and worked two hours a day after school. I joined Ms. Bianchi and Mr. Malik and the ten guys and twelve girls who were training before tryouts for a team. It still had not been determined whether or not the team would represent R. E. Lee, but if not, we’d compete against other club teams. For not being able to swim a month before, I was doing right well. I was especially proud of my progress as a diver.
Weekdays, it was 7:00 before we got home and had dinner. Mom and Dad, and Dad in particular, were pretty reluctant to allow us to keep up our workouts and swimming until they saw the change in our grades and especially in DeAngelo’s. Both made it very clear that we could stay involved in all our activities if we kept our grades up and improving. With our schedule, Mom and Dad decided they would have dinner at 6:00, as usual, and we could eat when we got home if we’d have breakfast with them. That worked out fine as we did our morning ride, workout, showered and dressed for school in time to join them for breakfast. After they headed for work, we cleared the table, did the breakfast dishes and headed out. It was a very busy schedule, but we were loving it.
The results not only showed in our grades, but also in our bodies. DeAngelo was a real hunk and the football coaches were already on him about joining the team next year. He kept telling them he was sticking to basketball and finally asked his counselor to get the coaches off his back. He didn’t make any friends by that request, but he was left alone.
DeAngelo, as I have said, took after Dad in his build. I was definitely Mom’s child in that department. I was muscular, well-defined, but slender. Ms. Bianchi said I had a classic swimmer’s build. At six one, I also seemed to have reached my final height.
Life was good and getting better. With DeAngelo in the full swing of basketball, he thought he’d have to either drop work or the workout at the Center. After Brad talked with the basketball coach, the coach agreed so long as DeAngelo was there for basketball practice, and kept up his physical training, he didn’t care where he did it. He also pointed out the equipment at the Center was far superior to the school’s. “Matter of fact,” the basketball coach said, “I wish more of the basketball players had the same opportunity. DeAngelo has improved so much physically—his stamina, coordination and speed—he’ll be a starter before the season’s over. He’s has already started a few times. Best sophomore player I’ve ever had.”
“The Center is open to any or all of them,” Brad said, “as long as they agree to our code of conduct”. He paused, considering, then remarked, “We may not be able to handle the whole team at the same time, but they’ll have individualized fitness plans and can come in when it’s convenient for them and the staff here. Membership fee is on a sliding scale and starts at zero for those who are really hard up.”
“Hell, with the swim and dive team in the making, R. E. Lee will have two teams with first class facilities. Should make a real difference. The Center is a really fine addition to Stanton,” Coach said.
“Correction,” Brad said, without a smile, “the addition is to Alexander County, not Stanton.”
“Sure, understand, but it’s a great addition to Stanton, just not exclusively Stanton.”
“Not exclusive, period,” Brad added, emphatically.
While DeAngelo was working hard at basketball, I was working hard at swimming and diving. Both Mr. Malik and Ms. Bianchi were well pleased with my progress as a swimmer and Ms. Bianchi was really impressed with how I was developing as a diver. Then, to be blunt, the shit hit the fan and not a little of it was slung into our lives. Actually, there were two piles and two fans, so to speak.
The first involved an incident at the Stanton School for the Deaf and Blind, the boarding school where Mom worked, an incident that should have been handled quietly and kept confidential, as it had been in the past, but because of a sophomore loud-mouth, it wasn’t. The roommate of a junior left for home in Blacksburg Friday as soon as his last class was over. His dad was bringing him back Monday morning early, before his first class. A hometown neighbor got a call Sunday that his mother had been taken to the hospital in Stanton and the neighbor offered to save the boy’s parents a trip.
When he returned unexpectedly Sunday night, he found his roommate and a junior jerking off in his room. The three guys might have settled it except a sophomore across the hall saw what was going on when the door was opened and the returning roommate was so surprised that he didn’t close it. ASL, American Sign Language, can’t be whispered so the rather animated discussion among the three may as well have been shouted across the hall. The sophomore immediately ran to the dorm monitor who, of course, reported to the school authorities who placed the two under discipline and that should have been the end of the matter. Unfortunately for a number of people—including DeAngelo and me—the sophomore was sure spreading the story would gain him friends. By Monday afternoon, the two had been caught sucking each other; by Wednesday, they were fucking; Thursday, they were not just fucking, but also making a movie of it. By Friday, the roommate had suddenly become part of an ongoing threesome and several fights had resulted as well as the expected name calling and dirty tricks. It was, of course, the talk of the campus. When Mom told Dad about it and he found out the two were under discipline, but still in school, he went ballistic, shouting about faggots taking over, queers seducing boys and on and on and on. I felt sick at my stomach.
The second was more personal and direct. The Stanton News Leader had a front page headline 'Bradford Hunsinger Named Head of Alexander Center Foundation.' The article named Samuel Houston and someone named Edward Dirk Haas as the additional trustees of the foundation which built the Center and funded its programs. On the same page was an announcement that the school board would take a final vote on the R. E. Lee team being sponsored by the Center. Those of us who had been working to be ready for tryouts for the team all decided we would attend the meeting.
As soon as the meeting started, the chairman asked if there was any discussion before the vote was taken. I was thunderstruck when there were immediate objections raised against the offer. Most did not make sense.
Finally, Robert Fisher, a member of the board said, “Mr. Chairman,” and when he was recognized, continued, “Mr. Chairman, I don’t know why we are pussy footing around the issue here. Everybody in Stanton knows Brad Hunsinger was thrown out of his house and disowned by his family when he was seventeen or so because he was a faggot. He was a faggot and is a faggot. He lives with another man who he claims to have married and calls his husband. I don’t know where the money is coming from for this so-called foundation and I don’t care. What I do care about is putting young men in the hands of a faggot. If we approve this so-called offer, we are saying it is all right to allow a faggot access to young men, to have them naked when he is around and welcome his seducing and turning them gay. I vote no and I dare anyone to do otherwise.” The room immediately erupted into chaos. The board attorney warned Fisher that he was dangerously close to slander and libel, but the damage was done. The board actually didn’t even have the guts to take a stand and vote no. They just tabled the motion.
When DeAngelo and I got outside, Sam was holding Brad who was weeping. A reporter asked him what the foundation would do now. Brad immediately got control of himself and said, “Anyone who believes Fisher’s lies about what the foundation is about cannot be reasoned with and I will not try. While I am saddened by the statements made about me, they are more or less what I have come to expect from the so-called good citizens of Stanton. That being said, I am pleased on one count. The conditions of the will establishing the foundation required the offer to be made to R. E. Lee. Now that that offer has been turned down, the Center will begin at once building two teams, one open to middle-school students and the other to anyone in high school. Our teams will compete against teams from other private clubs. Those interested need to call for an appointment for a physical and to have a physical fitness program designed for them. There will be no cost to swimmers, divers or parents. All that will be required is parental permission and a grade of C or better in all classes. In addition, any Alexander County middle- or high-school student who wishes can have a personal fitness program at the Center for half the membership cost, again, on the sliding scale if they maintain the program and keep a grade of C or better in school unless their IEP—individualized educational program--indicates the latter is unrealistic. Of course, the inclusive rule stands as well.”
“Inclusive rule?” a reporter from Harrisonville asked.
“Yes, anyone may become a member of the center; however, any name calling, clique, or put down at the Center or outside will result in immediate cancellation of membership unless the member agrees to serious diversity training.”
“Would that mean Mr. Fisher, had he a membership, would have it canceled?”
“Absolutely. He'd be out on his bigoted a . . . posterior.”
“Are R. E. Lee students excluded since the School Board . . . ”
“The inclusive rule applies, period.”
The Stanton grapevine was working overtime and when Derek and I walked into the house, Dad was waiting for us. “In the living room now!” In the living room, Dad sat down and when we started to sit down, he said, “No, you two stand in front of me! You’ve been hiding things from me and I want to know the reason why.”
“We haven’t hidden anything from you, Dad,” DeAngelo said. “I mean, I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Where have you been going Sunday afternoons? Where have you been going after school? What have you been up to?” I knew exactly what Dad was talking about as did DeAngelo, but I wasn’t about to play his game.
“We haven’t hidden anything from you. We have gone to Brad and Sam’s Sunday afternoons and to the Center after school,” I said. “At Brad and Sam’s, the two help us with our school work—you’ve seen the improvement in our grades—then we watch a movie, listen to music, things like that.” I wasn’t about to mention swimming there since when we did, we went skinny dipping. “At the Center, we both work out, DeAngelo works part-time and I am working so I can make the swim and dive team.”
“Why did you hide Brad’s last name? This whole town knows he’s a faggot.”
“It never occurred to me that you didn’t know Brad was Bradford Hunsinger. The fact that he is gay didn’t mean anything one way or another to me. He and Sam took care of Derek when he was injured and have helped us ever since—with school work, designing a personal fitness program for us, teaching us to swim and Derek to dive and giving me a part-time job. They are mentoring us and I see that we are better physically and academically—and I’d even say psychologically and spiritually--because they care.”
“Small price to pay for young asses to fuck,” Dad exploded, again.
“Alonzo, that is enough! That is more than enough. How dare you accuse your sons of being boy whores. That’s what you are doing. Now get your dirty mind out of the ditch. Our sons are good boys and don’t you forget that. Guys, go to your room so I can talk with your father.” Mom was royally pissed and her referring to Dad as 'your father' and by his given name should have warned Dad to cool it, but he missed the signal, I guess.
“Go on to your rooms and you are not to go back to the Center and certainly not to have any association with Bradford Hunsinger and Sam Houston! Do I make myself clear?”
Before we could answer, Mom said, “Hop to,” and we rushed up the stairs to our attic room. When we reached our room, we sat on our beds, looking at each other. Finally DeAngelo asked, “Derek, what are we going to do? Let’s be honest. Our life right now is good. Brad and Sam have been more than just friends. For the first time, I have really good grades, basketball is going very well and much of that is due to the fitness program Brad got me on. I have some spending money, which I’ve never had before, and they are introducing us to a much wider world than our own African-American community and Stanton. I feel good about myself and look to have a good future. That’s new to me and I like it. Sam and Brad love each other. Big deal. They are married. So what? So they fuck each other, well, I guess they do.”
“Let’s just say we know they make love and leave the how out of it.”
“Okay, so they love each other. And I love them. Not the way they love each other, but as big brothers or favorite uncles. What could possibly be wrong with that, any of that? Nothing! It’s all good in my book. In fact, I hope I have someone love me one day the way Sam and Brad love each other except I want it to be a woman.”
“DeAngelo, same here,” then I decided the way things were going, it was time to be honest with my brother. “Well, except for one thing.” I looked into DeAngelo’s eyes and said, “I do hope it’s a man.”
DeAngelo looked puzzled for several minutes, then asked, “What do you mean?” The light dawned. “Oh, you’re gay?” I just nodded. “Well, shit, Dad will kill you. Derek, you have to keep that secret, Littl' Bro. I mean, I’m surprised and, well, I’m not too surprised, well, I mean, shit, man, we’ve got to be careful. I mean, oh, do you have a boyfriend?”
“No boyfriend, Big Bro. I’m gay, not insane. You heard how Brad’s family turned him out when they found out he was gay. Do you expect ours would do less?”
“Mom wouldn’t. I don’t know how she’d take it, but she’d never turn one of us out, at least I don’t think she would. Dad would kill you if you let him.” DeAngelo laughed. “I don’t think he realizes his taking a belt to us is over unless we allow it. I don’t think he realizes he has two hunks for sons. Damn, you’re gay. Littl' Bro, you are going to leave a lot of disappointed females behind you.”
“Oh, I’m sure you can ease their pain,” I laughed. I was so relieved that DeAngelo had taken my being gay the way he had.
As I was thinking that, he got up, came up to me and pulled me into a bear hug and said, “I love you, Littl' Brother.”
“And I love you, Big Bro.”
Suddenly the front door slammed. I didn’t have to be psychic to know what was happening. Dad was headed for Leisure Palace, a juke joint out toward Fisherton. He'd be brought home by a friend if one was sober enough, otherwise an August County sheriff’s deputy would bring him to the door sometime after midnight. We wouldn’t have to worry about him for twenty-four hours. Fortunately, Dad seldom got really, really drunk, but for the past couple years, he’d been spending Friday and Saturday nights at Leisure Palace and coming home with more than just a buzz on. When he was drunk, but not really, really drunk, he could be mean. He focused his anger on me and DeAngelo. Once or twice he started to hit Mom, but she cold-cocked him with the broom handle the first time and the frying pan the second. She would call him off of us if she caught him belting us, but he usually managed to do that when she was not around. When he got really, really drunk, he’d pass out for almost twenty-four hours. I knew this was going to be a really, really drunk, drunk.
I heard steps on the stairs and Mom appeared at our room door. Even though our door was open, Mom tapped on the door frame and asked, “Can I come in?”
“Sure, Mom,” we both replied.
“I guess you know where your dad is headed. Maybe it’s best. Maybe he’ll cool off a bit. Your dad has very strong feelings about a lot of things. Remember, DeAngelo, you were born in 1984 when I was twenty. I was born in 1964, the year Virginia’s public schools reopened after being closed to avoid integration. Your dad was born in 1960. While civil rights made great strides elsewhere in the sixties, Stanton was a backwater. Your dad’s experience was particularly bitter because his family was not one of the ‘high-class colored.’ They were really poor and uneducated. He saw how they were treated by white folks and, for that matter, the high-class colored as well.
“He left Stanton for the Army as soon as possible after high school. The Vietnam War was over and he saw nothing but promise in the Army. For the first time, he knew he had a roof over his head, food in his belly and some pocket money. He was a good soldier and expected to advance in rank, but it didn’t happen. He blames that on having all white officers and, I suspect, that was part of the problem, but I’m sure his poor education also contributed to the problem. He was never encouraged to make decent grades. He was put down because he was black and poor and, frankly, teachers and staff weren’t very interested in black students. Many still resented schools being integrated. When he graduated high school, he probably had about a seventh- or eighth-grade education with an even lower reading level. A friend once asked him if he had taken advantage of courses offered by the Army and he replied, 'Hell no. Why should I do that when I was never going to advance because of having white officers?' After his four years, he came out of the Army very bitter and hating whites.
“As to faggots, well, do you know Brad Hunsinger’s story?” DeAngelo looked at me and shook his head slightly, warning me not to say anything about Mom’s saying faggots. My brother and I both shook our heads.
“Well, what Robert Fisher said about Brad’s being thrown out of his house and all of Stanton knowing he’s a faggot is right. Of course, he’s made no effort to hide it since he’s been back. Well, when Brad was a senior in high school, he was a big dog. He was a Hunsinger and therefore near the top of the Stanton social ladder in spite of the fact his father had just about drove them into the poor house with his drinking and poor management of his part of the Hunsinger businesses. After all, Brad was a football star, so he was a hero and had girls hanging all over him. He never seemed to settle down to just one and, in fact, he never actually dated very much in spite of the fact he could just about have had pick of the litter, so to speak.
“His best friend Booker Dunning was co-captain of the basketball team. Brad was also on the basketball team although he was not a starter. Booker was Eliza Dunning’s grandson. Eliza was Mrs. Grace Vanfossen’s maid, well, companion was more like it.”
“Is Mrs. Grace Vanfossen the same as Brad’s Miss Grace?” DeAngelo asked.
“The same,” Mom said, “In fact, everybody younger than the woman—or black--called her Miss Grace. Because Brad and Booker were such close friends, they both spent a lot of time at Mrs. Vanfossen’s. As a matter of fact, Miss Grace did everything except the legal paper work to adopt the two young men. Then, when spring break rolled around, Brad asked Booker to go to Florida with him. Booker had no money and really wasn’t interested anyway and suggested instead the two spend the time at the Hunsinger family camp.* Brad loved the idea and both sets of parents approved—reluctantly. See, the Hunsingers didn’t like the idea of a Hunsinger having a black friend and the Dunnings felt pretty much the same about Booker having a white friend. The two boys, young men, had made it clear to their parents they would drop out of sports if they interfered with their friendship and you know how much weight that carried! The boys packed what they would need. You know the camp which belongs to Brad's grandfather––the huge log house with everything—and after Sunday dinner with Miss Grace, they drove to the camp.
“Thursday night, there was a car accident between Fisherton and Stanton and Mrs. Dunning was seriously injured. Jake, Mr. Dunning, called Mr. Hunsinger to tell him about it and told him that he needed to get word to Booker. Mr. Hunsinger was afraid the two would pile in Brad’s old beat-up jeep and speed back to Stanton over some pretty poor roads and suggested that he drive up and tell the boys, which he did. When he arrived, he just walked in, saw a light in a bedroom and walked in to find the two boys . . . well, Brad was being serviced by Booker. In a rage, he grabbed Booker by the arm and threw him to the floor, kicked his several times before he picked up a bedside lamp and smashed it into Brad’s head. He then ran to the master bedroom, came back with a loaded double-barreled shotgun and ordered the two boys off the property. Brad reached for his pants and his father hit him beside the head with the butt of the shotgun and said, 'I said get off the property and you have three minutes to be on the road.' The two boys walked the fifteen miles back to Stanton, naked, and went immediately to Miss Grace’s. She saw to their injuries and put them to bed, asking no questions. Next morning, she went to Mr. Hunsinger’s and read him the riot act. He told her he didn’t know what she was talking about because he had no son.
“While she was at the Hunsinger’s, Booker had gone to the hospital to see his mother only to learn she had been discharged. When he got home, his father beat him to the point where he had a concussion and left him on the street beside the garbage can which was waiting for the garbage truck. The garbage man called the cops and Booker was hospitalized. Once the story of why he had been beaten got around town, he would have been kicked out of the hospital had it not been for a doctor threatening a lawsuit against the hospital.
“Booker was discharged Sunday and he and Brad went to school Monday. They were told, as soon as they walked in the door, they were no longer on the football and basketball teams and the living hell began. Booker did make another attempt to see his mom, but his dad caught him and beat him again, this time to the point where he did not recover. He died before he got to the hospital.
“His dad was arrested and eventually convicted of manslaughter and given the minimum sentence. His mom divorced his father and moved away. Jake Dunning got involved in a fight in prison and was stabbed to death. Jake was six or seven years older than Alonzo, but they had been like little brother, big brother from the time Alonzo was knee high to a grasshopper. Your dad worshiped Jake. When Booker was born, Jake was not yet seventeen. Booker was, to Alonzo’s mind, his baby brother. When Booker was killed, it had to be Brad’s fault. Brad had turned his baby brother into a faggot. If losing one brother was not enough, his big brother Jake was also killed, all because of that white faggot Bradford Hunsinger. He already hated whites, now he added faggots to the list and Brad Hunsinger was at the top of his hate list.”
DeAngelo and I just looked at each other. Then in a voice I could barely hear, he said, “Shit!”
I whispered in return, “Amen.” Fortunately Mom heard neither of us.
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*Hunting lodges, lake cottages and vacations cottages in Virginia, at the least in the Shenandoah Valley are called camps. They are often pretty elaborate places.
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