Journey to Love
Chapter Six - Hopes Dashed
Edited by Cole and Peter
As soon as we got to school, we headed for the cafeteria, got a carton of milk and a turkey sausage biscuit and pretty much wolfed them down so we could see about talking with the coach and the counselor. DeAngelo went looking for the coach; I went to the front office. “Miss Lott, I need a pass to the counselors’ office.”
“Why do you need to see a counselor?” Miss Lott, the receptionist, asked.
“I don’t believe I have to tell you that,” I replied. I was pretty sure I had read in the handbook that all I had to do was ask to see my counselor.
“Well, I’ll not give you a pass until . . . ”
Mr. Manning, my English teacher, walked up behind me and said, “Miss Lott, give the young man his pass. Why he wants to see his counselor is not any of my business, the principal’s business and most assuredly not yours. If I ever hear of you asking students why they want to see their counselor again, I will take it up with the principal.”
“Well, I’m just trying to save the counselors’ time and make sure students are not just avoiding class.”
“Which, I am sure, is not in your job description.” Miss Lott was still not writing the pass, so Mr. Manning went behind the counter, grabbed a pad of forms from her desk, wrote out a pass, handed it to me and said, “Derek, if you need someone to talk to, I’m available.”
“Thank you, sir,” I replied and headed for the counselors’ office.
Once there, I had to get by another receptionist, Mrs. Brown. I handed her my pass and she asked who my counselor was. “Miss Kaplin,” I replied, “but I need to see Mr. Carroll.” It soon became clear that I was not going to get to see anyone other than Miss Kaplin. I finally gave in and was ushered into Miss Kaplin’s office. After beating about the bush, I finally said, “Miss Kaplin, I’m not putting you down and if it wasn’t regarding the matter it is, I’d expect to be sitting down with you, but I really need to see Mr. Carroll.”
“Derek, I’m here to help my assigned students anyway I can, but if you feel I’m unable to help you with this particular situation, I will see if Mr. Carroll can see you. If not, maybe we can work out some other way for you to get help.”
“I really appreciate that, Miss Kaplin, I truly do. Thank you.”
She smiled, picked up her phone and dialed an intraschool number. “Mr. Carroll, I have one of my counselees in my office who feels his problem is one you might be able to help him with. Can you see him?” After a short pause, she added, “Thank you.” She looked at me and smiled, then said, “He will talk with you. Just take a seat outside my door and he will call you when he can see you.”
“Thanks again, Miss Kaplin.”
I was very nervous and felt very conspicuous sitting outside a counselor’s door, but no one came down the hall and saw me, for which I was thankful. Mr. Carroll was, I knew, the sophomore class counselor since he was DeAngelo’s, and also the head counselor. He had been a basketball star at R. E. Lee in the mid-1970s and had played some college basketball. After college, he became a teacher/coach at Buffalo Gap High School. He had gone back to school and earned his counseling certificate and then came to R. E. Lee as a counselor. According to former students and his present counselees, he was very good at his job and well liked. Of course, everyone knew him since he had grown up in Stanton and was from one of the better families. That was reason enough for me to mistrust him, but DeAngelo had said he thought he would help
I had waited less than ten minutes, though it seemed hours, when his office door opened and he said, “Come in, come in, Mr. Wilson. Have a seat.”
“Mr. Carroll, I am. . . .”
“Son, I just scanned your folder, so I know you are Derek Wilson. I know DeAngelo well, and in fact, have known your family since I was your age. I also know you are a good student and getting better. Not as hot at basketball as your brother who, I think—and I’m speaking here as an old coach—has a college athletic scholarship waiting for him. But that’s not why you’re here. Tell me, why are you here and why didn’t you think Miss Kaplin could help you?”
“I’m not sure where to start, sir,” I said.
“How about at the very beginning? We have a whole school day if that’s what it takes to get the whole story.”
I took him at his word and started with the accident coming back from Buffalo Gap and ending with what had happened last night and DeAngelo’s suggestion he might be able to help.
By the time I finished, Mr. Carroll had a frown on his face, and before speaking, he shook his head sadly. “Derek, you’ve picked a hard one. I was coach at Buffalo Gap when Brad was put on the street and Booker killed. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t say anything in their defense when they were kicked off the basketball team and even more ashamed that I didn't speak up in a way that might have saved Booker’s life. It’s still hard to live with. What is even harder to live with is the attitude in this town which has resulted in the situation you’ve described just now. I know it won’t make a lot of difference, but some of us are going to protest the decision by the school board concerning an R. E. Lee swim team and will give all the support we can to the programs at the Center.
“In your case, you and DeAngelo have two things going for you. Clearly, and the records here support this, you both have improved academically since you have been working with Brad and Sam. Additionally there is the improvement in DeAngelo’s basketball. Al Wilson will have to admit that. As an old basketball coach, I can use that as well.
“But you are different. I suspect I might be able to make a passable basketball player out of you, but you’d never make first string in a school as large as R. E. Lee and certainly would never be basketball scholarship material. Not only are you not built for it, but I’ve seen enough of you on the court to know you don’t have the passion. I don’t know about your passion for swimming except what I hear from Ms. Bianchi and Mr. Malik.” He laughed. “Ms. Bianchi says you dive like you live in water and can’t wait to get off dry land. Anyway, both think since you have three years ahead of you, you can earn an athletic scholarship as well as academic ones, but both may only be possible if, as you suggest, you continue working with Brad and Sam.
“I know your Dad well enough that I think I may be able to convince him you should be allowed to continue what you are doing at the Center. Surely between Coach Andrews and myself we can do that. Let us take that step and see where we can go from there. You’re two good boys and need and deserve all the help we can give you.”
I thanked Mr. Carroll and headed to class with a late pass since the tardy bell for first period had rung fifteen minutes before. My first period class was world history, which should have been interesting, but the time was usually taken up with Mr. Hudson telling of his days of glory as a basketball player at VPI. I understand every year his career gets better and he’s now approaching having been a starter for the four years he was at VPI. A few years ago, a student did a little research and found he was never first string and only on the team for two years.
Anyway, since DeAngelo was a rising star, some of his glory was reflected on me and I could get by with anything in Mr. Hudson’s class, but that wasn’t what I was about. I got laughed at by some because I kept up with my assignments and did the reading for the class. I suspect had I been less fit, I would have been picked on because being smart was not cool. Anyway, Mr. Hudson didn’t even acknowledge my presence when I took my seat.
DeAngelo met me at lunch. We didn’t have the same lunch, so he was cutting class to tell me we might be called to the counselors’ office sometime during the day. “Coach Andrews gave me a late pass so I could catch you and let you know and so you won’t be surprised or worried when you get called. I have no idea what’s going on, but he’s really upset with Dad. That’s all I know. Gotta run. I have Mr. Mitchell this period and he’s always on my ass. Later.”
Of course, I expected a call any minute and was listening for it rather than paying attention and got called on that in my computer and biology classes. The last period was nearly over—I was in the gym in health class—when the intercom announced, “DeAngelo and Derek Wilson, report to the counselors’ conference room.” I grabbed my things, thankful that we were doing classroom work and not dressed out in gym clothes. This way, I could go without stinking or stopping for a shower. When I got to the counselors’ conference room, DeAngelo hadn’t arrived. Mr. Carroll said, “Derek, have a seat. Coach Andrews and I decided we needed help in working out a plan for you guys and called in some friends and colleagues, but we’ll wait for DeAngelo.”
DeAngelo had been in the gym playing basketball and arrived still wet from a quick shower. “Sorry it took me so long, but I didn’t think y’all would appreciate me in the condition I was in when I was called.”
Mr. Carroll nodded, told DeAngelo the same thing he had told me about calling in help. “You two know Miss Kaplin of course. She’s here because she’s Derek’s counselor and, frankly, she wanted the experience. I also wanted her here to show her that transcripts, letters of recommendation and such are not all counseling is about. Aside from Miss Kaplin, I have asked others to help out, but only with your consent. I’ll just go down my list and tell you why I have asked them to be willing to be on the team, so to speak. Derek, Mr. Manning came to see me about the incident this morning when you were asked why you wanted a pass to see a counselor. He was upset about that and said he had his eye on you for honors and AP classes your next two years. ‘He’s a fine young man who will be trapped in Stanton unless he gets our support,’ he said. Any objections to having him join us? DeAngelo, do you know Mr. Manning?”
“I do. I never had a class under him, but I’ve heard how hard his pushes students he thinks have potential. I have no objection.”
“Neither do I,” I said.
“You both know Mr. Williams, your middle-school principal, of course.” We both nodded. “I’m sure you know Mr. Williams was principal of the ‘colored high school,’ as it was called before integration. There was an effort just to put him in a classroom, but enough people rose up that he was given the middle school. What you may not know is that Mr. Williams is from a very, very poor family. They kept after him about his academic work in high school when all he wanted to do was play basketball. He ended up with both academic and athletic scholarships for college and played a couple years of pro basketball in Europe before a skiing accident messed up his knees. He saved enough from those two years to go ahead and earn his master’s after which he started teaching and coaching basketball. Eventually he got his administrative master’s and became a principal. He is also African-American and can speak to your father in ways none of us white folks can.
“Glad you asked him,” I said, “Dad has always felt Mr. Williams was short-changed over the principal’s job and knows about his basketball reputation.”
“Two more. Coach Andrews, of course, and Ms. Bianchi.”
“Why not Mr. Malik as well,” I asked.
“We don’t want too many people and we’re heavy on males. Also, I think Mr. Williams might be able to address that better than I can. So, are we set?” DeAngelo and I both nodded. “Fine. If you’ll hang out in the library for half an hour, I’ll gather the team together and we can start making plans.”
DeAngelo and I thanked Mr. Carroll and headed for the library. We handed Mrs. Greene passes which did not please her. She didn’t like students ‘hanging out’ in the library after school—or any other time for that matter—but had to keep the library open for an hour after the final bell. The two of us did not ‘hang out,’ but promptly got on our homework. I had finished mine and DeAngelo had one more math problem to do when Mrs. Greene came over to where we were sitting and told us Mr. Carroll wanted us in the counselors’ conference room.
When we arrived we greeted everyone and Mr. Carroll motioned us to two chairs, one on either side of Ms. Bianchi.
“Guys, let’s get the story first hand. I know, Derek, you told me what happened this weekend and DeAngelo told Coach Andrews, but so we are all on the same page, let’s all hear the same account together.”
“Before we start,” I said, “Mr. Carroll, you said Mr. Williams was in a better position to tell me why Mr. Malik is not included. Why, Mr. Williams?”
“Derek, I’m sure Mr. Carroll reminded you that we didn’t want too many people and we already had enough men in the group. Well, that’s true, but then I think I could make a case for a very large team if it’s a team and, frankly, given your father, all men wouldn’t be such a bad thing. However, the most important reason, which these folks would find difficult to say to you, is that Alonzo Wilson is a racist. That’s the reason I advised against including Mr. Malik and I will advise Ms. Kaplin to be a silent and unseen member of the team so far as Alonzo Wilson is concerned.”
“Got’cha,” I said, and then, between the two of us, DeAngelo and I told the team what had happened when Dad found out Brad was Bradford Hunsinger and what it meant to our future plans if we couldn’t overcome Dad’s prohibitions.
When we had finished, Mr. Carroll said, “Okay, as I see it, we have some pretty particular goals: 1) you need to be able to go to the Center as you have been doing, 2) you both need to continue to benefit from Sam and Brad’s tutoring and mentoring, 3) you both need to continue your fitness program, 4) DeAngelo needs to be able to keep his job at the Center and 5) Derek needs to be able to continue developing as a swimmer and diver. That cover it?
DeAngelo and I nodded.
Over the next hour, we talked and planned. Finally, it was decided that Mr. Carroll, Coach Andrews and Mr. Williams would try to convince Dad that it was to our benefit and his that we be allowed to continue at the Center. The others would work at making sure we were keeping ahead of the game academically. The final decision was that Mr. Williams would pay Dad a visit and see if he was willing to meet with the three—Mr. Carroll, Coach Andrews and him.
As DeAngelo and I rode home on our bikes, we were pretty pessimistic about the success of any talk anyone would have with Dad. “But if anyone can get through to him, it will be Mr. Williams,” Derek said. “He’s African-American, he’s from a family even lower on the Stanton social scale than we are and he’s made good.”
“Plus the fact that Dad’s racist shit won’t be a problem,” I added, feeling a bit more encouraged.
When we got home, DeAngelo went to work on the one math problem he had to complete. While he did that, I stripped the beds and started a washing. By the time I had the machine running, DeAngelo had finished his homework and he helped me make up Mom and Dad's bed. We then went upstairs and made up ours. We had finished that and I had started supper and DeAngelo was outside hanging the washed clothes on the line—Dad had allowed a washing machine, but no dryer when there was a knock on the door. When I answered, it was Mr. Williams.
“Son, when does Al get home from work?”
“He's usually home by 5:30, so it will be another half hour or so before he's here.”
“When is supper at your place?”
“Well, it will be ready by 5:30 or at least I'll only have to put the finishing touches on it. We're usually ready to sit down by a quarter of six.”
“So Al should be free by 7:30 or so?”
“I'm sure he will be,” I answered.
“I plan to have a man-to-man talk with him tonight and knowing him, he’d be gunning for bear if he expected me. Unless he decides to go out, let my arrival be a surprise.”
“Yes, sir,” I responded and he said goodbye and left.
When I told Derek Mr. Williams was coming by to talk to Dad, he said, “He has known Dad since they were in school together. I think he was a couple years ahead of Dad, maybe not, but anyway, he sure knows Dad well.” I nodded.
When Mr. Williams arrived, Dad was very surprised and said, “Come in, Silas. What brings you to your old neighborhood.”
“As a matter of fact, you do Al. We need to have a serious talk.”
“Can't imagine about what, but come on in. Boys, upstairs to your room.” As we headed upstairs, I heard Dad ask, “Do I need to call Mae in?”
“No, I think this needs to be between the two of us.”
DeAngelo and I had walked halfway up the stairs where we were pretty well hidden from anyone in the living room, but could hear what's going on.
“Well, get to it,” Dad said.
Mr. Williams responded, “Al, there are some facts you need to face and some actions you need to give some thought, a lot of thought, but first off, you need to know the truth about Booker and Brad and what happened at the Hunsinger camp. I know exactly what happened because both boys were on the basketball team and told me the same story. First of all, yes, Brad is gay. Once he left Stanton, he has never made a secret of that. Frankly, I was surprised when he came back and having gotten to know him as a grown man and his partner Sam, I can honestly say I wish we had more people around who were as caring and concerned about others as those two.
“Anyway, back to that night which ultimately resulted in Booker and his father's deaths. I would ask you if, when you were in your teens, you ever jerked off with a buddy, but I won't because I think you'd probably deny it and I know for a fact you did. Well, what you did and I did, I know for a fact Jake Dunning did as well. Hell, Al, it's just something guys who are good friends do and it had nothing to do with being gay or straight.
“Anyway, back to those two boys, Brad and Booker. They both knew that once they left Stanton, it was unlikely they'd ever see each other again. Thinking about that, they were both feeling very emotional, and Booker decided he wanted to show Brad how much their friendship meant to him. What happened, what they ended up doing, was what we just talked about: they jacked each other off. They’d never done anything remotely like that before. It was something that just came from the friendship they had for each other, and the fact they’d soon be apart, probably forever.
“ Unfortunately, Jake Dunning walked in on the two.
“Brad and Booker's fathers have to accept a lot of blame for what happened after Jake burst in on the two boys. Both exaggerated what had been going on and the Stanton gossip machine made sure the story grew. Al, that's what happened. Brad turned no one gay. No one has ever turned anyone gay any more that the so-called Christian conversion groups have turned anyone straight.”
“Silas, I don't know why you are spouting all that shit. This whole town knows that Brad Hunsinger is gay . . . ”
“Be kinda difficult not to know that since he makes no pretense otherwise and he and Sam paid for their marriage announcement to be in the paper. What's your point?”
“My point is that he turned a perfectly nice kid into a candy-ass nigger.”
“Al, two points. The first is that I'm in your house so I can't very well do what I want to do because of your choice of words. The second is, you're calling me a liar based on ancient Stanton gossip. Booker was never gay anymore than any teenage guy who jerks off with a friend. In spite of that, the black community gossip declared he was and blamed Bradford for turning him gay. The white community wasn’t interested in a black kid except as a ball player. They just saw a gay Hunsinger, another mark against Brad’s family. But that's beside the point. I came because I have the best interests of your sons at heart. We both came up poor, real poor and while it may be hard for you to believe, my family considered yours pretty well off, and compared to us, you were.
“You and I took two different paths. I saw that the only way I was not going to spend my whole life trying to keep body and soul together was to find a way to get an education. I worked my ass off in the classroom and on the basketball court and I got out of here. I'm back, but I'm not poor. I've had some bad breaks—some based on my color—but, Al, I've got it made.
“I talked with teachers, counselors and coaches today and I can tell you, basketball scouts come here looking, but there's no one graduating this year or next that excites major schools. Yet the scouts keep coming. Why? Well, they sure can't say it out loud, but they are watching a sophomore—almost unheard of—and that's DeAngelo Wilson. Had he stayed where he was last year academically, his ball playing would have been in jeopardy, but Brad and Sam got hold of him and he is headed for honor roll.
“Derek? Derek will never be a basketball star. He's good, but his heart's not in it. It is in something, though. Something else. Al, the kid didn't even know how to swim, but once he got in the water, you'd think he'd been swimming from birth. Diving? He's on his way to being a good, maybe great diver. With three more years under his belt, he stands to get a good athletic scholarship at some college which has a swim team. And while he's always been a better student than DeAngelo, he'll be an all-A student before the year's out if he continues to get the help he has been receiving.”
“So what has any of that got to do with me?”
“I've been told you have forbidden them to go to the Center or to see Brad or Sam.”
“You're god-damn right! I'll not have any son of mine around honkie queers and that's final!” Dad had hopped to his feet and was standing before Mr. Williams, his fists balled as if he was ready to hit him. Since Mr. Williams could have pounded Dad through the floor with his left hand and not break broken a sweat, it could have been funny, but it sure as hell wasn't.
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