DISCLAIMER: The following story is a fictional account involving romantic same-sex relationships among teenagers. Although no sexual activity takes place in this story, there are references to gay sex and anyone who is uncomfortable with this should obviously not be reading it. All characters are fictional and any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental. Whereas there may be a strong resemblance between the portrayal of a certain rock star in the story and singer-song-writer John Mellencamp, the author in no way implies that the views expressed here reflect the actual opinions of this individual. Although the story takes place in actual locations and establishments, the author takes full responsibility for all events described and these are not in any way meant to reflect the activities of real individuals, nor actual policies of the newspaper on which the story is based. The author retains full copyright of this story, and of stories based on these characters.
Please note that this July 2008 Anniversary Anthology entry is the thirteenth in a series of short stories known collectively as Naptown Tales. The series of stories can be found on my GayAuthors Page and on the Naptown Tales Page at Awesome Dude. Slightly modified versions of some of these stories that are suitable for younger teens can also be found on the Altimexis Page at Codey's World. Please see the Introduction for important background on the series.
This story is a collaborative effort between Altimexis, originator of the Naptown Tales Series, and David of Hope, Altimexis' primary editor and the winner of the Gym Incident Writing Contest.
It didn't take me long after I graduated from college and entered the world of journalism that I realized a story about life could come from any source and at any time. It may come from just an overheard fragment of conversation or a few key words you absent-mindedly hear on the radio and zone into while you concentrate on your drive to work.
That's the job of the reporter. Always be curious and be a good listener. Curiosity always brings out the right questions to ask so that a story becomes full and meaningful to the reader. As opposed to being confrontational, my technique is to show interest and concern toward the person being interviewed. I'd always been lucky with that approach; a person that likes your approach wants to volunteer more information than required by a yes or no answer.
Such was the case with one of my assignments at the Star, the newspaper I'd worked at for more years than I care to admit. The assignment came out of the "Metro, State and Business" daily briefing, a meeting at which the "team leaders" for various departments that made up the core of the main "newsroom" at the paper stories that would be run in today's issue and future assignments that we were working on.
When a lot of people think about the goings on in a major city newspaper, they think of the popular 1980's TV drama series, Lou Grant, but a real big city newspaper is a much more complex operation than that, with so many more components. There is no "City Desk" at the Star. In addition to our "Metro, State and Business" newsroom, there are newsrooms for sports, for features, and there is a whole newsroom devoted just to the editorial pages. Most people have no idea just how much effort is devoted to a measly few pages of newsprint! On top of that, there are newsrooms for administration, for digital operations, for visuals, and there is a "newsroom" dedicated to all of the community editions of The Star.
"Metro-Biz", as we call ourselves, is truly the heart of the paper. There are no doubt a lot of people, mostly men, who live and die by the Sports Section, and many others, mostly women, who can't get by without their weekly fix of the Lifestyle Section, but a newspaper isn't a newspaper without news - especially local news. Because of our location in the state capitol, we also cover just about anything and everything going on in the state government, particularly when there's a scandal.
Our biggest role, however, is in deciding what goes on the front page. It's the front page that sells newspapers. Since "Section A" contains local, state, national and world news, we have to work closely with reporters from all of the divisions of the newspaper. Indeed, on more days than not, we find ourselves including a human interest story on page one, further blurring the boundaries of what constitutes news.
This often leads to intense battles over turf in which the Metro-Biz reporters have to fight for the right to cover their assigned stories . . . stories that reporters from other newsrooms or from divisions within our own newsroom feel are theirs to cover, and sometimes rightfully so.
Many old-timers sometimes yearn for the simpler days when the paper was locally owned, but even I have to admit that the paper we deliver today is a much better product. It might be more generic and a lot flashier and more colorful, but thankfully we still have been allowed to keep much of the same original look and feel that made The Star uniquely ours in the first place. Because so much of the paper's content comes prepackaged from "National", it also allows us to focus our efforts on local stories.
But getting back to our daily briefing, my name's Harold Warren, and I've been with the Star since I got my degree in Journalism a couple of decades ago. Landing a job with the Star right out of college was sweet, but I started at the bottom and had to work my way up, just like everyone else.
About a year ago, I became the Associate Team Leader for Education, Courts and Religion, one of the four teams that make up Metro-Biz. Jerry Cohen, my boss, is the team leader, and has been a personal friend practically since I joined the paper all those years ago. We both got promoted to our current positions when Sam Weisenstein retired as senior editor of Metro-Biz, resulting in a series promotions across the newsroom.
I hated to see Jerry promoted to team leader, as it meant he was now largely tied down to a desk and rarely went out in the field any more, but if it was between the two of us, I was glad it was him that got the job. There was no doubt that he was the better manager, and I was definitely the better person to ferret out a good story - even he would admit it.
In any case, it was at our June 17th meeting, after we'd all put the issues of day's publication to rest, that Steve Templeton started asking about our other assignments. Steve was the new senior editor of Metro-Biz. He was a no-nonsense type of guy who demanded the best from all of us. Steve primarily spoke to each team leader, first, expecting the team leaders to assign responsibilities to the members of their team.
It was thus Jerry who asked me, "Harold, how's that piece on the plans for the Fourth coming?"
"I'll have it wrapped up by the end of the day," I answered.
"Good," he continued, "because there's another subject I'd like you to get ready, too. It's kind of a sixth month anniversary thing as a follow-up to that gay teen interview you did last December."
"Yeah, that article did boost our readership," Steve said thoughtfully, "in fact, that happens every time we run a gay story."
"Let's face it, sex sells," Jane Weatherby, the team leader for Night Police and General Assignment threw in.
"Definitely," chimed in Ralph Lowe, the assistant team leader for Business, with a chuckle. He continued, "Sex sells, gay sex sells, teen sex sells, and gay teen sex sells more than anything. That was a real winner all right."
"Must we stoop so low?" Karen Winters said in exasperation. "It's bad enough the courts ruled our gay marriage ban unconstitutional, but now we have to rub salt into the wound by covering the worst elements of our society?"
You could almost hear the silent groans around the room. Karen was a real fundamentalist, and a bit of a throwback to the days when the paper was run by the most conservative family in the state.
"It wasn't ruled unconstitutional, it was ruled constitutionally inconsistent . . . there is a difference," Allen Goldstein, the team leader of State Government and Social Services corrected her, "and besides, how can you refer to a group of kids as the worst elements of our society? No matter how perverse you may think they are, they're still children, for God's sake."
"Children who've chosen the path of the devil," Karen replied.
"Karen, Allen, don't either of you go there," Steve Templeton exclaimed, effectively putting an end to any argument on the moral aspects of homosexuality.
Steve continued, "When they were having that student election for sophomore president Harold, you wrote that interview with David Reynolds and his boyfriend, Jeremy Kimball, it was a nice human interest thing that we tucked away on page four. But then it was you Jane, that covered the protests that took place as a result of that story. That turned into quite a circus."
"Yeah boss it did," Jane smiled. "I got the story and I taped David Reynold's speech. Harold, if we decide to do a follow-up story, you may want to listen to it before you interview him again. It gives a pretty good insight into his maturity and it may give you something to go on when you're asking him some of those anniversary questions."
"I know a question I'd liked answered," Herb Douglass, our liaison from the "sports newsroom", jumped in. "Harold, I know both David and his boyfriend Jeremy are good athletes, and I've interviewed them about their wins and losses on the soccer field, at swim meets and cross country, but I never got into a personal level with them. I'd like to know what their feelings and thoughts are towards young boys. I often think about the safety of my two little girls and the dangers that our youngsters face from sexual predators?"
"There's a good point," Jerry said, "It's not necessarily a gay issue, but I think the whole tone of the thing could be great."
"Does this have something to do with your son being gay?" I asked him, completely in a joking manner. The staff were all giggling, but knew that Jerry Cohen and I went way back. We both were wearing quite a few more pounds than we wore when we were younger, and we had quite a few gray hairs on our heads, but we still joked around like a couple of teenagers most of the time.
"For the twentieth time, my son is not gay," he replied. "Not that it would matter to me if he were, but Lance is very much attracted to girls. In fact, we've had to discipline him more than once for going over his cell phone allowance. It's just that David Reynolds, who happens to be one of his best friends, is gay."
"Speaking of which, David placed second in cross-country for the central region." Herb interjected. "Next year, I bet he places at the state level. He's tall . . . very tall for a fifteen-year-old. Too bad he doesn't play basketball."
"Yeah, and as I remember that kid," I replied, "He has a thousand watt smile and can think on his feet better than most professional politicians. He's good looking, too. Handsome . . . doesn't look gay at all. That kid's going places. It's no wonder he won class president . . . and that the Evangelists wanted to bring him down."
"Good thing our kids are smarter than that," Jane commented.
"Definitely," I agreed.
"His boyfriend's good looking, too," Jerry added.
"Oh yeah," I remembered. "Jeremy, isn't it?"
"Yeah, Jeremy Kimball." Herb confirmed. "Placed first in the state swimming championship overall, and in his freshman year, no less. Quite an athlete . . . and just as smart. Seeing the two boys together is quite a show. I mean, sometimes you see a teenage couple and you just know they're going to be together forever. It's a rarity, but it happens. With these two, it's just so obvious. They complete each others' sentences. They anticipate each others' thoughts. It's kinda cute. Of course as young as they are, anything could still happen. . . ."
"Yes, I agree with you," I said. "Some couples are just meant to be together. It's a rarity and it sounds like such a cliché, but those two seem to be really made for each other. I'm really looking forward to interviewing them again."
"Another thought I'd like to see brought out," Jerry said. "They belong to their school's Gay-Straight Alliance. I know Lance belongs to it and he rarely says anything about its members, so I've never gone into with him. What I'd like to see brought out in the article is something about the maturity of the straight youngsters that belong to the group. Usually a straight kid would shun, scorn, or humiliate or at best just ignore any kid that's gay at every turn of the coin. However, these straight youngsters are showing a lot of tolerance, understanding, but even more . . . acceptance and consideration for their gay peers. I think we should find out why and what maybe their thoughts are about that. . . .
"I know with Lance, we've inherently taught him the value of non-discrimination, but that's not true of all of them. Lance aside, it brings to mind that young lad, Barry Smith whose father hated gays. Last Halloween was certainly evidence of that. Yet, he also attends many of the gay-straight celebrations."
"That was a great story," Herb exclaimed. "He took quite a risk, confronting his father and disarming him all by himself. It's amazing as you say Boss, those two boys Jamie Wilson and Will Smith, great football players, and then there's Barry, straight, yet a hero who stood up for his gay brother and his brother's boyfriend at great risk to himself. I didn't have such tolerance when I was growing up in high school. With all that conflict in his life, I'd be interested in his take on the gay-straight support he's received and given. As you said boss, why?"
"That brings to mind," Jerry said, "Lance mentioned that Barry dated another girl a few times . . . uh . . . Carrie and now she's going out with the basketball player . . . uh . . ."
"Yeah, Lyle Herndon," Herb confirmed. "He's going for varsity, that kid. He's great on the court. Man, I've seen that kid play. He has, like, 100% accuracy from three-point range. He's another Larry Byrd in the making. There's another indication of that maturity and acceptance you're talkin' about."
"Right! Apparently her connection to the GSA is her brother who's gay. Another couple that Lance mentioned . . . gay," Jerry continued, "a Jewish American boy and a Pakistani boy, now that's an strange combination . . . a Jew and a Muslim. That should make interesting reading if they're still together."
All this rhetoric back and forth was giving me some good ideas. Then I did some recall of my own. I was copying down names and events in point form so I wouldn't forget someone.
"Remember that story we did about Kurt DeWitt, the pastor's son. We got the exclusive on that. That was what brought out that whole thing at New Years after Pastor DeWitt outed that boy Trevor Austin. That was an outstanding piece of luck to get a phone call from Kurt after I did that group interview."
"OK, who else was at that New Year's interview?" Jerry asked.
"I'd definitely like to interview Debbie and Cathy," I replied. "They're a couple of entering seniors, a lesbian couple, who are very much in the closet, even to their parents. At least they were at the time of the last interview. Getting a signed release without tipping our hand last time was incredibly difficult, but we managed it . . . at least I think we did. There was also Brian, a very shy and introverted, closeted boy who was seriously thinking about suicide. The article was his way of opening up and letting his feelings out. I only hope it worked in the end.
"I'm going to start with Paul Levine, the president of the GSA to find out how the membership of the GSA has changed since New Years. It might make an interesting stat to include, assuming he hasn't left town since he graduated."
"Harry, take as much time as you need and do it right. You can even have a week if you need it," Jerry said with a chuckle. "Seriously, I'd like to get this into the paper in time for the July 4 edition. Technically, July 1 would be the 6-month anniversary, but I think we should make it a 6-month holiday anniversary article. This way, it'll get a much wider audience."
"That it will, beyond a doubt," I agreed. "Do you think I should expand it to include other school districts?" I added as an afterthought. I've heard that Broad Ripple High School's Arts and Humanities Magnet Program attracts quite a few of the city school's gay students."
"Harold, I think you have more than enough on your plate with what you have already," Steve answered. "I like the idea of the Broad Ripple interview, though, but that's another story for another time."
With that, the meeting broke up and I returned to my desk. I began jotting down the questions I wanted answered and thinking of how I wanted to do the interviews - individually and a wrap up as a group. I'd have to be careful that I didn't give any secrets away for those that wanted to stay in the closet - but maybe their thoughts could contribute to the background of the story.
Jane dropped off the tape of her interview with David Reynolds and I listened to it with interest. Although I'd seen it on television some months ago, I sat there absorbing the personality and zeal of his unique personality. I had a feeling his thoughts would be key to the theme of the article.
I started with a call to Paul Levine, the former president of the GSA. Paul explained that there wasn't a real membership list or a pledge to a club, but rather just a gathering of people that enjoyed a common bond. When I rattled off the people that I was primarily concerned about and the reason for the interviews, he said he could add a few more to the list that may contribute to the article. I explained that for the most part I'd like to do individual or paired couples in private, rather than the group interview that we did the last time.
He agreed in that there were still a few of them that were in the closet, primarily because of their families, and that they probably would consider doing an interview, but wouldn't be able to get consent forms, so their identities would have to remain completely anonymous.
I agreed and he said that he'd get back to me in 24 hours with a list. As it turned out, when Paul called me back, he had a somewhat convoluted list of people who, thanks to summer jobs and the like, would only be available at certain times and places. So I made up a schedule of who, when, and where, and then confirmed it with each of the couples I'd be talking to.
First on the list were David Reynolds and Jeremy Kimball - probably the most `out' couple in the high school. I was meeting them at Jeremy's house in Lake Shore's, a very exclusive development that screamed of money. Their house was on a bend in the river that gave them complete privacy, yet they were within easy walking distance of all the shops in Broad Ripple. Their house backed up onto Dawson Lake, and if they had a boathouse, as I suspected they did, the boys could spend their summer filled with all sorts of activities.
My suspicions that they also had a swimming pool were confirmed when Jeremy answered the door wearing only a Speedo and a towel draped around his neck. His boyfriend was right behind him and similarly attired.
"I'm sorry to greet you like this, Mr. Warren," Jeremy said as he shook my hand with an embarrassed smile, "but David and I completely lost track of the time and we'd planned to be showered and dressed long before you got here, but next thing we knew, the doorbell rang."
"That's OK, boys," I said, putting them at ease. "It's the summer and you're supposed to be having a good time and not paying attention to the clock. And please call me Harold."
"Would you like something to drink?" Jeremy asked. "I've got Coke, 7-Up, several kinds of Fanta, fresh brewed ice tea, or I can make you any kind of coffee or espresso drink you'd get at Starbucks with our espresso machine. If you haven't noticed," Jeremy said with a chuckle, "my parents are loaded and we lack for nothing, so your wish is my command."
"Ice tea will be fine," I said, "but don't go to any bother."
"It's no bother at all," Jeremy answered as he led the way to their enormous kitchen and poured three glasses of tea from the refrigerator over ice.
"Since you're already in swimsuits, why don't we conduct the interview out by the swimming pool?" I suggested.
"Works for me," David answered as the three of us headed from the kitchen, through an enormous great room down a cascading set of stairs to a game room and through a set of glass doors out onto a terrace. The swimming pool was fully enclosed by a room with movable glass walls and a retractable glass roof, all of which were open for the summer.
"I can't believe this," I said aloud as I marveled at the wealth Jeremy's parents had.
"It's pretty cool," Jeremy admitted. "At times, it's embarrassing, but I'm glad we have the enclosed and heated pool. All those years of practice are what made it possible for me to win the state championship," he admitted.
"Jeremy's parents may be rich," David chimed in, "but Jeremy's not like that. He's the sweetest, most unassuming guy you'll ever meet."
"That's because my parent's didn't always have money. When I was little, my dad was struggling to get his business off the ground, and my mom was still paying off her medical school debt. We lived in a townhouse over on Harcourt Road, within walking distance of my elementary school. I've never forgotten those days, and never let my parents' newfound wealth go to my head. Truth be told, I liked living there a lot better than I like living here."
"Yeah, but I could never ride my bike over to see you if you lived over there . . . it's just too far," David reminded his boyfriend.
"I guess I'll just have to settle for living in this mansion," Jeremy sighed as the two of them briefly kissed. It was so cute watching the two of them interact!
We sat down together at a table in the shade, which I appreciated since I wasn't wearing any sunscreen and they apparently were.
"Before we begin, I'll need to get signed releases from at least one of each of your parents before I can identify you by name or use any quotations in the article I'm writing, but you guys know the drill by now. Jeremy, are your folks home?"
They weren't home, apparently they seldom were because of their professions, but Jeremy said they would sign and fax the consent form if I'd leave a copy, which I did. With the preliminaries out of the way, we got comfortable and I began my inquiries. They agreed that the use of a recorder was a good idea.
"First off, I realize from the list of names that Paul Levine gave me, that some of the interviews I'm going to be having will have to be on a confidential one-to-one basis, but with both of you, I doubt that's going to be necessary. As Paul may have explained, this is a six-month anniversary article we wish to run, to see where the folks are that were involved in that first New Years interview."
Jeremy chuckled, "It's quite an anniversary for us too. Surprisingly, David and I have been together almost a year. You remember what day it was Babe?"
"Don't have to think about that one . . . it was July 28." David smiled and grabbed Jeremy's hand.
I was fascinated by their affection and confident devotion. I said with a smile, "Tell me, what's happened within your relationship since New Years."
"For me . . ." Jeremy said seriously, "in a word . . . I've learned to trust David's intuition, and to trust my own instincts. Every time I do, I realize any challenge David puts before me, like the last class election thing we were involved with, that it's his trust in my abilities that makes me move forward in a direction that I would never have by myself. Then when David jumps into a fray of a controversy and wins his point, he becomes an even bigger hero to me. Sure we had that fight on our hands six months ago with the Reverend DeWitt's homophobic ways, and thanks to you, Harold, and the Star, I think these types of challenges have made our relationship stronger. We've grown together as a couple as we've faced our challenges as a couple."
". . . and you David?" I asked.
"Well separating the bedroom and passion from our relationship, I agree with Jer . . . we do understand and trust each other with the new challenges we accept, however small. Put all those things together and I guess we're devoted to one another, but I think we're also devoted to something else. . . . Maybe you would call it a devotion to our fellow students . . . gay rights and all, if that makes any sense. I don't think a person can survive in this world without that devotion . . . caring for each other might be a better word. We seem to gravitate to people that think like we do . . . that is, we have different sports abilities, but we still attend each other's games and meets with as much interest as if it were our own. That kind of attitude enforces our devotion and love for one another."
I noticed a glance from Jeremy to David - he had a smile that lit up his face. "So there we have a small diversity in our relationship, but we willingly accept them . . . just as we do in others. I think acceptance of diversity is the crux of any relationship or in another case, the students at school that are collectively known as the GSA. I think when you put all that together, Jeremy and I are closer and more in love than we were six months ago, although I didn't think it was possible back then."
I had to smile - instinctively, I knew this interview was going to be great. "This may be a bit of a tough one. . . . What advice would you give to gays that are still in the closet?"
"First, I'd have to say be confident that there are people out there, even here in the Midwest, that will be understanding and caring," David began. "Some kids and even some adults seem to be afraid of the shame they may bring on their families. Maybe they don't want to risk that family relationship and I think that's a pity with the way things are going in the world today. For example, when Reverend DeWitt tried to hide the shame of Kurt's homosexuality, it backfired on him. . . . The Reverend turned out to be the one who ran away in shame. I understand that it was Kurt's mother who was supportive, which brings me to the point . . . that your family loves you and a gay person has to give them more credit, in that they will continue to love and understand that this was the way you were created. I know that for Jeremy and me, that's the way it was. They didn't quit loving us because we realized we were gay. . . . If anything, they love us more.
"My advice . . . think it through and consider the best way to tell people you're gay. I bet those that aren't accepting of the truth, will go the way of Reverend DeWitt and well . . . maybe they weren't your friends anyway. The bottom line is that if you're confident of who you are, and you're doing the best you can with your life, people will treat you with respect, regardless of whether you're gay or straight."
"I couldn't have put it better myself," Jeremy added.
"Boys, if you had it to do all over again, what would you change, if anything, about when you declared to the world that you were gay?"
"Once I knew for sure," Jeremy said, "I shouldn't have hesitated to tell my parents. I think it would have given me more confidence. Best advice . . . when you know for sure in your heart, let it happen, let the cards fall where they may and deal with it. . . . At least you'll feel better about yourself, even if you lose a few so called friends."
"I take it that you don't have any brothers or sisters," I asked Jeremy.
"Actually I do have a brother and sister," he replied. "They're ten and twelve years older than me and live in other parts of the country. They were here at Christmas. We've never been that close like I am to Mom and Dad, but they were OK with the idea of me being gay. I have no idea what they had to say to Mom and Dad, but I'm sure they were straightened out pretty quick if they had anything negative to say about it."
"David . . . any brothers or sisters?" I asked.
"Yes, I have an twelve-year-old brother, Brad. Sometimes I could just throttle him. . . ." David started laughing and then Jeremy joined in. "Sorry for laughing, but it was because of him that I, actually both of us, came out to my parents a year ago. . . . Our first night at my home when we were having supper. Looking back, I think my parents already suspected, but Brad being the precocious kid that he is, came right out and asked us if we were boyfriends. We were totally embarrassed, but that was it. We were outed by my little brother. My parents were real cool about it. I agree with Jeremy though, I'd known I was gay for a few years and I should have told them when I was sure, instead of waiting for Brad to do it."
I had to laugh imagining the circumstance. Once I calmed down, I had to get on with the questions. "This is another one of those tough questions.... Jeremy, what kind of a person would you like to have as a life mate if David wasn't in your life?"
"Oh God Harold!" he said, "Don't even go there! How could I possibly be a better person than I am right now if it wasn't for David. If I hadn't met him and gained the experiences I have, I'd be a mediocre slob, probably bouncing from one relationship to another. For me . . . right now . . . it will always be only David. Sorry, but end of subject."
"WOW!" David exclaimed. "Baby, you're the greatest! Harold, I'd sooner live the life of a lonely hermit than try to have a relationship with anyone else. I don't know what I'd do if Jeremy wasn't in my life . . . or if something was to happen to him. Next question please."
I smiled. "Guys, don't get mad at me. I knew that would be a tough question, and honestly, it's not one I could answer myself if it were put to my wife and me, but your answer portrays a unity and maturity seldom expected in a young couple. Let's face it, high school relationships seldom last and I kind of have to start from that perspective. I have a strong feeling yours will, but keeping your relationship intact through the college years can be tough. Fellas, what are your future plans as a couple aside from the development of your chosen vocation?"
David smiled that winning smile again. "Well, I'm not sure. I'd like for both of us to attend the same university so we can live together. I know that geography makes a big difference in a relationship. I know the closer you are to the love of your life, the deeper your relationship will be. . . ."
"Marriage would be nice," Jeremy said in a pensive voice looking at the floor.
"Marriage!" David exclaimed quietly. "Me?" He reached over and tilted Jeremy's chin up and towards him. I knew I was witnessing a very intimate moment, so I kept very still and very quiet, but I couldn't stop the grin on my face.
"Of course, you . . . there's no one else I'd ever ask." Jeremy smiled. "Sometimes you say the stupidest things."
Before the moment got out of hand, I had to gain control again. I cleared my throat. "Gentlemen, I'm happy I witnessed this moment and I'm happy that you're so honest with each other, but for practical purposes, gay marriage is more or less restricted to Massachusetts and parts of Canada at the present time, and hopefully soon, California."
"That's OK," David said, "the answer is yes!" as he launched himself into his boyfriend's arms and the two embraced and kissed each other passionately. Clearing my throat, they remembered that I was there and they separated, but still held each others' gaze as they held hands and smiled at each other. "Next question," David said still staring into Jeremy's eyes.
"A bit of a serious question . . ." I began. "When should children be educated about predators?"
The smiles left their faces and they turned and both looked seriously directly into my eyes. It seemed I'd hit a nerve.
"Oh Harold," David said dejectedly. "What a shit loaded question. Fucking predators! Talk about needin' a psychiatrist. . . . These kinds of people are the lowest scum. Any adult or even a teenager who would think of having sex with a pre-teen boy or girl. . . . The whole thought of disrupting a child's ability to be a kid is abhorrent. . . . The whole thing is disgusting. I know my young brother is starting puberty, but if anything like that happened to him, I'd want to kill the bastard."
"I think it's more than that," Jeremy said equally dejected. "I heard that with most of these predators, they themselves have been sexually abused and their minds somehow got twisted into thinking it was normal. It happens and it's despicable and every time I think of it, I'd like to do something about it. Maybe one day, I'll be able to. I can say thanks to the media of today though. . . . You guys are educating the public about these things. Who would have thought that a female teacher would be a predator? Incest. . . . I agree that the whole thing's disgusting. To me, the responsibility belongs to the parents and older brothers and sisters to educate and protect young pre-teen members of the family, but what about when it happens within the family?"
"I agree. . . ." David added, "One night Mom and Dad brought it up after dinner . . . ya know without any sexual descriptions, and the next night we were watching the news and there was a report about a little girl being abducted and raped. Brad's eyes were opened and even after our talk with Mom and Dad, he had more questions with me. I had to get a little descriptive about what could happen physically. . . like to a boy, and I wondered if he thought I was exaggerating. I felt kinda bad after that, cause even in telling him, it stole some of his innocence, but I really thought it was necessary. The next night he thanked me, he said he'd checked the story with his teacher. Ya know Harold, it was nice. . . . When he finished tellin' me, he said, `I love you bro.' It was kinda like he'd gained a new innocence. From that example, I can only say, tell the kids as soon as they're ready to understand. They'll know you told them because of your love of them."
"Wow!" I exclaimed. I couldn't keep my deadpan professional attitude concealed any longer. I certainly didn't expect that kind of maturity to come from two fifteen year olds and I told them so. "Boys so many times the press and media gets a bad rap for being too sensational with the news, but your no-nonsense answers to that question were right on the money. Your maturity is a breath of fresh air. I'm sure if this were a test, you'd be getting a hundred percent. For my last question . . . what values would you wish to add to the lives of others?"
Both their smiles returned. David began, "Happiness, comfort, and love for our fellow man . . . and I don't mean that in a sexual sense . . . I mean it as a challenge to all people to elevate their awareness of what the other fella's gone through to be in the position he's at, at that moment."
Jeremy looked at David with a smiling frown. "I'd like to accept the challenge of bringing up a child, teach them about love, kindness, happiness, but more important . . . to be there for them all the time to answer their every need. Experience their innocence, but most important give them my love and trust. There's probably a whole lot more, but that's what I want for the future. David, I think that's what I want for us."
The room was so full of emotion at that point, while I waited for David's response. It took a moment before he grabbed Jeremy's hand again and said, "Wow! Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be a dad and raise a family. One of the depressing things about realizing I was gay was the thought I'd never get the chance to. Now in one day you propose marriage to me, and tell me you want kids? You don't know how happy you've made me."
I knew I was now invading a moment that had to remain private so I turned off the recorder, stood and said, "Boys, this has been one of the most moving and emotional interviews I've ever had the honor of conducting."
"That's OK, Harold," David said. "You've obviously had a lot to do with furthering our relationship . . . not that these things wouldn't have happened for us anyway, but your interview has helped things along, and I want to thank you, so the pleasure is ours, as they say."
"Guys," I said as I had a sudden thought. "The Star always has a big celebration for the Fourth. Our main headquarters is right across from University Park and, as you probably know, the whole downtown area is blocked off from traffic all day on the Fourth. Why don't you and the other members of the GSA that I'm interviewing come down with your families for the celebration? You can park in our garage and I'll get you tickets to all the special events. We have our own catered barbecue that's restricted from the public, a stage in the park highlighting local talent, and you'll have the best `seats' in the house for the fireworks. I'll have to clear it with the boss, but after all the material you've given me, I'm sure he won't object.
"Thanks, Harold," David said. "We'll seriously think about that."
They accompanied me to the door as we said our goodbyes. I wondered if all the interviews were going to be as eye-opening as this one had been.
"It's been a real privilege," I said. "Thank you very much. This article is going to be a good one. By the way, if I don't see you on the Fourth, have a great anniversary."
The next set of interviews was going to involve another set of three couples. Carrie Dunnington and her boyfriend Lyle Hernden; Jamie Wilson and his boyfriend, Will Smith; and, Barry Smith and his girlfriend, Evelyn Waterman.
Mr. Wilson answered the door and greeted me warmly. "Harold, right on time!"
"Mr. Wilson," I said as he held the door open for me. "It's good to see you're still smiling after all these months."
"It's good to see you too. Please call me Bill. I'm surprised you're taking such a continued interest in the gay teenagers of this city." He said as we shook hands.
"Well to be honest," I began, "it's something the public's interested in. People buy more papers when there's a story about gay teens. The letters to the editor may not all be all that favorable, but the tide definitely seems to be turning slowly in favor of gay rights."
"Hi there Harold! I'm glad to hear that," Mrs. Wilson said smiling as she stepped forward extending her hand.
"In the past, I think parents just assumed all kids were straight. Then they thought maybe the neighbor's kids were gay, and you better keep them away from corrupting their own kids. Eventually, they started to think, `God, I hope my kids aren't gay.' Now when we run an article like this, we get more and more requests all the time from parents asking our advice on how to encourage their kids to come out to them. It's really heartwarming.
"So anyway, how's your household coping with raising two gay boys?"
Bill started to giggle. "More to the point . . . what's it like to have a family of seven people when there's only two bathrooms! Actually, it's shifted the balance in the house. Before Barry and Will came, there were two males and three females, now we have four males and three females. But we have a schedule and except for emergencies, it's working. To answer your question . . . the fact that Jamie and Will are gay has little to do with the fact that they're just two guys . . . as you said. . . . As for the girls . . . Barry's their real hero. With the girls, I think they're very open hearted as well as being open minded about Jamie and Will."
"And at their age, that's a real challenge!" Mrs. Wilson added. "I know that soon it's going to be a bit touchy as the puberty thing kicks in, but I think with the background we've given them, they'll be pretty tolerant. I don't mean that in the gay sense, it's just that changing a little girl into a young lady can be difficult emotionally. With Barry and Will here to help, I know it will ease the pressure. I'm surprised how well they adapted to having two sisters to deal with. There's none of the sibling rivalry you hear about between brothers and sisters. So far, they're best of friends and I think that will last."
"Hi there Mr. Warren," Barry said smiling as he entered the entryway and rested his arm on Mrs. Wilson's shoulder. "Ma, I thought you were gonna take the girls shopping . . . or are you gonna hang around and be givin' us more a that . . . uh, sage advice?"
"Oh now come on son, you love it!" Bill replied laughing.
"Well yeah Pa," Barry said, "it makes me think, but I think Mr. Warren wants to talk about some other stuff."
". . . and you think that I'll embarrass you if I start saying my piece," Mrs. Wilson added laughing.
"Ma . . . you'd never embarrass me. It's just that this is a special thing Mr. Warren wants to talk to us guys about. I don't think it would be right for the girls to hear."
"I know son," Mrs. Wilson said smiling holding him tight to her waist. "If Harold wants our take on this anniversary article, we'll have a separate talk with him and you can babysit. OK?"
"It's a deal!" Barry said as he kissed her cheek.
"Hey girls!" Bill yelled, "Come on! We're ready to go."
There was an immediate squeal of two younger girls as they came scampering into the entryway. Suddenly it was getting crowded in that small area.
The Wilsons excused themselves saying that there were snacks on the dining room table, drinks in the refrigerator whenever we decided to have a break.
As Barry led me to the living room, I questioned with a smile, "Ma . . . Pa?"
"Yes sir," he smiled from ear to ear. "It just feels right for me." Oddly, I felt it was right too, observing the happiness in his voice.
I'd met Jamie Wilson and the Smith brothers last Halloween when their father had perpetrated a multitude of crimes right here in the Wilson home in his attempt to convert Will from gay to straight. Barry took charge of the introductions as I went from one to the other shaking hands.
This was the first time I'd met Carrie and Lyle. I had to admit that Carrie was a sexy looking, rather beautiful, yet cute girl and Lyle was without a doubt, handsome and well built for a basketball player and stood around six foot six. Looking at them, my first impression was that they were a beautiful couple and I could see that they were in love. Sometimes it's so obvious, the way they looked into each other's eyes and smiled, and how that confident smile continued as Barry introduced them to me.
Then Barry introduced Evelyn to me. Indeed very feminine and very polite. She started calling me Mr. Warren. Right then and there, I implored everyone just to call me Harold. That helped to break the ice.
Barry showed me to a very comfortable chair that sat across the room from a sectional sofa. As we sat down, I quickly studied the six of them and I knew they were all friends and then wondered if I had to do individual interviews. So I asked.
"I wonder how each of you would feel if we did this interview as a group, bearing in mind, that some of the questions . . . and some of the answers may be emotionally personal. That is to say that we're not going to be sexually graphic, but it may become emotional when you express some future plans or desires. I'm going to be asking you the same questions that I've asked the others in these interviews. I suppose if there is something you wish to discuss privately, that could be arranged somewhere else."
"My bedroom's free." Barry volunteered.
"That would be great Barry. Is everyone OK with that?" I asked. I received a chorus of `Yeahs' `Fine by me's' and nodding of heads.
"OK then, would all of you agree that it's OK to record this interview . . . my memory may not be what it should be and I want this article to be truthful and honest."
Again, they all agreed.
"Good, then I guess my first question would be directed at why you're here." I began. "Maybe Paul explained that this is going to be a six-month anniversary visit to that article we ran in our New Years edition about the Reverend DeWitt's tirade against gays. In essence, I'd like to know what's happened in your lives since then. Now, inasmuch as this is inter-related with your GSA at school, we only have one gay couple here, so I want to start with the straight couples. Barry, I can certainly understand your interest in the GSA because of Will and what you both went through last Halloween, so I'll ask you first Evelyn, aside from Barry, what would your interest be in the GSA?"
"Harold, in a word.... rebellion!" she replied with a smile. "That's as honest as I can be. I live over in Lake Shores and no doubt about it, my folks are rich and they don't mind letting everyone know it. I go to school and I mix with all sorts of kids from all sorts of backgrounds, but my parents kept trying to get me to mix with the `right crowd' and shortly after the beginning of the school year, the kids were treating me like a snob. So I quit doing the designer clothes and the makeup and nail polish, and dressed like the other kids at school . . . doing my best to fit in.
"Anyway, the kids started to accept me. I saw David Reynolds at school one day when he came over to our table at lunch and said he was running for student council. Right away, one of the girls at my table said, `Ooooh, yooour're that gaaay guy!'. Actually, I thought David was good lookin' and even if he was gay, I liked him, so the next day I went over and asked if I could eat with his group of friends. I didn't like the snobby attitude that girl had the day before.
"From there, it's pretty well history except I was surprised to find out that David's boyfriend was Jeremy Kimball and he lived in Lake Shores too. He wasn't a snob and he made me feel comfortable to be there. Actually everyone did. I really get along with all these guys. Then came that Halloween incident with Barry's father, well I felt really bad for him and Will. . . . Then when things didn't work out with Barry and Carrie last February, I was so happy when he asked me out and we've kinda stuck like glue ever since. He's really my hero."
"Ah ain't no hero," Barry stated flatly. "I just did what seemed right at the time."
"Well you really were my hero last month when we went on that double date with Carrie and Lyle. The things you said to my mommy and daddy when you picked me up were just right. They've quit being so phony. Anyway Harold, all my rebelling has been really good for the way things turned out."
"That's an amazing story Evelyn," I said as I let my eyes wonder across the group of smiling faces. "Lyle, you're a regular basketball jock with a hopeful future as a varsity player. I'm curious why you would be teamed up with the GSA."
"That's real simple . . . . Carrie!" he replied with a smiling glance towards Carrie. "We met at a St. Patrick's Day party the coaches have for the team athletes. Carrie already belonged to the GSA, and I adore her, so it was a natural for me. Everyone that belongs to the GSA is real cool. It doesn't seem to make a difference . . . . David and Jeremy are great athletes and the fact that they're gay doesn't make a difference with the way they act with other people. They're just being themselves and they're smart to boot. I have to admire that in a person . . . . ya know . . . . just bein' themselves. And of course there's Will and Jamie . . . ."
"How about you Carrie?" I asked. "What brings you to affiliate with the GSA?"
"My brother . . . ." she said with a serious look down at the carpet. Lyle reached out and held her hand. After a pause, she continued with a deep sigh. "My brother is gay and he went through a lot of torment and even abuse when he was in school. The kids at school were so terrible; he was under psychiatric care for quite a while. Finally, my folks sent him to California to live with our aunt so he could start school there with a clean slate; I guess you'd say. It just seemed natural to join the GSA when I started school here, maybe just to try and understand what it should have been like for him . . . but they didn't have any GSA in middle school, when he needed it."
While Carrie was telling me her story, I watched the seriousness on her face deepen. Something clicked in my mind - even her posture seemed to change. There was something, but I couldn't put my finger on it.
"How's your brother doing now?" I asked nonchalantly glancing around at the other kids.
"He's doing just fine," she said with a radiant smile and glanced at Lyle - but I noticed something else - the mood of the room changed - every face on that couch mirrored her emotion - sad to happy - except for Evelyn. Her face remained somewhat neutral - not happy or sad, but calmly neutral. I thought I even heard Barry release a deep breath. My curiosity was peaked, but it was time to get on to the questions.
I put on my best smile. "Well that certainly gives me an understanding as to why you're all here together. That in itself is an interesting story, but not one I should be covering for this anniversary article. Just to see how this will go as a group . . . ." Jamie and Will were in the center of the sofa, so I directed my question there, "Jamie I'd like to ask you first . . . What's changed in your relationship with Will since New Years?"
"Lots!" he exclaimed with a big smile. "My folks are in the final stages with the lawyers and courts to adopt Barry and Will as their sons and my brothers . . . not that Will and I could ever be brought closer because of that, but Barry! . . . after that Halloween episode, we're a lot closer and well, I'm really proud of him. . . . He's a great bro."
"He sure is," Will agreed. "As proud as I am of him, Barry and my new family have made me proud of myself. They've made me feel . . . understand I guess, that there shouldn't be any shame associated with bein' gay. I guess 'cause I feel better about myself, my game has improved and now I enjoy playin' football again."
"I reckon you guys ain't never gonna let go of that hero stuff are ya?" Barry said with a smile.
"Noooo!" Evelyn replied with a giggle.
"I'll second that!" Lyle said. "For me the biggest change since New Years has been Carrie. With everything she went through with her brother, it's been an inspiration for me to care about others. I'd've never thought of joining the GSA until I saw what a great group of caring people they are in themselves. The gay thing . . . well it's kinda broadened my horizons. It's kinda like saying you're not prejudice, like when you don't accept a group of people and kinda ignore them, you're showing a bit of prejudice."
"Actually Lyle, that was one of the questions I was going to ask later on," I said, "but since you've brought up the subject, maybe the other's would like to express their thoughts on what the sympathies are between the straight and gay members."
"I do admire and respect the gay and lesbian kids that have come together. It's their tolerance and acceptance that makes me realize I have to be the same, not only when I'm with them, but also with other issues and people in my life."
"Yeah," Barry said. "It ain't a switch you can turn off and on. Like when I learned that Will was gay, it didn't turn off a switch, it turned one on. All of a sudden, I had a brother who needed to be honest with himself and everyone around him. It made us closer than we'd ever been before. Other than that, well . . . it did completely turn off the switch for our father." He shrugged his shoulders as if in resignation of the fact.
"Barry, it was his choice," Carrie added, "not yours."
"Yeah," Jamie said, "look at the switch it turned on for me."
"OK, next question," I said with a smile, "What would your advice be to gays that are in the closet?"
Jamie took a deep sigh. "That's tough one. With Will it was tough because of his father. He'd still be in the closet if Tommy hadn't found out about us."
"Tommy?" I questioned.
"Yeah a friend of Barry's. He discovered Will and me in a kinda compromising position and he was . . . very homophobic about it. That's when Will decided to come out . . . and of course we all know how that ended up."
"Barry? . . ." I questioned.
Once again, he shrugged his shoulders. "Up `til then, Tommy'd been my best friend, but after that, well . . . he hates to look at me."
"What is it with some people?" Will asked. "I've found that they're closing doors about gays and actually locking themselves in a homophobic closet of their own. On the gay side, I think it's necessary for a gay person to stay in the closet in some cases because of all the hassle . . . abuse, but God, it couldn't be any worse than what Barry and I went through when I came out. For Jamie and me at school it's no big deal. . . . All our teammates are OK with us. They know we only have eyes for each other, even in the locker room."
"I think it's a tough decision for anyone to make," Lyle said. "How many guys might be gay on the basketball team? . . . I have no idea . . . or their reasons why they wouldn't want to be out, but I'd have to respect their decision. Unless you're in their shoes, we can't judge. If they want to remain invisible about it, that's the way it has to be."
"I agree," Jamie said thoughtfully, "but I think it's newspaper articles like this and of course, the GSA that helps them feel better about themselves and maybe . . . who knows, we may see more come outor on the other hand we may see more confrontational homophobics make another issue of it . . . kinda like what happened when David Reynolds ran for student council."
"Yeah, but did he ever handle himself well!" Carrie added. "More than anything, that took guts. Ya gotta love him for that."
"I think it might be a security thing too." Evelyn said quietly. "I don't think when a person comes out, parents would react violent like Will and Barry's father did, but they may be told to get out of the house . . . and where would they go? Will . . . Barry . . . you were lucky, but that may not be the case with everyone and maybe the guys in the closet know it. When it comes to most families . . . parents, brothers and sisters mean a lot to us and we don't want to risk giving them up."
"I'd be lost without my parents." Carrie said with a certain sadness in her voice, but said nothing else. I listened to the five seconds silence that followed in wonder. I still couldn't put my finger on it, but my mind was twitching.
"Fair enough," Barry began. "But let's look at the other side. . . . Do you think your parents would be willin' to take in two guys like Will and me knowin' that one was gay, like the Wilsons did for us. For that matter, how many parents would? How about you Harold, just supposin', would you and your wife do a thing like that just `cause a guy was kicked out of his home for bein' gay?"
"It sure would take a lot of sweet talking, but I think it could happen at our house." Evelyn answered first. "Mommy and Daddy haven't met Will and Jamie, but I think if they did . . . I'll bet I could talk them into it."
"Barry that's an interesting thought and before I could answer truthfully, I'd have to ask my wife. Notwithstanding, I'd have to know the kid first and know that homosexuality was the only reason the parents kicked them out. Your question was somewhat hypothetical, what's your point?"
"It's just that I was thinkin' if there were more parents like the Wilson's, it would reduce the fear of some kids comin' out of the closet if they knew there was a safe house to go to. I know a day doesn't go by that I give a whole lot of thanks to Ma and Pa for what they're doin' for us . . . and ya know it might go a long way if there was a support group for somethin' like that."
"It's the same for me bro." Will added. "We knew that all hell was gonna break loose when I came out and I'll bet there's a lot of guys who think it would be the same for them. . . . It's a hard call. No kid wants to lose the security of their family."
"I think the answer is in the GSA," Lyle said. "I'll bet there's a lot of advice to be found there from the guys and gals that have already gone through it."
"Jamie, I think you're the only one in this room who can answer this question," I began. "What would be your thoughts if you had it to do all over again . . . that is, coming out?"
"Actually, nothing. For sure, I was nervous when I told my folks, but they were so good and supportive, but then when I let it be known at school, well there were the usual homophobes and their smart-ass remarks. The guys on the team were good about it though. One even said that he didn't care so long as I kept playing ball as good as I was. Then of course, Will and I had a private conversation and I found out he was gay. That was even better . . . well until the incident at Halloween. Honestly, I wouldn't have done anything different."
"How about the rest of your family?" I asked.
"Our sisters? . . . For the most part Mom and Dad have handled that especially after Will and Barry moved in. Whatever Mom and Dad said to them must have been good, because they're very accepting of the fact that Will and I usually share the same bedroom and they know the meaning of a closed door. They certainly aren't uptight or anything by the idea of Will and I being gay and of course, Will and I are careful about kissin' and touching intimately front of them."
"Yeah, but we are very hugging family!" Will added. "It's been one of the nicest changes in my life."
"I'll second that!" Barry said smiling.
"OK!" I said with a smile, as I turned off the recorder, hoping that would lighten the mood. "How about we have a break before we go on with the rest of the interview. Deal?"
"Deal!" They all exclaimed at the same time.
As I put my pad and pen down, all the kids stood up and stretched. I didn't think it had been such a long session. While the others took off to the dining room, Barry and Evelyn approached me as I stood up.
"Harold, ya know a lot came out of this . . ." Barry said with that trademark smile of his, "stuff we've never talked about before . . . it made me realize again how close we are as a family here . . . how we'd stick together when we needed to. It's not just the six of us, but my new family as well. You've made me realize it again and it feels good."
"You guys did most of the talking, but for some reason I'm thirsty." I said as we worked ourselves closer to the table.
I was half listening to the teenagers ramble on about their activities over the summer as I ate a small piece of cake and drank a glass of Coke. I was careful when I stole the odd glance at Carrie as she stood with Evelyn talking about fashions and they sometimes both giggled and squealed about who did what to whom. It came across as simple silly teenage girl talk. The boys were mostly concerned about when they could get enough money together and get a car of their own. Yup, as they bantered back and forth, it sounded like a bunch of typical teenagers just acting their age. I realized though, that when I was interviewing them, they would reach inside themselves and talk about their inner feelings, as if they were standing up for a cause, which in part they were. They knew when to be serious and they knew when it was time to relax.
When I'd finished my snack, I headed for the bathroom down the hall. As I was approaching the bathroom, Carrie had just come out. We said `hi' as we passed, but mine came out as `Hu . . . eye' Maybe it was the way she twisted at the waist and looked at me over her shoulder, although she did smile, but in that instant, with that pose, the forehead, the jaw line, I wasn't sure, but I was almost certain of my suspicions as they formed a conclusion in my head.
`She's a guy!' Now it made sense - the way her legs uncrossed when she got upset, the others in the room and their mood changes - they're in on it - then . . . holy shit. . . . Lyle Hernden must be gay, and hiding in the closet behind a transvestite! As I was closing the door behind me, a multitude of thoughts filled my head. What a scoop! What a bonus! This guy's going to be a pro basketball player, maybe one of the greatest, and he's gay! As I stood there taking a leak, I was exhilarated at the thought of the headline with my name under it. Then I wondered if it would destroy his hope of a future career in basketball before it had even begun - but shit! If I don't let the story out now, someone else will for sure. This is a story the supermarket tabloids would love to get hold of, but this one is mine! While I was washing my hands, I looked in the mirror smiling at my good fortune.
I turned around to grab a towel and I got the biggest `oh shit' feeling in my chest. There were four hooks with towels draped on them. They were labeled: Bill - Jamie - Will - Barry. Damn! Their images filled my head. The way these kids trusted me. The way Bill Wilson trusted me - for that matter, all the kid's parents had trusted me. They proved it by signing the release forms.
I knew that if I exposed Lyle and Carrie, I'd never get another story from this group and I already had enough from the interviews to up the numbers once the article was written without the exposé. I thought of Barry's remarks and comments, they weren't threats, but yeah, they would stick together and maybe have me labeled as a sensationalist. I turned around and looked in the mirror again as I was reaching for the door. It hit me square between the eyes. What would I do if someone did a story like this on my kids?
Fuck! Nice dream asshole! I left the bathroom with a smile. Now, how to handle this? First, I had to find out the truth for sure.
After concluding the remainder of the interview with the group as a whole and as the others gathered around the dining room table, I looked at Carrie out of the corner of my eye and thought, `Now or never!'
"Carrie," I smiled, "could we have a private two minute talk?" I asked as I pointed to the rear of the house.
"Sure," she replied with confidence. We walked down the hall. Each of the bedrooms had cute, decorative labels on them. `Jamie' on one, `Darleen & Dorothy' on another, and then `Will & Barry' on the other. The bedroom was plain, but very neat and tidy, which I thought was surprising for a teenage boy's room. Carrie sat down on the edge of the farthest bed. I sat opposite her on the other bed.
"Carrie," I began with a smile, "First, I don't want you to think I'm a dirty old man coming on to you. . . . I'm happily married with kids of my own and what I'm going to say isn't going outside the walls of this room. . . . There's no recorder here and my note pad is in the living room. Carrie . . ." I sighed deeply from the concern of how to word my thoughts. "Carrie, I find that you're . . . you're a very beautiful . . . actually cute . . . feminine . . . teenage . . ." I paused carefully, while I inwardly challenged my own confidence, ". . . boy."
I watched the shock form on her face as she put her hands over her gaping mouth. A tear formed, crested, and fell from the corner of her eye. Shit! I'd inwardly hoped that I was wrong. Now I had to pick up the pieces.
"Does Lyle know?" I whispered. She nodded as the tears, now flowed from both eyes. "Stay here," I said quietly, "I'll get him."
I closed the bedroom door behind me and found Lyle still hovering over the snacks at the dining room table. Quietly, I said, "Lyle, could you come with me, we need a private chat?"
Smiling with confidence, he replied, "Sure Harold!"
I opened the bedroom door and he saw a somewhat distraught Carrie sitting on the bed. He went to her immediately and pulled her into a strong embrace.
While she rested her head on his chest, she said, "He knows. . . ."
"It's OK Carrie," he said quietly into her hair, "It doesn't matter, we'll make it through this together."
I gestured for them to sit down on the bed and I took my place on the other bed facing them as they clung to each other. "As I told you Carrie, anything that's said in this room goes no further. I wouldn't dare and the reason I needed to know for sure was to make an important point for both of you. I'm just an old reporter and if I sensed it, maybe someone smarter than me could too. Now I realize why you're doing this. You're brother is . . ." I nodded to Carrie. She simply nodded her head in return.
"I can't imagine what realities of abuse brought you to this situation and for that, I couldn't be more apologetic. Lyle, you're going for the pros one day, right?" He nodded his head. "So, I can understand your position in this as well. . . . You're gay?" Again, he nodded his head.
"I'll be honest. This situation put me in quite a quandary. It's the story of a lifetime, at least for me. But I had a long hard look in the mirror and I realized . . . I just couldn't do it. Not just because of you, but also for the other kids in there. You opened your hearts to me tonight and gave me your trust and well . . . professional idiot that I am, I can't betray that trust. Also, I wouldn't want anyone to do something like that to my kids." I took a deep breath before I began again.
"Carrie, this matter for the most part is between you and your psychiatrist, but something I have to ask and you don't have to answer . . . it's a rhetorical question. If God had given you a choice of being a handsome, virile, well-built prince charming, or a beautiful princess, what would be your choice?
"That's not an easy answer, Harold," Carrie started to say. "In public, I'm definitely more comfortable as a girl. I certainlyact more like a girl than a boy and I talk like a girl and I enjoy girly things . . . and forget about sports," she said with an ironic laugh . . . "but I'm transgendered . . . not transsexual. When it comes to my sexuality, I'm not a girl. I'm a boy . . . a gay boy. So I guess the answer to your question is that I can't really choose one or the other. . . . I want to be a princess most of the time, but a prince in the bedroom. Does that make sense?"
"I've never heard it explained better before, Carrie. Yes, that makes perfect sense," I remarked.
"Lyle, considering your wish to seek a position on the varsity team and beyond that, the pros, I can understand why you'd want to stay in the closet."
"It's not that, Howard . . ." Lyle jumped in, "I'm perfectly happy to be out and proud. My whole family knows, the coaches at school know and even a few close, trusted friends know, but the coaches made it clear that the NBA is still a pretty bigoted place. There will be a time when I can come out in a dignified manner, but both my coaches feel it's important I play the hetero jock part for now . . . at least until I'm an established player."
"To say it another way, the star of the show has to be almost pristine in character and appearance . . . and you've got that. If you were outed, your fans may be less generous and if there's enough of it in the press and tabloids, it could ruin your career," I added.
"Not to mention cause the product endorsements to dry up . . ." Lyle quipped, "and we all know that's where the real money is. But this isn't about money and just as Kobe Bryant weathered the storm, there will come a day when the time is right . . . when the world is ready to accept a gay basketball star . . . and his transgendered husband. And yes, you heard me right . . . when I come out, it will be so we can get married." Lyle and Carrie grabbed each other's hands and smiled.
"Notwithstanding all of that . . . if you're willing to support Carrie and her desire to remain a transvestite, let me offer this. Carrie, when you related the story about your brother in there, your demeanor became less feminine. More to the point, your legs were no longer crossed at the thighs like this. . . ." I crossed my legs at the thigh to illustrate, "Instead your leg slipped off your knee and you crossed your legs at the ankles, but you didn't keep your knees together. I know it was an emotional moment for you and that's probably why your guard was down. Although Evelyn was sitting at the other end of the couch and she was wearing slacks, the difference was noticed by me.
"One other thing. . . . I had a feeling that the kids in there know about this. Once again, there's no blame to be attached to that. . . . I'm trained to be an observer. Carrie, when you were telling your story, it seemed that except for Evelyn, everyone in the room was feeling your pain, not your brothers."
Carrie let out a heavy sigh and then looked at me with a weak smile. "Barry knows. . . . We dated for a while and we fell in love and then he found out, but we're still good friends and well. . . . He understands."
"I'm sure that Will knows," Lyle said, "cause he told me to come to the dance and that I might meet someone special. Well I sure did. He may have told Jamie, I don't know, but I'd trust those three with my life and any secret I'd have to keep. They're really my best friends."
"You're lucky to have such trusted friends and believe me when I say, you can add me to that list," I said with a smile, but be aware too, some reporters are ruthless about this and they'll hound you to death if they find out. Carrie, the story of your brother is definitely a loose end that reporters'll follow up on if there's even a hint of anything strange about your story.
"I'd honestly like to suggest that there are professionals who can help you with all of this . . . people who can teach you to conceal your masculinity more effectively and even cover your `brother's' tracks more effectively.
"Anyway, now it's time for this old reporter to head home. Actually, I'm very happy for both of you and it's good that you've found each other."
They both thanked me for my advice and keeping their secret. The three of us were able to leave the bedroom with big smiles.
As I was driving home, I could only hope that I'd said the right things to those special youngsters.
The interview with Altaf and Randy was held in the most unusual of places - the lobby of St. Vincent's Hospital. Why the boys chose this particular place to hold their interview, I didn't know, but it certainly wasn't the most convenient place, as I had to circle for some time before I found a parking place. There was no shade, so I knew my car would be hotter than blazes when I came out when we were done.
Exiting my car, I hiked for what seemed like a mile through the sweltering heat that radiated off the hot asphalt and the endless sea of cars as I made my way to the hospital entrance. Finally, I approached the long glass canopy that extended along the circular drive where people could pick up and drop off their loved ones. At last, I entered the building, where I was instantaneously immobilized by a blast of cold air. Boy did it feel good!
Heading down a long corridor, I approached the lobby, which was bathed in subdued lighting. I always thought St. Vincent's had one of the most architecturally stunning lobbies of any hospital I'd visited, anywhere. Dominating the lobby was a large, terraced fountain that generated a pleasing sound of cascading water. Life-size statues of nuns feeding the masses completed the picture of tranquility.
I was early, but so were Altaf and Randy, as I spotted them easily. I liked the fact that they didn't keep me waiting. Both boys grasped my hands and greeted me warmly before leading me to a secluded corner, where we seated ourselves.
"Do you mind if I record our conversation?" I asked as I took out my tape recorder and set it down on the small coffee table that separated us.
Both young men shook their heads and mouthed `No' in unison.
"Very well, then," I said, beginning the interview, "out of curiosity and before we get down to the real nitty-gritty of the interview, why are we meeting here?" I asked.
"Well, Harold, for one thing, my mother works here as a nurse manager in Pediatrics," Altaf answered me. "And for another thing, we are meeting here as a sort of symbolic gesture. I am a Muslim and Randy is Jewish, and in case you hadn't noticed, this is a Catholic hospital. We could have met in a secular place such as our school, or the library, or Borders Bookstore, where I work, but I thought it might be nice to meet in a religious institution that was neutral and that provides service to everyone. St. Vincent's hospital does just that . . . it serves everyone, providing care to the sick, and yet it is neither Muslim nor Jewish. . . . It is neutral ground.
"As you know, the Catholic Church is not all that accepting of homosexuality, nor is the mosque where Randy and I often pray together, but when we enter these doors, it does not matter what Randy and I do together in our bedrooms. Here, we will be treated the same as anyone else. . . . We will receive equal treatment. I can think of no better place to hold this interview. . . . Can you?"
"When you put it that way, no, I can't . . . but you just brought up an interesting point, Altaf. You said that you and Randy pray together at a mosque . . . one that does not accept your homosexuality. Why do you go there if you are not accepted?"
"Let me explain that," Randy jumped in. "It was me that got Altaf to turn back to religion again. You probably remember a bit about his story from the last time you interviewed us, back in January, but he had no interest in his faith when I met him, and for good reason. He barely escaped Pakistan with his life, and his first love had been stoned to death for committing the `sin' of homosexuality. But hatred doesn't come from God . . . it's an invention of humankind. Altaf needed to deal with his grief, and for that, I felt he still needed to be able to turn to God.
"I visited my rabbi, who put me in touch with the Imam at the Islamic Center. Although the official view of Islam may be that homosexuality is wrong, we are far from the only gay couple that prays there, and we are always warmly received when we attend the evening prayers. Everyone knows who we are and that we're a couple, and no one speaks ill of us. There is an understanding . . . it essentially amounts to `don't ask, don't tell'. It's not perfect, but we find acceptance there, and they even accept me, a Jew, because I come to pray to Allah, the one god.
"We also pray at my synagogue. We try to go every week."
"How do you resolve the differences between your religions?" I asked.
"What differences?" Randy answered, "The bottom line is that we seek meaning in life and by always seeking to do justly, we serve God's will. What we believe is unimportant . . . It's what we do that counts. Prayer is just a mechanism by which we seek to communicate with God, but it serves our own interests more than anything.
"I feel sorry for those who put so much stock in prayer . . . as if prayer alone can solve the world's problems. Not that there's anything wrong with praying, but if you want things to happen, you need to get off your ass and make them happen, too. It's like the smoker who prays for good health, and then is surprised when they get lung cancer. Pray for the willpower to quit smoking, but don't expect God to rescue you if you're not willing to help yourself."
"Those are some pretty serious thoughts, Randy," I replied, "and at odds with a lot of our readers. I'm not disagreeing with you at all, but this is the Bible Belt and a lot of folks believe in prayer, and mostly the same people who think that the relationship between you and Altaf is an abomination."
"'Course they also think we're already going to Hell, just because we're not Christian," Randy pointed out."
"Hmm, you do have a point, there," I acknowledged.
"Here's something you can tell your readers. . . ." Altaf chimed in. "A lot of people around here believe they are following God's chosen path . . . that they are following the only righteous way. They believe there is only one way to gain entrance to heaven. I think it very admirable they have found the one true path and I wish them luck, but I worry about the terrible burden they face. After all, they are lucky to have been born where they have easy access to the one true faith.
"However, what about me. I was born in Pakistan where there is such limited access to the one true faith. Most people in the world will never have any possibility of ever discovering the truth. Therefore, I think it is obvious that God wishes that those who have discovered the one true faith must go out into the world and evangelize their faith to the rest of the world before they can gain entrance to heaven. A lot of them are doing just that, but only a handful. It is such a terrible burden, but unless they do, they are letting down the vast majority of the world's people, who were born without access to the truth."
Altaf was saying this with such a serious look on his face, but Randy was doing everything he could to keep from bursting out laughing. It was so funny to watch the two of them, but we were getting so far off on a tangent from the purpose of our interview and I had to get things back on track.
"We're getting so far off-track and we could spend all day talking about religion, and I do want to discuss the situation in the Middle East with you later, but I want to get back to talking about the two of you first.
"What would you say has changed in your relationship since the interview six months ago?"
Altaf jumped right in by saying, "I got my own set of wheels, so I can go anywhere I want and do anything . . . I'm more independent and more of an American teenager than I was back in December. Back then I was still adapting to America . . . well, I still am . . . but I was much more dependent on Randy during the last interview. Now, we are much more equals, but if anything, that has brought us even closer together. Being equals is much healthier for our relationship. I can do my own thing, as they say, but I'm with Randy by choice, and because I love him."
"At the same time, we're spending a lot more time on our studies," Randy added. "We're both going to be seniors next year, and we both want to study Medicine. We'll both probably do Biology for undergrad, with a minor in Chemistry or maybe Physics. If there's any hope of being together for the next eleven years . . . that's four years of undergrad, four years of Medical School and at least three years of residency, if not a lot more . . . we absolutely have to ace our MCAT's. . . . That's our Medical College Admission Tests. We thought about taking one of those courses, but everything in those courses is on-line. It's all a matter of discipline. We just have to hunker down and take practice test after practice test after practice test.
"We're both pretty much straight A students, so if we can ace the MCAT's and maintain our GPA's, we stand a good chance of both getting into one of our top choices for college, together, and then we can apply to medical school as a couple, and then go into the couples match for residency."
"You're pretty sure about this couples thing, aren't you?" I asked.
"This September, it will have been a year since Randy and I first met," Altaf answered. "Randy is my best friend, my lover . . ." he said with a blush, "the center of my universe. He's the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I think about when I go to bed at night. He's seventeen, and I will be seventeen next month. In my country, we would be old enough to marry if we were boy and girl. I love Randy with all of my heart, and want to spend the rest of my life with him.
"We have spent many nights talking about the future. We will both be doctors . . . we are not yet sure of the specialty, but whatever we choose, our fields will be complementary, so we can work together. Because of our work schedules, it will be difficult for us to adopt or raise young children, so we will adopt young teenagers . . . not that teenagers don't need as much time or attention, but it would be a lot easier to work our schedules around them than around infants. We would particularly like to adopt young gay teens whose parents have rejected them. We can show them the love they so deserve . . . the love everyone needs in their life."
"Wow," was all I could say. "You've pretty much answered several of my questions, more or less. I do have to ask some variations on some of the things you said, however, and one of them is what each of you would look for in a life mate if not your present partner."
"There is no other partner, period," Randy answered.
Altaf grabbed hold of Randy's hand and squeezed it gently and said, "Randy,no one can say that love will last forever. Believe me, I know. I thought that my life would be with Fareed, but the Imam of our village said that we were evil and sentenced us both to die by stoning. It was only because my ami, my mother, rescued me at tremendous risk to her own life that I am here today to be with you.
"Tomorrow, I could be in a car crash, or I could be shot while walking down the street, or an aneurism in my brain could burst. No one can say how long our lives will last. Please promise me that if something does happen to me, that you will go on and you will find a life with someone else. Please promise you will do this for me. It is what I want."
Randy looked to be on the verge of tears as he said, "It's not what I want to even think about, but of course I will go on and make a life for myself if something happens to you, just as I'd want you to do if something happened to me. I hope I could find someone kind and gentle, like you, but there's absolutely no way I could find another you . . . not in a gazillion years."
The two boys stared into each other's eyes as they seemed to be communicating the most intense love I could imagine.
"On to something a bit lighter, what advice would you have for kids who are in the closet?" I asked.
"If there is a peer support group where you are, don't stay in the closet . . . it'll only eat you up inside." Randy answered. "Of course, having a boyfriend helps a lot, but being out in general changes everything. What it amounts to is the ability to be yourself. No more hiding in the shadows. You can say what you think and date who you want, but the key is that support group. You can't go it alone. You need a core group of other gay and lesbian kids who will be there for you, and straight kids who are accepting. The GSA provides that, so even if your parents aren't cool with it, you won't be alone.
"I only wish there had been a GSA in middle school. . . . Yeah, middle school is the real black hole with the whole `being a gay teen' thing. I mean, I started to realize I was gay when I was thirteen, but I probably started thinking about guys and feeling confused about it when I was eleven. I had nowhere to turn. If there'd been a GSA in middle school and if it had been large enough and cool enough that you could join without people labeling you, it would've made all the difference."
"Let me give you a different perspective," Altaf broke in. "In Pakistan, being out is not an option at any time. I got caught at the age of fifteen and was sentenced to death by stoning. I first realized I was gay at the age of twelve and only avoided detection because of my own self-denial. The closet was my only protection. In the Third World, being gay is not accepted. It's the closet, or the noose, so to speak."
"A rather sobering perspective," I added. Continuing, I asked, "If you had it to do over again regarding coming out or the like, is there anything you would have done differently?"
"Sorry, Randy," Altaf began, "But if I could have done anything differently, I would have saved Fareed's life. I would have been careful. If we hadn't been caught, we could have made sure to always be discreet and could have lived our lives as young gay men. We could have gone to university in London and eventually emigrated, getting the Hell away from Pakistan, but staying together as a couple. This would have meant I would have never met you, Randy, but Fareed would have been alive today, and that would have been worth everything to me, even at the cost of your love. Please don't hate me for this, as the same would have been true if the situation were reversed."
"Altaf, I understand completely. Our love is strong, but nothing is more important than saving a life," Randy answered his lover. "Your dedication to your first love makes me love you even more."
"What aboutyou, Randy?" I asked.
"Actually, there's nothing I would do any differently," he answered. "My family was very supportive."
"Moving on," I said, "I've been asking the other couples about protecting young children from the risks of sexual predators, but I'd like to spend more time with you guys talking about your views on the Middle East."
"Wait a minute," Altaf once again broke in, surprising me. "Not that I condone sexual predators by any means, but you don't know what sexual predation is in this country. In Pakistan, if a man wants to have sex with a little girl, or even with a little boy, there is virtually nothing standing in his way. Indeed, corporal punishment is very much accepted and expected there, and that can and sometimes does include what we would consider inappropriate sexual activities.
"Female genital mutilation is common in Pakistan even now, and this is seen as a good thing! By making girls incapable of enjoying sex, they are less likely to become victims of sexual predators. How twisted is that? . . . The sickest part is that a father can rape his daughter . . . of course it is illegal, but for the right price, the officials will look the other way . . . and when she comes of age, she will be put to death for having had sex outside of marriage.
"I say, tell every child what is and is not appropriate touching . . . no age is too young. I grew up hearing terrible things about America, but you are basically a country of laws and of justice. You were idiots to elect Bush, absolutely stupid to believe him when it came to Iraq and you have no business being there, but you're basically a good people."
"Well, speaking of the Middle East," I began, "Altaf, you're a Muslim, and Randy, you're a Jew. How does that work?"
"Actually, we agree far more than we disagree. . . ." Randy answered. "However, we did have some tense moments that first time Altaf and his mom came to my house for Thanksgiving dinner. Boy, I thought we were going to have fireworks that day for sure. He was so nervous and implied to my family that he supported suicide bombings, which couldn't have been further from the truth."
"I'm totally opposed to terrorism in any form," Altaf added with emphasis. The killing of innocent lives goes against everything I believe in. Now people do have a right to protect themselves, and Randy and I do disagree on the right of return . . . there is land inside Israel that has belonged to families for generations that is rightfully theirs . . ."
"And you could say the same thing about land that was taken from the Native Americans, or the Poles, or the Czechs or the Bosnians, and the list goes on and on." Randy countered. "I think people have a right to be compensated for their losses, much as has been done with holocaust victims, but it's not fair to repossess land from current land owners unless you can prove that they actively participated in or knowingly purchased land that was stolen from the former occupants. Otherwise, all of us would have to give up our land if we went back far enough.
"No, the best we can do is to draw the line at illegal settlements. Once Israel started building on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, they violated their treaties and at that point were participating in theft, pure and simple. Anyone who built on the West Bank did so at their own risk. The settlements have to go."
"That's quite a disparate viewpoint for most Jews," I commented to Randy.
"Hey, Israel has a right to live behind safe and secure borders, so why try to live outside those borders. Why be an occupying force? Why put themselves in the position of being seen as the aggressor? It goes against everything I believe in. That's why I belong to J-Street, and that's why I've given over $150 of my allowance to them so far."
"That's no small sum, but J-Street?" I asked.
"It's a lobby organization for moderate Jews that forms a counter to the Orthodox juggernaut. J-Street's purpose is to promote moderate views in the Middle East and to promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict. I believe that a Palestinian state is inevitable, and certainly preferable to the indefinite occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people by the Jews."
"What do you think about the treatment of gays in Israel?" I asked Randy. "How does it compare to here?"
"It's not all that great," he admitted. "Gay marriage won't be happening anytime soon," he chuckled. "The religious right pretty much has prevented any form of gay rights movement from catching hold there, and legislation is nonexistent. There are no domestic partner benefits, and even holding a gay pride parade has proven to be fatal.
"No, between the fundamentalist Christians, the fundamentalist Muslims and the Orthodox Jews, there are far too many people in the world who are willing to take a literal approach to interpreting Leviticus."
"And on that note, I think you've given me a treasure trove of material for the article, and it's time to bring things to a close."
I then invited the boys and their families to the Star's Fourth of July picnic. Since Altaf hadn't been here for the Fourth before, I explained to him how the entire downtown area would be blocked off to traffic, and how there would be music and stage performances in the various parks and along the canal, capped off by a huge fireworks extravaganza. Altaf seemed to light up when I told him about it.
As expected, my car's temperature was in the triple digits by the time I got back to it.
The Fourth of July was just another workday for me. I worked most of the holidays . . . it was one of the `perks' of being an associate team leader, but today was special and like all of the Star's employees, I'd enjoy the day's festivities with my family as much as possible - that is unless there was a breaking news story. Thanks to our location, right across from University Park, I'd be able to spend much of the day with my family, and we'd have a great spot for viewing the fireworks at the end of the day. Our catered barbecue would be serving the best food in town, too.
The Fourth dawned a dreary day with a continuous, fine drizzle. Still, it was a welcome change from the weather we'd been having. June had been horrible, with severe thunderstorms, tornadoes and flooding across much of the Midwest. I'd been so worried the Fourth would be a washout, particularly with our special guest appearing in the afternoon. The forecast had called for scattered thunderstorms and, as unpredictable as our weather could be, one never knew what to expect but, fortunately, the worst of the weather had moved off to the east, providing a small ray of hope that the day wouldn't be a total loss.
The kids didn't know it yet, but TheStar had made arrangements for a surprise guest star that wasn't on the program. He might not be hip, or whatever they called it these days, but it wasn't often that we got a star of such international renown to perform on our stage. I had a feeling the kids would be delighted.
Picking up the final morning edition of The Star, I was very pleased with the layout of the article. It started `above the fold', which was a major coup. Not expecting the article to get even more than an eighth of a column on the front page, I hadn't bothered to take a photographer with me to any of the interviews, but thank God for my trusty little Lumix. David and Jeremy were so photogenic, and when I saw them together, I just had to get a few shots before I left. There was one shot in particular that was special, and it was featured front and center in today's paper. The two of them were in their swimsuits, seated at a table and facing each other, but turned toward the camera. Jeremy's pool could be seen in `soft focus' in the background. Their hands were intertwined and one couldn't help but see the love between them. That they were both `all-American', stunningly handsome boys made it very hard for the reader to ignore the implications - two `boys next door' who happen to be gay. It was the perfect picture, well worth `a thousand words', and the first thing a casual passer by would see at the newsstands.
I started to read the opening paragraphs of the article, now so familiar to me:
Six months ago, The Star brought you an in-depth view of life for gay teens on the city's north side. Today, we thought it might be interesting to see what has happened in the lives of some of these teens over the course of the last half-year. Some readers might wonder why we chose six months rather than waiting a full year. For that answer, one need only recall the rapidity of events in their own lives as teenagers. As we'll see, some lives are very stable, while others are rapidly shifting as if built on quicksand, in some cases tragically so. We particularly wanted to meet up with the seniors we interviewed last December, however, as this may well be the last chance we will have to talk with them again.
This point was driven home when we interviewed Paul Levine, the immediate past president of his high school's gay-straight alliance (GSA), and his boyfriend, Sam Arnold. Paul took on the responsibility of leading the GSA three years ago, when the organization by his admission, was little more than a club for troubled teens having difficulty dealing with their sexuality. Paul made a concerted effort to bring in straight teens into the alliance, as well as recruiting more gay members. "Critical mass is essential," Paul said back in December when we first interviewed him. The result today is a thriving organization and a true sense of a gay community centered around the city's largest high school.
"None of it would have happened without Sam," Paul made clear when we first caught up with him. He and Sam Arnold met on the first day of sixth grade in middle school, and became instant best friends, and then boyfriends when they realized they were both gay. They have been inseparable ever since. For them the harsh realities of a teenage romance, however, have crashed head-on against their lifelong dreams. Paul plans to study Engineering, and has always wanted to go to MIT, where he has been accepted on a full scholarship. Sam, on the other hand, is a musician and will be going to Indiana University next year. Several times during the course of the interview, Paul brought up going to the University of Rochester together, since it would combine a top music school with an excellent Engineering school, but Sam wouldn't hear of it. "I love you too much to deprive you of MIT, and that's why I've chosen Indiana, where there `ain't no engineering.'"
Our follow-up interview with Paul and Sam was very poignant, but alas, gay relationships aren't all that different than straight ones when it comes to graduation from high school. Sometimes it's just not possible to accommodate both partners' dreams.
Putting down the paper, I remembered my first love. Her name was Cindy, I think. Yeah, definitely Cindy. Shows how much of an impression she made in my life! I took her to the prom and everything, and now I barely remember her name! I went to IU School of Journalism. She went to Purdue for Agriculture. We were in the same state for cripes sake. We said we'd keep in touch, and that didn't even last through the first semester. What a crock!
I continued to read the article:
We asked Paul what advice he had for the new GSA president, and ended up with more than an earful. At the end of the day, it all came down to this, "The most important advice I could give the new president is to lead by listening, letting people think your ideas are theirs, encouraging their enthusiasm and then getting out of the way and letting them do what they're best at." Sound advice in anyone's book.
Unfortunately, we were unable to catch up with the new GSA president, Trevor Austin, who is currently volunteering at a church-run camp for disadvantaged youth. When we last met Trevor, he had been singled out by his pastor and made an example of in an attempt to disband the GSA. Thrust into the limelight, young Trevor has since been very active in the GSA leadership. A self-proclaimed computer geek, he is responsible for the implementation of the GSA's new website, already considered a top-ten resource for gay teens.
Our readers will undoubtedly recall that Trevor's pastor was the eminent Sanford DeWitt of the Hope Evangelical Covenant Church, whose fourteen-year-old son, Kurt, very dramatically came out on these very pages six months ago. Reverend DeWitt left the city rather suddenly after our first article appeared. We were also unable to reach Kurt, who is volunteering at the same church-run camp as Trevor.
What I didn't say, as it wasn't really relevant to the article, is that the two boys are dating, but somehow I had a feeling a lot of our readers would draw that conclusion, even without my saying so.
I continued skimming through the article, reading it not only for the content, but also for the overall flow of the story. By now I knew the content cold, but the way an article appeared on a computer never quite had the same feel as it did in the actual paper, or on our website, for that matter. In this case, I was more than pleased with the final result.
We ended up having three sidebars in addition to the main story - an unusually high amount. Whereas the main story focused on the changes in the lives of the kids we had interviewed back on December 31, the sidebars looked at issues of common interest to all of the couples interviewed. One sidebar looked at the question of gay marriage and how each of the couples felt about it - whether they felt marriage was a goal for them and whether they wanted to raise a family. It was funny, but gay marriage had not even been one of the original questions on my interview list, but so many of the interviewees came to the question on their own.
The second sidebar focused on the issue of protecting kids from sexual predators. All of our subjects had something to say on the topic and I got a lot of good thoughts on it, so we compiled all their ideas and broke them out into a guide for parents on keeping kids safe - from the viewpoint of kids. I knew a lot of parents who saw the article would be thinking about how dangerous gay teens could be to their kids, and here we were, turning the tables on them. For the third sidebar, we broke out the story of Randy and Altaf as a separate article under the heading, "If Only Peace in the Middle East Were This Easy." I was particularly fond of this couple, and pleased to see their story receive so much attention.
One story I'd downplayed was the story of Lyle and Carrie. They were mentioned in the article as an offshoot of the story about the Smiths and the Wilsons. I wrote of the value in having support from heterosexual couples in the GSA without ever suggesting that Lyle and Carrie were, in fact, heterosexual, and I never once mentioned Carrie's brother. By keeping it low key, I reasoned, I left little reason for suspicion. Lyle would make headlines as a basketball player to be sure, and that would only intensify in college. Hopefully by then, Carrie would have learned to play the role of a woman well enough to avoid leaving any clues until they were both ready to come out.
The most difficult story to tell by far was that of Brian Philips. In fact, his story nearly got the entire article spiked at the last minute. Brian's story was difficult enough to tell back on January 1 . . . when he was still alive. Back then, Brian was very much in the closet, but after his death, his parents couldn't accept that their only son was gay. There were a lot of things we couldn't write in the article, about how they had managed to use their influence to hush up news of his suicide in the first place, but when they tried to get the publisher to pull the plug on the story, I could have cried. Jerry and I weren't going down without a fight, however, and thank God the publisher still believed in a thing called integrity. Sadly, he did bow to pressure in one sense - he asked us to remove Brian's true identity from the article.
Even still, the Philips' tried to get an injunction to kill the story, fearing our readers would recognize Brian's true identity. The judge wouldn't even hear the case, nor would the appellate judge, nor would the justices of the state supreme court, all of which happened in the course of a day . . . such was the influence of the Phillips'. Money and power could buy a lot of things, but they still couldn't trump the first amendment.
Not that any of it mattered to poor Brian, a lonely gay kid who apparently rightly knew that his parents could never accept him. I couldn't help but reread the section of the article dealing with his story, in-depth:
Back in January, we introduced our readers to a fifteen-year-old boy we simply identified as John, as he didn't want to reveal his true name. He was deeply in the closet, even to his closest friends. His parents are very influential in Republican politics in the state, and major donors to both political parties. Deep down, John knew and accepted he was gay, but was having significant trouble dealing with it and feared his parents could never accept that their only son was gay.
By the time he turned sixteen, John had seen more counselors and therapists than most of us would see in a lifetime, all in the interest of dealing with severe depression and school difficulties, without his parents ever knowing the true reason for his problems. As John told us in December, he had contemplated suicide many times and had even made an unsuccessful attempt at the age of thirteen. He told us there was scarcely a day that went by when he didn't think about suicide, and he didn't see a way that he could ever be happy. We discussed options with John that might allow him to be removed from his family, but John made it clear that these were options his family would never allow and that made legal remedies irrelevant.
We would like to say that there has been a happy outcome for John, but sadly John did find his escape, taking his own life three months ago. He left behind a very public accounting of his life and the reasons behind his suicide in the form of a blog on blogspot.com. His family, however, insists that this is a forgery and that their son was not gay. We at The Star take such allegations seriously and have taken the liberty of having the blog analyzed thoroughly by independent computer experts, who were able to confirm with certainty that all blog entries originated from within John's residence. Additional review of the details of the blog entries by his closest friends, indicates that some entries could have only been made by John himself, as only he could have known some of the more intimate items contained therein. We are therefore convinced of the blog's authenticity.
In deference to the parents' concerns, however, we are withholding John's true identity, and will not print a direct link to the blog itself. This does not mean, however, that we doubt in any way that John was gay, nor that we in any way trivialize his suicide. Teenage suicide remains a very serious problem in this country, particularly among gay teens. It has been estimated that approximately 50% of all teens who attempt suicide are gay, but the actual numbers can never be known. Gay teens often have trouble accepting their sexuality, and they often fear rejection by their families. In John's case, it was a little of both. What is particularly troubling is that John was surrounded by one of the mostaccepting groups of peers in the state. Not only was he a member of an active gay-straight alliance, but his high school fostered an environment of tolerance, and there were both peer and adult counselors available to provide help if he'd only asked for it.
Were there any warning signs? Was there anything that could have been done? Amazingly, for a troubled teen who'd had school problems and who'd even had a past suicide attempt, John seemed so ordinary. Other than attending meetings and events sponsored by the GSA, there wasn't even a hint that his sexuality was an issue, and even then, he never once hinted that he was gay. He had dated girls numerous times and his closest friends had always assumed he was straight, his membership in the GSA not withstanding. He was neither an exceptional nor a failing student, and he wasn't a part of the sports scene. He was just one of those kids who had his own circle of friends and blended in, like so many other kids.
Reading his blog, however, portrays an entirely different John. The real John was a very lonely boy who went through daily life craving something he desperately wanted to have, but fundamentally thought was wrong. He didn't think homosexuality was wrong on religious grounds as so many do, but he saw it as a lifestyle choice that was incompatible with the goals set out by his parents - and by himself. His parents had special aspirations for him in public service - in the Statehouse, perhaps eventually as governor, or eventually as a congressman or senator, and maybe eventually even in the White House. These things are things he could not do as a gay man - at least not as he saw it.
John did not live long enough to witness the election of a gay sophomore class president at his high school. If he had, he might have realized that things are changing. His generation is growing up with different attitudes, chief among them being one of acceptance. Although we do not claim that all youth are as accepting as those of the city's north side, we believe the fact that a gay class president could be elected by a landslide in what is otherwise a conservative region is telling of the shifting foundation of politics, even here in the Midwest. It is sad that young John and his parents did not have the faith and the foresight to hang on and give his peers the benefit of the doubt.
For all the negativity that has been written of late about Generation Y, we atThe Star would like to express our optimism. Over the course of the last six months, we have observed a group of gay and straight teens on our city's north side. We have watched them grow and seen them make life-long decisions - some of them wise and some of them tragic. From what we have seen, we have every reason to believe they will carry on the legacy we inherited from our parents and our grandparents in ways of which they could have never conceived, and all of this in just six months. We look forward to seeing what the next six months will bring.
I set the paper down, tears still in my eyes as I thought again of the tragedy of Brian Philips. I imagined The Philips' were right about one thing - there were probably a fair number of people who would figure out Brian's true identity in spite of our efforts to keep his identity secret - such was the power of Internet search engines. But that wasn't my problem any more.
Clasping my hands together, I thought about the work to be done in advance of the day's festivities as the skeletal holiday crew started to show up for work. There would be a very brief meeting of the MetroBiz team to go over the day's assignments. Trouble was, even though today was a holiday, tomorrow we'd be publishing a regular edition, so we had to be ready. The saving grace was that unless something major happened, it would be a very slow news day, with most things being predictable . . . the governor would give his usual speech and so on . . . so we didn't need many people to cover it. The bulk of tomorrow's edition would be canned material from National, andthat didn't concern MetroBiz.
True to form, we'd finished our part of tomorrow's July 5 edition of The Star before most people had had their first cup of coffee. Once that was done and with some time to kill before the actual festivities got underway, I decided to head outdoors for a change and check on preparations.
Other than the steady sound of the rain on my umbrella and on the pavement, things were eerily quiet for downtown on a Friday morning. The streets hadn't been closed off yet, but there was hardly a soul out and about when normally the streets would have been packed at nine AM. Bleachers were set up along Pennsylvania Avenue. The planned festivities included a small parade at noon - nothing like the one we have at Memorial Day and almost an embarrassment for a city of our size - but the children expect one and it's all in fun. A bandstand had been set up across the way in the park, and today The Star would be highlighting some local talent, as well as bringing back a surprise guest and favorite son. Yeah, I knew the kids would have a great time.
I headed across the park over to Meridian, and then down to Monument Circle, and from there to the State House and behind it to the canal. Since the completion of the river park complex and the redevelopment of the canal, the focus of the Fourth of July celebration had shifted from the few blocks of parks between Pennsylvania and Meridian to the several miles of parkland along the river and canal nearby. This was very much a necessity, as people were increasingly favoring staying home in the suburbs, rather than having to deal with the crowds downtown. In more recent years, with lots of room to expand, free admission to the city and state museums and ample parking, the suburbanites had returned to the downtown area by the droves.
Rather than be left high and dry and lose out on the free publicity they used to receive,The Star decided to do something to attract people back to the traditional downtown area, which was actually a better area from which to view the fireworks, so they set up a bandstand in University Park. Indeed, 2008 would the tenth year of our hosting local talent in the park. All we had to do to make the people come was to have a great show and give people access to good food at a reasonable price.
Realizing I'd walked nearly a mile from headquarters, I decided I'd better hightail it back, or I might not be there when the kids started arriving for the festivities. Besides which, my own family would be arriving soon, and I didn't want to miss seeing them, even though I knew from past experience they'd be fanning out and I'd only see them briefly - that is until it was time for the fireworks.
This year would be a little different. I was telling everyone to be back at the bleachers by seven o'clock tonight for our special guest star. We had reserved seating, but I doubted I'd be able to hold it for long once word spread as to who was performing.
Paul Levine was already milling around the lobby by the time I got back to Star building.
"You don't have to wait around here," I told him. "You're on the approved guest list. You could have gone right inside."
"I already found that out," he explained. "Even though I'm no longer the president, I feel kinda like a mother hen. I made sure to get here early, and I'm waiting out here to make sure anyone else who shows up early is taken care of. It's no big deal, Harold. I'm just doing what I always used to do for the GSA meetings."
"That's admirable, but there's no need for you to miss out on all the fun. I'll tell you what," I said as I went up to Herbert, the guard at the information desk and told him what I wanted. Herbert typed in a few commands into his console and within seconds, a message scrolled across the visitors' information kiosk that read, "Welcome North Central GSA."
Paul smiled at me and said, "I guess anyone that comes in will know they're in the right place when they see that."
"So shall we head inside?" I asked.
"I see no reason not to, other than we're a bit early," he replied.
"No better way to keep 'em on their toes," I said as I led Paul up to the Information desk, got him his Visitor's badge and led him inside to where the food was set up. The servers were still in the process of putting the food out, but even still, it was an impressive spread.
"Wow," was all Paul could say.
"I knew you guys would be impressed. Things are set up so you can take the food out to the street to watch the parade, for what that's worth, or if you'd prefer, you can try to catch it from an upstairs window but, frankly, you'll have better luck on the street. You can also take the food across to the park. The live music starts right after the parade and runs through 9:45, right up until the start of the fireworks."
"9:45?" Paul asked. "The schedule only lists bands playing through 7:30."
I smiled knowingly as I explained, "There's always last-minute additions, and I know for a fact that we have some high-powered talent showing up late in the day."
"OK, that's cool," Paul responded.
"Well it's about time!" I heard a young voice call out as my son approached us. "I was beginning to think you were out on assignment or somthin'," he continued as he approached with his blond, unkempt mop of hair and a plate piled high with the most unhealthy assortment of food imaginable. Twenty years of eating that crap would be enough to guarantee a coronary for sure.
"Paul," I said making introductions, "I'd like you to meet my son, Bruce. Bruce, This is Paul Levine. Paul is with the North Central GSA. He's one of a bunch of students who'll be here today from the city's north side."
"Nice to meet you, Paul," Bruce said as he attempted to pull a hand free from his plate without having the whole pile of food topple over. Finally, he gave up on trying to shake Paul's hand with a sheepish grin.
"So where's Mom and Sandy?" I asked Bruce. Sandy was our daughter, who was between her freshman and sophomore years at Northwestern University, in what was arguably the best school of journalism in the country. She was home for the summer, working at the paper. Needless to say, my wife, Peggy and I, were very proud of her. Not that we weren't proud of Bruce, too, but at thirteen, he was much more into mischief than anything else.
"They're around somewhere." Bruce said with a shrug. Just then, Jeremy and David walked up to us. Bruce immediately recognized them and said, "Hey, you're the guys who were on the front page of the paper!"
Jeremy blushed a deep red - it was so cute - but David took it all in stride as the confident young man he'd become. "That would be us," David said. Recognizing Bruce's predicament, he didn't event attempt to shake his hand as he continued, "I'm David Reynolds and this dork is my partner in crime, Jeremy Kimball. And judging from the resemblance, I'm willing to bet you're Harold's son." I was amazed. Almost no one ever saw the connection the way David did.
Apparently Bruce was rendered speechless as well. Finally, he said, "Yeah, well, I gotta go meet up with Larry. Se ya latter, Dad. Nice to meet you all. Bye." And then he was gone.
"Sorry about that," I apologized. "Bruce usually isn't so rude . . . well, actually, he is, but he's a teenager . . . a young teenager. He doesn't exactly have any social graces."
"Hey, it goes with the territory," David said with his usual, lopsided smile that I'm sure the girls found irresistible . . . but then, that was me showing my heterosexual bias. I'm sure Jeremy found it irresistible, too.
Pretty soon, I was surrounded by members of the GSA and I was getting hungry watching everyone pig out while I had yet to get any food. I excused myself to go look for Peggy as gracefully as I could, but after twenty minutes of searching, I gave up and called her on my cell phone, only to hear her characteristic ring tone go off just a few feet away. We both turned toward each other and laughed. Finally, I got myself some food, which in typical news reporter fashion, I scarfed down.
I wasn't particularly interested in the so-called new talent we were showcasing in the park today - it was all mostly aimed at younger audiences - and I certainly wasn't interested in the parade, so my wife and I headed outside, umbrellas in hand, and over to the canal. It really was amazing how much things had changed since I'd first started working at The Star. Then, the canal was lined with boarded up buildings and warehouses that served as drug dens and havens for prostitutes and the homeless. Now, the canal sported a series of state-of-the-art museums, million dollar townhouses and upscale condominiums, not to mention beautiful parkland as it meandered its way up towards Broad Ripple. The canal was truly a waterway to nowhere - built in the day before railroads, it became obsolete before it was ever finished. Still, it had its charm and as a boy, I'd always enjoyed watching ducks waddle along its banks. It was nice to see the canal make a comeback.
Most weekends, couples could be seen in paddleboats taking leisurely rides up and down the canal, but today was special, in spite of the rain. For special occasions and holidays, the canal sported Venetian style gondolas and my wife and I decided to splurge on one, particularly as the rain was starting to let up and it seemed as if the sun might come out. Our gondolier helped each of us into the boat and then carefully wiped off our seats for us. We then took a leisurely trip up the canal past the crowds that were meandering along the canal banks, as music constantly seemed to permeate the atmosphere from several directions at once. If the intent was to simulate Venice at Carnival, they weren't quite succeeding, but we had fun nonetheless. By the time we finished our ride, the sun was out in full force and we actually needed to put on sunscreen.
Peggy and I made our way back to the park by six and headed inside to grab some more grub. They had some great jambalaya and amazing Creole food the likes of which I'd never had outside of New Orleans. We loaded up our plates and went back outside to grab our seats and wait for the kids to show up. Before long, Bruce came by with a boy I'd never seen before. They were talking animatedly in some sort of jargon the likes of which made no sense to me. Finally it dawned on me - they were talking about a video game! At long last, Bruce introduced the kid to us.
"Mom, Dad, this is Eric. Eric, these are my parents."
"Hey, I'm really glad to meet you guys," Eric said, surprising me. It's not every day a teenager is glad to meet their friend's parents. Turning to me, he continued, "I really want to thank you for writing the articles on gay youth. I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't written the first one back in January. I was sooo depressed when I started to realize I might be gay . . . and then there was this front-page story about it in the paper. My parents talked about it at dinner . . . about how great it was that gay kids were finally beginning to be treated fairly, and that's when I knew my parents would be OK with it, so I told them right then I thought I might be gay. We had a long discussion that night. I learned a lot about myself, and I came to really appreciate my parents. I took my time and figured it out and, yeah, I'm gay, but so what? It's only a part of me, but I'm still the same me I always was. Your article helped me realize that, and I'll always be grateful to you for that.
"So anyway, thanks again for writing those articles. I'm really glad you did the anniversary story too. That was way cool."
"Wow . . . I don't know what to say. . . ."
"Man, I think that's the first time I think I've ever heard anyone leave Dad speechless," Bruce said as he laughed.
"Don't count on it happening often," I said in a quick comeback.
"Well, thanks again, man," Eric said in parting. "I wanna go speak to David and Jeremy some more since I'll be starting at their high school in the fall. I'm definitely joining the GSA!"
After he parted, I looked at Bruce in a new light. I'd never really thought about my own son's sexuality before. Of course I knew he'd hit puberty and I expect he masturbated like all kids his age . . . it'd be unhealthy if he didn't . . . but I'd never thought about whether he liked boys or girls. I'd heard him talk to his friends about the girls they thought were hot, but all boys did that, including gay boys who were trying to stay in the closet. It didn't matter to me one way or the other whether my son was gay or straight, and I wanted to be sure he realized that.
"You know, Bruce," I began, "I'll always love you, know matter what, don't you?"
"Dad, I like girls," was his immediate reply.
"I'm not implying anything," I said. "I just wanted you to know that I will accept you . . ."
"No, seriously, Dad, I really, really like girls. I'm straight, Dad and I know you'd still love me if I was gay . . ."
"Were gay," I corrected him - I couldn't help it.
"If I WERE gay," he continued, "but I'm sorry to disappoint you . . . I'm not. But if it'll make you any happier, maybe I'll have a kid who's gay someday so you can have a gay grandkid, if that'll make you happier," he said with his trademark, infectious laugh. I couldn't help but laugh along.
Just then, there was a loud cacophony of guitar chords from the stage, followed by a rousing, "Ain't that America . . ."
Even my son recognized the voice and did a double take. In the meantime, the chorus was in full swing and a thunderous cheer went up from the crowd as people started to realize who was singing from the stage. Soon the whole crowd was singing along to song after song. I couldn't help but join in.
". . . Feel's so good. Ooo baby . . . feels so good. . . ."
"DAD!" my son interrupted me. "It's hurt . . . not feel!"
"I know that," I shouted back over the sound of the music. "I'm just not into that S&M shit . . . I mean crap . . . oh, never mind!"
Bruce giggled and rolled his eyes at me. It was a great father and son moment.
I went back to singing along. "The walls . . . tumblin' down . . ." I was having a blast.
Finally, I heard the guitar chorus to one of my all time favorites. But the words that emanated from the stage were certainly something new:
Little ditty 'bout Jer'my and Davie
Two American boys growin' up in the city
Jer'my's gonna be a swimmin' star
Davie the pres'dent back seat Jer'my's car
The whole park was in hysterics as the song continued.
Suckin' on their hotdogs outside the Dairy Queen
Dave on Jeremy's lap
He's got his hand on his knee
Jer'my say, hey Dave, let's run off
Behind a shady tree
Dave say, I'll have my way with you
I'll do what I please
Everyone was laughing and clapping and cheering, and when the song ended, the whole park erupted in a thunderous cheer. When the cheering died down, our special guest asked the crowd, "How'd you like the new lyrics?" The crowed again erupted in a loud cheer.
"Did you all see the front page of The Star this morning?" he asked. Yet again, a loud cheer arose from the crowd.
"Today we're honored to have a contingent from the North Central GSA here with us as guests of The Star, in celebration of their special series on gay youth and today's anniversary article, which was featured on today's front page."
Just then, there was a loud boo from someone in the park.
But our guest star wasn't having any of that as he came back with, "What was that? Who said that? You wanna come up on stage and maybe share your opinions with the rest of us. Show your face up here in the spotlight where we all can see it? Maybe get your picture on the front page oftomorrow's edition of The Star? . . ."
When the crowd remained silent, he continued, "I thought not. You know, those kinda attitudes drag us all down. Just the other day, in preparation for this concert, I was readin' some facts and figures on the Web about gay and lesbian youth. Did you ever stop to think about what homophobia does to us all? How it makes all of us guys act `macho' to try and prove we're not gay when we're growin' up? And you know what? Gay guys do it too, so it doesn't really mean anything at all.
"Not only that, but kids have sex at a younger age, just to prove they're `normal', and that only leads to more STD's and unwanted pregnancies.
"Homophobia leads to violence, not only against gays and lesbians, but against people who are just different from what some people think is normal. I look out at this crowd and I see men and women, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans and, yes, even some white folks, too. What I can't tell you is who's gay, straight, transgendered, bisexual or any other variety of sexuality. And you know what? That's a good thing!"
A loud cheer went up from the crowd as he continued to speak, "More than a third of gay and lesbian students feel like outsiders at their own schools and two-thirds often hear homophobic remarks. One in five have been assaulted and most have faced verbal taunts within the past year. Hey man, this is America! We're better than that." A huge cheer went up from the crowd.
Our guest star waited until the cheer died down before continuing. "On a more serious note, I looked at a survey done after Mathew Shepherd was killed. Almost half of all gay youth have attempted suicide within their lifetimes, and nearly a quarter have done so within the past year. The average age at first suicide attempt. The average age at the first suicide attempt . . . just thirteen years old. That is why what The Star is doing is so important. By telling the stories they told last January and again in today's paper, perhaps there will be fewer lives lost . . . . Fewer cases like that of poor John, whose tragic tale was told in today's paper.
"I've read John's blog on the Internet . . ."
"You mean Brian Philips," someone in the crowd shouted out.
"Well, yes, John isn't his real name, but we've been asked to keep his real identity private for the sake of his family and I am honoring that. But anyway, I couldn't help but be struck by the eloquence of John's writing, and how beautifully he expressed his feelings, the turmoil he felt inside and the emotional conflicts that made him choose to end his life rather than live a lie when he felt there was no possibility of escape from the life his parents wanted him to live. To me, John's words begged to be set to music, and that's just what I did. So tonight you are about to hear the world premier of my newest song, "Why Do I Feel This Way?"
It had started to rain again, but no one seemed to care as the stage erupted in wondrous guitar harmonies, and then our guest star broke into song. The melody was haunting and although I'd read Brian's blog, I'd never really felt the words this way before . . . they never connected emotionally before. Set to music, they moved me as only true poetry ever could. To me, it was one of his best songs, ever. In truth, it was one of the most moving songs I'd ever heard, made all that more real by the fact that the real Brian Philips had given his life for it. I was literally in tears by the end of the song, and I wasn't alone, and it wasn't from the rain!
Our guest star ended by saying, "Pretty powerful stuff, huh?
"Well, thankfully, not all gay kids have it so tough these days. Like I said at the beginning, we have a real Jeremy and David here tonight, who were featured on the front page of this morning's Star. How many people here think they make a cute couple?" A loud cheer went up from the audience, with more than a few catcalls and whistles. I could only imagine how embarrassed David and Jeremy must have been. "Jeremy, David, come up here on stage so the audience can get to know you a little better." Well, this was certainly not something we'd planned. I expected they'd be there, but beyond that, I couldn't be sure. Knowing David and his confidence, however, he'd have no trouble getting up on the stage, and sure enough, he was tugging a reluctant Jeremy along with him.
Our guest star shook hands with each of the boys and then put his arms around each of their shoulders as he stood between them. "Let me introduce these remarkable young men to you all. On my right is Jeremy Kimball, who this year won more events than any high school boy of any age to become the state swimming champion, and he did so at the age of fourteen. He was only a freshman, if you can believe it. He was also a center forward on the freshman soccer team last year, as well as running cross country. And while not being a world-class athlete and getting his picture in The Star, he also managed to get himself elected to the student council.
"This giant on my left is David Reynolds. Dave is also an athlete, grabbing second place among freshmen in the central region in cross country, and grabbing headlines in other ways, being elected as the first openly gay class president of the incoming sophomore class of his high school. I've read this guy's interviews and I've seen him on TV and let me tell you, he is one shrewd politician. I have a feeling we're all gonna be hearing a lot from him in the future.
"But enough about what great guys you are . . ." which got both of them laughing, "I understand that you have a big anniversary coming up!"
Even from a distance, I could see both boys get a dreamy look in their eyes. David didn't waste time in stepping up to the mike and saying, "Yeah, on July 28, it will be a year since we became boyfriends . . . a year since we fell in love."
There were a bunch more hoots from the audience before our guest star continued. "Your first anniversary as boyfriends. Well to mark this special occasion . . . and our great country's birthday, we've prepared a special cake." I was surprised. I hadn't heard anything about this, and Jerry sure hadn't mentioned it to me. Of course, once our events team gets hold of something, projects take on a life of their own and someone obviously had either decided a cake would make a nice addition to the show, or perhaps our guest star himself had come up with the idea after haring about the story we were running. In any case, an enormous sheet cake was being wheeled onto the stage. "I know you all can't see this out there, but this cake's just about big enough for everyone that wants one to get a piece. It's decorated with an American flag in red, white and blue, and on the top, is says, `Happy Birthday America,' and on the bottom, it says, `Happy Anniversary Jeremy and David.'
"Now, boys, what I'd like you to do is to cut a small piece and feed it to your boyfriend, with the operative word being `feed', and then we'll slice the rest of it up and distribute it to the audience."
David and Jeremy were on their best behavior as they each took hold of a knife and cut the cake, feeding each other a piece of cake, while the band played the melody to the old song, Cut the Cake. Afterwards, they leaned in and gave each other a chaste peck on the lips. Just then, the band music faded away and was replaced by the sound of the symphony playing The Stars and Stripes Forever, coming through the stage speakers as the first of the fireworks started exploding overhead. I looked at my watch and, sure enough, the time was exactly 9:45.
We all stayed through the full program, in spite of the steady rain. When the fireworks display ended, our guest star played contemporary patriotic music as people slowly filed out of the park and made their way back to their cars. My family and I didn't even bother - from past experience we knew that it would be some time before traffic would clear enough to even get out of the parking garage, let alone escape the downtown area for our homes in the suburbs. It was at times like these I wished we lived in a loft downtown.
Jerry Cohen caught up with me as we were about to head back inside the Star building. "Harold," he said, "That was one hell of an article you put together . . . one of the best you've ever done. Why don't you take tomorrow off? . . . You deserve it."
"Thanks, Jerry," I said, nearly speechless for a change. "Truthfully, it was one of my favorite assignments."
"Not to change the subject, but you're a fan, aren't you?"
"A fan?" I asked in confusion.
"Of our guest star," he clarified.
"Oh, yeah," I answered. "Big time."
"Why don't you come with me," he said as he led my family and I back into the park and back behind the stage, where the stage crew was busily at work disassembling the electronic gear. Off to the side I could see him pitching in, doing some of the work himself like a regular stagehand rather than the rock star he was, and this in spite of the quadruple bypass surgery he'd had a few years back.
Jerry went right up to him and said, "There's someone here I'd like you to meet. This here's Harold. He's the fellow who wrote the article in today's paper."
Our guest star turned toward me and smiled - he didn't have the hair he had in his youth, but his smile was every bit as genuine. "Harold, it's a pleasure to meet you. That was a wonderful article. It really moved me, and it's been a long time since a newspaper story did that to me. I've always enjoyed writing music about the underdog and while it might not have been cool to be gay when we were growing up, I knew some gay kids, and I wasn't as nice to them growing up in my small town as I should've been. Tonight, thanks to your story, I started making up for that, and from now on everyone'll know that I stand for equality when it comes to sexual orientation, even when it comes to `the heartland'.
"It's an honor to meet you, Harold. Truly and honor."
After I finally got my voice back, I answered, "The honor is mine. I've always enjoyed your music. It's heartfelt, and filled with meaning. Thank you for coming here tonight, and for putting Brian Philips' poignant words to music."
"Harold, if it saves one life, Brian's life will have been worth something more than just another sad story of a gay teen. If my music can serve as the conduit to make the saving of a life possible, then I'll have saved a life, too. But it was your article that brought the two of us together, so in a sense, it will also be you who is saving a life. It's not every day we get to do that in our work, now, is it?"
I looked up into his eyes and grasped what he was saying and, in that instant, I realized he was right. Most of the time I just report the news. I tell people what's new in their lives . . . I report the news, but nothing more. But with this article, I'd done something so very important for a significant portion of our community's youth. I'd helped them realize they're normal, and that they're not alone . . . there are many teens like them out there. Perhaps Ihad saved a life. Perhaps more than one.
The authors gratefully acknowledge Trab for proofreading our stories, and Gay Authors, Awesome Dude and Codey's World for hosting them.