The following work is complete fiction. Any similarity with existing people or places is purely coincidental. It may also contain scenes of sexual activity between males; if it is illegal for you to read this or if you feel you may be offended by reading it, please do not do so. Because the story tales place in 1971, some characters may engage in behavior which is considered unsafe today. If you are not abstinent, please respect yourself and your partner by being safe.
I invite your comments. Please emailFreeThinkerCG at yahoo.com. I look forward to hearing from you and I thank you for reading my story! Please note that if you are underage, you should not be reading this story and I cannot respond. Please understand.
There was a book I needed to find. I didn't know what it was called, but I needed to find it. I looked at the shelves around me, at the hundreds of books before me. Which one was the book I needed?
I stepped out into the aisle running the length of Leonardo's.
"Hello? Can someone help me?"
I turned to my right, from where the voice originated. I knew that voice. It couldn't be.
I walked to the front and sitting in one of the leather chairs was...
My grandfather smiled at me.
"Hey, Mr. President."
Yep. That was really my grandfather. I remembered that Saturday afternoon in the garage. I was ten and Grandad was working on his favorite hobby, lapidary work. He loved to polish stones and make things with them. Especially agates. He was working on a really nice one. I was standing next to his stool in front of his work bench. The transistor radio on the bench was broadcasting the news about a speech President Johnson had made that day.
"One day," I declared, "I'm going to be the President of the United States!"
"Oh, you are?" he laughed in his jolly, booming voice. "Well, here, Mr. President, put these stones in the tumbler there."
No one else knew why that was his nickname for me. It was just our secret.
Sitting in that leather chair, Grandad held out his arm and smiled.
"Come here, Chrisser."
Slowly, I walked over and he put his arm around my waist and hugged me.
From behind me, I heard, "Have you found what you're looking for?"
I turned and saw Stephen walking around the counter.
Grandad leaned forward and put a big red leather-bound book on the coffee table before him. I knew the book. It was the old anthology of Robert Louis Stevenson novels and stories. Not all of them, but some of his best. It was the book he used to read from to Daddy when he was a boy and that he read from to me when we visited. That was how I learned about Treasure Island and Kidnapped and David Balfour and the Prince Florizel stories.
"I think so," he said.
Stephen walked up and put a gentle hand on my shoulder. He squeezed it and then walked over to the other chair. He sat down and smiled.
I looked at them both and then, I knew.
"No, Chrisser. Its not."
I was confused.
"But, why am I here?"
"Ah, the age old question mankind has asked for centuries. 'Why am I here?'"
Grandad chuckled as well. I felt a slight sense of irritation.
“That wasn’t what I meant.”
“I know what you meant. But, the other meaning of the question is pretty relevant to this discussion, as well.”
“What he means, Christopher, is this. What is your destiny?”
I looked at him in confusion.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
His smile became sad.
“Yes, Chris. Think.”
“I’m thinking. I’m thinking. I don’t what you want you want me to think about!”
“Where do you want to go?” Stephen asked.
Oh. Oh! That was the question.
“No, son,” my grandfather replied. “That’s not the question.”
I was thoroughly confused.
“Then, what is the question?”
Grandad hugged me tighter.
“Do you want to go home or do you want to go with us?”
I looked at Grandad and Stephen. I thought of everything that had just happened. Fervently, I replied, “I want to go with you.”
Stephen looked downward as did my grandfather.
“But, Christopher,” he replied. “Its not your time.”
“But, didn’t they kill me?”
He shook his head.
“That’s up to you.”
Stephen scooted forward in his chair.
“Chris, its not time. You have to go home.”
My heart sank again.
“But, I don’t want to. They hate me now.”
“Do you know that?” my grandfather asked.
“Do... do you know... about me?”
“Then you know Daddy hates me and Mother, too. Daddy said he couldn’t look at me.”
“Its not your time, Chris. Its not your destiny. You have to go back. You still have things to do.”
“You have to go back, Chris.”
I swallowed and looked first at my grandfather and then at Stephen.
“Will I ever see you again?”
They both smiled and said, together, “Yes. When its time.”
The pain. That was all I could think of, the pain. It seemed to be everywhere. I tried to think. My arms. And, my chest. And, my face. The pain was horrible. I had never known such pain.
I tried to move. I couldn’t. It wasn’t that I was paralyzed. Something was preventing me from moving.
I groaned and somewhere, I heard someone say, “He’s waking up.”
No, I wasn’t. I wanted to go back to sleep. I didn’t want this pain.
“Chrisser, its Daddy. I don’t know if you can hear me. But, I love you. I love you very much. You’re my son. And, I am praying to God that... that you’ll be alright and...”
I could hear voices. I couldn’t tell what they were saying, but I could hear them. I tried to concentrate. It was Daddy. And, Mother. And, someone else. They were angry and sad and... it all seemed so confusing.
“Chris? If you can hear me, its me. Alex. I... I just want to tell you... that I love you. Please don’t die. Please. I need you. I love you, Chris. Please don’t die. Please.”
Alex. It was Alex. I had to tell him I wasn’t going to die. I had to tell him that it wasn’t my time. I had to tell him I saw Stephen. I had to tell Daddy that I saw Grandad. Daddy. Did Daddy want to see me? Wait a minute. Daddy had said something to me. Daddy had said he loved me. Daddy had said he loved me.
I tried to say something, but I couldn’t. There was something in my mouth. My throat hurt. It hurt so bad. My mouth was dry. I needed a drink of water, so badly.
I was so tired.
I opened my eyes a little. The light was so bright. It was too bright. it hurt my eyes. I closed them again for just a moment. Through my eyelids, I could see the reddish, orangey light. I’ll open my eyes in a minute, I thought.
I listened. It was quiet. I could hear a beeping noise and a strange wheezing, pumping sound. It was constant, rhythmic, pumping.
My body hurt. It hurt to breathe. My arms hurt. I tried to move them, but I couldn’t. Still. My throat. I wanted to cough, to choke. Something long and hard was in my mouth and my throat.
I opened my eyes again.
The light was just above me. It was a round light in a ceiling with square panels. I blinked.
I turned my head. I was in a room with green walls. It was a really ugly green. There was a picture on the wall. Mountains and a waterfall. Something kept me from turning my head more.
I looked upward again.
I was in the hospital.
And, then, slowly, everything came back to me.
I turned my head to the left. I could see Mother and Daddy. They were sitting, or rather, sleeping in chairs, Mother’s head on Daddy’s shoulder, Daddy’s head back against the wall, his arm around her shoulder.
“Well, I see we’re awake, now."
I turned my head and saw a nurse standing beside my bed. She had a kind smile. I heard movement to my left and saw parents rush to my bed. Mother was crying and holding my hand. Daddy wasn't crying but there were tears in his eyes as he smiled down at me and laid a hand on my shoulder. I still couldn't speak because of whatever was in my mouth, but I squeezed Mother's hand back and tried to tell Daddy with my eyes that I loved him and that I was sorry.
I was moved to a new room on Friday, one with a beautiful view of the hills north of town. I could see the tower of St. Andrew's and of the college. I couldn't see our house because of the trees but I could see the turret of the Partridges' house, meaning, I could see Alex's room and the window where we had stood that Monday night almost two months before when he had first made love to me. And, the room was a creamy off-white instead of that awful bus-station restroom green of the first room.
Mother and Emily were sitting in chairs at the foot of my bed. Alex was sitting on a chair beside me telling me a hilarious story about the time his father had been arrested in Berkeley for mooning Governor Reagan. It hurt to laugh, but I didn't care. Alex was with me. Our mothers were with us and they were laughing as well.
Both my parents had cried when I told them about Grandad, as did Alex when I told him about Stephen. Alex told me that Daddy had never left the room except to go to trial and ask, with Donald, for a delay. Today, they were giving their closing arguments and the jury would begin deliberations. As soon as they recessed, Daddy was coming back. Mother told me that Daddy had gotten very little sleep since the police found me.
"Helen, lets go down to the coffee shop for a few minutes," Emily said standing. "I need to stretch my legs."
Mother looked at me and swallowed.
"It's OK, Mother. I'm fine. Alex is here."
Mother swallowed again and as Emily squeezed her hand, she nodded. When they were gone, Alex leaned over and kissed me. It was the first time we had been alone since I had awakened.
"So, Alex, would you tell me again what happened? I was kinda out of it when everyone was talking to me earlier."
Alex squeezed my right hand. My left arm was in a cast.
"Well, after your Dad told me to leave, I was really scared about you. I mean, I knew he wouldn't hit you or anything. I knew your Dad wasn't like that. But, I was really scared for you. I was scared you'd do something really stupid. I guess I was right."
I winced and I felt the tears in my eyes again.
"I'm so sorry Alex. I never wanted to hurt anyone. I just thought that..."
"Oh, no. I'm sorry I said it like that. Don't apologize. Its OK. Its OK."
I sighed. The shame was almost too much.
"Dad was scared for you, too. He knew it probably wasn't a good time, but we came back to the house to talk to your dad. He was pretty upset. Dad said it was because of the trial and the shock. When your Dad called for you and you didn't answer, we all got scared and when we couldn't find you, your Dad got really scared. Really scared. Your mother was crying and saying awful things to your father. He called the police and I ran across to the park. I thought you'd be under the tree or in the restroom. Then I ran to the church and then to Leonardo's and then I didn't know where to go. And, then I saw a police car with its lights on stop at your house and I just knew you were dead. I just knew it. But, some lady who lived behind the bowling alley had called the police about the fight and they knew it was you. And, your parents and my parents and I have been here ever since. Well, sometimes we go home to shower and stuff, but..."
"I was gonna do it, Alex."
"But, when they stopped..."
We were silent for several minutes, Alex holding my hand and resting his head on the pillow beside me.
"Promise me, Chris, you'll never leave me."
I squeezed his hand.
"Not until its time. Not until its time."
Dad had just retired from politics. I wasn't surprised last year when he announced it. Everyone else was. Everyone, even the President, thought he would serve one more term in the Senate. But, in this post-9/11 world of the Patriot Act and the War on Terror, politics was now a lot different than it was when Daddy first ran for District Attorney in Clarkesville. Politics was no longer for gentlemen. People no longer debated, they demonized; they no longer discussed, they destroyed. Daddy had lived through this type of atmosphere once before and I knew he was ready to leave it.
What did surprise me was that he wanted to move back to Clarkesville. When Alex and I left home for college, (Columbia for Alex and NYU for me, much to my father's chagrin), and Dad was elected Attorney General, I had never set foot in the town again. Dad had bought a big house down the street from the state capitol and after his years as Attorney General and Governor, I always assumed that when he left the U.S. Senate, he and Mother would retire to the big house on State St. where Dad could pull some strings behind the scenes and Mother could stay in the social world she loved so much. So, it came as a shock last October when Dad called me in New York and told me that he had bought the Partridges' old house on Union, across from Centennial Park and a block from where I had grown up. He had been making a campaign appearance for the Party's candidate to succeed him in the Senate and Roy Jenkins, still in real estate and still just as tacky after thirty years, had mentioned the house at 11th and Union was for sale. Dad said he didn't think twice.
I hadn't set foot in Clarkesville since 1978. I couldn't imagine returning. Alex and I had lived in New York since we had left for college, he a famous artist, me producing documentaries for public television. We had never looked back and now...
Every year, Alex and I spent the holidays either with his parents in San Francisco or with mine in either Washington or back at the state capital. This year would be different.
Dad picked me up at the Kansas City airport. It was strange not to have an official car and driver and security and aides everywhere. It was just Dad and me and his... BMW?
"You're not having some kind of delayed mid-life crisis now that your out of office, are you?" I asked with a grin as I threw into the trunk what was left of my luggage after security and the United baggage handlers had gotten through with it. Dad grinned.
"I don't have to worry about the voters anymore."
He then proceeded to show me that the old man could still handle a stick as we whipped out of the short-term parking and then out onto I-29.
I pulled my Nokia from my pocket and called home. No answer. I sighed and left a message saying I had gotten into KC just fine and that we would be in Clarkesville in an hour. I was silent as I replaced the phone in my pocket.
It was no secret that my relationship had been dying of entropy for some time, the victim of two successful yet divergent careers, one in art and one in documentary film-making, that had come to be more fulfilling than the passion and joy with which they had competed. Mother and Dad had treated Alex as if he were their own son. Dad's political career had survived having a gay son just as Vice-President Cheney's had survived his gay daughter and Speaker Gingrich's had survived his gay sister. It was just Alex and me. We were drifting. I didn't know how to stop the drift, or even if I wanted to.
I was surprised at how much the town had changed and yet, hadn't. And, when we pulled onto Union Avenue and Centennial Park lay before me, I felt tears form in my eyes.
I had decided, after dinner to take a walk. It was not too cold and my jacket was sufficient. As I walked across the street in the dark, I stood beside the stump of the old maple tree, the tree. Apparently sometime in the last thirty years, it had been cut down. I sat down on the stump, my feet resting where Alex and I had sat so many times reading together. I looked up at the house that had once belonged to Alex's parents and now belonged to mine. I looked up at the room where Alex and I had made love so often as boys, now rented by a student at Clarkesville College. I turned and laughed.
Some things never changed. On the side of the big green army tank, someone protesting what would certainly be the upcoming war with Iraq had painted "Fuck Bush." When I was a boy, it was "Fuck Nixon." Some things never changed.
Tears formed in my eyes as I looked to the east. Jack still owned Leonardo's. Stephen's mother had given it to him and there it was. The lights were still on in the window, as they were in the others shops and cafes along College Avenue, catering to the pre-Christmas evening shoppers.
I remembered that special day when Stephen had told me it was OK to be gay, the same day Webster Hardesty had first walked into my life. I chuckled sadly as I remembered how Hardesty had disappeared the day after the verdict, taking all his church's funds with him.
And, yes, there at the south end of the park, the rec center still stood.
I had read The Clarkesville Chronicle's report of the conviction of Leroy Burris so many times that I had memorized it. As I looked at the place that had seen the start of the most beautiful and painful summer of my life, I remembered the tortured words of my father, as quoted in the paper, in his summation before the jury. He had presented all the evidence, rebutted all of Donald's arguments for the defense, and ended with these words.
"As I stand before you, this afternoon, I see two parents in pain; one who loves his son, one who loved her son. None of us wants to think his son is capable of murder; and none of us wants to think his son could be homosexual. But, is being homosexual so bad, so evil, so dark that it warrants murder? How often have we as a society sat back and turned our eyes from murder because the victim was someone or something we rejected? Ladies and gentlemen, if your child were homosexual, could you sit back and do nothing if someone beat them and kicked them, not once, not twice, but fifty-four times, breaking their bones, knocking out their teeth, destroying their face, puncturing their lungs and their heart, and leaving them to die in pool of blood and vomit and urine and mud?
I don't claim to know why some people are homosexual. It is not something I can easily accept. Perhaps, someday, society will. I don't know. All I do know now is that our children are gifts from God and that we must protect them and if you let Leroy Burris walk free, you are telling the Pharisees that they can hate, they can attack, they can beat, and they can kill. And, when they do, the next time, it could be your son or daughter or brother or sister or mother or father. Don't give in to the Pharisees."
The jury had deliberated for only an hour before it returned with a verdict of guilty of first degree murder. Burris had been sentenced to death, but when the Supreme Court ruled against the death penalty in the mid-seventies, Burris' sentence went to life in prison without parole. I understand he died in prison sometime in the eighties of AIDS. I can only imagine what hell his life must have been, being on the receiving end of prison rape for years. And, yet, as I think of him, I cannot erase from my mind the image of Jack on his knees holding Stephen's head and crying, "Help me."
All of this because one man loved another.
I sat in the dark, the crisp cool breeze tossing my hair across my forehead.
All of this because one man loved another.
I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and called.
There were sounds of talking above a piano in the background. And, a sigh.
"Chris, I'm at a showing at Dolly's gallery. Is this important?"
"Chris? Are you there?"
"Yes. Yes, I'm here and, yes, its important."
"Alex, come home."
"Come home. I need you."
Another pause. I pressed on.
"Alex, I'm at the tree. I see the house. I see Leonardo's. I just don't see you. I need you. I need to see you. All the crap in our lives, it doesn't mean anything. You and I are all that means anything."
"Come home, Alex."
Another pause, and, then...
"I'm on my way."
And, so ends Centennial Park. I hope you have enjoyed my story. Please write to me atFreeThinkerCG at yahoo.com. I am so very grateful to everyone who has written and for the support. Thank you very much.
Please note: don't be too hard on Chris's father. It was 1971 and times were far different than they are now. He was trying, in the only way he knew, for his time. This story is about what is once was like and may yet be again if the Radical Right have their way and send us back into the closet.