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 takes 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.
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"Chrisser, come on, wake up."
I rolled over and mumbled something.
"Chris! Come on! Rise and shine!"
For the first time in my life, I wanted to tell Daddy what he could with his "rise and shine." I rolled back and looked up at him though my sleepy eyes.
"What's the matter son? You act like you didn't get any sleep last night."
I didn't, but I would never tell him that. Slowly I sat up. I could smell bacon frying in the kitchen and I really wanted to munch on a few pieces of hot, lightly underdone bacon. But, I was so tired.
Daddy was dressed for work in everything but his suit coat. He sat down at the foot of my bed, his white shirt so starched that it looked like it would break, his narrow blue and red striped tie hanging down the center and held to his shirt with his State Bar Association tie-tack. I could smell his after-shave and it made me smile. My Dad was so cool. He always looked so perfect, not like Mother. Mother tried to be perfect and it looked like it. With Daddy, it just came naturally.
He looked at me and frowned with concern.
"What's the matter son?" he asked softly. "You looked like something was bothering you last night, but you ran up here so fast that I didn't get a chance to talk to you. Did Alex say something that hurt you?"
I frowned and looked down at my blanket. I couldn't say anything. Daddy waited a moment and, then, said quietly, "Chris, I know you take things a lot more seriously than other boys. But, I want you to know, I'm your father. Your father. I love you. You can tell me anything. I... I know that you've changed. You used to be so... so happy and cheerful and.. positive. So optimistic. But, for the last year, maybe longer, its like you've crawled into a shell and you won't let anyone in. I know that something's been bothering you and I want to help. But, I can't if you won't talk to me."
I looked at my father's face and saw he was serious, so very serious, trying so hard to find out what was bothering me. My father was such a good man. How... how could I tell him? How could I let him down? How could I tell him that his son was...
"I'm OK, Daddy. There's nothing wrong. I just had trouble sleeping last night."
Hoping to end the conversation, I climbed out of my bed and walked toward the door to go to the bathroom. It seemed to work, because Daddy looked down at the blanket for a moment, and, then, looked up at me and smiled.
"OK. I just want you to know, Chrisser, that, if there's ever anything you want to talk about, you can talk to the old man. OK?"
"I know, Daddy," I said, pretending I didn't know what point he was trying to make. "Everything's cool, man. Real cool!"
I gave my father a cheeky grin, which made him chuckle.
Daddy was just pulling out of the driveway in his Mercury Comet as I went out the back door to mow the lawn. It was still too early for it to be very hot. I heard some doves cooing on the fence along the alley and a mockingbird in the Hansons' dying elm tree next door. There weren't many elm trees left in Clarkesville, thanks to the Dutch elm disease.
I was wearing my old sneakers for mowing, the ones that I had outgrown. They hurt my feet as I walked into the garage. I was greeted by the smell of gasoline and old grass. Mother's LTD was on the right side, by the empty space where Daddy parked. The lawn tools were all on the left side, Daddy's regular tools and his workbench were in the back. Brian and I kept our bikes on the right. I looked longingly at my green Stingray with its cool raised handlebars and that neat long banana seat. I would love to go riding while it was still cool. Ordinarily, I'd go to the park or to Leonardo's. Today, those were the last two places I wanted to go.
I picked up the gas can and pulled the mower out and down the driveway to the front yard. Standing next to it before I filled up the tank, I looked around at how beautiful everything was, the huge ancient trees, the big old houses, the scent of honeysuckle in the air. I loved this place. Why did Alex Partridge have to move here and ruin it all.
I was halfway through the left side of the yard when I glanced up from the mower and saw Alex walking along the sidewalk on Union Avenue toward our house. I stopped for a moment and then very deliberately looked away and went back to pushing the mower.
As I turned and started back toward the walkway from the porch to the sidewalk, Alex was standing on the corner, watching me uncertainly. The swagger and the confidence I had seen yesterday were gone. Just as he had been yesterday, he was wearing short cut-offs and another psychedelic t-shirt. I ignored him and continued to push the mower. As I stopped at the walkway to turn, he looked as if he were about to say something, but I turned the mower around and started back in the opposite direction. When I reached the driveway and turned back again, Alex was slowly walking away, his shoulders slightly drooped and his head down. He was walking catty corner across the intersection to the park. His legs looked so slim and pretty, his hair blowing in the slight breeze. Quickly, I looked back down at the grass I was cutting and pushed on. The next time I turned back from the driveway, I saw him on the other side of old Zack Clarke's statue walking toward... toward Leonardo's. Well, let him. If he's a fag and Stephen's a fag, well, then they deserved each other. I was not a fag. That's all there was to it. I was not a fag. And, I would never again give into those sick feelings.
I turned at the walkway and began to push back toward the driveway.
God, please, help me, I prayed as I pushed the mower. I don't want to be a pervert. Please, make me normal. Please. I am begging you. I promise I won't do it today. I promise. If my... my penis gets hard, I promise I will ignore it. I promise. Just make me normal. Please!
When I reached the driveway again and turned toward the walkway, I saw Alex was almost to the bandstand in the middle of the park. As I pushed the mower toward the walkway, I watched him stopped at one of the benches along the walkway leading up to the bandstand. He stopped.
I reached the walkway and stopped. Alex sat down, facing away from me, facing College Ave, the east side of the park, the side Leonardo's was on. He leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, his face resting on his hands. He did not look happy.
Well, that was OK. The fag was probably unhappy he wouldn't get to feel me off anymore. Let him be unhappy. Let him sit there all lonely and... sad.. and.. lonely.
Fuck him. Yeah, I said fuck him. Who cares.
I was angry now. I jerked the mower around. One more pass and all I would have on the left side of the yard was a strip by the sidewalk and then the parking. Forcefully, I marched forward and when I reached the driveway, I refused to look up and see what the fag from New York City was doing, that fag with that long hippy girl hair, and those long slim, girl legs. Yeah, he was probably trying to be a girl. What a fag.
When I reached the walkway, I crossed and started on the right side of the lawn.Steadfastly, I forced myself not to look toward the park, at that pervert, queer, fag, girl-boy. As I marched forward, I was growing angrier and angrier. When I reached the sidewalk along Union Avenue, I turned around, cursing Alex and cursing that we lived on a corner, which meant I had twice as much to mow. Why did I did to mow? Why couldn't Brian mow? Why couldn't we pay someone to mow? For Pete's sake, Daddy was the District Attorney! He would be re-elected next year and then in 1976 he was going to run for Attorney General and then we would move to the State Capital. He was powerful. Why couldn't he pay someone to mow the damn yard?
By the time I reached the sidewalk, my fury was beyond anything I had ever known. I stopped. Brian was standing on the porch watching me.
"Hey," I shouted, "YOU! Get over here and finish mowing. I'm sick of doing all the work around here!"
Brian looked at me as if I were crazy.
"No way, man! That's your job!"
"Fuck you, you little fucker!" I screamed. "Get over here and mow!"
I stormed off toward the driveway as Brian yelled into the screen door, "Mommy! Chris said the 'f' ' word!"
As I marched up the driveway, my fury grew until I didn't know what I was doing. I reached the garage and my bicycle and as I climbed on it, I was crying. I was crying as I had never cried before. As I pedaled furiously down the driveway, I remember seeing my mother standing on the back porch in shock.
I don't know where I rode. All I know was that I felt like I was losing my mind and I was angry. I was so.. so.. damned angry. When I realized where I was, I was surprised. I must have turned south on Congress Avenue, the next street over from Union, and ridden south because I was at Fourth Street, the main east-west street in town. On my right was an old house that had been turned into Dr. McAdam's office. On the left was the Fina station. Across the street was Southside Elementary School and the Stickler-Moss Funeral Home in what used to be the old Unitarian Church. Cars and trucks roared past. I sniffed and wiped the snot from my nose with the back of my right hand and then wiped it on my cut-offs.
What had gotten into me? Man, I had freaked out. I mean, I had totally freaked out. Man, I had never done anything like that before. I was like a crazy man. Well, it was all that fag's fault. Yeah, well, OK, maybe not totally. But, man, I never acted like this before he came along. Jiminy Crickets, man. Why did Alex Partridge have to move to Clarkesville. Damn it.
I had to go home. I had left the lawn mower running in the front yard and I knew Brian wasn't mowing the yard. And, I had to face the music with Mother, and that was going to be ugly. Mother always used Daddy as the bad cop, but when she was really mad, she didn't wait. I looked to the left, toward downtown. Maybe I could stop by Daddy's office at the Court House. No. He was too busy and... besides I was just being stupid.
With a sigh, I slowly turned around and pedaled back toward home.
It was six blocks and I really didn't want to make it too quickly. There were a couple of other boys out mowing their yards as I pedaled past, lots of kids playing in their yards, even a few old people standing in their yards chatting. My heart was freezing as I rode north past Sixth and Seventh and Eighth and Ninth. When I reached Tenth, I took a deep breath and swallowed as I turned east.
The mower was still sitting in the front yard where I had left it, but it was off. When I turned into the driveway,
Brian the snitch was sitting on the steps leading up to the front porch and yelled, "Mommy, Chris is back!"
I might have had the energy to wish I could slap him, but it just wasn't there. Instead, I stopped in front of him and said softly, "I'm sorry, Brian. I don't know why I freaked out. I didn't mean what I said."
Brian looked like he was trying to decide whether to believe me and whether he wanted to enjoy the spectacle of Mother yelling at me. However, before it seemed he could come to a decision, Mother decided for him. She burst through the front door.
"What in the world is the matter with you, young man? Where did you learn to speak that way? Did that Partridge brat teach you this last night? Are you going to turn into a radical and a juvenile delinquent now? Yelling obscenities like that! And, in the front yard, too! In front of the neighbors! You just wait until your father gets home. Now, finish the mowing. NOW!"
"Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry."
Slowly, I trudged over to the mower and resumed my work.
As I completed the parking, I looked across the park and saw Alex emerging from Leonardo's. Well, I thought, he belongs there with all the other fags. Stephen will probably go after him, I thought as I pushed the mower up the driveway toward the backyard. Heck, the only reason he wanted me to read that book was probably because he wanted to do it with me! Fag.
For some reason, though, I felt guilty as I thought that last thought. I knew it wasn't true. Stephen wasn't like that. Stephen was a good guy. But, he was a fag! But, everyone liked him. But, he was boyfriends with Jack! But, he was the Senior Acolyte and Father Partridge trusted him. But, then Father Partridge's brother was Donald Partridge and his nephew was that fag, Alex.
I sighed as I looked down at the mower. It was all so confusing. I picked up the gas can and poured the last of the gasoline into the tank and finished mowing the yard.
Mother had stared at me all through lunch, saying nothing, as I ate my soup and sandwich at the kitchen table. I felt bad enough already with the eyes piercing through my body. Finally, when I couldn't take it anymore, I looked up and said, "Mother, I don't know why I freaked out this morning. I didn't mean to say those things to Brian. He didn't do anything wrong. It all just kind of just exploded out of me before I knew what was happening."
Mother thought about it for amount and then, something that did not happen often, her face softened a little bit. Not much, but there was something there. She reached forward and put her hand on the side of my face.
"Sweetheart, your Father and I have been so worried about you these past few months. We know something is bothering you, but we can't help you if won't talk to us."
I sighed. I could never tell her my secret. I could never let her know what was bothering me.
"It's nothing, Mother. Really. I guess I'm just growing up. I'm not a kid anymore."
Mother squeezed my face.
"Sweetheart, you will always be my little boy. Don't ever forget that."
Somehow, I managed to extricate myself from Mother's mothering, and retreated upstairs. The heat of the day was building now. Mother had the air conditioners on in the living room and the den and all the bedroom doors upstairs had to remain closed. In my room, it was already hot as an oven, even with the window open. I turned on the radio. The Voice of Clarkesville was presenting the Afternoon Garage Sale, where people in town called in selling whatever they had around the house to sell. With a depressed sigh, I turned the knob to my Kansas City station, which was playing a commercial for flying on Braniff. Ruefully, I thought I would love to fly Braniff somewhere. Anywhere.
B.J. Thomas came on next and sang "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," which didn't exactly cheer me up. I turned off the radio, and looked around the room for something, anything, to do. On my desk, by the window, was the book Stephen had lent me.Oh, man. There wasn't anything else to do, so I decided to go ahead and try to finish it.
I walked over to the desk and looked out the window. Some people were picnicking over on the far side of the park, near the tank. Jason Parker and Matt Fenway were playing chess over by the rec center, again. Man, didn't those guys ever do anything besides play chess. They sure were good friends. You never saw one without the other. Humm. I wondered if... well, did it really matter anymore? I was tired of speculating on who was a fag and who wasn't. Then, emerging from around the corner was Alex.
He stopped at the table and appeared to be talking with Jason and Matt. I frowned, and then frowned because I had frowned. Was I actually feeling jealous that he was speaking to other guys? How stupid. He was a fag. He was probably trying to find someone else he could be faggy with.
I looked at those long legs, that long hair, and I wished I was down there. Wait, no I didn't. Yes I did. Damn it! I did.
Angrily, I turned away from the window and lay down on my bed. I opened the book and resumed my reading.
"There's nothing wrong with me! Why won't everyone just leave me alone!"
Daddy's face had a look of shock.
We were sitting in the study. He had just gotten home from work and Mother, true to her word, had told him about my outburst this morning.
"Christopher, this can't go on. We have to..."
"I'm not some kind of freak! There's nothing wrong with me! There's nothing..."
At that point, the stress of keeping my secret, the anger and shame of what had happened with Alex the previous evening, the frustration with everyone trying to figure out what was "wrong" with me, all peaked. I was standing before Daddy, who was seated at his desk. I fell to my knees and burst into tears, such tears as I had never shed. Daddy pulled me up and held me.
"Chrisser, Chrisser," he repeated over and over as I cried my heart out on his shoulder. I cried because I knew that if Daddy knew my secret, he couldn't possible hug me this way ever again.
Soon, my tears subsided and I just stood there, leaning against my father, his arms holding me up.Daddy pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped my eyes and nose and then handed it to me. I blew my nose and smiled forlornly at him. He smiled sadly back at me. Gently, he stood up and quietly said, "Let's go eat."
Dinner was a quiet affair. Mother kept looking at me out of the corner of her eye, as did Brian. Daddy played the politician and kept the conversation going.
"Oh, Helen, you won't believe what happened at work today! That new minister, the one who bought that old bar on the southside and is turning it into a church?"
Mother raised an eyebrow in disapproval,
"He came by the courthouse wanting to know who we had prosecuted for alcohol and drug related offenses and, get this, morals offenses."
Mother raised her other eyebrow, this time in surprise.
"What in the world is he wanting with all this for?"
"He says he wants to help me clean up the community. I told him that I appreciated his concern but that I had everything under control. I sent him down to the County Clerk for any information that is publicly available."
"The nerve. Some outsider moving in like that and announcing he's going to clean up our community. As if there's a a problem in Clarkesville."
Daddy swallowed his bite of meat loaf.
"I think this man might be dangerous. I think I'm going to do a little checking up on him and find out why he's just suddenly chosen Clarkesville to make his home. Heck, we don't even know what denomination he belongs to!"
I had eaten the last bite of corn and looked up, speaking for the first time since Daddy asked me to say Grace. "May I be excused now?"
"Yes, you may," Daddy replied. "Tell you what, why don't you and I go for a walk in a minute."
I smiled with resignation as Brian called out, "Can I go, too?"
Daddy ruffled my brother's hair.
"Not this time, but when I get back, you and I can play a fierce game of Stratego. How's that?"
"Alright! That's cool. I guess you wanna find out why Chris is acting so weird."
My shoulders slumped as I stood beside my chair. Slowly I pushed it in and picked up my dishes. As I walked into the kitchen, Daddy said, "No, Brian. Its just been a long time since I've had a chance to talk man-to-man with my eldest son."
"Oh," Brian replied, sounding impressed.
It was only a few minutes later when seated on the edge of the front porch, I heard Daddy open the screen door.
"Hi," I said.
I stood up as Daddy came up to me. We both walked down the steps to the walkway and then to the sidewalk. Stopping there, Daddy turned to me and said, "Which way?"
I looked a little confused, I suppose, because Daddy added, "You decide. Where are we going?"
"Well, I dunno. I.. um... I don't really care. Anywhere, I guess."
The locusts were singing again as Daddy smiled and looked around. He had removed his tie and opened the top button. He had even rolled up his sleeve, something a gentleman would never do. He took a quarter out of his pocket and said, "Let's let chance decide where we go."
He grinned and so did I.
"Heads left, tails right."
He handed it to me and I flipped. Tails. We turned right and headed east.
We had crossed Union and were on the south side of the park. Daddy had his hands in his pockets as he casually looked around at the trees, at the zinnias and marigolds in the yards we passed, at the clouds in the sky.
"I think its going to rain tomorrow," he said.
"Because of all those big clouds moving in from the northwest. Must be a front approaching."
I nodded sagely and we continued on.
"You know," Daddy continued, "I remember this park before the rec center was built. That's where old Judge MacCauley used to give his Fourth of July speeches."
"Not at the bandstand?"
"Nope. He had a special stand built just for him every year. Right there." he pointed to the south end of the rec center."
"Were the tank and the steam engine there?"
"Well, the steam engine was, but the tank wasn't added until a couple of years after World War Two ended. I was in high school then."
I nodded and we continued onward. Daddy wasn't saying anything. It was strange. He was just happy, looking around, enjoying the summer evening.
We crossed College Avenue and were across the street from St. Andrews. We looked over at the ivy covered red bricked and the huge old stained glass windows.
"Our family has a lot of history in that church," he said.
I didn't respond, just smiled and listened as we strolled on.
"Your grandparents were married there, I was baptised and confirmed there. You're mother and I were married there. Yep, it sure has a lot of memories."
One of the pictures on the wall in Daddy's study was one of him as the crucifer for the Christmas Eve service when he was 17, back in 1948. He was holding the crucifix and there were two younger boys at his side holding the tapers, and Father Partridge's predecessor, old Dr. McKinley was standing behind them with his hand on Daddy's shoulder. Daddy looked so proud in the picture.
"Yeah, a lot of history in this town," Daddy remarked as we crossed Market Avenue. "A lot of things have happened to a lot of people over the years."
The hum of air conditioners competed with the singing of the locusts as we strolled toward The Avenue, as we all referred to Clarkesville Avenue, the main north-south street in town. Daddy occasionally waved at someone in their yard. We stopped for a moment while he chatted with an old man who, I guess, Daddy had mowed his lawn for back in the Depression. When we reached The Avenue, Daddy pulled out his quarter again. I flipped. Tails again. We turned south.
There wasn't a lot of traffic on The Avenue. There never was during the summer. The high school kids all dragged Fourth Street, where the Tastee Freeze and Dairy Queen were. At the corner of Ninth, we stopped in front of Ziggy's Ice Cream Parlor.
"Want a dip?"
"Um, yeah. Sure!"
It was freezing in Ziggy's. The transition from the pleasant evening heat to the frigid air conditioning inside was quite a shock. Ziggy's son, Todd, was standing behind the counter flirting with a couple of girls. Daddy cleared his throat, but Todd either couldn't hear over the hum of the refrigerated coolers, or he was too engrossed in his romantic pursuits to notice. Daddy coughed a little louder. That got Todd's attention and he blushed and ran over to us.
"Um, sorry Mr. Conrad. What can I do you for?"
Daddy grinned and order a lime sherbet for himself and German chocolate for me. As he paid and Todd gave him his change, he grinned and winked.
Todd grinned back and returned to the girls at the end of the counter.
I thought it was neat that I had a dad who was so cool. And, then, a felt the sadness return as I realized he would probably never see me flirt with a girl like Todd was.
As we stood on the corner, licking our ice cream cones, Daddy turned back to the west on Ninth and said, "You know, I used to come here when Todd's dad was the one flirting with the girls at the counter and it was his dad who ran the place."
"You mean Todd's grandfather is Ziggy?"
"History. Everyone's got a history. Everyone's family has a history. Everything that could happen has happened. There's nothing that something can think or feel that someone else hasn't thought or felt. Well, that's not completely true. There are the great geniuses who move society forward, but, in general, you can bet if someone has a fear or a hope or whatever, someone else has been there, too. And, they survived it."
Ah, OK. I knew there was going to be point to all this.
Daddy leaned forward suddenly to avoid a drop of lime sherbet falling from the cone onto his shirt.
"Chrisser, have you ever heard of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche?"
"Um, wasn't he like a Nazi?"
Daddy took another lick of his sherbet. I took a bite of my ice cream.
"No. He was dead before the Nazi's came to power. They adopted and perverted some of his philosophy. But, he did say something which I have found useful in life."
We walked on a bit and I guessed he was waiting for me to respond.
"Yes, he did."
We crossed Market again and when we reached the other side, Daddy said, "Nietzsche said, 'That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.'"
We walked on until we came to my grandmother's house, the house that Daddy grew up in, a big house a lot like the one we lived in just a couple of blocks away. We stood next to a huge old oak that had grown so big that its roots had forced the sidewalk squares apart and cracked the concrete. It was the oak that Daddy had fallen out of when he was nine and broken his left arm. Grandma was leaning over the white wooden fence chatting with her neighbor and hadn't seen us approach.
Daddy turned to me and said, "Chrisser, whatever is going on, it is not something many others haven't gone through just like you. It might even be something I've gone through. Nonetheless, remember. You will get through this and it will make you stronger. And, wiser."
He smiled at me and squeezed my shoulder.
Unfortunately, he didn't notice the sherbet dripping on his shirt.I pointed to it and when Daddy looked down, he cringed.
"Oh, crap." He then looked fearfully toward Grandma, who had noticed us and was walking over. I loved it when Grandma spoke to Daddy the same way Mother spoke to me!
"Oh, Ted! Look at that! You're dripping all over that shirt! My, goodness. That shirt's from Friedenbach's! Oh, come here."
She grabbed Daddy's hand and pulled him up the driveway.
"Mom, I take it to the cleaners. It'll be OK."
"Oh, they can't get that out. I know what to do."
"Mom, I'm forty-one years-old. I'm the District Attorney, for Pete's sake!"
"I don't care! Don't talk back. Now come here."
Daddy looked back at me and rolled his eyes the very same way Brian and I would roll our eyes at Mother. I cracked up and Daddy grinned.
"See?" he said. "We've all been there."
And, so ends Chapter Four. I hope you are enjoying the story. Please send your comments to FreeThinkerCG at yahoo.com. I would really like to hear from you.