W.A.R. Part Six - Commencement
Chapter Five - An Outing at Church
by Jeff Wilson
The first month after my diagnosis was harder for everyone else than it was for me. Brett was supportive, as usual, but he acted like he was going to break me every time we were together. Was I okay? Did I need to eat? Had I taken my insulin? What were my numbers? One day I just told him it was none of his damn business what my numbers were and that he was my boyfriend not my nurse.
“I just don’t want you to get sick,” he insisted.
“Dude, I feel fine. Quit treating me like I’m made of fucking glass. I actually feel better than I have in months.”
And that was the truth. It didn’t take long for daily shots and frequent blood testing to become as routine as brushing my teeth. The counter of my bathroom quickly became cluttered with discarded needles, testing strips, and used up insulin pens. Within a few weeks, my energy began to come back. After about a month, I had gained back ten pounds, which was a much healthier weight for me.
Funny how people finding out you’re sick gives them a new perspective on the interactions you’ve had with them. Em had been so pissed off at me after I’d told her off at my mom’s wedding that she’d barely talked to me in weeks. But once she found out that I was sick she was the one apologizing!
“Please quit telling me you’re sorry, Em,” I told her. “I really was being a dick to you that day.”
“But if I’d have known you were really sick, I wouldn’t have been such a bitch to you!” she replied, her eyes brimming with tears.
“How would I have been able to tell the difference from the way you normally treat me?” I asked.
One thing I learned through everything is that you don’t realize how sick you were until you feel good again. Almost immediately after getting on insulin I stopped drinking so much water and I stopped having to pee so often. I stopped waking up in cold sweats at night and I never pissed the bed again. I learned all about counting calories, and I learned how to eat more healthily. I could still eat things that were “bad” for me, like ice cream and pizza. I just had to calculate the carbs and sugar and adjust my insulin accordingly. Being type-one diabetic became something of a math game for me. It was all about numbers, and that made it easier because I do enjoy numbers.
In November, I got my insulin pump, my new best friend. One stick in the leg or belly every couple of days instead of several sticks in the belly was a pretty good deal. They were working on a model that could both monitor my blood and give me the proper dosage of insulin, but that kind of technology was still a few years away. It would be like having a fully functional pancreas again! I learned how to sleep with the thing, and I could unhook the insulin tube that ran from my injection site to the pump so I didn’t have to have sex with it. Brett even gave my pump a name – Navi, like the fairy from Legend of Zelda, because it was always with me.
“Are you going to tell Navi to take a hike before I fuck you?” he’d ask if I would forget to unhook my pump when we were being intimate. After all, nothing killed the mood like having to untangle a small plastic tube from around your balls, or worse, having the injector get ripped out of your leg in the middle of getting laid. But we learned quickly.
Mom was super-helpful in those first few months. Our relationship was better in those months than it had been since I was a little boy. She finally had a diabetic who would listen to her advice and enjoy eating the food she made. Dad never wanted to listen. After all, he’d been a diabetic for years before he met mom. Having someone to take care of seemed to give my mom a renewed sense of purpose. Thanks to her, I was in the best shape of my life. By December, I was a comfortable one hundred thirty pounds instead of a sickly one hundred ten pounds. I was stronger than ever, and the increased muscle mass I gained really helped me to look good. I didn’t look so scrawny anymore. Brett just loved the way I was getting into shape. He couldn’t keep his hands off me when we got together!
Oh, and I even cleaned my room.
School couldn’t have gone any better. It felt like a fog had lifted in my brain. I was thinking more clearly, and was more energetic in class. That was good, because my coursework was some of the most challenging yet. We had a new history teacher named Mr. Hartley who seemed to be determined to make the lives of his students miserable. He assigned ungodly amounts of reading and his tests seemed deliberately over-complicated. He seemed to take it personally that I was doing so well in his class despite his best efforts. If I hadn’t recovered my health, I probably wouldn’t have succeeded in his class. What made it even worse was that he made it sound like every answer I gave in class was idiotic, but everything Sarah Taylor or Joey said was like Jesus Christ himself had said it. But when it came time for written work and tests, I proved that I knew my stuff better than anyone in the class.
Mom was happy that I was feeling better, but she was especially happy that I was in a better mood. I know I hadn’t been the easiest person to live with through the last year. I guess since I was dying it made more sense why I had acted the way I did. Since my diagnosis, things had dramatically improved. I was still a dick to the vanilla douche, but not viciously so. To his credit, David didn’t try to be my dad. He didn’t try to be my friend or anything like that. He just was there. It wouldn’t have mattered who my mom married, I wouldn’t have liked them.
Mom occupied her time with church activities. She was succeeding in gaining a place in the upper circles of the church, attending dinner meetings with influential people like Jack and Heather McKenzie, becoming a member on various social committees, and becoming even closer to Pastor Carl. She had become someone that people wanted to be seen with, instead of someone trying to be seen with others. She was planning the big Christmas Eve party at the church, just like the ones my grandma had hosted years ago, only now, with the church’s backing, it would be bigger and better.
Thankfully, she didn’t bother me about going to church very often. Even though we were getting along better, there was still the whole gay thing that she wasn’t happy about. I think she thought I would cause some kind of scene if I went to church with her. It wasn’t like I was going to show the old church ladies my nipple ring, or expound upon the finer points of anal sex. I could behave myself if I wanted. My sex life was something I kept private, not because of mom’s reputation, but because it was my business and nobody else’s. If people knew Brett and I were boyfriends, that was fine with me. I didn’t want to have some big coming out moment. I just wanted to quietly love my boyfriend as best I could and stay out of stupid political bullshit. But between the shabby way I dressed and my over two and a half years’ worth of hair, I just didn’t fit in with the type of crowd that my mom wanted to be seen around.
She was still convinced that I was going to be healed of the whole gay thing just like I’d miraculously recovered from my undiagnosed diabetes. It was a shame, really. The whole fragile peace we’d built between us was built on a foundation of lies that was unsustainable. She pretended that she wasn’t bothered that I was having sex with Brett. I pretended that it didn’t hurt me deeply that she wasn’t ready to fully accept me for who I was. All it would take is just the right push and the house of cards would come crashing down.
The crash started so innocently. It was the week before my birthday, Sunday, when mom asked me if I wanted to go with her to church. David had to work overtime that Sunday, and she didn’t want to go alone.
“It would really mean a lot to be if you would go with me, Billy,” mom said. “You haven’t been to church with me in so long. I know you have theological differences with Pastor Carl, but it’s just a kids’ program and Pastor Carl won’t even be preaching. If it makes you feel any better the McKenzie family is out of town this weekend, so Joe won’t be there. I know you don’t get along with him.”
I didn’t want to tell her that Joey wasn’t the reason I was afraid, but his father was. But since it seemed like all the reasons I wouldn’t want to go were out of the way, I agreed. After all, it was just a Christmas program. I wasn’t made of stone. Even though I would be eighteen in just a week, there was still the possibility of getting some decent Christmas presents if I gave my mom something to let her know that I was willing to play nicely with her friends. I even dressed up for the occasion. I picked out clothes that hadn’t been laying on the floor and pulled my hair back into a ponytail. I wasn’t going to wear a tie though. That would be going a bit too far for me.
Mom was happy that I was willing to go with her. I hadn’t stepped foot in her church since her wedding, and before that it had been over a year since I’d been there. Mom parked the car and we walked together into the building. It seemed there was always a construction project of some kind going on in the place – evidence of the church’s growth and financial success. The church displayed its opulence in lavish ornamental extravagance throughout the building. It looked like Christmas had exploded all over the place. The Christmas tree at the front of the church was the biggest I’d ever seen indoors, and it glistened and sparkled with about a billion lights and silver and gold decorations. Indulgent gold-decorated wreaths were arrayed upon the walls. Candles with electric bulbs were in every window. In the corners of the sanctuary, porcelain angels peered down upon us. At the front of the sanctuary on the stage a massive American flag was prominently displayed. The whole place just screamed that this was a place where wealth and power were welcomed, and that larger contributions would earn one a better seat.
I wondered if Jesus would have even been welcome in such a place.
Mom was in her glory, engaging in conversation with people who wanted to be seen with her, and they were people who looked like they could afford to buy cars more expensive than our house.
“Of course, I’m so excited we’ll have four more years with President Bush in the White House,” mom said solemnly to one of her friends. “I couldn’t imagine a man like John Kerry choosing our Supreme Court Justices.”
“Looks like this could be the Steelers’ year.” I heard someone say as I stopped paying attention to my mom’s political opinions.
“That Ben Rolfelsplinger kid they have at quarterback might be the real deal,” another man replied.
“If they can get past New England in the playoffs, they’ve got a real chance.”
Mom found me and led me to our seats. They were good ones too - Second row, right behind Pastor Carl. They had again been updated with newer ones with more padding and arm rests since the last time I’d been there. I settled into my seat and prepared for a nice Christmas program to save my soul and lead me back to Jesus. Before the program began, there were the usual announcements from the worship leader. It was like attending a pep rally for Christ.
“But before we begin, Pastor Carl has a few things he’d like to share with us this morning.”
I groaned. Pastor Carl rose from his seat in front of us to a round of applause and a microphone was handed to him. The people of the congregation moved to the edge of their seats and listened like lemmings with baited breath for Pastor Carl to begin speaking. Mom was practically glowing, she was so excited to hear Pastor Carl’s words. I sighed.
“Friends, you know I’ve been hard at work organizing resistance against the encroaching power of Satan against our nation. I spent this week in Harrisburg fighting to make sure that our state doesn’t become like Massachusetts and allow the abomination of so-called gay marriage to spread to our beautiful state of Pennsylvania. I’m working with our congressmen and senators to pass legislation that would make that kind of sick perversion not only illegal but punishable to the full extent of the law!”
The congregation erupted in joyous applause. I looked around me at hundreds of people who were so willingly eating up the minister’s words. His vile hatred for people like me just poured from his being like poison. I turned to mom, hoping beyond hope that maybe she would be the one person in that room who would understand just how hurtful the pastor’s words were. But it was too much to ask of her. It was all she could do to keep from jumping out of her seat and leading the cheering section.
Pastor Carl continued. “We’re going to get the perverts out of our government and get God back in! We’re going to get prayer back into our schools. We’re going to end abortion and all of the sick gay perversion. Just because we won the last Presidential election doesn’t mean we’ve won! The liberal media and the liberals in government are going to do everything they can to destroy our President and to make their disgusting perversion the law of the land. We have to fight for our freedom! We’re going to take our country back!”
More applause. This time, mom rose to her feet along with the legions of others around us in order to give Carl the accolades which fed is already overindulged ego. I sank further into my seat. I felt like a mouse trapped in a corner by a herd of cats.
“We won’t be saying ‘Happy Holidays’ around here anymore! We’re going to take back Christmas and defeat the liberal agenda that is infecting the other churches out there. We’re going to take back our schools from the homosexual agenda that is poisoning the minds of our children. I will never stop fighting to stop the forces of evil who steal away our precious children! I will not let the sinners and fornicators and Sodomites win this fight! I promise you, we’re going to expose the sin and wickedness in this town and drive it out in the name of Jesus Christ!”
Again, everyone rose to their feet and shouts of ‘Amen!’ filled the room. I stood up too, but it wasn’t to applaud.
“Fuck this, I’m out of here,” I said to mom.
Mom grabbed me by the arm. “Billy! What are you doing!?!?” Apparently no one had ever just got up and left in the middle of one of Pastor Carl’s rants, especially right in front of him.
“I’m not going to stay here and listen to this garbage,” I replied, loud enough for the people around us to hear, including Pastor Carl. I shook free from mom’s grip and began to leave.
“Billy please, don’t cause a scene,” mom insisted. But it was too late. A scene had been caused. Very quickly, it became obvious that somebody was not willing to go along with the program. The applause had died down, and people were noticing the really tall kid with long hair was tripping over people in the second row in an attempt to get to the hell out of that place with his mother close behind trying to bring him back to his seat.
Mom grabbed me just as I reached the aisle and spun me around.
“Don’t do this to me, Billy. Come on, let’s just sit back down.”
“No,” I insisted. “How about you come with me instead? Who do you love more, me or him?”
Pastor Carl walked toward us, his face full of concern. “Paula, is there a problem?” he asked, and because he still had the microphone in his hand his voice echoed over the sound system so everyone could hear.
“No,” mom replied. “There’s no problem!” She yanked me by the arm back toward my seat. “Billy please,” she begged.
“I’m not going to sit here and be insulted,” I insisted.
“Who is insulting you, Billy?” Pastor Carl asked.
“You really need to ask that, Carl?” I replied.
“If my words are offending you, I can assure you that’s not my intention. Come, let’s just sit back down and enjoy the program.”
“No!” I insisted. “I’ve had enough. Gay people aren’t your enemy! We have just as much right to love each other and get married and live without people threatening us as you do!”
“Why are you so full of hate, Billy? God already struck your health because of your wicked desires. You think it was a coincidence that you got sick after you started committing such heinous fornication with the Reilly boy? God is not mocked, Billy. Your mother has never stopped praying for you to turn away from your sin and to come to Jesus and be healed of your sickness. Why won’t you repent and let Christ take away those evil feelings?”
“My feelings aren’t evil. You are!” I replied. “You abandoned your son because of his feelings. You’re not a man of God. You’re a monster.”
Mom’s grip on my arm loosened. I shook her loose and began the longest walk of my life up the aisle of that church with every set of eyes in the place looking at me with such contempt that I worried that I wouldn’t make it out alive. It’s a long walk from the second row to the exit!
Well, if everybody didn’t know before, they certainly knew now that I was gay. But you know what? I didn’t care! In a way, I was kind of glad. I wasn’t going to hide anymore. I wasn’t going to be ashamed of myself because of who I loved. The truth had set me free.
It occurred to me in the parking lot that I didn’t have a way home. But it didn’t matter. I was ready to start walking. As I walked along the street toward home, a car pulled up behind me. I was expecting my mother, but it was just a kid from school who offered me a ride home. I gladly jumped in the car and was thankful for the ride.
As soon as I got home I called Brett’s cell phone.
“So, I hear we’re fucking each other,” Brett said when he answered the phone.
“What? Who told you?”
“Dude, it’s a small town. My phone blew up about fifteen minutes ago. I can’t believe you finally stood up to that guy!”
“Yeah, but now things are worse. Everybody’s going to find out.”
“And?” Brett asked.
“And people are going to know what we’re doing!”
“And?” he asked again.
“Brett, I’m serious!”
“So am I! How many times do I have to tell you? I’m not ashamed of our relationship one little bit! I love you.”
“I love you too, but still…”
“Billy, I know you’re scared. I know you think everything is going to blow up because of this. But it’s not. And even if it does, who cares? It’s all built on lies anyway. I don’t care what happens, as long as we’re together. I’ve never been so proud of you. You finally stood up to all of those liars and hypocrites. You finally stood up for us, but more importantly you stood up for yourself!”
“Well, I didn’t really have a choice. I had to do something.”
“Well, no matter what happens, just remember how much I love you. What does your mom think about all this?”
“I don’t know yet. Hell, by the end of the evening I may be staying with you guys. I think I just heard her pull in. You better get the spare room ready, just in case.”
“Okay. Just remember, I love you.”
“I know. I love you too. I’ll let you know how it goes.”
I hung up the phone and marched into the living room as mom came in from the garage.
“What the fuck was that?!?!” I asked.
“What the hell were you thinking?!?” mom asked at the same time.
“What was I thinking? Your fucking psychopath preacher just outed me to the whole fucking town!”
“That’s a lie! You were the one making a scene!”
“Me? Did you not hear the disgusting language he was using to describe your own kid?”
“What you’re doing is disgusting, Billy! I’ve been more than patient with you! But I can no longer ignore the filthy things you’re doing with that boy! It’s an abomination!”
“It’s just sex, mother! You were fucking David before you were married and you don’t hear me complaining.”
“That’s not even close to being the same thing! You’re having gay sex, Billy! It’s not just sex! It’s gay sex!”
“Yes! Of course I’m having gay sex! That’s the only kind of sex I want to have because I am gay!”
“Stop saying that! You’re not gay!”
“You could have fooled me! I could have sworn I had Brett’s dick in my ass just the other day! That was kind of gay!”
“Oh that’s hideous!” mom gagged. “How can you even say something like that?”
“Because it’s the truth! Brett and I don’t sit around reading poetry to each other, you know! We’re boyfriends. We have sex just like everybody else. We’re not doing anything wrong!”
“Yes you are! Man shall not lie with man as he lies with woman, Billy! What you are doing is sin! It’s wickedness and it has to stop!”
“I don’t believe in sin. I think the Bible is stupid and so is anyone who believes it. God isn’t real. There’s no such thing as sin because your stupid little book was written by people who were idiots and wanted to control everybody’s life.”
“I can’t believe you’re saying this! How can you not believe in God? That’s not the way we raised you!”
“Oh please, we went to church like twice a year, if that, before you fell all over yourself for Father Fuck-Face.”
“I don’t know what’s worse, you being an atheist or a f…”
“A what, mom? A faggot? Were you going to call me a faggot?”
“No… I was going to say a disrespectful little monster. What would your father say if he heard you talking like this?”
“Dad’s dead. And before he died he was happy for me and Brett. He wanted us to be happy together. You were always the one he was worried about. You’ve let that stupid preacher fuck up your head! You should be proud that I have someone who loves me, not angry with me!”
“Billy, I’m not angry with you. I’m sorry for you. You’re just confused, that’s all. You’re just confused and messed up. You’ve let that Reilly woman and that teacher of yours turn you against me! I knew I shouldn’t have let you be around a couple of lesbians. They’ve corrupted your mind!”
“You think Dr. Reilly is a lesbian?” I laughed. “Oh my god, that’s hilarious! Oh, if you only knew who Brett’s daddy is! I almost want to tell you just to see your face when you find out who it is! But I can assure you, Brett’s mom is quite straight. An adulteress, yeah, but not a lesbian. But then, I guess you’d think being a lesbian is worse than sleeping with somebody’s husband. Right?”
“In either case, I think you’ve proven my point. I don’t want you to be around her any longer. I forbid you from going over there. And I forbid you from seeing that boy of hers any more. This craziness has to end. And you are going to apologize to Pastor Carl for embarrassing him in front of his congregation.”
“Hell will freeze over before I ever apologize to that man. And you can’t forbid me from shit. I’m going to be eighteen next Sunday.”
“You still will be living in my house,” mom said.
“Not necessarily. Maybe I’ll go live with my boyfriend. Then we can fuck all the time!”
“You’re not moving in with him.”
“And how are you going to stop me?”
“Is Brett going to pay for your insulin? Is that woman going to pay for your doctor visits?”
“You would seriously not pay for my insulin?”
“You tell me. Are you going to do what I say or not?”
“So all that talk about us beating diabetes together… That was all just a lie right?”
“No, but I won’t allow my son to disrespect me and spit in my face when I’m paying to keep him alive. I’ve been more than fair, Billy. I will continue to let you live here, completely free, even after you graduate and until you go to college. You’ll be able to come back here and live at home during the summer. I’ll continue to pay for all your medical needs, even when you go to college. All of that is yours, if you choose to accept it. All I ask in return is that you do one thing. I want you to end this foolishness with that boy. Stay away from him, even at school. End it. Do we have a deal or not?”
“And if I say no?
“I don’t even want to go there. You said it yourself, you’re going to be eighteen in a week. If being forced to live on your own is the price you have to pay to put an end to this silly notion that you’re in love with that boy, then so be it.”
“Well, I guess this is goodbye then,” I replied. “I’ll pack my things.”
“Your things? You can have anything you bought with your own money, but that’s it. And I guess since my insurance is paying for that insulin pump you better leave that here too.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? Are you trying to kill me?”
“No! I’m trying to save you! Why can’t you understand that?”
“This is the most evil thing you’ve ever done. I guess I have no choice and I have to stay here if I want to live, but I don’t want to live without Brett, so here you go.”
I yanked the insulin tube loose from my leg, took Navi out of my pocket and laid it on the table. Then I walked out the door, never to return.
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Next time: The Resistance Begins