W.A.R. Part Seven - Dustin's World
Chapter Ten - The Revelation in the Rain
by Jeff Wilson
The gentle rain had turned into a downpour by the time Dustin reached the highway after leaving Sarah's neighborhood. Between the rain and his tears, Dustin was having a terrible time seeing anything. He swerved a few times but managed to keep himself upright for most of his journey. But as the rain fell harder, Dustin's sense finally convinced him to pull off the road and wait for the rain to dissipate. He parked the bike along a sharp curve in the road and began to sob. All of the emotions of the day let loose.
"I can't do it," Dustin said aloud in his moment of despair. "I can't deal with this."
As Dustin sat on the side of the road, a car drove past him at a high rate of speed. It hit a large puddle in the road. Dustin watched as the water rose high in the air as if in slow motion and then doused him with a tremendous splash, soaking him to the bone from head to toe. To Dustin, it was as if God himself had taken a bucket of icy cold, dirty water and thrown it over him in one final insult. Dustin sighed.
"I hate life," he said quietly to himself. He turned toward the sky. "You hear me up there? I hate my life! I hate it! I wish I'd never been born!"
Dustin got off his bike and kicked it over.
"Do you hear me up there, you sick sadistic son of a bitch?!?" Dustin shouted at the sky. I hate this fucking life! I hate everybody and everything! And I hate you too! Where were you when I was raped?!? Where were you when my dad beat the shit out of me year after year? Where the fuck were you when they killed my child?!? Huh?!?! Answer me, asshole!"
Dustin grabbed a handful of rocks and began flinging them toward the sky.
"How do you like it, huh? How the fuck do you like it?!? You took a big giant shit on my life! I thought you were supposed to be loving and merciful! You're nothing but a sick fucking bastard! I hate you! I fucking hate you! Do you hear me goddamnit!?!? Hit me with a fucking lightning bolt! Run me over with a truck! I don't give a fuck anymore!"
Dustin dropped to his knees and sank into the mud. He found a large rock and dug it out of the dirt. It was too heavy to heave toward the heavens, so Dustin hit himself in the face with it until he started to bleed from his forehead. The red liquid poured down his face, and Dustin could taste his blood. He dropped down to his hands and knees and bawled. He could no longer even form the words to express his sorrow and anger.
Slowly, he rose up to his feet.
"Why didn't you let me die?" he sobbed. "Why didn't you just let me die?"
Dustin walked toward the road and stood in the middle of the rain soaked highway.
"I shouldn't even be here! I should be dead and in hell! And hell would be an improvement over the life I've had! Do you enjoy torturing me? Do you like making my life a living hell? I'll bet you thought it was funny, didn't you? I'll bet you've been having a good laugh! Let's let the dumb fucker think he's going to die and then bring him back for more shit! Let's let him think he's going to be a father and then yank his chain again! Let him think his life might actually be worth something and then take it all away and remind him that he's really shit! I'm so fucking pathetic! I'm never going to be anything. My whole life has been for nothing! It's all been worthless! Nobody will even miss me when I'm gone! All I've done is fuck people like a stupid dumb animal! I fuck and fuck and fuck but nobody loves me! Nobody cares!"
In his ranting, Dustin had wandered all the way to the other side of the road.
"Craig..." Dustin said to himself. "Craig has a gun... I'll show you. I'll show everybody."
Dustin looked around, finally realizing where he was and wondering how he'd gotten himself on the wrong side of the road. He only then realized he'd kicked his bike over.
"Great... Look what you made me do," Dustin said. He began to walk back across the road to his bike. Suddenly, a very large truck came around the corner. With the wet road conditions, there was no time for the driver to hit the brakes. Dustin closed his eyes and braced for impact. He was a goner for sure. But at the last possible second, the truck swerved, coming so close that the passenger-side mirror smacked Dustin in the shoulder. The driver didn't even blast the horn until the truck had passed Dustin by.
"Whoa..." Dustin gasped. He rubbed his shoulder, amazed to still be standing. He'd come that close to being smashed to bits right there in the middle of the road. There was no way the driver of the truck could have seen him and swerved to miss him in time. He should have been dead. The rain was beginning to let up and Dustin walked back to his bike and pulled it upright. It was covered in mud, but the rain would wash some of it off. In a daze, he started the bike, and began to ride. He'd intended to go back to his apartment, so he wasn't quite sure how he'd ended up back in his old hometown of Donora. Confused and still reeling from everything that had happened that night, he rode to the house where his best friend Billy had grown up.
Billy's mom and stepdad still lived in the quiet neighborhood near the woods that connected Billy and Dustin's houses. The boys had spent a lot of time up in those hills. Dustin could be blindfolded and dropped in those woods and he would be able to find his way around. Billy's house had been more like a home than his house had ever been. Covered with mud and blood, he pulled the bike into the driveway. He was still in a daze and didn't even notice the extra vehicles parked in the driveway. He knocked on the front door. He didn't even know what he was doing there, let alone what he was going to say.
When the door opened, Billy's mom almost screamed in alarm. "Oh my god, Dustin! What happened to you?!?" she exclaimed when she saw the blood and mud-covered young man.
"I... I wrecked my bike," Dustin said. It wasn't entirely true, but it was close enough.
Paula immediately went into `nurse-mode,' examining Dustin's head wound and checking him for broken bones. She worried that he had a concussion and that his shoulder was bruised very badly.
"You're lucky you weren't killed riding around in this rain!"
"You didn't have to ride over here," Billy said. "You should have called. I'd have come and got you."
It took Dustin a moment to realize that Billy was even there. He hadn't lived at his parents' house in three years. He didn't even have time to ask before Billy had brought him into the bathroom and began helping him strip out of his wet clothes. Dustin was down to his underwear before he even knew what happened.
"You go ahead and get a shower," Billy said. "I've still got some clothes I keep around here. The pants might be short, but everything else should fit you. When you're finished, just grab a towel and come over to my old room."
Once Billy had left the bathroom, Dustin stripped off his wet underwear and stepped into the shower Billy had prepared for him. He soaked under the spray of the hot water for a long time. Dirt and blood melted off his body and swirled around the drain. He felt better as he got cleaner. He was still bleeding from his forehead when he finished his shower, but not as badly. He slapped a bandage on the wound and went to Billy's room where a set of fresh clothes was laid out for him on the bed. He was thankful for the fresh pair of underwear! Billy was only a couple inches shorter than Dustin, so everything fit okay.
Billy's old room still had his bed and a chest of drawers in it, but it had mostly become a storage space for Billy's mom. Dustin was still trying to reconcile the woman who Billy had been so afraid of discovering he was gay with the woman who not only marched in but now helped organize marriage equality rallies and parades. He laughed at the "love is love" and "marriage is a civil right" banners which were printed on rainbow colored backgrounds. Dustin loved being back in Billy's house again. It always made him feel safe, and it did once again even after three years had passed since he'd been there.
All his life, Dustin had looked at Billy's family with a sense of longing. Billy's dad had been an awesome man. Everyone was grieved when he died. Dustin didn't know Paula's new husband all that well, but he'd seemed like an okay guy even if Billy hadn't liked him at first. Billy never had to worry about whether there would be enough to eat, or if he would come home to get his ass beat for something stupid like getting an A on a test. Dustin had to tighten the belt Billy had given him to the last notch and it still wasn't tight enough to properly hold up the loose pants he'd been given. Billy wasn't even that much heavier than Dustin, but it was just another reminder that Billy had been taken care of so much better than Dustin had been. He looked at himself in the mirror wearing Billy's clothes. He'd always wished he could have been Billy growing up, instead of himself. He wondered how much of the attraction he'd always felt for Billy was actually about the life Billy had rather than about Billy himself. Dustin wondered how he would look in those clothes if he'd not been hungry most of his life. His body wore the scars of years of neglect. He remembered how he'd gone out and ate nothing but ice cream and chocolate chip cookies for two weeks when he first moved out on his own, and how he'd almost crapped himself to death because his body couldn't handle it.
Dustin was about to go back into the living room when a picture on Paula's table caught his eye. It was a picture of a large family. Dustin found Billy and Brett and Paula and her husband right away, but he was surprised to see someone else he recognized. Someone he'd just seen earlier that day. Luke Cunningham. He grabbed the picture and took it with him to the living room. It was only then that he saw Brett sitting on the couch looking like he'd lost his best friend.
"What's going on?" Dustin asked.
"I thought that's why you came over here," Billy said. "I left a message on your cell phone."
"I lost my cell phone. I just happened to be in the neighborhood," Dustin said.
"Oh," Paula said. "Maybe you and Billy should go talk for a minute..."
"It's okay Paula," Brett said. "Joey's dead." Brett's eyes brimmed with tears as the words left him.
"Oh my god!" Dustin exclaimed. "What happened?"
"What do you think happened?" Brett replied. "I found him this morning in his apartment."
"Oh dude..." Dustin said. "I'm so sorry!"
"The coroner said he probably died some time yesterday evening. Fucking heroin..." Brett cursed. "He was just laying there on the bed. Like he was sleeping, but he was all cold and pale... Fuck I knew I should have called him yesterday! I was just so sick of having to bail him out and now he's gone forever. I'd give anything to bail him out again." Brett tried to keep himself together, but he couldn't. Very quickly he was surrounded by Paula on one side and Billy on the other, who held his hand and put his arm around Brett's shoulders. Dustin felt horrible that a twinge of jealousy surged through him for a brief second.
"I keep seeing him just laying there, cold and lifeless. Snuffed out like a candle by something so fucking stupid," Brett began to regain his composure.
"I just can't believe he's gone," Billy's mom sighed. "Only twenty-one years old. He had his whole life ahead of him. Such a waste."
Dustin sat quietly in a chair. He couldn't help but wonder what the reaction would have been if that truck hadn't just missed him. Would the family in front of him have been rocked just as deeply?
"What's with the picture?" Brett asked. Dustin had almost forgotten all about it.
"Oh... I just... I saw someone in this picture I know from school." Dustin showed Paula the picture and pointed to Luke.
"That was from our Cunningham family reunion last year. That boy is Lucas Cunningham. His grandfather is my uncle. He and Billy are second cousins."
"Yeah, and you won't believe who he's dating!" Billy said.
"Nate Stevens," Dustin answered before Billy could even say anything.
"Yeah," Billy replied, sounding disappointed that Dustin had ruined his shocking news. "How do you know that?"
"It's a long story," Dustin replied.
"I think that's his way of saying he fucked your cousin," Brett said.
"Brett, language!" Paula gently scolded. "You didn't, did you?" she asked Dustin.
"Well..." Dustin replied.
"Oh Dustin..." Paula sighed. "What are we going to do with you?"
Billy looked at the picture and laughed. "He does kind of look like me."
"Yeah, but he's not the issue," Dustin said bashfully.
"Sounds to me like you boys are about to talk about things I'd rather not know too much about!" Paula said. She started to leave the room but stopped and put her hand on Dustin's shoulder. "It is good to see you again, Dustin. It's been too long. You should stop by more often." After she left, Dustin turned to see two eager-looking guys waiting for him to speak.
"Is this really the best time to talk about my sex life?" Dustin asked.
"You fucked my cousin," Billy replied. "And apparently his boyfriend too."
"Yeah, hearing the story behind that one will help me with my grief," Brett said.
"No. Dude, your brother just died. I'm not going to turn this day into a discussion of my life."
"I'll bet you a hundred dollars he's in love with one of them," Brett said to Billy.
"I'm not taking that bet! He's obviously in love with one of them! We should bet on which one it is, and my money's on Luke."
"No way! It's obviously Nate. Did you hear the way he said his name?"
"Guys, I'm not in love with anybody!"
"You're on!" Billy said. "Fifty bucks goes to the winner."
"Guys, I'm really not in love! The whole situation is fucked up! Look, I just found out Sarah had an abortion."
"And that surprises you?" Billy asked.
"No, dude," Brett scolded his partner. "Dude, it was Dustin's baby she aborted."
Billy was confused. "No, that would mean Dustin had to sleep with her."
Brett and Dustin both watched as the realization slowly dawned on Billy's face.
"Oh... OH!!! Ewwww... Dude, you fucked that skank?"
"Yeah. Boy, you really can keep a secret, Brett! I thought for sure you'd tell him." Dustin said.
"When I promise someone I'll do something, I do it," Brett replied. "I'm more concerned about you right now. You okay?"
"Not really. There's a lot going on right now. My dad wants to kick my mom out of the house and live at home again. He's kicked my ass twice now since he's been back. I hoped that Sarah would be someone I could talk to, but we turned that into a fuck-fest. And then, to top it off, Nate has AIDS."
"So what?" Billy said. "They have lots of ways to manage it nowadays."
"No... The poor guy can't afford treatments. That means he's going to die in like a few months."
"Tell me you used a condom when you fucked him," Brett said.
Dustin didn't reply.
Brett scowled. "Jesus, you're such an idiot!"
"Please don't yell at me," Dustin replied.
"Dude, you have to get tested. You can't go around spreading it if you have it. And if that Nate guy has it and didn't tell you, then he's a real asshole!"
"He's not an asshole! He's had a really rough life! You don't know what he's been through."
"Oh shit!" Billy sighed.
"What?" Dustin asked.
Billy pulled out his wallet and handed Brett fifty dollars. "I don't know why I even bother betting against you. Looks like somebody's in love with the preacher's kid."
"No, guys... I'm not in love with him. I just understand him, that's all! He's a lot like me."
"He's a douchebag who let you fuck him without telling you he's positive," Brett snapped. "Dude, I'm telling you, you need to get tested right away. You can't play around with this shit! This is serious. If you're positive, it's not the end of the world. I know lots of guys who are poz. It's not fun, but it's manageable. And don't even think about telling me you can't afford it. You know we'll make it work."
"I couldn't ask you to do that," Dustin said.
"You don't have to ask," Brett replied. "But first things first, you need that test."
"I appreciate you guys wanting to help me, but seriously, don't bother. You guys are going to get out of this black hole of a town and be happy. You'll do your music therapy and help little kids, Brett. And you'll have your numbers and accounting stuff, Billy. But more than that, you'll have each other. I've got nothing. My past is shit, my present is fucked up, and I have no future. I'll be lucky if I'm not in jail by the end of the year, and then I'll get sick and die. I'd have been better off if I'd died when you found me in the woods."
"That's bullshit and you know it," Brett snapped. "God, I can't take this. Dude, Joey fucking threw his life away on poison and you're bitching because you might have to take some pills for the rest of your life!"
"Fuck you. Just... Fuck you. That's all. Fuck you. Give me the keys to your motorcycle," Brett insisted.
"What? Why?" Billy asked.
Dustin handed Brett the keys. Brett grabbed his jacket and went to the door. "I need like a half hour or so to myself so I don't punch you in the fucking face right now."
"So you're taking my keys so I can't leave?" Dustin asked.
"No, I'm taking your goddamned bike," Brett insisted. "I'll be back."
"Brett!" Billy exclaimed. "You can't ride that thing! Remember what happened last time?"
"Thirty minutes," Brett replied. He slipped out the door before anyone else could say a word. The boys heard the bike's engine fire up, and they watched from the window as Brett rode down the street. Billy and Dustin looked at each other.
"He's taking this really hard," Billy said.
"I haven't made it any better. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have come over here. Shit... I wish he hadn't taken the bike. I don't want to make things worse for him when he gets back."
"Oh, it's only going to get worse when his mom and Jack make it back. I am not looking forward to that."
"He'll be okay. You'll be there for him."
"Yeah. It's just, I'm not good at this kind of stuff. Like, to me, it's completely logical that we would eventually be in this situation. Joey was getting worse and worse. Brett did everything he could to help him, but Joey didn't want helped. It was a big waste of time! I knew it was only a matter of time until he fucked up."
"Yeah, but Brett doesn't need to know how right you were, or to have you tell him that he was wasting his time on Joey. He just needs you to be there to support him."
"I know that. I mean, I was right, but..."
"Billy!" Dustin exclaimed.
"I wouldn't say that in front of Brett! I'm autistic, not stupid."
"You're not autistic," Dustin replied, laughing.
"Dude, I've got papers to prove it and everything now."
Dustin stopped laughing. "Oh my god, you're serious aren't you?"
"Yeah," Billy replied. "I mean it's mild but I'm definitely `on the spectrum,' as they say."
"Wow, it's like twenty years of putting up with you finally make sense."
"Does it change the way you think of me?" Billy asked.
"No way!" Dustin replied. "Well, maybe a little bit... But no, it makes sense. I guess I should have always known. It doesn't change the way I feel about you though."
"Good. It'd be the same way for me if you found out you're positive. We'd all still love you. Brett's right though, you need to get tested so you'll know for sure, and so you can get it under control."
"That would make it the only thing in my life that's under control," Dustin sighed.
"Yeah, I mean if you're slumming it with Sarah you've obviously hit bottom."
"Dude, that's not cool. Why do you have to always tear people down like that? Sarah was nice to me. I'm the one who fucked it all up. I fuck up everything. I don't deserve to be a father. Not after everything I've done."
"And you think I tear people down? Have you heard the way you talk about yourself?"
"No it's not! What have you done, Dustin? You've had a lot of sex. It's not like you murdered anybody or you go out and hurt people."
"It's not that simple. I have hurt people. I've slept with guys I shouldn't have. Done things I shouldn't have. I've slept with people's husbands and boyfriends. I haven't cared about any of them!"
"Until now," Billy suggested.
Dustin sighed. "Yeah, until now. I had no business fucking either Nate or Luke. Nate told me he had a boyfriend and I still fucked him. I knew Luke was Nate's boyfriend. I fucked them both, knowing I was going to cause harm to their relationship. I shouldn't have done it."
"Dustin, its not your responsibility to save someone else's relationship. They chose to cheat on each other."
"Whatever... I guess I deserve whatever happens to me. I'm kind of like Joey. I keep playing Russian Roulette with my dick. I'm bound to get something eventually."
"Dude, you keep talking like you deserve something bad to happen to you just because you like sex."
"Something bad has already happened. And more bad things are bound to happen. God hates me. That's why all this is happening to me."
"Or maybe you just had a bad childhood and it's caused you to make some poor decisions in your life. You can blame some imaginary dude up in the sky for all your problems or you can grow a set and do something about it starting tonight."
"What does it even matter? Everybody would be better off if I'd never been born."
"Do you really believe that? Because that sounds like your father talking, not you."
"Well maybe my father was right. He's not the only one who seems to think the world would be better off without me."
"Dude, do you see how fucked up Brett is right now? That's how he was the night you tried to kill yourself last time. That's how I was. That's how I'd be if you tried it again. Quit talking like that. I don't want to go through that again. If you can't do it for yourself, do it for me."
Dustin sighed, but stopped himself from bringing up how pointless his life was again. As the evening went on, Billy's mom offered the boys some food. Dustin wasn't much in the mood for eating, but he appreciated the good food which Paula gave him. It was almost an hour before Brett returned.
"I was starting to get worried about you," Billy said.
"Sorry babe. Anyway, I've had time to think about things. I'm going to take you to get that test first thing in the morning tomorrow, Dustin. You need to know the truth. You're going whether you want to or not, so don't even think about arguing with me."
"I guess," Dustin replied.
"Good. You deserve to know what you're dealing with. And another thing, I better never hear you talking about how people would be better off if you were dead. That's fucking bullshit. My brother just died and I don't need to hear you bitching about throwing your fucking life away just because you might get sick. You have people who love you, so shut the fuck up about doing anything stupid. You start talking about suicide again and I'll not only kick your ass, I'll have you committed. I know how to do it, so don't fuck with me. You understand me, Dustin?"
"Yeah," Dustin replied.
"There's a lot of people who love you and care about you, whether you realize it or not. We haven't given up on you, don't you give up either. I swear if you even think about hurting yourself I will never forgive you."
Dustin smiled. "You won't forgive me? Are you trying to say you might like me just a little bit?"
"Let's just say I'd be really pissed off if you tried something stupid," Brett replied.
"Okay, I'll take the stupid test. It's not going to change anything though."
"No," Brett replied. "It won't change what really matters, but it is important."
As Dustin returned to his apartment late that night, he felt better than he had in a long time. His mind had never been more clear as he sat at his computer and worked on his paper.
"I'll take Brett's stupid little AIDS test. And after that, I'll get Craig's gun..."
Putting the band back together again, but is it too late? We'll find out! You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Next time - The Answer in the Blood