Hitching rides on A-1-A near the beach in Ft Lauderdale proves easy. The only drawback is the rides are short. They require some degree of awareness of why each driver picks me up. There are several offers to ‘party,’ meaning do drugs. I’m no longer ‘maintaining’ my Coral Gables high, turning down the offers. That means I’m dropped off quickly. Others are just curious as to why I’m not wearing shoes – just coming from the beach – or why a good-looking young man doesn’t have his own car – not a rich kid – or just being stared at too obsessively. I chalk it all up to road experience. I never refuse a ride, even when I feel uncomfortable. Not all rides are so bad. Often, it’s fun tooling along the beach highway, forgetting my problems and feeling free.
By late afternoon I make it to Cocoa Beach. The afternoon thunderstorm pelts down rain. I duck under an overpass, coming face to face with a bunch of kids my age. They look at me, bare-foot and soaked, and laugh. I know I fit in. I still have the joints Vic gave Tommy and me. I spark one up and pass it around. Good to be just a kid again, sharing a joint while we wait out the rain.
“Where y’all from, boy? Y’ain’t from ’round here.”
“I’s from a little town in Central Florida. My daddy let me take off once the crops was in.”
“Country boy. I thoughts so from the skunk weed yer sharin’.”
“Yeah. I smoked some Ganja last night. Blowed me away. I see ya gots a guitar,” I observe, looking at a beaten up acoustic by a backpack.
“Y’all kin play?
“An’ I sings,” picking it up and starting to tune it, which is badly needed.
“Whatcha wants me ta play?” I ask.
“Ya knows Skynyrd?”
“Jist a bit. How’s ‘bout this one,” and I start playing ‘Simple Kind of Man.’
They all join in at the chorus:
‘And be a simple kind of man
Oh, be something you love and understand
Baby be a simple kind of man
Oh, won’t you do this for me, son, if you can’
Songwriters: VAN ZANT, RONNIE / ROSSINGTON, GARY ROBERT
Simple Man lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group
Of course, I know all the songs they like. They also like singing along. It helps that they break out their stash of Colombian Gold.
“Man, that really expands,” I say while we take a break to get high.
“Ya really kin play, man. Ya gots to be in band. Right?”
“My band’s broke up. I started another, The Hillbilly Brothers, but my pardner’s in the hospital in Lauderdale. That’s where I was last night. I knocked out his asshole brother and had ta take off.
“Wot the brother do?”
“’S’bout wot he done in the past.”
“Yer cool, man,” a blonde girl sidles up to me, smiling.
“Here, you play and I’ll sing,” as I hand her the guitar.
She picks out the notes to Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven.’
I whistle the high notes, then began singing to her. When I get to the chorus, I really flirt:
‘Ooh, it makes me wonder,
Ooh, it makes me wonder.
Once we finish, the rain has stopped. Everyone starts to leave.
“Anyone wants ta put up wid a lost farm boy fer the night?” I ask.
They all laugh.
“Ya ain’t no simple kinda man,” Blondie concludes.
“I is when I ain’t got no place ta stay.”
“Wot a line of bullshit,” she remarks.
“Com’n,” a skinny kid says, “y’all kin hangs at our house. They’s all gone ‘til late.”
That settled, the party rolls on. His name is Petey and Blondie is Claire, his sister. They are from a sketchy part of Cocoa Beach, but I’m not being choosy. Their house is a square Craftsman all covered with overgrown bushes. We finish off all the beer. I waste fifteen of Jimmy’s dollars on a case of Pabst – PBR, the teen favorite when we can get it. Petey plays records which we sing to, some of us without much ability, but all with gusto. Flo must have awakened my hetero side because Claire and I go at it pretty heavy back in her room. After the deed is done, we plop on the couch together. I’m sound asleep, only to be awakened by a parent none too happy I’m hanging on to his daughter. Petey grabs me, drags me to his room and deposits me on his big water-bed. I wake up later with him cuddled next to me. I must be confused about who is sleeping with me, as I kiss him solidly on the lips.
“Jezus,” he jumps out of the water-bed so fast that I’m left rocking back and forth. That fully wakes me up.
“Sorry,” I ruefully apologize. “I fergot where I’s at.”
“Ya likes boys, too?” he seems more confused than upset.
“Only if’n they likes me too.”
“Ya thoughts I’s a girl?”
“Naw. Jist that ya’s cuddled up with me. My little brother does that. I thoughts you was ‘im.”
“Y’all’s kissin’ each other. Does ya have sex wid yer brother.
“Naw. It’s jist affection, ya know.
“Sorry I was too close. I didn’t know.”
“Naw, I’s sorry. That was lame.”
“Yeah, purdy gay.”
“They’s always tellin’ me ta not be so gay.”
“Yeah. Don’t be so gay,” and he laughs. He looks at me funny. Then he kisses me on the cheek.
“Don’t be a’tellin’,” he warns me, blushing madly.
“Yeah. Don’t be so gay.”
We roll around on the water-bed, rocking it back and forth. I can tell it doesn’t turn him on.
“What’s ya doin’ today?”
“Gots ta hit the road. Places ta be, ya know.”
“I kin help ya. Wanna get a ride with truckers. I gots a CB.”
“Cool. I had too many psycho rides yesterday.”
He climbs off the water-bed and sits at his desk, turning on the CB radio.
“Breaker. Breaker. Anyone’s out there wants a rider north outta Cocoa”
The radio crackles as several truckers answer at once, cancelling out their transmissions.
“Hang on, boys. One at a time.”
“Goin’ ta Orlando.”
“Goin’ ta Jacksonville.”
“Goin’ ta Atlanta with stopover in Valdosta.”
“Whatcha ya want?” Petey asks me.
I don’t know where to go. I know I want to be out of Florida.
“I’s good fer Atlanta.”
“Atlanta, when’s ya gonna be at Cocoa rest stop.”
“’Bout thirty minutes.”
“We’s on our way.”
Petey jumps up to get his dad.
“Take my friend to the truck stop, Dad? Please? We’s got ‘im a ride.”
That seems to please Dad no end. Claire comes running out of her room. All three of us pile into the back seat of dad’s old station wagon. They both have their arms around me. She gives me a kiss when I’m let out. Was that incest?
A big eighteen wheeler pulls in, with a chunky, middle-aged driver looking for us. We wave him over. I climb up the passenger side, waving goodbye to my new friends. Their dad has a smirk that says ‘good riddance’ on his face.
“Howdy,” I say to the trucker. “I’s Huck, Huck Flynn.”
He laughs. “Right. Well buckle up. Huck Flynn. I gots ta be in Georgia ‘fore I hits my rest time.”
I settle back. He doesn’t seem interested in small talk. I’m soon asleep. Two days of partying is more than I can handle after living in the swamp for months. I remember we stop for lunch, which is hamburger and fries, paid for by the driver. I’m ravenous, eating half of his fries. He just laughs at me.
“Ur pretty skinny, son. Dontcha ever eat?”
“Bin campin’ out. Kinda sick o’ catfish, rice and beans.”
“Ya shur ain’t sick o’ McDonald’s. I’d a gotcha more had ya bin awake.”
“Thanks,” and I burp. He thinks that’s funny.
With not much conversation, I’m asleep again. At dinner time, he wakes me and we go into another McDonald’s. I get everything super-sized. Getting back up into his rig, he stays on my side, helping me up with a two-handed push on my butt. He follows me up, pulling me into the sleeping compartment at the back of the cab. I’m not shocked or surprised, just wary if his horniness is going to turn violent. Without saying a word he pulls out his fat sausage. He nods to suck it. It smells awful, but he finishes pretty quick. No deep-throating, and I keep the burger and fries down. He climbs over to the driver’s side.
“If you’s gonna sleep s’more, just stay in the back. I gots ta stop up the road in Valdosta. Best the bossman don’t sees I picked me up a rider.”
I lay back, contemplating life on the road, sleeping out of a tractor-trailer. Seems lonely and dull. I wonder where I’ll go from Atlanta. Was it prostitution on my part to hook up for free rides with truckers? I could make a sign, ‘Will suck dick for McDonald’s.’
About an hour later, my driver sticks his head inside the sleeping compartment.
“I gots to be off’n the road fer 8 hours rest. So, I gots ya a ride to Dothan, Alabama. That okay?”
“Shure, why not?”
I crawl out and clambered down from the cab. Another middle-aged driver is waiting for me with the first one. He has a smirk that warns me that my dick sucking reputation precedes me.
“Yer a country boy, huh? Gots no shoes and all?”
“Shure thing. Don’t needs ‘em, ‘cept fer church.”
“Y’all ain’t goin’ to church wid me, boy. My rigs over there. Ya needs to eat?”
“Naw, good ol’ boy fed me real good ,” I nod at the first driver.
“So I hears,” he says breaking into a shit-eating grin.
Life on the road.
Alabama seems no different from Georgia, flat and the color of red clay. Shortly before coming to Dothan, the new driver starts talking to me.
“I’s gonna git me a motel room fer after I’s dropped the load. Ya wants a place ta sleep tonight?”
“Shure, but I ain’t gots no money.”
“No worries. I jist sneak ya up after I’s checked in. Jist stay in the rig ‘til I tells ya.”
We pull into one of those strip mall motels with parking for rigs in the back. Once he lets me into the room, he leaves me by myself. I strip off the same jeans and shirt Tommy and I clipped from the backyard of a tract house months ago. They’re well-worn. I take a long shower, hoping to wash away the stink of the stanky dick I sucked that day. Once I get dressed again, I figure I’ll get some fresh air and check out Dothan. That doesn’t happen when I find the door locked from the outside. The windows have bars on them. I’m locked up again. It feels claustrophobic and smothering. I panic, throwing myself against the door, which won’t budge. I finally give up. Shortly I hear a group of drunken men coming my way.
It’s one thing to defend myself against other youths in juvie. Here there were four of them, each over 200 pounds and used to throwing their weight around. They quickly have me pinned on the bed. They were prepared to subdue me, bringing ropes and a gag to suppress my screams. I thrash while they tie me face down to the bed posts, I can tell it’s turning them on more and more. I lay still on my stomach, refusing to respond as they rape me repeatedly. I wish I could pass out. I concentrate on tuning them out. They just ignore that I’m impassive, which makes me silently seethe even more. It goes on all night. My body is finally numb from the pain and humiliation.
When it becomes light outside, I see my driver collect money from the other three. Once they leave, he dresses me, picks me up and throws me into his rig. His rest period is done. I swear that once I recover, I will get my revenge. I fear he’s going to pimp me all across his delivery route. He just drives me ten minutes outside of Dothan and dumps me in a ditch beside the highway. Finally, I start crying like I’ve never cried before. I don’t cry from the pain and hurt, nor from being emotionally overwhelmed. I’m broken without any hope of being fixed. Trying to stop the tears and hiccups, I start humming Pink Floyd, ‘Wish You were Here.’
‘How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl.’
WATERS, ROGER/GILMOUR, DAVID JON
Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., IMAGEM U.S. LLC
I lay there sobbing and finally fall asleep. In my dreams, something startles me. I look up. It’s my familiar shade.
He signs a tentative hello.
“I’ve missed you so much.”
“Where have you been?”
He turns around and whistles. Max trots up by his side and gives me a bark.
Jace explains he’s been with Max, after I locked him out of my heart at the Program.
“But I never left your heart. All you had to do was ask.”
I see myself, dirty and bedraggled, with my head hanging low, as I kneel in the ditch.
“Don’t be ashamed,” he whispers. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
We start walking. The scene changes to a truck stop bathroom. We shower together, while Max guards the door. Jace soaps me up, whispering how we had started with shower sex over a year ago.
“Naw,” I say. “It started by us holding hands,” as I grab his, giving it a squeeze.
He uses his other hand to grab my limp dick and gives it a squeeze as well. My tears begin again when my dick fails to respond. Sexual abuse has robbed me of my sex drive.
“Hush,” he whispers. “Just let me hold you. It’s been too long. I can feel your heart beating like mad.
It’s true. I’m as excited as if we were really doing it. I feel my dick inflate. Max barks a warning. We fall apart.
I wake up. It was the first time I have a wet dream in months.
“Yer a horny one, ain’tcha?” There’s a man watching me from the side of the road. Still half asleep, I think it is Jace.
“Where’s Max?” I mumble.
“Ain’t no one ‘round but me, boy. You shure was a’moanin’ and a’writhin’ down there. Why don’ts we both hava little fun,”as he stumbles down the incline into the ditch.
Fully awake now, I scoot away from him. He backhands me. telling me to lay still. As he starts to unbuckle his trousers, I kick him in the balls. He screams and socks me until I’m knocked out. Jace and Max come back to me in my blacked-out state.
“Let me handle this,” Jace tells me. “Sic ‘em,” He tells Max. Super Dog jumps up and bites the asshole on the butt, his jaw locks onto my attacker. Max knocks him off his feet as he struggles to get away, flailing at his invisible attackers.
“What the fuck,” he screams. “Yer a cursed devil, ya little bitch.”
“Go ta hell, redneck,” I taunt him, collapsing back into unconsciousness.
I wake up all alone. My body aches from the assaults I suffered the past few days. In my heart I believe Jace and Max protected me. My brain worries I’ve been raped again while unconscious. I now know that Jace is still in my heart. I had conjured him when I needed him. It gives me the resolve to fight back and not to be the victim of evil people. My heart beats stronger as I resolve to never be imprisoned unjustly again, to not go along with situations hoping someone else will rescue me. I promise to keep Jace and Max in my heart to steel me under difficult situations.
“Finally,” I hear Jace tell me. “You grew some cajones.”
“When did you learn Spanish,” I laugh.
“What do you think they speak in Hell?”
“Ya bin in Hell,” I’m incredulous.
“Naw, just the hell of being locked up in your heart with no way out.”
My spirits are completely revived. I get up and walk down the road. Refusing offers of rides, I reach a service station and try to clean up in the rest room. I’m a hot mess of dried cum and spit, blood caked on my legs and jeans, black eyes, haggard and emaciated, and looking totally defeated – just a teenage wasteland.
I pull a pair of jeans and tees off the clothesline behind a tract house, leaving my dirty, bloody rags behind as payment. I’m sad thinking about all the great times Tommy and I had once we stole those clothes. Before putting on the new gear, I give myself a thorough washing from the garden hose at the back of the house. I’m still shoeless but feel I look better with spiked hair from the shower.
Walking down the road, I tell Jace about the adventures of Tom & Huck. The evil brother makes him sad that others suffer like he did from a family member’s wrath. He’s hysterical when I relate how I beat up Tommy’s brother at the hospital. Max has been listening and barks his approval.
“So, where we headed?” Jace asks.
“Don’t know. Haven’t a clue. Where you wanna go?”
“Just be with you,” and he gives me his big goofy grin.
The sight of that smile brings me to tears again.
“God, yer a mess,” he complains.
“Just so happy yer here,” I sniff.
“Where we goin’ next?” he asks, with Max barking emphasis.
“Not back to Florida. That’s for sure.”
“You’re worse than yer mom, totally clueless.”
“How’s ‘bout we go see her?”
“Fine by me. Ya gonna explain that yer travelin’ with a ghost and his dog?”
I have no clue where we are, but a ride takes us to the nearest Interstate ramp, going north. There we get a ride with a trucker, going all the way to St Louis. It doesn’t bother him when I talk to Jace. He likes that I’m off-kilter. He really doesn’t care what we’re talking about.
“’Cause who can hear a ghost?” I tell myself. That bit of sane self-knowledge sends me spinning out of control. I’m not ready to be real. I need to be where I have no feelings.
I must’ve needed anonymous sex, at least that’s what the trucker tells me later. It’s all white noise in a black land. When I get back from la la land, the trucker is parked on an off-ramp, holding me while I sob. Both help, the trucker and the tears. I stop crying and let him hold me until I can breathe normally. I figure something happened from the state of my clothes. He’s a nice guy, but he has been off the road for too long and needs to keep driving. I settle into the corner of the cab while we roll north and west. When his hours are done, we spend the night in a motel. I remember that sexcapade pretty well. He is nice and gets me talking. Jace just sits there and keeps quiet. Seeing Jace there, looking so sad after I have anonymous sex, throws me back into the abyss of sorrow. If this continues, I’ll never want to have sex again – Jace’s sad, unapproving face watches me go at it. The trucker holds me as I continue crying.
Finally, when his mandatory rest stop is over, he puts me into the passenger side of his cab, where I sleep until he dumps me at a rest stop outside St Louis. Nice guy. I get another ride to Clinton Iowa, then local rides, mostly from farmers and factory workers, who never mind that I don’t talk to them. The ones who never stop their own ‘On the Road’ monologues are less comforting; I listen to their normal lives and problems. I know I never can feel or live that way, kinda like watching the shopping network when you’re broke. A hot chick in a pink Corvette picks me up as easy action. She dumps me out on the Interstate when I tell her I’m gay. I have to hot-foot it to the next exit ramp before a cop comes along and busts me. I smile when I see Jace laughing at my predicament. He enjoys our little run together because he never gets winded.
“Fuck you, Jace,” I say, “and, for fucking up my sex life.”
He just keeps staring at me.
“No. I’m sorry. Don’t ever leave me, even when I’m fucked up and don’t remember.”
Waiting for a ride, I start sobbing again, which doesn’t help me get a ride. Finally two teen-aged girls stop and ask if I’m okay. I almost yell at them. They help me come out of my sobbing jag by just being there, being really in the present. I tell them about Jace, how he is sitting next to me, but no one else can see him.
“What’s he look like?” one of the girls asks.
“Blue eyes, long blond hair, tall, smokes too much, 16, loves his dog..” then I try not to cry but it rushes me. I’m hiccupping to hold back the tears. The girls both hold me. One asks Jace to come into our huddle. Right there on the on-ramp, the four of us are sobbing in a group hug. I see him mouth “I love you. ” The most blissful feeling comes over me. He goes around the three of us, kissing and hugging back. I feel like my normal self for the first time. The girls are so nice; they drive me all the way to Mom’s address in Ames. They watch from the car as Jace and I ring her doorbell.
Mom opens the door,.
“Timmy,” she exclaims and holds me in a tight hug.
A huge relief comes over me. She looks so happy. I’ve never had a hug like that from her.
“Mom, this is my boyfriend, Jace and his dog, Max.”
Jace is waving the girls goodbye before he turns to her, “Hi, Mom.”
The strangest look comes over her face for a second before she answers, “Hello, Jace. Where’s your dog?”
My left nostril starts tingling as a wisp of black smoke exhales, turning into my favorite Super Dog, Max.
I wake up with a start.
Shit. I’m back in hell, the same ditch where I was dumped, then raped, and beaten, before being raped again.
I resolve to protect myself. First I have to clean up. I walk for several miles, ignoring drivers who slow down to check me out. I’m so disgusting, no one offers a ride. I’m not about to accept one, anyway.
The service station from my dream comes into view. I clean up as best I can in the rest room. Hoping that the vision of the gas station is a sign that the other events of my dream are possible, I decide to find Mom. I only know that she’s in Iowa. I call Jay collect, ‘from DeBowser.’ He answers immediately.
“On the road again?” he observes. “I guess I shouldn’t ask where you’re calling from?”
“S’okay. I’m out of state now.”
“That’s a relief. Juvenile Court has no jurisdiction outside of Florida. Your escapade in Ft Lauderdale was going to add new charges to your warrant until your little friend convinced the Ft Lauderdale PD that he was in danger and you protected him. The brother’s now in juvie.”
“Good. How’s Tommy? I miss him.”
“His interview in the Herald moved your case forward at last. The corruption between the Probation Department and that fraudulent Program was corroborated by his first-hand accounts. They wanted to put him in a group home. Several families stepped up and volunteered to take him as a foster kid. He’s really quite adorable, if you don’t mind my saying it.”
“I toldcha. We was Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. He’s a total manipulator but has a good heart.”
“So, what’s next? Mike suggests you could go to your mother’s in Iowa. The Court really couldn’t take you away from her. You can come back to Miami once you turn 18, no longer a juvenile.”
“I’s bin thinkin’ the same thing. I jist needs her address.”
“We got that in yer file,” and he laughs. “Ya gots ta stop with the drawl, boy. I cain’t help maself from revertin.’”
“We’s jist good ol boys, me and you’s.”
“Stop it,” he laughs. “Where are you? I’ll get a bus ticket sent to the nearest Greyhound.”
“Jist outside Dothan, Alabama. I kin make it to the bus terminal there. Kin y’all call Mom fer me ta make shure she wants me?”
“Everybody wants ya, Tim. That reporter made you out ta be Huck Finn and Tom Swift all rolled into one. In one day you rescued that boy in Fort Lauderdale, recorded a country album in Miami, and then disappeared. After some fake sightings in Cocoa Beach, you were reported turning up all over the East Coast. Some hillbillies in the Carolinas even had photos of you there. The Court is going bananas trying to follow-up on leads.”
“Well, it ain’t bin no picnic. Hearing yer voice and how y’all bin helpin’ me git to safety, makes me luv ya all the mores, Jay.”
That shuts him up.
“I’ll git that there address fer ya,” he finally says and puts down the phone.
He really couldn’t help being under my spell.
Before he comes back on the line, Mike Sr. speaks to me.
“Tim. Sorry I was so abrupt last week. It was a shock that you were in my house.”
“Naw, Mr. A, it was wrong that I threatened your practice by being there.”
“I just blame Robby, as usual.”
“Well, I was stupid to do it. Sorry.”
“Now that you’re out of state, I can speak with you again. I’m sorry we never helped you while you were locked up.”
“That’s history. I like the plan that I go to Mom’s. I had a dream that she welcomed me there.”
“We’ll get you there, and then petition the Court to assign her guardianship. That should clear up your record.”
“Thanks, Mr. A.”
“You no longer call me Mike?”
“Well. I guess we had to let you go as band manager, so I’m no longer your boss. You’re Michael’s dad; I need to be more respectful.”
“You always stay ahead of the game.”
“Yeah, the game of Life.”
“Jay’s either got to go to the bathroom or is overly anxious to speak with you again. Goodbye, Tim.”
“I’ll never forget what you did for me, Mr. A,” I gulp, glad I can hold back the tears. He meant so much in making me grow up.
When Jay comes back on the line, the tears start to flow. He hesitates while I try to regain control.
“You okay?” he finally asks.
“Yeah. No. It’s okay,” I gulp and sob. Finally, “He helped me so much this past year.”
“Yeah, he’s pretty great. You guys were made for each other, especially the civil rights.”
”It’s just been a year, since the band started.”
“You really grew up, Tim.”
“I ain’t done bein’ a kid yet.”
He laughs, and then gives me Mom’s address in Ames: 120 S Hyland Avenue.
“A bus ticket is waiting for you at Greyhound in Dothan.”
“I love you, Jay.”
“I heard that one before.”
We both laugh.
The gas station attendant gives me directions to the Greyhound. I put on my best smile and soon have a ride into Dothan. My days in the ditch are done. The station clerk refuses to give me the ticket without proper ID. I call Jay, who calls Greyhound. Finally, I’m on my way. I sleep for the hours it takes to get to St Louis where I change buses. Outside Oklahoma City, a pretty girl in a pink Corvette slows down and waves at me, winks, and floors the ‘Vette past the bus. I guess she forgot I’m gay. After changing in Oklahoma City, I’m soon in Ames. After miles of rolling corn fields, newly cropped to bare stalks, Ames is a pleasant surprise. It’s the prototypical college town, with wide streets, overhung by tall oaks and elms. All the houses have broad lawns. There’s space to breathe here, not so clustered together like the small farming towns where the bus stopped, nor the hustling chaos of a New York or even a Miami metropolis. The fall colors are in full season, a last blast of summer before the bare winter to come. I feel welcome. Summer trees’ green leaves dream as breeze driven seasons give way to hellish red and orange blazes before winter’s deep sleep.