Monday morning, January 5, 1976, the four of us walk into Ames High early. The twins decide to hold hands in support of Jack and me. At first, there are whispered remarks about lesbos, which has nothing to do with travel plans to the Greek Isles. Angie glares at anyone looking critical.
“We’re sisters. Stop listening to your dirty minds.”
Apparently Jack and I are old news. It doesn’t take long for the twins’ choir girl reputations to overrule thoughts of gay incest. The three of us take Jack to the office to enroll him in classes. His Gables High transcript has been sent by the Stones. The Swiss seminary refused to send the fall grades out of pique for his leaving without permission. The counselor agrees to place Jack in 12th grade classes, dependent upon his passing the winter term finals. After we finish, the school principal, Mr. Young, asks to speak with us in his office.
“I want us to stay on track, Andy and Jack. I have been at Ames High for over thirty years. I cannot remember a better Christmas assembly than what Mrs. McCarthy’s English class presented. Obviously, Andy, you are talented. We respect artists and understand talent comes from being different from the average student. You made your sexual preference difference explicit at the end of the play. I don’t believe it was intentional, but everyone saw and heard you welcome Jack as your boyfriend. I want to make sure you two do not suffer from any intolerance or plain ignorance now that Jack is a student.”
“We decided to be as low-key as possible, with no PDA to aggravate those who dislike gay people. We do plan to hold hands as regular couples do. We want to be liked, not hated.”
“I’ve already heard about the hand holding. I told those complainers that it is the school’s responsibility to protect all students, as long as their behavior is not disruptive. If anyone causes problems for you two, please let staff know. I won’t allow fighting at school, regardless of who starts it.”
“My football friends have resolved their differences with me. They promised to be supportive.”
“Don’t think I don’t know about the fight on New Year’s Eve. I understand you ended up in the hospital.”
“I was upset by the fight, causing me to get dizzy and throw up. That was after the fight was over. I was not injured, just shook up.”
“What I heard was the other students involved were more than just shook up. Do you want the football team to be suspended?”
“No. They’re my friends. The twins and I formed a spirit band to play at their games. They all promised to defend us. It was a New Year’s Eve party where a few people were acting stupid. ‘Gator and I plan to meet with Coach Ball and make sure it never happens again. They thought they could pick on Jack and me. They’re the victims here. It was hazing except they learned they were in the wrong.”
“Well, I’m glad we had this talk. My advice is to not push the gay thing. I’d hate to see you in my office because of fighting.”
Whew. We walk out of the office and instantly noticed many people holding hands, the majority being girls. The twins are style setters. Jack quickly grabs my hand. In each class students move so we can sit together. After lunch, we notice that straight couples are holding hands as well as the girls. ‘Gator comes up with his arm around Noah.
“We ain’t holdin’ hands, like girls,” he announces. The rest of his posse looks relieved, having expected to be ordered to do so. ‘Gator can care less about his posse’s feelings.
At the end of classes, we go to see football Coach Ball.
“I was hopin’ to see you but expected someone a bit bigger to be the terroriser of my offensive line.”
“Naw, Coach, I jist made ‘em eat their own lunch for harassing me and Jack.”
‘Gator jumps in, “Andy and me gots in a dispute the first day he’s here. He insisted we settle it by arm wrestlin’. It was pretty much a draw until he started laughin’ at me. He said I remind him of an ugly old alligator he knew in Florida. We bin best friends since and everybody calls me ‘Gator now.”
“Who won the arm wrestlin’?”
“Oh, I did, but I knew he got grit from then on.”
“So, what do you boys want today?”
“We gots ta tone down the freshman virginity hazing. It’s jist wrong,” ‘Gator asserts.
“I turn a blind eye to that activity.”
“It ain’t right, Coach. Teaches us that girls ain’t worth nothin’.”
“The girls getting’ to ya, ‘Gator. Becomin’ a women’s libber?”
“I ain’t goin’ out with a girl ‘less I’s respectin’ her.”
“Well, I’ll call a team meetin’ tomorrow and work this all out. Ya ain’t happy with yer cheerleader?”
“I never thinks much ‘bout her. I wants a real girlfriend that I likes as well as wants.”
Jack and I look at each other and smile.
Coach lets us leave. In the hall, ‘Gator asks, “What’s y’all smilin’ ‘bout in there?”
“Oh, we know what kinda girlfriend ya needs, ‘Gator.”
“We ain’t tellin’ ‘til y’all figures it out yerself.”
He put both of us in arm locks. “I could beat it out o’ you’s.”
“Naw, ‘Gator we’d jist tell ever’one you’s jealous of Jack for replacing you as my boyfriend,” I josh him.
“Grrr,” and then he laughs. “Y’all is too much fun.”
Our busy day ends up with the nightly ‘Waltons’ calling back and forth. It was the reason we all leave our bedroom doors open.
“Good night, Jim Bob,” they called out.
“Good night, Mary Ellen,” we both respond.
“Good night, John Boy,” they add to the routine.
We both giggle and poke each other at the change.
“Whatcha y’all laughing ‘bout?” Angie calls out.
“Jack’s gots hisself a new name ta go with his new Iowa life.”
Everyone is laughing.
At school the next day, more people are holding hands. John Boy and I are the only boys doing so until ‘Gator orders his posse to start as well.
“It don’t mean nothin’ but we’s all teammates,” reminding them that college players and even the Pittsburgh Steelers linemen hold hands between plays. The linemen roam the halls, pushing other students aside as they march four-abreast hand-in-hand. We get called into the office for starting a trend that is getting out of control. ‘Gator promises to straighten it out at the football meeting that afternoon.
I make sure the office knows that Jack was now John Boy. Most authorities find it amusing and are happy to oblige. The twins go around and introduce him as their brother’s new live-in boyfriend. We all go to the gym to observe the football team meeting.
Coach Ball lets ‘Gator, as team captain, speak first, once everyone is seated in the gym stands. For a country boy, he gives a real stem-winder.
“This year’s team was undefeated and many of us will go on to play in college. I hopes y’all consider goin’ to State as I’s be there and be proud if other Ames players joins me. All year I’ve been so proud of being on this team. Ya rilly lets me down at the party. It’s my friends y’all attacked. It don’t surprise me none that ol’ Andy beat the crap outta several of you’s. He ain’t big but he gots grit. He’s my friend. He organized a fight band to cheer us on this fall. It don’t bother me none if’n he wants a boyfriend. If’n it bothers you’s, ya better come to me with it. He don’ts need no protection, but if’n anyone bothers him or his boyfriend ever’one of us will defend ‘em.”
Coach takes over. “’Gator asked me to consider ending the freshmen hazing rite on New Year’s. What you do when not at school affects this team. We represent all of Ames. I understand that the incident on Wednesday night started when a freshman refused to ‘service’ one of the girls. To me, as an adult, the whole idea is disgusting and degrading. Unable to control yourselves, you turned on two non-team members, who are boyfriends, and attempted to force them to perform a sex act for your perverted curiosity. One boy, Andy, subdued five team members, to protect his boyfriend until ‘Gator stopped the whole riot. At his request, this team ‘tradition’ is banned in the future. The five boys who were subdued will join the bowling team. They will partner with girls and learn to act as teammates with the fairer sex. When all of you graduate at 18, you will have learned how to treat women properly and be able to lead responsible and fulfilling lives, respecting women and those different from you.”
“Y’all will like the bowlin’ team. It’s great fun an’ we’s always gits pizza with the other teams afterwards,” ‘Gator explained. “Them little towns ain’t gots nothin’ but bowlin’ ta do all winter, so’s they kick our asses. The Pizza Pit rewards ‘em with free pizza.”
“Principal Young asked me to tone down the hand-holding that’s sprung up after this incident. Y’all wantta hold hands, I ain’t gonna stop ya. But the halls ain’t a playin’ field. Four or five of y’all pushing students aside as you charge wedge-like through the halls will stop.”
“The bowlin’ team meets tomorrow, right here in the gym. The five new members will find girls to partner with. She cain’t be yer girlfriend (they hasta be cheerleaders), so finds a friend. If’n ya ain’t knowin’ no one, I’ll assign a girl to ya myself. Let me know before hand tomorrow.”
The twins, John Boy and I watch from the sidelines. I could object to Coach’s attitude that we’re perverted, but progress comes slower than you wish for. After dismissing the team, he comes over to find if we approve. I suppress any desire to be critical.
“Ya changed my thinking, Andy. ‘Gator says ya gots grit. Wish ya’d shown up earlier and played fer us.’
“Yeah, I see myself as ‘Gator’s tight end but he keeps tryin’ ta make me a wide receiver,” I joke.
“Don’t be changing my star player.”
“Don’ts ya worry none, Coach. ‘Gator’s a force o’ nature.”
We make sure all our teachers know to call Jack ‘John Boy.’ In English class, Mrs. McCarthy takes to John Boy right away. He tells her all about our performance of Shakespeare last year. She is speechless when we tells her he played Titania after taking over the role from me, so I could the play music.
“Andy hardly talked to me all year, while I was so crushing on him, I was even his understudy for the role. When he became the minstrel in order to make the play a musical comedy, I got to take over. It was a big hit.”
“Why did you both play a girl’s role?” she asks.
“Mr. Clark wanted an authentic Elizabethan performance when only males were allowed on stage. Michael’s dad even built an authentic Globe Theatre for the performance.”
“You must have felt let down that we used a TV show for our Christmas Assembly performance?”
“I wish I’d arrived in time to see it. Andy sure knows how to put on a show. We both love to perform.”
John Boy’s perfect manners wins over another convert.
The Music Man performance we did for his parents is to be repeated at Friday’s Assembly. John Boy can hardly wait for his Ames debut. We decide to added “Surrey with a Fringe on Top,” so ‘Gator and Noah can revive Bunny for the Assembly. The song about Iowans being stand-offish and stubborn is dropped. Everyone already knows that.
The bowling team meeting goes too well. With the five added mixed pairs from the football team we now have twelve partners. The added uproar of the football teams’ misbehavior brings out interested students. We told them to pair up with an opposite sex partner, resulting in six additional mixed pairs. We decided to create a Junior Varsity and a Frosh-Soph team. Team practice on Friday nights determines who plays for each team on the Saturday morning competitions with other schools. Ames Lanes s happy to accommodate all the teams, but the rapid growth of high school bowling means we had to pay for bowling fees ourselves – no more free games. It isn’t too expensive for most students, but many of the farm kids don’t have part-time jobs and received no allowances even though they had a heavy load of chores. The cheerleaders volunteer to run bake sales at every Saturday competition, creating enough revenue to pay the lane fees.
Wednesday afternoon is my first appointment with Dr. Kamikaze since the fight and my subsequent breakdown. I give him a synopsis of the events leading to my hospitalization.
“Sounds like your ‘flashback’ is similar to the Vietnam Vets’ experience when an event in the present causes the ex-soldier to remember a traumatic event during their wartime duty.”
“Yeah. When I got outside I remembered the abuse I told you about when I was coming here last fall.”
“You probably aren’t ready to deal with what happened, causing you to shut down.”
“I passed out, Dr. Kam.”
“You’re not ready to deal with those memories.”
“Beside telling you, I told my sister that something had happened before coming here. Then, I told the whole story to my boyfriend, who has come to live with us.”
“That’s a new development. You have to be careful when revealing difficult memories. Every step forward in getting healthy may result in some regression if a memory is too painful to talk about.”
“I thought telling John Boy would help me better able to deal with it.”
“Your boyfriend’s name is John Boy?”
“Actually it’s John. The twins and I have this routine of yelling out goodnight to each other like the characters on ‘The Waltons.’ When Jack arrived, the girls called out for the character John Boy, so he told everyone to call him that ever since.”
“It was a hectic Christmas. My other boyfriend, Tommy, was visiting when John Boy showed up. It was tense already. Then John Boy got permission to stay here permanently. Tommy was quite upset when he had to go back to Florida. He felt rejected.”
“The holidays are often difficult, too much drama.”
“I miss Tommy a lot. Do you think it’s possible to love two people at the same time?”
“If the main issue is sex, usually you can decide with whom you are best. Sounds like you’re conflicted on a deeper level.”
“I know John Boy and I are totally in love and are perfect together, but it is Tommy who makes me horny. My sex drive got crushed by the abuse until he came here.”
“So you love them both, but for different reasons. Are you honest with each of them about what is going on for you?”
“I’ve always been mean to Tommy like a brother would be. Now he’s older. He can tell how much I want him now. He had to leave. We left it until next year when he’ll be sixteen. John Boy will probably be off to college then. I finally told him about the abuse because he could tell I wasn’t as horny as in the past.”
“All this drama is normal high school stuff. The trauma from the abuse is more serious. I know you’re ready to share the details. We can work on getting you to accept what happened and move on. You regressed so much after the fight that I won’t push you to tell me about the abuse today. I’d take a break from the sexuality with your boyfriend, letting him know why you need the break. If he loves you enough to work through this problem, you will love him even more. Keep talking with him. With the other boyfriend gone, some of this drama may recede. I’d recommend you not stay in touch with him until you and John Boy are on surer footing.”
Whew. When did life get so complicated? Always, I realize.
I’m fairly subdued after the session. So much so, that the twins remark I must have had a difficult time with Dr. Kam
“What’s wrong?” John Boy asks.
“Dr. Kam thinks I shouldn’t stay in touch with Tommy as much.”
“Good,” the always possessive boyfriend remarks.
“It’s not what you think. It’s about what happened before I got here.”
Molly jumps in, as shrink instead of mom. “Sounds like he has you working pretty hard on your own issues. Don’t expect to feel great after every session. It’s a workout. You’re building emotional muscles.”
“Maybe you won’t cry so much,” Angie offers her Peanuts advice.
“I think crying is cute,” Amy comes to my rescue, giving me a hug, joined by John Boy.
No tears today, I think. Maybe that’s a sign of progress.
After pizza deliveries, we have choir practice. The choir master, Mr. Key, heard John Boy’s voice the previous service. He suggests all four of us act as a quartet, not like a barbershop one, but as stepping-stones. We practice singing in rounds. He has me lower my range while John Boy sets an alto platform for the twins to soar from as alternating sopranos. The rest of the choir does the chorus parts, while the quartet does the verses as a round. Once we start getting it right, it sounds great. Everyone leaves practice feeling a spiritual high. I wonder how Grant would add another rhythmic dimension if he joined us. I decide to try doing so next week as I lead off the rounds singing low.
Once upstairs at home, I explained what I was thinking. Amy gets on the piano. We do ‘Rock of Ages’ in rounds.
I try to add boogie-woogie to my bass part, forcing the others to adapt. The moms come up, concerned we’re avoiding our homework. My arrangement of the hymn catches them off-guard.
“This is choir homework,” I explain.
“Oh. Well, carry on.” Molly mumbles.
“Y’all wanna join in?” I invite them.
They hurry back to their part of the house. We stop singing and finished our homework. I collapse into bed, much to John Boy’s disappointment. I’m exhausted and go to sleep instantly.
I wake up early, opening my eyes to John Boy watching me sleep.
“Hi. How long ya bin awake?”
“A while. You’re so calm and sweet when you sleep.”
“Sleep knits up the unraveled sleeve of care,” I misquote Shakespeare.
“When will you tell me what shook you up yesterday at therapy?” Jack is perplexed.
“I told you about being raped.”
“You mean in juvie?”
“No. I instigated that to stop the molester. The truckers in Alabama.”
Jace appears, wanting to hear about what he missed before rescuing me in the ditch.
“I thought you gave just blow jobs for rides.”
“One driver sold me off to four other drivers, who tied me down and went at me for twelve hours. Spitting and masturbating on me when they wasn’t drillin’ my ass.”
“Jesus. Ya didn’t say it was that bad.”
“It’s all I could see after the fight. I promised I’d never let anyone ever take advantage of me again. It’s why I puked and passed out t’other night. I woke up and thought ‘Gator were a trucker.”
“Shit.” He moves over and hugs me.
I wanted to cry but can’t. Maybe it’s another good sign. At least he doesn’t seem to despise me for letting it happen.
“Yer the only one who knows. Dr. Kam says I needs ya to help me git over it.”
“Of course,” Jack’s good manners kick in. “What can I do?”
“Ya don’t hates me?”
“Never. Yer always my hero. I don’t expect ya ta win every fight.”
“They was big and burly and tied my arms and legs to the bed. I jist tried to tune it all out.”
“How’d cha git away?”
“The pimp driver pulled clothes on me and dumped me in a ditch outside Dothan.”
“That’s where I found him,” Jace signs.
“Jace rescued me and told me to come here. I even dreamed that the twins drove me to the house.”
“I should have felt that you were in trouble.”
“That evil drug program had shut my heart to everyone.”
“No wonder ya hates sex.”
“I don’t hates it. I jist don’t feels it so much. I’s much better than when I gots here.”
“And here I’s bin runnin’ off with Jace to get off.”
“That’s not right. It ain’t yer fault. We should understand, not jist satisfy our every need.”
“Ya sound right country,” I hug him. Jace comes into the cuddle.
Angie sticks her head into the room. “I’m smelling teen spirit.”
“Andy got raped on the trip here. That’s why he’s so sad yesterday,” Jack spills the beans.
Amy stuck her head in as well. “That’s why he went crazy when those idiots tried to force him to have sex. What assholes they were.”
All I can think is it’s too many people knowing my secret. My head starts spinning. Jace notices first, whispering in my ear to stay calm and ride out the spins. John Boy sees him whispering and notices that my eyes are spinning.
“He’s gonna pass out,” he yells, grabbing hold of me.
The twins rush over and get into the group hug. It’s way too much. I pass out.
Max is lying on my chest, licking my face. It’s true Max-lovin’. I come to.
John Boy is sobbing on me, not Max. Jace moves away and is rubbing Max’s belly. The girls look terrified.
“He’s back,” John Boy announces.
“It was Max-lovin’ that saved me,” I tell him.
The girls rush back to hug me with John Boy. Jace shakes his head, but it’s too late. I pass out cold.
I wake up in the hospital, again. Thursday seems to be my day to be hospitalized. The moms are sitting on my bed.
“Where is everyone?” I ask.
“We made them go to school after the doctor said there’s no injury. Dr. Kamikaze’s on his way over. What happened?”
“The girls didn’t tell you?”
“Something about last week’s fight bringing back bad memories.”
Whew. I didn’t want anyone else to know, not even ‘Gator. I’d tell Dr. Kam first.
“I can’t keep coming here. It’s all psychodrama. There’s nothing wrong with me. Dr. Kam told me to tell John Boy what happened to me. The girls came in. He told them. I wasn’t ready to let everyone know. I was supposed to tell Dr. Kam next, so we could work on getting past it.
“Oh, Tim. Did you commit a crime?”
“Hush, Wendy. He’s not able to talk about it. Dr. Kamikaze will work with him. I’m sure it’s something that was done to him, not something he did.”
I’m spinning again.
“Andy, look at me. We won’t talk about this until you’re ready.” Molly assertively holds my attention. The spins stop. That’s max-loving too. I hug her.
When Dr. Kam arrives, the moms leave us alone.
“Well, that didn’t go well.”
“Yeah. I told John Boy. He told everyone.”
“I thought I was next.”
“At least we know what causes you to pass out. Let’s wait until our regular session to explore how much you want to tell me.”
“Thank you.” I’m not ready for more drama. Just thinking about it has me on edge.
“Why don’t you tell me about John Boy and how you met.”
Dr. Kam practices good therapy.
After the first few days of classes, John Boy decides to switch from Spanish with me to French. He wants to keep up the language skills he had learned in Switzerland. With his charm and conversational French skills, he is a hit in the new class. The other students want to start a French Club, doing cultural things like Provençal cooking, New Wave cinema, and Parisian fashion. It’s right up his line. His new friends are snooty and arrogant compared to my jock friends. Having lived in the French-speaking part of Switzerland makes him the star of their little social circle. Frankly I’m relieved that he is making his own friends and doesn’t need to be with me all the time.
“What did the French club prepare for dinner tonight?” Amy asks when he returns from the weekly meeting.
“Lapin au vin,” John Boy answers.
“What’s that?” Amy innocently responds.
I pull a lucky rabbit foot out of my pocket. “Does this give you a clue?” I hint.
“You ate a little bunny?” Amy is shocked.
“Hope it wasn’t the Easter Bunny,” I mock her.
The twins run upstairs in a huff. The rabbit isn’t half-bad, kind of like chicken. Having to use canned vegetables and processed ingredients for the sauces seem to defeat the concept of fresh, locally sourced meals. I keep my mouth shut. John Boy has his own posse of infatuated girls. One even asked if he is really ‘a gay.’ Lying in bed I complain he smells like a French whore. Provoked we have one of our better sexual escapades, starting with him doing the Can Can for me, ‘sans slip’, as Michael and Robby had done in the Savannah drag show. The twins come rushing in and demand to see what we’re doing. We both perform after a costume upgrade with tee shirts and the garish gay briefs we normally wear. They are shocked and rushed back to their room. After we stop giggling, we get down to business with the door locked. Lying there panting from the excess of testosterone, we almost are asleep in each other’s arms.
“Goodnight, Jim Bob,” the twins call out.
“Goodnight, Mary Ellen,” we call back.
“Goodnight, Bad Boy,” they mock us.
“Goodnight, Momma,” we mock them back.
On Saturday morning, John Boy has his tryout for the bowling team. He asked a French Club friend to be his partner. We have to put up with their ‘Ew, la la’, ‘c’est magnifique’ or ‘merdre’ remarks whenever they roll a good or bad shot. It’s a detriment to team spirit that they have their own language. They do have the highest scores that week. Soon all the football players are exclaiming in French. The cheerleaders start doing their own Moulin Rouge version of the Can Can, much to the glee of the football players. Team spirit recovers. The following week will be the first head-to-head match with another school. Pre-season tournaments are over. We have to face the small town teams that have been kicking our butts all fall. After practice we all chip in for pizza from the Pit. The whole team and hangers-on ensconce ourselves on the third floor of Hyland Street – the bowling team clubhouse. The moms go shopping, unable to bear more disruption to their peace-of-mind. Amy is on the piano and plays a series of College fight songs – Notre Dame, USC, Wisconsin, and Iowa.
Then we make all the girls do the Can Can again. They make the boys do the same with such a pitiful result that it causes many insults directed at us. John Boy holds himself back, saving it for my personal pleasure. Everyone leaves when it’s time for my delivery shift at the Pizza Pit. I notice the moms are outside, sitting in their car, laughing it up at all the teenagers. John Boy comes with me.
“What happened to yer little brother?” my manager asks.
“Tommy had to go back to his foster parents in Florida.”
I notice he has put up the help wanted sign again.
“Ya tryin’ ta replace me?” I ask.
“Naw. Yer the only kid I knows who only wants ta work two hours a night. We bin so busy lately, I needs sum‘one to man the counter.”
“I’m yer man,” John Boy steps up.
“I was hopin’ yer pretty sister might apply.”
“Ya ruined that by leerin’ at her so much when she was helpin’ me learn the addresses.”
Of course, John Boy’s charm and good manners gets him what he wants. He starts that night. I go into the back and make a tip jar to place at the cash register. I have a mild flashback of the sign I thought of while hitch-hiking – ‘Blow jobs for McDonalds’
It is completely satisfactory for both of us to work the same hours. I love coming back to pick up more deliveries, seeing him work the counter customers. We compete to see who earns the most tips each night. John Boy’s manners make him the perennial winner.
Time is slipping by at an increasingly rapid pace. The prairie storms dump copious amounts of snow, The constant prairie wind blows most of it away. ‘Gator often stays at the house after school. He leaves to do his chores when we have to go to work. He pesters us to tell him our solution to his need to have a girlfriend he really respects.
“The only girls I respect is the twins but they’s each just as nice as the other. I cain’t chose one over the other.” He complains. He’ll figure it out. John Boy has a harem of fag hags who believe it is très chic to have a gay French boyfriend. They even organized a Gay Parie Night. We are the only boys to show up. It doesn’t bother them at all. They preened us with mascara mustaches and berets. We perform our ‘American in Paris’ act with a Cappella versions of ‘Singing in the Rain’
and ‘April in Paris.’ John Boy convinces them to concentrate on raising money for a spring trip to Paris in 1977. They hold a bake sale at the basketball game, but their croissants, eclairs, crepes and patisseries are not a big hit with the country kids. John Boy, ‘Gator and I eat the leftovers.
My ability to enjoy these normal activities is due to Dr. Kam’s zen-like therapy. Instead of putting me on a couch where I can wallow in my problems, he treats me like his gay pet. He showers me with love and approval, without going over the line. We hug. He often massages me during the sessions, much like Jace had always done. He isn’t very tall with a roly-poly body and almost bald head. I love him and he knows it. There is no sexual tension. He uses affection to get me to come around to dealing with my issues. He wants to know everything about my boyfriends. My stories about Robby and the pot gang has him laughing uproariously. He listens seriously when I described the Samhein/Belladonna experience. He says that drugs can be an effective gateway to the imagination and unconscious. He acknowledges that his own Shinto animism conflicts with my spirit world of pure energy. My descriptions of the visions I had with the Guardian captivate him. My Devil vision scares him. His Catholicism comes out at times. We bond on our shared belief of a spirit world. The band’s exploits inspire him to take out his shamisen, a three-stringed lute that sound eerie. He plays as I make up lyrics to sing. He brings hiragana lyric sheets which he has translated. He teaches me the rhythm, pronunciation and emphasis of these Japanese songs. When I can adequately accompany him on the lute, he is pleased to no end. He makes up stories about how we are going to Japan to follow the annual island of Shikoku pilgrimage to Buddhist shrines together. I’m totally seduced. I respond with my experiences, finally able to relate all the travails of my hitch-hiking with truckers. He calls it the McDonald’s Tour of the Confederacy. John Boy is suspicious of our relationship until he comes to several sessions. Dr. Kam welcomes his involvement, using his superior Japanese manners to enchant the boy. John Boy is devastated when he learns how his blurting out my worst nightmare to everyone relapsed me to the hospital. Dr. Kam tells him that being young means making mistakes and learning from them. John Boy wants to do the Shikoku pilgrimage with us. After his less than pleasant European experience learning French in Geneva, he switches his travel bug to the Orient. He especially likes the idea of communal hot springs. He has Uncle Tam send us matching kimonos. Life can’t be more normal.
The bowling team has over thirty members. Ames Lanes adds us to their Tuesday night Mixed league. The adult bowlers take an interest in the team once they find out how much help we need to improve our scores and to run the tournaments and individual competitions with near-by schools. A state-wide Iowa High School Championship Tournament is scheduled for late March. We write up rules for competitions and guidelines for proper etiquette. Ames is the center of Iowa high school bowling. As a non-contact sport, it’s the perfect opportunity for real co-ed teams where the guys and girls count on each other to determine the outcomes of competitions. John Boy’s posse of fag hags fills in with boys who are unable to find their own female partners. A stickler for good manners, he trains the farm boys on how to act when first meeting their opponents. He insists the boys make a formal introduction of their partners to the other team, including shaking hands before and after the competition. Proper decorum includes complimenting the opponents on strikes and spares as well as consoling them when there were splits or other difficult pick-ups. The best part is socializing at the Pizza Pit after the match. We all learn to be proper hosts. Mummy has trained him well.
Choir Master Key is inspired by our good singing to put together soaring performances at every service. He puts all of us through our paces. Attendance at First Baptist is climbing as word gets out of how inspired the choir is. I ask him if we can travel to Hippie’s grandparents’ church in Harlan County. He is enthusiastic. I call Hippie to get the phone number. I’m intrigued to see what a real Mimaw and Pipaw are like. A trip is arranged to the First Baptist in Harlan. It’s about two hours’ drive. The Church owns a beat-up school bus. It’s a sunny mid-winter day when we make the trip. The adult choir members are in high spirits, for a non-indulging crew. We sing sappy old songs and eat the lunches that had been packed for later. We trust that Harlan would host a Sunday dinner for everyone.
I instantly recognize Hippie’s grandparents, in their Sunday best, standing out front as our hosts.
“Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Ground, I’m Andy and this here is John Boy. We was Gregory’s band mates in Miami.”
“Pleased as punch ta make yer acquaintance. Yer not them boys who blew up Gregory and Anna’s wedding cake, is ya?” Mimaw is determined to keep the record straight.
“No, ma’am. We was both gone at the time of the wedding. Those boys was always lookin’ to start trouble.”
“I always figured there was some goodness in that band. Gregory really blossomed once he started playin’. We was always worried ‘bout him with the odd family he has.” Pipaw pipes in.
“There was a lotta prayin’ done on his behalf.”
“We heard you was the instigator of his Christmas visit here. We’re mighty proud of the boy, married and all. He sang at services here. Now y’all is here to treat us agin.”
The girls come over and are introduced as our step-sisters. Everything is so normal.
“Gregory had us perform ‘Amazing Grace’ at rock n roll shows and at churches as far away as New York City.”
“We’ve bin hearin’ about this Ames Choir, even here in Harlan.”
“We hopes y’all won’ts be disappointed.”
“We’s jist thrilled y’alls come to our small congregation. We’s proud that our boy who inspired y’all.”
Enough of the platitudes, it’s time to actually perform.
To paraphrase one of our favorite Broadway musicals, ‘everythin’s up-to-date in Ames, I-o-way,’ but not so much in the sticks of Harlan, population 5500. We know that Ames First Baptist doesn’t ‘cotton’ to holy rollin’ and speakin’ in tongues. Not the case in Harlan County. After we start our first hymn, individuals stand up and wave their hands to get God’s attention. By the end of the hymn, many congregants are rolling in the aisle. John Boy and I have been there before. To the shock of the twins and the other older choir members, we jump right in there with the rollers. Tongues freak me out, so I pull John Boy to his feet and escape back to the choir.
“What are you doin’?” Angie hisses.
“We always git in with the rollers. It’s fun. Jump in next time it starts up.” I tell her.
Jace remains on the floor, reciting the words Robby used in the Samhein spells, casting an evil eye at me.
After an especially fiery sermon, we sing ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.’
The sermon has brought the rollers out again. Our singing has inspired the tongues. The preacher stands up as we end, reaches under the pulpit and raises a straw basket over his head. John Boy and I have joined the rollers, with the twins adamantly opposed to participating. Again the tongues turn me away from the roiling mass of young, mostly female bodies. John Boy is transfixed as the preacher draws a snake out of the basket. Holding it at arm’s length by the neck, he prays for Jesus to protect him. He asks everyone praying to ask for his protection. Rolling up his shirt sleeve, he holds his arm out for the snake, a six-foot rattler.
“I believe and trust in you, Jesus,” he prays, loosening his grip on the rattler.
The snake strikes at his exposed arm.
“Protect me, Jesus. I feel the devil’s evil coursing through my body,” he starts to shake. Closing his eyes, he raises his head toward the ceiling, The shaking subsides. He opens his eyes.
“Thank you, Jesus.” He is echoed by the membership, with many ‘amens.’
John Boy rises from the rollers, as if in a trance. Before I can stop him, he is standing in front of the Preacher, arms out, and exposed to the squirming rattler.
“I trust in your protection, Jesus,” he proclaims.
The snake strikes at him. The fangs bite him three times on the arm. I rush to stop him. He collapses into my arms. Jace flings the snake against the church wall. People scream as they only see the snake flying through the air.
“Pray for this boy,” the preacher orders.
I’ve enough of this hokum. I pick John Boy up, lay him in an open pew. I bite the fang marks and spit out the venom-infused blood from his arms. I repeat it for each strike. John Boy is still in his trance. His eyes open, smile at my hovering face, and passes out. Jace told me he was dying. I grab Hippie’s Pipaw and have him drive us to the local hospital. As we race out of the chapel, the preacher yells, “Be gone, ye disbelievers.”
I carry John Boy into Emergency, yelling I have a snake bite victim.
“Coming from First Baptist?” the orderly asks.
“He was bitten three times.”
“Well, that’s a new one,” he observes. He acts like it’s a weekly occurrence.
John Boy is still in a coma. The anti-venom is administered three times. His pulse rate is low and his blood pressure almost non-existent. A doctor tells me that all they can do is pray that the anti-venom will eventually work.
I scream at him, “It’s praying that got him bit.”
I call the Stones, speaking with Mr. Stone. He immediately orders an Air-Evac to come to Harlan and transport John Boy to Ames, where there is a modern hospital. The twins and I ride with John Boy, who is feverish and delusional. We are in Ames within an hour.
He remains in a coma. The doctors say it was better for him to be comatose. Mummy and Daddy arrive that night. We all kept watch as John Boy’s fever spikes to 104 degrees. We are warned that if it goes higher, they will have to chill his body in an ice bath. The high temperature is the body’s way to kill the venom. I fall asleep holding his hand, my head on the bed beside him.
I awake with him squeezing my hand. He was staring at me while I slept.
“John Boy,” I murmur. He just smiles.
Jace tell me that he can’t speak. We both start crying. The Stones have been sitting outside and rush in.
“He’s awake, but he can’t talk.”
I push the call button, and a doctor is summoned.
“Not to panic,” he tells the Stones. “It’s probably not a stroke, just residual impairment from the venom and all the medication. We’ll run a scan to make sure he doesn’t have a brain bleed.”
I sit with the Stones while John Boy has the scan. I want to apologize for putting their son in danger. I worry they think it is my fault. I’m still furious at that preacher for cursing us as non-believers when he almost killed my boyfriend. We’re so naïve.
“Don’t blame yourself, Tim. Johnny’s always been impetuous. We over-protected him. He’s our baby.”
“I just want him better.” I want to cry, but the tears are gone, wasted on too many maudlin moments.
Jace sits with me outside John Boy’s room. He signs that I should be patient because John Boy’s heart is fine and he is able to communicate with Jace.
“Does he know we’re all here?”
“Of course, he can see you. It’s a loss of faith in himself that keeps him from speaking.”
“Why did he do it? Did he believe Jesus would protect him?”
“He believes you’re Jesus. He trusts you’ll protect him, which you did. He would have died in Harlan at that country clinic.”
“But will he recover?”
“He trusts me to communicate for him now,” Jace explains.
“But you’re dead.”
“Not to Jack and you, and through you, to many young people.”
I slump over in the seat, trying to understand.
“I’ve got to see Dr. Kamikaze and get him to help John Boy.”
Dr. Kam comes after his morning classes are done. I explain what happened. He is one of the few adults who trusts and loves Jace. We sit next to John Boy on his hospital bed. He watches us with a half-smile. It scares me that he looks like an idiot. He reaches to hold my hand, reassuring me that he is fine. It is the first time Dr. Kam treats John Boy.
“Get Jace to translate my questions to John Boy. You have to speak for both of them,” he advises. Jace nods.
“If you wanted to, can you speak?” is the first question.
“He tried to speak and couldn’t. Now he’s fine about it,” I answer.
“How long does he plan to stay silent?”
“Does he know how sad it makes you?”
“He wants to be in my heart forever, like Jace is.”
I turn to him and plead, “You are in my heart forever. I need you in my arms now.”
Jace shrugs. “He knows you expected him to leave next year. You told Tommy that.”
I feel so guilty. “I can follow you to college. I’ll never leave you. I just told Tommy that to make him feel better.”
“He knows college is a waste for you. You’re ready to be in the adult world.”
“Then, come with me,” I tell him.
“He has a different path than you. He’s an adventurer. You’re an adventure.”
He is dismissing me. I refuse to be spurned. “I will not let you go,” I cry.
“You both have different destinies. Don’t delay your own.” Dr. Kam interjects. “Don’t argue with him now. His health is still fragile. He may not truly mean what he is telling you. I think his jealousy about Tommy may be clouding his judgment.”
John Boy watches Dr. Kam. The idiot smile on his face is replaced with concern and thoughtfulness. He falls asleep. I taxed him with our argument.
Dr. Kam takes me into the hall.
“My impression is Jack likes all this attention. He may be feeling guilty as well, for putting everyone through all the drama. Letting the snake bite him was an impetuous act.”
“I feel guilty for not stopping him.”
“That’s all part of his guilt.”
“Once he’s at home and recovered from the side effects, you can find out if he really wants to break up with you.”
It is crystal clear what Dr. Kam is seeing. All the drama with Tommy took a toll on poor John Boy. I was so selfish for loving two people at the same time. I go back into his room and climb into bed with him, fully dressed. He wrapped his arms around me. I’m instantly asleep.
The Stones and the attending doctor wake me up. The scans are clear. It is a matter of waiting for progress with his speech loss. The moms tell me to go to school. There is nothing wrong with me, except for a broken heart, yet again.
I arrive in time for lunch. I sit at the ten-pin table with ‘Gator and the twins. They all knew that John Boy is in the hospital, having heard about the serpent handling and anointing of the holy spirit incident in Harlan.
“Is he getting better?” Amy asks.
“The doctors are confident he will. He recovered from the snake bite but is unable to speak.”
“Them serpents shut that boy up,” Clarence decides. He is one of the more religious of the group.
“Dr. Kam saw him and thinks he’s still delusional. Maybe he’s still mad over the whole Tommy drama.”
“They’s blamin’ that boy fer what?” ‘Gator is quick to defend his buddy.
“No. He blames me for tryin’ to have two boyfriends.”
“What are you, super gay?” Noah quips.
Everyone laughs but me.
Afternoon classes are a blur. Several kids come up and ask about John Boy. The gossip mill has been turning. John Boy’s fag hag coterie rush me in the hall, wanting details.
“The Baptists believe that the holy spirit will protect you from the serpent’s venom. John Boy got imbued with the Spirit. We were holy rolling and he started speaking in tongues. Tongues makes me feel queasy, so I returned to the choir. When the preacher brought out the snake, John Boy offered himself to prove the power of the holy spirit. Apparently the snake recognized that he is really a Catholic and bit him three times. The anti-venom didn’t work on him. We flew back to Ames and he’s in the hospital,” I describe the ordeal.
The girls are beside themselves.
“Can we visit him?” their leader asks.
“I’m sure he’ll love seeing you. I’ll have to find out if he can have visitors. He still can’t talk and is recovering.”
They made up a card that has an angel ascending into heaven. It is more of a sympathy than a get-well card.
After the last bell, I go to the band room and start playing acoustic guitar. I can’t express in words what I feel. Feelings are easier to get expressed in the music. I stay away from Pink Floyd, too associated with death. I play the Eagles’ ‘Desperado.’
I sing the last verses to myself, letting the feelings make the words soar at the end.
‘Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?
Come down from your fences, open the gate
It may be rainin’, but there’s a rainbow above you
You better let somebody love you (let somebody love you)
You better let somebody love you before it’s too late’
• written by Don Henley, Glenn Lewis Frey
• copyright with Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Don Henly/Glenn Frey/Eagles
I’ve been sitting behind the amps, hidden from sight. I’m afraid Ill start crying. The tears have dried up. Standing up I see I had an audience. Mrs. Hull and her band fags are listening.
“That is so beautiful, Andy,” she gushes.
The band fags rush over and hug me. Instead of two boyfriends, now I had five plus a couple of girls. They make me smile, not cry. I realize I have to own this latest tragedy.
The twins collect me. We go straight to the hospital.
The Stones are in consultation with John Boy’s doctors. Jace has been listening.
“The scans are all negative. His fever is gone and the white blood count has returned to normal. His loss of speech is termed psychosomatic, in his head.”
“We knew that,” I tell Jace
“The thing is, the Stones want to transfer him to some fancy hospital in New York. They say he needs a speech specialist.”
I rush into John Boy’s room.
“Do you want to go to New York?” I ask him.
Jace answers, “Will Andy come see me?”
“I’m your Andy. I’ll come with you. Andy Warhol can visit us both.”
The idiot smile turns into a grin.
Before confronting Mummy, I call home. Molly answers.
“I need your permission to stay with John Boy.”
“That’s fine. Who do I speak with?”
The new me admitted, “They’re taking him to New York.”
“Whoa, Cowboy. I need a little better convincing than you sneaking it by me as a hospital room visit.”
“I know. I need you on my side. I has ta go. Jace and I can speak to him. He’s refusing to talk. It’s all my fault.”
“If you’re to blame, shouldn’t he be protected from seeing you, for at least a while?”
“It’s not about right or wrong. John Boy needs me. I can speak for him.”
She put her hand over the phone and gets Mom.
“Andy, you can’t just leave. We trusted you.”
“You have to trust me now. I’ll come back as soon as possible. They think he’s mental. I can talk for him.”
“Well, if his parents want you to come, you must be back before school on Monday.”
Why did she give in so easily? Why did Molly let her make the decision? Why was I even thinking about it? Trust, I guess.
“Thank you. Thank you. I’ll have the Stones call you.”
I walk up to the Stones and hospital staff.
“Johnny knows you want to take him to New York. It’s okay.”
“How do you know that?” Mummy asks.
“Jace,” I answer, without giving any further explanation.
“Johnny’s talking to you?”
“We use sign language.”
“Sounds like he’s coming around,” the doctor surmises. “But I’m worried that his temperature has gone up again.”
“He wants to talk but can’t.”
“At least we know his brain is okay.”
“My therapist, Dr. Kam, believes his heart is hurt. He says it was too much pressure for him to bear, arriving when I had another boyfriend here.”
“We have decided to move him to a Columbia-Presbyterian in New York.”
“I’ll go with him, so I can speak for him until he gets his voice back. My parents say it’s okay to stay through the weekend.”
“Of course, Tim. Your being there should help heal his heart.”
Mom and Molly speak with the Stones when they come to pick me up. John Boy is to be moved by private jet. I can stay at their family apartment on Central Park West. I tell the twins what has happened, so they can tell ‘Gator and anyone else who asks. They’re jealous I got to go to New York. I promised to be back by Monday.
The hospital s in Washington Heights, near Columbia University. Jack sleeps the entire trip from Iowa. His fever is 102 degrees on arrival, high but not dangerous. I sit with him and translate his answers to many medical questions.
Once he is settled and asleep, I call Andy, hoping he will visit, leaving a message with his assistant. The assistant, Blair, remembers me and is very flirty. I promise to visit the Factory Downtown.
I’m dozing when Andy arrives. John Boy sits up as Andy sits on his bed. I translate John Boy’s side of the conversation.
“I was snake-bit, Andy,” John Boy explains.
Andy upbraided me, “You were supposed to protect him.”
“Those Baptists bewitched him. He was holy rolling and speaking in tongues. When they brought out the rattlesnake, John Boy was mesmerized, walked up to it and was bitten three times.”
“The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Those Baptist can tell he’s a Catholic.”
John Boy giggles, the first sound he’s made in days.
I have Andy retell stories from their stay on Jackie O’s yacht at Cannes. It keeps John Boy giggling. I run and bring a doctor back to observe the change. When the doctor asks John Boy questions, all he does is giggle louder. He looks like an idiot, a big grin on his face, unable to stop laughing. The doctor notes the progress on his chart.
Andy promises to come the next day. I hug him, with a kiss to his cheek. His smile is a mirror image of John Boy’s idiot grin. Maybe it’s contagious.
“Come by the Factory when Jack no longer needs you 24 hours a day. I want to show you what I’m working on.”
“I can tell you about the show I put on for Christmas – Little House on the Prairie.”
“You’ve gone straight on me?”
“I get accused of turning all the farm boys gay.”
“Should I come visit?”
“My best friend is called ‘Gator – he’s captain of the football team.”
“Once you were so sophisticated.”
“Come visit. I even ride the cows home to the barn for milking.”
“I left Pittsburgh to escape all that.”
“Can we spend time together once John Boy’s better. I’m jealous that I missed being with you.”
“We can catch up then. There must be a story in how you ended up in Iowa. Last year you were doing Shakespeare. Now you’re doing TV shows. I’m intrigued. Talk with my assistant.”
“He seems to like me.”
“I’m sure. But I discovered you at 14 and want to work with you on my new project.”
“That’s exciting. Let’s do lunch, baby.”
“You are still too funny,” he laughs.
“I’ll be 18 this summer. I’m not the same fresh face you remember.”
Next I call Tina. Her dad is happier than she is to hear from me. She and I haven’t spoken in months.
“Buenas tardes,” she answers.
“Buenas tardes, chica. Estoy Tim.”
“Son novio viejo.”
“Oh, el amigo de Pedro.”
“Si. He venido a Nueva York.”
“Si, en Washington Heights. Jack’s in the hospital. Please come and visit. Bring Pedro, el burro.”
The two of them show up at dinner time, making a fuss about spoon-feeding John Boy. Pete looks much older, having grown out a pencil mustache, like all good muchachos. Their closeness makes me jealous, until he pulls me into a big hug.
“Not so shy,” I smile at him.
“I’ve got my woman. I have you to thank,” as he pulls Tina into our hug.
She turns red, letting me know she and Pete are more than holding hands now.
“I’m staying on the Upper Westside, at Jack’s family apartment,” I tell them. “Let’s get together once Jack is out of the hospital.”
They stay until John Boy falls asleep. I accompany them down to the lobby and pay for a cab to take them home. It’s nearby in the Bronx.
“Always the big spender,” Pete kids me.
“Yeah. I get great tips as a pizza delivery boy in Iowa.”
I arrive at the apartment after 10 pm. Two of Jack’s cousins, Brett and Trent, live there permanently. They barely know Jack, as the families are not close. The rumors they’ve heard are a great starting point for me to get to know them.
“Why are you with Uncle Edgar and Aunt Dorothy?”
“John Boy’s my boyfriend.”
“Cool. We thought he was just a nerd. How’d he meet you in Iowa?”
“We met in 11th grade last year in Miami. He was my understudy in ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream.”
“So, you seduced him?”
“He’d never smoked pot before. My friends got him stoned. He attacked me. I took him home. We’ve been together after that. Pot makes him super horny.”
“We’ll make sure to avoid that.”
“Gay doesn’t run in the family?” I kid them.
“Just pot smoking,” as Brett pulls out a fat joint.
We smoke out while I explain how the two of us ended up in Iowa. The brothers soon are cuddled up with each other. Gayness isn’t genetic, in the Stone family, but pot breaking down inhibitions evidently is. It is the first time I enjoy getting high since leaving the Everglades. As I relate the many band and fugitive stories, they creep closer to me as we sit in the living room in front of a fire on a large couch. They put my legs on their laps – upper class bonding is a gradual, step-by-step ritual.
“We like you,” they decide. “Come out with us on Friday night and meet our friends.”
They attend Collegiate and have friends from the Dalton School and Spence.
“Well, John Boy will probably be coming here tomorrow, once the hospital releases him. We do everything together.”
“We’re looking forward to what that nerd has become.”
“He won’t disappoint you.”
They insist I sleep in their room. Trent gives me his bed, tucking in with his brother. In the morning, they bemoaned my less than fashionable attire.
“You can’t look like a hayseed in the City,” as they dress me from their copious closet. Paisley replaced tees and jeans.
Walking into John Boy’s hospital room, he smiles at my preppy look.
“You letting my cousins dress you now?” he signs to Jace.
“Just like the twins do. And, you used to tell me which gay underwear to choose each day.”
He motions me to come closer, pulling the tail of my shirt out of my trousers. He snaps my briefs, giving me an instant boner. We are stroking each other when a male nurse walks in.
“I knew you’d be going at it,” he notes
I love New York.
I called Jay while John Boy is processed to be released.
“Hi, Jay, still married?”
“No complaints yet.”
“Jack and I get first dibs.”
“How about we stick to phone sex?”
“This is a business call.”
“What do you need?”
“I’m in New York. Jack got snake-bit and needed real medical care.”
“Is he okay?”
“After the country doctor told us to pray for recovery, we came East. He’s getting released as we speak.”
“So you want Martin’s number, huh?”
“Please. I hear he couldn’t sell the film without his star performer.”
“That would be you, I’m guessing?”
“Yeah. Maybe we can do something different. America’s not ready for gay teenage sex.”
“Andy Warhol came to see Jack. He’s got something planned. Maybe Marty can collaborate with him.”
“Not sure they’re that compatible – the Bronx meets the East Village. Anyway, Marty’s promoting his new gangster movie, ‘Taxi Driver,’ for the Academy Awards. Maybe after he’s done with the media circus.”
“I go back to Iowa on Sunday. Can you at least get me some time with him?”
“I’ll do my best.”
“Yeah. Work your magic. Is Mike available?”
“Hi, Tim. You’re in New York?” Mr. Antonio comes on the line after a pause.
“Yeah. Jack got snake-bit in a Baptist Church and needs real doctors to be cured.”
“Michael said he had a great time over Christmas. Jack stayed after that?”
“We were being good little Baptist choir boys when this back-country preacher sicc’d a snake on Jack, calling us unbelievers.”
“You are a magnet for trouble.”
“Yeah. A real drama queen. My sisters claim I’m possessed.”
“Anything I can do for you?”
“Not really. I just wanted to say hi and apologize for all the trouble I’ve caused. I asked Jay to get me time with Marty.”
“No apologies needed. You have been a good influence on Michael, and even Robby. They made it back from Iowa without having to rob a liquor store or anything else illegal.”
“They are just slowing down with age.”
“You’re still the godparent to my unborn grandchild.”
The Stones come out of the hospital, with the newly released Jack. He still is not talking. His idiot grin and manic laugh are beginning to bug me. I sign that we will go see Andy after he was settled in at the apartment. Good thing there are 30 hours to a New York day.