Monday morning, January 5, 1976, the four of us walked into Ames High early. The twins decided to hold hands in support of Jack and me. At first, there were whispered remarks about lesbos, which had nothing to do with travel plans to the Greek Isles. Angie glared at anyone looking critical.
“We’re sisters. Stop listening to your dirty minds.”
Apparently Jack and I were old news. It didn’t take long for the twins’ choir girl reputations to overrule thoughts of gay incest. The three of us took Jack to the office to enroll him in classes. His Gables High transcript had been sent by the Stones. The Swiss seminary had refused to send the fall grades out of pique for his leaving without permission. The counselor agreed to place Jack in 12th grade classes, dependent upon his passing the winter term finals. After we finished, the school principal, Mr. Young, asked to speak with us in his office.
“I want us to stay on track, Andy and Jack. I have been here at Ames High for over thirty years. I can’t 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 have 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 were the victims here. It was like 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 walked out of the office and instantly noticed many people holding hands, the majority being girls. The twins were style setters. Jack quickly grabbed my hand. In each class students moved so we could sit together. After lunch, we noticed that the straight couples were holding hands as well as the girls. ‘Gator came up with his arm around Noah.
“We ain’t holdin’ hands, like girls,” he announced. The rest of his posse looked relieved, having expected to be ordered to do so. ‘Gator could care less about his posse.
At the end of classes, we went 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 jumped 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 reminded 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 asserted.
“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 looked at each other and smiled.
Coach let us leave. In the hall, ‘Gator asked, “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 joshed him.
“Grrr,” and then he laughed. “Y’all is too much fun.”
Our busy day ended up with the nightly ‘Waltons’ calling back and forth. It was the reason we all left our bedroom doors open.
“Good night, Jim Bob,” they called out.
“Good night, Mary Ellen,” we both responded.
“Good night, John Boy,” they added to the routine.
We both giggled and poked each other at the change.
“Whatcha y’all laughing ‘bout?” Angie called out.
“Jack’s gots hisself a new name ta go with his new Iowa life.”
Everyone was laughing.
At school the next day, more people were holding hands. John Boy and I were the only boys doing so until ‘Gator ordered 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 roamed the halls, pushing other students aside as they marched four-abreast hand-in-hand. We got called into the office for starting a trend that was getting out of control. ‘Gator promised to straighten it out at the football meeting that afternoon.
I made sure the office knew that Jack was now John Boy. Most authorities found it amusing and were happy to oblige. The twins went around and introduced him as their brother’s new live-in boyfriend. We all went to the gym to observe the football team meeting.
Coach Ball let ‘Gator, as team captain, speak first, once everyone was seated in the gym stands. For country boy, he gave 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 was 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 took 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 watched from the sidelines. I could object to Coach’s attitude that we were perverted, but progress comes slower than you wish for. After dismissing the team, he came over to find if we approved. I suppressed 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 joked.
“Don’t be changing my star player.”
“Don’ts ya worry none, Coach. ‘Gator’s a force o’ nature.”
We made sure all our teachers knew to call Jack ‘John Boy.’ In English class, Mrs. McCarthy took to John Boy right away. He told her all about our performance of Shakespeare last year. She was speechless when we told her he had played Titania after taking over the role from me, so I could the play music.
“Andy hardly talked to me all year, but 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 asked.
“Mr. Clark wanted an authentic Elizabethan performance when only males could be seen 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 had won over another convert.
The Music Man performance we had done for his parents was to be repeated at Friday’s Assembly. John Boy could hardly wait for his Ames debut. We decide to added “Surrey with a Fringe on Top,” so ‘Gator and Noah could revive Bunny for the Assembly. The song about Iowans being stand-offish and stubborn was dropped. Everyone already knew that was true.
The bowling team meeting went too well. With the five added mixed pairs from the football team we now had twelve partners. The added uproar of the football teams’ misbehavior brought 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 would determine who played for each team on the Saturday morning competitions with other schools. Ames Lanes was happy to accommodate all the teams, but the rapid growth of high school bowling meant we had to pay for our bowling fees ourselves – no more free games. It wasn’t too expensive for most students, but many of the farm kids didn’t have part-time jobs and received no allowances even though they had a heavy load of chores. The cheerleaders volunteered to have bake sales at every Saturday competition, creating enough revenue to pay the lane fees.
Wednesday afternoon was my first appointment with Dr. Kamikaze since the fight and my subsequent breakdown. I gave him a synopsis of the events leading to my hospitalization.
“Sounds like your ‘flashback’ was 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 was remembering 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 make 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 realized.
I was fairly subdued after the session. So much so, that the twins remarked I must have had a difficult time with Dr. Kam
“What’s wrong?” John Boy asked.
“Dr. Kam thinks I shouldn’t stay in touch with Tommy as much.”
“Good,” the always possessive boyfriend remarked.
“It’s not what you think. It’s about what happened before I got here.”
Molly jumped 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 offered her Peanuts advice.
“I think crying is cute,” Amy came to my rescue, giving me a hug, joined by John Boy.
No tears today, I thought. Maybe that was a sign of progress.
After pizza deliveries, we had choir practice. The choir master, Mr. Key, had heard John Boy’s voice the previous service. He suggested all four of us act as a quartet, not like a barbershop one, but as stepping-stones. We practiced singing in rounds. He had me lower my range while John Boy set an alto platform for the twins to soar from as alternating sopranos. The rest of the choir did the chorus parts, while the quartet did the verses as a round. Once we started getting it right, it sounded great. Everyone left practice feeling a spiritual high. I thought how Grant would add another rhythmic dimension if he could join us. I decided to try doing so next week as I led off the rounds singing low.
Once upstairs at home, I explained what I had been thinking. Amy got on the piano. We did ‘Rock of Ages’ in rounds.
I tried to add boogie-woogie to my bass part, forcing the others to adapt. The moms came up, concerned we were avoiding our homework. My arrangement of the hymn caught them off-guard.
“This is choir homework,” I explained.
“Oh. Well, carry on.” Molly mumbled.
“Y’all wanna join in?” I invited them.
They hurried back to their part of the house. We stopped singing and finished our homework. I collapsed into bed, much to John Boy’s disappointment. I was exhausted and went to sleep instantly.
I woke 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 misquoted Shakespeare.
“When will you tell me what shook you up yesterday at therapy?” Jack was perplexed.
“I told you about being raped.”
“You mean in juvie?”
“No. I instigated that to stop the molester. The truckers in Alabama.”
Jace appeared, wanting to hear about what he missed before rescuing me in the ditch.
“I just thought you gave 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 moved over and hugged me.
I wanted to cry but couldn’t. Maybe it was another good sign. At least he didn’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 kicked 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 signed.
“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 hugged him. Jace came into the cuddle.
Angie stuck 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 spilled 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 could think was it was too many people knowing my secret. My head started spinning. Jace noticed first, whispering in my ear to stay calm and ride out the spins. John Boy saw him whispering and noticed that my eyes were spinning.
“He’s gonna pass out,” he yelled, grabbing hold of me.
The twins rushed over and got into the group hug. It was too much. I went out.
Max was lying on my chest, licking my face. It was true Max-lovin’. I came to.
John Boy was sobbing on me, not Max. Jace has moved away and was rubbing Max’s belly. The girls looked terrified.
“He’s back,” John Boy announced.
“It was Max-lovin’ that saved me,” I told him.
The girls rushed back to hug me with John Boy. Jace shook his head, but it was too late. I went out cold.
I woke up in the hospital, again. Thursday seemed to be my day to be hospitalized. The moms were sitting on my bed.
“Where is everyone?” I asked.
“We made them go to school after the doctor said there was no injury. Dr. Kamikaze’s on his way over. What happened?”
“The girls didn’t tell you?”
“Something about last week’s fight brought back bad memories.”
Whew. I didn’t want anyone else to know, not even ‘Gator. I’d tell Dr. Kam now.
“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 was spinning again.
“Andy, look at me. We won’t talk about this until you’re ready.” Molly assertively held my attention. The spins stopped. That was max-loving too. I hugged her.
When Dr. Kam arrived, the moms left 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 wasn’t ready for more drama. Just thinking about it had me on edge.
“Why don’t you tell me about John Boy and how you met.”
Dr. Kam practiced good therapy.
After the first few days of classes, John Boy decided to switch from Spanish with me to French. He wanted to keep up the language skills he had learned in Switzerland. With his charm and conversational French skills, he was a hit in the new class. The other students wanted to start a French Club, doing cultural things like Provençal cooking, New Wave cinema, and Parisian fashion. It was right up his line. His new friends were snooty and arrogant compared to my jock friends. Having lived in the French-speaking part of Switzerland made him the star of their little social circle. Frankly I was relieved that he was making his own friends and didn’t need to be with me all the time.
“What did the French club prepare for dinner tonight?” Amy asked when we returned from the weekly meeting.
“Lapin au vin,” John Boy answered.
“What’s that?” Amy innocently responded.
I pulled a lucky rabbit foot out of my pocket. “Does this give you a clue?” I hinted.
“You ate a little bunny?” Amy was shocked.
“Hope it wasn’t the Easter Bunny,” I mocked her.
The twins ran upstairs in a huff. The rabbit wasn’t half-bad, kind of like chicken. Having to use canned vegetables and processed ingredients for the sauces seemed to defeat the concept of fresh, locally sourced meals. I kept my mouth shut. John Boy had his own posse of infatuated girls. One even asked if he was really ‘a gay.’ Lying in bed I complained he smelled like a French whore. Provoked we had 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 came rushing in and demanded to see what we were doing. We both performed after a costume upgrade with tee shirts and the garish gay briefs we normally wore. They were shocked and rushed back to their room. After we stopped giggling, we got down to business with the door locked. Lying there panting from the excess of testosterone, we almost were asleep in each other’s arms.
“Goodnight, Jim Bob,” the twins called out.
“Goodnight, Mary Ellen,” we called back.
“Goodnight, Bad Boy,” they mocked us.
“Goodnight, Momma,” we mocked them back.
On Saturday morning, John Boy had his tryout for the bowling team. He asked a French Club friend be his partner. We had to put up with their ‘Ew, la la’, ‘c’est magnifique’ or ‘merdre’ remarks whenever they rolled a good or bad shot. It was a detriment to team spirit that they had their own language. They did have the highest scores that week. Soon all the football players were exclaiming in French. The cheerleaders started doing their own Moulin Rouge version of the Can Can, much to the glee of the football players. Team spirit recovered. The following week would be the first head-to-head with another school. Pre-season tournaments were over. We had to face the small town teams that had been kicking our butts all fall. After practice we all chipped in for pizza from the Pit and the whole team and hangers-on ensconced ourselves on the third floor of Hyland Street – the bowling team clubhouse. The moms went shopping, unable to bear more disruption to their peace-of-mind. Amy was on the piano and played a series of College fight songs – Notre Dame, USC, Wisconsin, and Iowa.
Then we made all the girls do the Can Can again. They made the boys do the same with such a pitiful result that it caused many insults directed at us. John Boy had held himself back, saving it for my personal pleasure. Everyone left when it was time for my delivery shift at the Pizza Pit. I noticed the moms were sitting in their car, laughing it up at all the teenagers. John Boy came with me.
“What happened to yer little brother?” my manager asked.
“Tommy had to go back to his foster parents in Florida.”
I noticed he had put up the help wanted sign again.
“Ya tryin’ ta replace me?” I asked.
“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 stepped 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 got him what he wanted. He started that night. I went into the back and made a tip jar to place at the cash register. I had a mild flashback of the sign I thought of while hitch-hiking – ‘Blow jobs for McDonalds’
It was completely satisfactory for both of us to work the same hours. I loved coming back to pick up more deliveries, seeing him work the counter customers. We competed to see who earned the most tips each night. John Boy’s manners made him the perennial winner.
Time was slipping by at an increasingly rapid pace. The prairie storms dumped copious amounts of snow, The constant prairie wind blew most of it away. ‘Gator often stayed at the house after school. He left to do his chores when we had to go to work. He pestered us to tell him our solution to his need to have a girlfriend he really respected.
“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 complained. He’d figure it out. John Boy had a harem of fag hags who believed it was très chic to have a gay French boyfriend. They even organized a Gay Parie Night. We were the only boys to show up. It didn’t bother them at all. They preened us with mascara mustaches and berets. We performed our ‘American in Paris’ act with a Cappella versions of ‘Singing in the Rain’
and ‘April in Paris.’ John Boy convinced them to concentrate on raising money for a spring trip to Paris in 1977. They held a bake sale, but their croissants, eclairs, crepes and patisseries were not a big hit at the basketball game where they held the bake sale. John Boy, ‘Gator and I ate the leftovers.
My ability to enjoy these normal activities was due to Dr. Kam’s zen-like therapy. Instead of putting me on a couch where I could wallow in my problems, he treated me like his gay pet. He showered me with love and approval, without going over the line. We hugged. He often massaged me during session, much like Jace had always done. He wasn’t very tall with a roly-poly body and almost bald head. I loved him and he knew it. There was no sexual tension. He used affection to get me to come around to dealing with my issues. He wanted to know everything about my boyfriends. My stories about Robby and the pot gang had him laughing uproariously. He listened seriously when I described the Samhein/Belladonna experience. He said that drugs can be an effective gateway to the imagination and unconscious. He acknowledged that his own Shinto animism conflicted with my spirit world of pure energy. My descriptions of the visions I had with the Guardian captivated him. My Devil vision scared him. His Catholicism came out at times. We bonded on our shared belief of a spirit world. The band’s exploits inspired him to take out his shamisen, a three-stringed lute that sounded eerie. He’d play as I’d make up lyrics to sing. He brought hiragana lyric sheets which he had translated. He taught me the rhythm, pronunciation and emphasis of these Japanese songs. When I could adequately accompany him on the lute, he was pleased to no end. He made up stories about how we were going to Japan and follow the annual island of Shikoku pilgrimage to Buddhist shrines together. I was totally seduced. I responded with my experiences, finally able to relate all the travails of my hitch-hiking with truckers. He called it the McDonald’s Tour of the Confederacy. John Boy became suspicious of our relationship until he came to several sessions. Dr. Kam welcomed his involvement, using his superior Japanese manners enraptured the boy. John Boy was devastated when he learned how his blurting out my worst nightmare to everyone had relapsed me to the hospital. Dr. Kam told him that being young meant making mistakes and learning from them. John Boy wanted to do the Shikoku pilgrimage with us. After his less than pleasant European experience learning French in Geneva, he switched his travel bug to the Orient. He especially liked the idea of communal hot springs. He had Uncle Tam send us matching kimonos. Life couldn’t be more normal.
The bowling team had over thirty members. Ames Lanes added us to their Tuesday night Mixed league. The adult bowlers took an interest in the team once they found out how much help we needed to improve our scores and to run the tournaments and individual competitions with near-by schools. A state-wide Iowa High School Championship Tournament was scheduled for late March. We had written up rules for competitions and guidelines for proper etiquette. Ames was the center of Iowa high school bowling. As a non-contact sport, it was the perfect opportunity for real co-ed teams where the guys and girls counted on each other to determine the outcomes of competitions. John Boy’s posse of fag hags filled in with boys who were unable to find their own female partners. A stickler for good manners, he trained the farm boys on how to act when first meeting their opponents. He insisted that the boy make a formal introduction of their partner to the other team, including shaking hands before and after the competition. Proper decorum included complimenting the opponents on strikes and spares as well as consoling them when there were splits or other difficult pick-ups. The best part was socializing at the Pizza Pit after the match. We all learned to be proper hosts. Mummy had trained him well.
Choir Master Key was inspired by our good singing to put together soaring performances at every service. He put all of us through our paces. Attendance at First Baptist was climbing as word got out of how inspired the choir was. I asked him if we could travel to Hippie’s grandparents’ church in Harlan County. He was enthusiastic. I called Hippie to get the phone number. I was intrigued to see what a real Mimaw and Pipaw were like. A trip was arranged to the First Baptist in Harlan. It was about two hours’ drive. The Church owned a beat-up school bus. It was a sunny mid-winter day when we made the trip. The adult choir members were in high spirits, for a non-indulging crew. We sang sappy old songs and ate the lunches that had been packed for later. We trusted that Harlan would host a Sunday dinner for everyone.
I instantly recognized 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 was 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 piped 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 came over and were introduced as our step-sisters. Everything was 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 inspired y’all.”
Enough of the platitudes, it was 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 knew that Ames First Baptist didn’t ‘cotton’ to holy rollin’ and speakin’ in tongues. Not the case in Harlan County. After we started our first hymn, individuals stood up and waved their hands to get God’s attention. By the end of the hymn, many congregants were rolling in the aisle. John Boy and I had been there before. To the shock of the twins and the other older choir members, we jumped right in there with the rollers. Tongues freaked me out, so I pulled John Boy to his feet and escaped back to the choir.
“What are you doin’?” Angie hissed.
“We always git in with the rollers. It’s fun. Jump in next time it starts up.” I told her.
Jace remained on the floor, reciting the words Robby used in the Samhein spells, casting an evil eye at me.
After an especially fiery sermon, we sang ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.’
The sermon had brought the rollers out again. Our singing had inspired the tongues. The preacher stood up as we ended, reached into the pulpit and raised a straw basket over his head. John Boy and I had joined the rollers, with the twins adamantly opposed to participating. Again the tongues turned me away from the roiling mass of young, mostly female bodies. John Boy was transfixed as the preacher drew a snake out of the basket. Holding it at arm’s-length by the neck, he prayed for Jesus to protect him. He asked for everyone praying to ask for his protection. Rolling up his shirt sleeve, he held his arm out for the snake, a six-foot rattler.
“I believe and trust in you, Jesus,” he prayed, loosening his grip on the rattler.
The snake struck at his exposed arm.
“Protect me, Jesus. I feel the devil’s evil coursing through my body,” he started to shake. Closing his eyes, he raised his head toward the ceiling, The shaking subsided. He opened his eyes.
“Thank you, Jesus.” He was echoed by the membership, with many ‘amens.’
John Boy rose from the rollers, as if in a trance. Before I could stop him, he was standing in front of the Preacher, arms out, and exposed to the squirming rattler.
“I trust in your protection, Jesus,” he proclaimed.
The snake struck at him. The fangs bit him three times on the arm. I rushed to stop him. He collapsed into my arms. Jace flung the snake against the church wall. People screamed as they only saw the snake flying through the air.
“Pray for this boy,” the preacher ordered.
I had enough of this hokum. I picked John Boy up, laying him in an open pew. I bit the fang marks and spit out the venom-infused blood from his arms. I repeated it for each strike. John Boy was still in his trance. His eyes opened, smiled at my hovering face, and passed out. Jace told me he was dying. I grabbed Hippie’s Pipaw and had him drive us to the local hospital. As we raced out of the chapel, the preacher yelled, “Be gone, ye disbelievers.”
I carried John Boy into Emergency, yelling I had a snake bite victim.
“Coming from First Baptist?” the orderly asked.
“He was bitten three times.”
“Well, that’s a new one,” he observed. He acted like it was a weekly occurrence.
John Boy was still in a coma. The anti-venom was administered three times. His pulse rate was low and his blood pressure almost non-existent. A doctor told me that all they could do was pray that the anti-venom would eventually work.
I screamed at him, “It’s praying that got him bit.”
I called the Stones, speaking with Mr. Stone. He immediately ordered an Air-Evac to come to Harlan and transport John Boy to Ames, where there was a modern hospital. The twins and I rode with John Boy, who was feverish and delusional. We were in Ames within an hour.
He remained in a coma. The doctors said it was better for him to be comatose. Mummy and Daddy arrived that night. We all kept watch as John Boy’s fever spiked to 104 degrees. We were warned that if it went higher, they would have to chill his body in an ice bath. The high temperature was the body’s way to kill the venom. I fell asleep holding his hand, my head on the bed beside him.
I awoke with him squeezing my hand. He was staring at me while I slept.
“John Boy,” I murmured. He just smiled.
Jace told me that he couldn’t speak. We both started crying. The Stones had been sitting outside and rushed in.
“He’s awake, but he can’t talk.”
I pushed the call button, and a doctor was summoned.
“Not to panic,” he told 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 sat with the Stones while John Boy had the scan. I wanted to apologize for putting their son in danger. I worried they would think it was my fault. I was still furious at that preacher for cursing us as non-believers when he had almost killed my boyfriend. We were 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 wanted to cry, but the tears were gone, wasted on too many maudlin moments.
Jace sat with me outside John Boy’s room. He signed that I should be patient because John Boy’s heart was fine and was 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 explained.
“But you’re dead.”
“Not to Jack and you, and through you, to many young people.”
I slumped over in the seat, trying to understand.
“I’ve got to see Dr. Kamikaze and get him to help John Boy.”
Dr. Kam came after his morning classes were done. I explained what had happened. He was one of the few adults who trusted and loved Jace. We sat next to John Boy on his hospital bed. He watched us with a half-smile. It scared me that he looked like an idiot. He reached to hold my hand, reassuring me that he was fine. It was the first time Dr. Kam had treated John Boy.
“Get Jace to translate my questions to John Boy. You have to speak for both of them,” he advised. Jace nodded.
“If you wanted to, can you speak?” was the first question.
“He tried to speak and couldn’t. Now he’s fine about it,” I answered.
“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 turned to him and pleaded, “You are in my heart forever. I need you in my arms now.”
Jace shrugged. “He knows you expected him to leave next year. You told Tommy that.”
I felt 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 told him.
“He has a different path than you. He’s an adventurer. You’re an adventure.”
He was dismissing me. I refused to be spurned. “I will not let you go,” I cried.
“You both have different destinies. Don’t delay your own.” Dr. Kam interjected. “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 watched Dr. Kam. The idiot smile on his face was replaced with concern and thoughtfulness. He fell asleep. I had taxed him with our argument.
Dr. Kam took 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 was crystal clear what Dr. Kam was 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 went back into his room and climbed into bed with him, fully dressed. He wrapped his arms around me. I was instantly asleep.
The Stones and the attending doctor woke me up. The scans were clear. It was a matter of waiting for progress with his speech loss. The moms told me to go to school. There was nothing wrong with me, except for a broken heart, yet again.
I arrived in time for lunch. I sat at the ten-pin table with ‘Gator and the twins. They all knew that John Boy was in the hospital, having heard about the serpent handling and anointing of the holy spirit incident in Harlan.
“Is he getting better?” Amy asked.
“The doctors are confident he will. He’s recovered from the snake bite but is unable to speak.”
“Them serpents shut that boy up,” Clarence decided. He was 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 blamin’ that boy fer what?” ‘Gator was quick to defend his buddy.
“No. He blames me for tryin’ to have two boyfriends.”
“What are you, super gay?” Noah quipped.
Everyone laughed but me.
Afternoon classes were a blur. Several kids came up and asked about John Boy. The gossip mill had been turning. John Boy’s fag hag coterie rushed 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 was 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 described the ordeal.
The girls were beside themselves.
“Can we visit him?” their leader asked.
“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 had made up a card that had an angel ascending into heaven. It was more of a sympathy than a get-well card.
After the last bell, I went to the band room and started playing acoustic guitar. I couldn’t express in words what I felt. Feelings were easier to get out in the music. I stayed away from Pink Floyd, too associated with death. I played the Eagles’ ‘Desperado.’
I sang 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’d been sitting behind the amps, hidden from sight. I was afraid I’d start crying. The tears had dried up. Standing up I saw I had an audience. Mrs. Hull and her band fags were listening.
“That is so beautiful, Andy,” she gushed.
The band fags rushed over and hugged me. Instead of two boyfriends, now I had five plus a couple of girls. They made me smile, not cry. I realized I had to own this latest tragedy.
The twins collected me. We went straight to the hospital.
The Stones were in consultation with John Boy’s doctors. Jace had 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 told 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 rushed into John Boy’s room.
“Do you want to go to New York?” I asked him.
Jace answered, “Will Andy come see me?”
“I’m your Andy. I’ll come with you. Andy Warhol can visit us both.”
The idiot smile turned into a grin.
Before confronting Mummy, I called home. Molly answered.
“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 haves 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 got 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 walked 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 asked.
“Jace,” I answered, without giving any further explanation.
“Johnny’s talking to you?”
“We use sign language.”
“Sounds like he’s coming around,” the doctor surmised. “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 said it’s okay to stay through the weekend.”
“Of course, Tim. Your being there should help heal his heart.”
Mom and Molly spoke with the Stones when they came to pick me up. John Boy was to be moved by private jet. I would stay at their family apartment on Central Park West. I told the twins what had happened, so they could tell ‘Gator and anyone else who asked. They were jealous I got to go to New York. I promised to be back by Monday.
The hospital was in Washington Heights, near Columbia University. Jack slept the entire trip from Iowa. His fever was 102 degrees on arrival, high but not dangerous. I sat with him and translated his answers to many medical questions.
Once he was settled and asleep, I called Andy, hoping he would visit, leaving a message with his assistant. The assistant, Blair, remembered me and was very flirty. I promised to visit their offices Downtown.
I was dozing when Andy arrived. John Boy sat up as Andy sat on his bed. I translated John Boy’s side of the conversation.
“I was snake-bit, Andy,” John Boy explained.
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 could tell he was a Catholic.”
John Boy giggled, the first sound he’d made in days.
I had Andy retell stories from their stay on Jackie O’s yacht at Cannes. They kept John Boy giggling. I ran and brought a doctor back to observe the change. When the doctor asked John Boy questions, all he did was giggle louder. He looked like an idiot, a big grin on his face, unable to stop laughing. The doctor noted the progress on his chart.
Andy promised to come the next day. I hugged him, with a kiss to his cheek. His smile was a mirror image of John Boy’s idiot grin. Maybe it was 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 laughed.
“I’ll be 18 this summer. I’m not the same fresh face you remember.”
Next I called Tina. Her dad was happier than she was to hear from me. She and I hadn’t spoken in months.
“Buenas tardes,” she answered.
“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 showed up at dinner time, making a fuss about spoon-feeding John Boy. Pete looked much older, having grown out a pencil mustache, like all good muchachos. Their closeness made me jealous, until he pulled me into a big hug.
“Not so shy,” I smiled at him.
“I’ve got my woman. I have you to thank,” as he pulled Tina into our hug.
She turned red, letting me know she and Pete were more than holding hands now.
“I’m staying on the Upper Westside, at Jack’s family apartment,” I told them. “Let’s get together once Jack is out of the hospital.”
They stayed until John Boy fell asleep. I went with them down to the lobby and paid for a cab to take them home. It was nearby in the Bronx.
“Always the big spender,” Pete kidded me.
“Yeah. I get great tips as a pizza delivery boy in Iowa.”
I arrived at the apartment after 10 pm. Two of Jack’s cousins, Brett and Trent, lived there permanently. They barely knew Jack, as the families were not close. The rumors they had heard were 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 were together after that. Pot makes him super horny.”
“We’ll make sure to avoid that.”
“Gay doesn’t run in the family?” I kidded them.
“Just pot smoking,” as Brett pulled out a fat joint.
We smoked out while I explained how the two of us had ended up in Iowa. The brothers soon were cuddled up with each other. Gayness wasn’t genetic, in the Stone family, but pot breaking down inhibitions evidently was. It was the first time I enjoyed getting high since leaving the Everglades. As I related the many band and fugitive stories, they crept closer to me as we sat in the living room in front of a fire on a large couch. They put my legs on their laps – upper class bonding was a gradual, step-by-step ritual.
“We like you,” they decided. “Come out with us on Friday night and meet our friends.”
They attended Collegiate and had 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 insisted I sleep in their room. Trent gave 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 dressed me from their copious closet. Paisley replaced tees and jeans.
Walking into John Boy’s hospital room, he smiled at my preppy look.
“You letting my cousins dress you now?” he signed to Jace.
“Just like the twins do. And, you used to tell me which gay underwear to choose each day.”
He motioned me to come closer, pulling the tail of my shirt out of my trousers. He snapped my briefs, giving me an instant boner. We were stroking each other when a male nurse walked in.
“I knew you’d be going at it,” he noted.
I love New York.
I called Jay while John Boy was 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 came on the line after a pause.
“Yeah. Jack got snake-bit in a Baptist Church and needed 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 came out of the hospital, with the newly released Jack. He still was not talking. His idiot grin and manic laugh were beginning to bug me. I signed that we would go see Andy after he was settled at the apartment. Good thing there were 30 hours to a day in New York.