A Prairie Christmas Chapter 4

HITCHING IN HELL

Hitching rides near the beach in Ft Lauderdale proved fairly easy. Tim 531 The only drawback was the rides were short and required some degree of awareness of why the drivers had picked me up. There were several offers to ‘party,’ meaning do drugs. I no longer was ‘maintaining’ my Coral Gables high,  turning down the offers. That meant I was dropped off quickly. Others were just curious as to why I was not wearing shoes – just coming from the beach – or why a good-looking young man didn’t have his own car – not a rich kid – or just being stared at too obsessively. I chalked it all up to road experience. I never refused a ride, even when I felt uncomfortable. Not all rides were so bad. Often it was fun tooling along the beach highway, forgetting my problems and feeling free.

By late afternoon I had made it to Cocoa Beach. The afternoon thunderstorm was pelting down rain. I ducked under an overpass, coming face to face with a bunch of kids my age. Tim 374 They looked at me, bare-foot and soaked, and laughed. I knew I fit in. I still had the joints Vic had given Tommy and me, so I sparked one up and passed it around. Good to be just a kid again, sharing a joint while we waited out the rain.
“Where y’all from, boy? Y’ain’t from around here.”
“I’s from a little town in Central Florida. My daddy let me take off once the crops was in.”
“Country boy. I thoughts so from the skunk weed yer sharin’.”
“Yeah. I smoked some Ganja last night. Blowed me away. I seen ya gots a guitar,” I observed. looking at a beaten up acoustic by a backpack.
“Y’all kin play?
“An’ I sings,” picking it up and starting to tune it, which was badly needed. Tim 394
“Whatcha wants me ta play?” I asked.
“Ya knows Skynyrd?”
“Jist a bit. How’s ‘bout this one,” and I started playing ‘Simple Kind of Man.’

They all joined in at the chorus:

‘And be a simple kind of man
Oh, be something you love and understand
Baby be a simple kind of man
Oh, won’t you do this for me, son, if you can’

Songwriters: VAN ZANT, RONNIE / ROSSINGTON, GARY ROBERT
Simple Man lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Of course, I knew all the songs they liked. They liked singing along. It helped that they broke out their stash of Colombian Gold.
“Man, that really expands,” I said while we took a break to get high. Tim 92
“Ya really kin play, man. Ya gots to be in band. Right?”
“My bands broke up. I started another, The Hillbilly Brothers, but my pardner’s in the hospital in Lauderdale. That’s where I was last night. I knocked his asshole brother out and had ta take off.
“Wot the brother do?”
“’S’bout wot he’d done in the past.”
“Yer cool, man,” a blonde girl sidled up to me, smiling. Tim 234
“Here, you play and I’ll sing,” as I handed her the guitar.
She picked out the notes to Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven.’

 

 

I whistled the high notes, then began singing to her. When I got to the chorus, I really flirted:

‘Ooh, it makes me wonder,
Ooh, it makes me wonder.

Once we finished, the rain had stopped. Everyone started to leave.
“Anyone wants ta put up wid a lost farm boy fer the night?” I asked.
They all laughed.
“Ya ain’t no simple kinda man,” Blondie concluded.
“I is when I ain’t gots no place ta go.”
“Wot a line of bullshit,” she remarked.
“Com’n,” a skinny kid said, “y’all kin hangs at our house. They’s all gone ‘til late.” Tim 235

That was settled and the party rolled on. His name was Petey and Blondie was Claire, his sister. They all were from a sketchy part of Cocoa Beach, but I wasn’t being choosy. Their house was a square Craftsman all covered with overgrown bushes. We finished off all the beer. I wasted fifteen of Jimmy’s dollars on a case of Pabst – PBR, the teen favorite when we could get it. Tim 449 Petey played records which we sang to, some of us without much ability, but all with gusto. Flo must have awakened my hetero side because Claire and I went at it pretty heavy back in her room. After the deed was done, Tim 251 we plopped on the couch together. I was sound asleep, only to be awakened by a parent none too happy I was hanging on to his daughter. Petey grabbed me, dragged me to his room and deposited me on his big water-bed. I woke up later with him cuddled next to me. Tim 128 I must’ve been confused about who was sleeping with me as I kissed him solidly on the lips.
“Jezus,” he jumped out of the water-bed so fast that I was left rocking back and forth. That fully woke me up.
“Sorry,” I ruefully apologized. “I fergot where I was.”
“Ya likes boys, too?” he seemed more confused than upset.
“Only if’n they likes me too.”
“Ya thoughts I’s a girl?”
“Naw. Jist that ya’s cuddled up with me. My little brother does that. I thoughts you was ‘im.”
“Y’all’s kissin’ each other. Does ya have sex wid yer brother.
“Naw. It’s jist affection, ya know.
“Sorry I was too close. I didn’t know.”
“Naw, I’s sorry. That was lame.”
“Yeah, purdy gay.”
“They’s always tellin’ me ta not be so gay.”
“Yeah. Don’t be so gay,” and he laughed. He looked at me funny. Then he kissed me on the cheek.” Tim 36
“Don’t be a’tellin’,” he warned me, blushing madly.
“Yeah. Don’t be so gay.”
We rolled around on the water-bed, rocking it back and forth. I could tell it didn’t turn him on.
“What’s ya doin’ today?”
“Gots ta hit the road. Places ta be, ya know.”
“I kin help ya. Wanna get a ride with truckers. I gots a CB.”
“Cool. I had too many psycho rides yesterday.”
He jumped up and sat at his desk, turning on the CB radio.
“Breaker. Breaker. Anyone’s out there wants a rider north outta Coco?”

 

The radio crackled as several truckers answered at once, cancelling out their transmissions.
“Hang on, boys. One at a time.”
“Goin’ ta Orlando.”
“Goin’ ta Jacksonville.”
“Goin’ ta Atlanta with stopover in Valdosta.”
“Whatcha ya want?” Petey asked.
I didn’t know where I was going. I did know I wanted to be out of Florida.
“I’s good fer Atlanta.”
“Atlanta, when’s ya gonna be at Coco rest stop.”
“’Bout thirty minutes.”
“We’s on our way.”
Petey jumped up and got his dad.
“Take my friend to the truck stop, Dad? Please? We’s got ‘im a ride.”
That seemed to please Dad no end. Claire came running out of her room. All three of us piled into the back seat of dad’s station wagon.  They both had their arms around me and she gave me a kiss when I was let out. Was that incest?

A big eighteen wheeler pulled in, with a chunky, middle-aged driver looking for us. We waved him over. I climbed up the passenger side, waving goodbye to my new friends. Their dad had a smirk that said ‘good riddance’ on his face.
“Howdy,” I said to the trucker. “I’s Huck, Huck Flynn.”
He laughed. “Right. Well buckle up. Huck Flynn. I gots ta be in Georgia ‘fore I hits my rest time.” Tim 46
I settled back. He didn’t seem interested in small talk. I was soon asleep. Two days of partying was more than I could handle after living in the swamp for months. I remember we stopped for lunch, which was hamburger and fries, paid for by the driver. I was ravenous, eating half of his fries. He just laughed at me.
“Ur pretty skinny, son. Dontcha ever eat?”
“Bin campin’ out. Kinda sick o’ catfish, rice and beans.”
“Ya shure ain’t sick o’ McDonald’s. I’d a gotcha more had ya bin awakes.”
“Thanks,” and I burped. He thought that was funny.

With not much conversation, I was asleep again. At dinner time, he woke me and we went into another McDonald’s. I got everything super-sized. Getting back up into his rig, he stayed on my side, helping me up with a two-handed push on my butt cheeks. He followed me up, on the passenger side, pulling me into the sleeping compartment at the back of the cab. I wasn’t shocked or surprised, just wary if his horniness was going to turn violent. Without saying a word he pulled out his fat sausage and nodded to suck it. It smelled awful, but he finished pretty quick. Tim 51 No deep-throating, and I kept the burgers down. He climbed up to the driver’s side.
“If you’s gonna sleep s’more, just stay in the back. I gots a stop up the road in Valdosta. Best the bossman don’ts see I picked me up a rider.”
I lay back, contemplating life on the road, sleeping out of a tractor-trailer. Seemed lonely and dull. I wondered where I was going from Atlanta. Was it prostitution on my part to hook up for free rides with truckers? I could make a sign, ‘will suck dick for McDonald’s.’

About an hour later, my driver stuck his head inside the sleeping compartment.
“I gots to be off’n the road fer 8 hours rest. So, I gots ya a ride to Dothan, Alabama. That’s okay?”
“Shure, why not?”
I crawled out and clambered down from the cab. Another middle-aged driver was waiting for me with the first one. He had a smirk on that warned me that my dick sucking reputation preceded me.
“Yer a country boy, huh? Gots no shoes and all?”
“Shur thing. Don’t needs ‘em, ‘cept fer church.”
“Y’all ain’t goin’ to church wid me, boy. My rigs over there. Ya needs to eat?”
“Naw, ol’ boy fed me real good ,” I nodded at the first driver.
“So I hears,” he said breaking out into a shit-eating grin.
Life on the road.

Alabama seemed no different from Georgia, flat and the color of red clay. Shortly before coming to Dothan, the new driver started talking to me.
“I’s gonna git me a motel room fer after I’s dropped the load. Ya wants a place ta sleep tonight?”
“Shur, but I ain’t gots money.”
“No worries. I jist sneak ya up after I’s checked in. Jist stay in the rig ‘til I tells ya.” Tim 167

We pulled into one of those strip mall motels with parking for the rig in the back. Once he let me into the room, he left me by myself. I stripped off the same jeans and shirt Tommy and I had clipped from the backyard of a tract house months ago. They were well-worn. I took a long shower, hoping to wash away the stink of the stanky dick I’d sucked that day. Once I got dressed again, I figured I’d get some fresh air and check out Dothan. That didn’t happen when I found the door locked from the outside. The windows had bars on them. I was locked up again. I felt claustrophobic and smothered. I panicked, throwing myself against the door, which never budged. Tim 276 I finally gave up. Shortly I heard a group of drunken men coming my way.

It was one thing to defend myself against other youths in juvie. Here there were four of them, each over 200 pounds and used to throwing their weight around. They quickly had me pinned on the bed. They were prepared to subdue me, bringing ropes and a gag to suppress my screams. Tim 70 I thrashed while they tied me face down with my arms and legs to the bed posts, I could tell it was turning them on more and more. I lay still on my stomach, refusing to respond as the raped me repeatedly. Tim 170As each one went at me separately, the others would spit and sometimes masturbate on me. I wished I could detach my consciousness and not feel their gross thrusts and pumping. I concentrated on tuning them out. They just ignored that I was impassive, which made me silently seethe even more. It went on all night. My body finally went numb from the pain and humiliation. tim-702 When it became light outside, I saw my driver collect money from the other three. Once they left, he dressed me, picked me up and threw me into his rig. His rest period was done. I swore that once I could stand and move I would get my revenge. I feared he was going to pimp me all across his delivery route. He just drove me ten minutes outside of Dothan and dumped me in a ditch beside the highway. Finally I started crying like I’d never cried before. Tim 15 I didn’t cry from the pain and hurt, nor from being emotionally overwhelmed. I was broken without hope of being fixed. Trying to stop the tears and hiccups, I started humming Pink Floyd, ‘Wish You were Here.’

‘How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl.’

Songwriters
WATERS, ROGER/GILMOUR, DAVID JON
Published by
Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., IMAGEM U.S. LLC

I lay there sobbing and finally fell asleep. In my dreams, something startled me. I looked up. It was my familiar shade.
“Jace!”
He signed a tentative hello. Ruben02
“I’ve missed you so much.”
He agreed.
“Where have you been?”
He turned around and whistled. Max trotted up by his side and gave a bark. Tim 315
Jace explained he had been with Max, after I locked him out of my heart at the Program.
“But I never left your heart. All you had to do was ask.”
I saw myself, dirty and bedraggled, with my head hanging low, as I knelt in the ditch.
“Don’t be ashamed,” he whispered. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
We started walking, and the scene changed to a truck stop bathroom. We showered together, while Max guarded the door. Jace soaped me up, whispering how it had all started with shower sex over a year ago.
“Naw,” I said. “It started by us holding hands,”tim-706 as I grabbed his, giving it a squeeze.
He used his other hand to grab my limp dick and gave it a squeeze as well. My tears began again when my dick failed to respond. I feared that sexual abuse had robbed me of my sex drive.
“Hush,” he whispered. “Just let me hold you. It’s been too long. I can feel your heart beating like mad. Tim 218
It was true. I was as excited as if we were really doing it. He grasped me from behind. I felt his ghostly dick hardening and straightening up between my ass cheeks. My hole began pulsating and squeezing the tip of Jace’s dick. I wanted him intensely.
“I won’t enter you until you’re as excited as I am.”
I cried from frustration, pushing my butt cheeks out by arching my back. Tim 26 My breathing came in gasps. Grabbing both hips, I pulled him inside me. My soft dick squirted copious jism as I came without being hard. He was pumping me as I felt my dick inflate.
“You’re ‘sposed to get hard first, not cum first,” he complained.
“Don’t stop pumping,” I mumbled.
I could feel his orgasm building, making my dick twitch and leak pre-cum. He started to climax. Max barked a warning. We both came.
I woke up. It was the first time I’d had a wet dream in months.

“Yer a horny one, ain’tcha?” There was a man watching me from the edge of the road. Still half asleep, I thought it was Jace.
“Where’s Max at?” I mumbled.
“Ain’t no one ‘round but me, boy. You shur was a’moanin’ and a’writhin’ down there. Why don’ts we both hava little fun,”as he stumbled down the incline into the ditch.
Fully awake now, I scooted away from him. Tim 331 He backhanded me and told me to lay still. As he started to unbuckle his trousers, I kicked him in the balls. He screamed and backhanded me until I was knocked out. Jace and Max came back to me in my blacked-out state.
“Let me handle this,” Jace told me. “Sic ‘em,” He told Max. Super Dog jumped up and bit the asshole on the butt, his jaw locked on my attacker. Max knocked him off his feet as he struggled to get away, flailing at his invisible attacker. Tim 318
“What the fuck,” he screamed. “Yer a cursed devil, ya little bitch.”
“Go ta hell, redneck,” I taunted him, collapsing back into unconsciousness. Kyo Kara Maoh 02

I awoke all alone. My body ached from the assaults I had suffered the past few days. In my heart I believed Jace and Max had actually protected me. My brain worried I had been raped again while unconscious. I now knew that Jace was still in my heart. I had conjured him when I needed him. It gave me the resolve to fight back and not to be the victim of evil people. My heart beat stronger as I resolved to never be imprisoned unjustly again, to not go along with situations hoping someone else would rescue me,, and to keep Jace and Max in my heart to steel me under difficult situations.
“Finally,” I heard Jace tell me, “you grew some cajones.”
“When did you learn Spanish,” I laughed.
“What do you think they speak in Hell?”
“Ya bin in Hell,” I was incredulous.
“Naw, just the hell of being locked up in your heart with no way to out.”
Max barked.

My spirits were completely revived. I got up and walked down the road. Refusing offers of rides, I reached a service station and tried to clean up in the rest room. I was a hot mess of dried cum and spit, blood caked on my legs and jeans, black eyes, haggard and emaciated, and looking totally defeated – just a teenaged wasteland. Copy of Ichigo05

I pulled a pair of jeans and tees from the clothesline behind a tract house, leaving my dirty, bloody rags behind as payment. I was sad thinking about all the great times Tommy and I had once we had stolen those clothes. Before putting on the new gear, I gave myself a thorough washing from the garden hose at the back of the house. I was still shoeless but felt I looked better with spiked hair from the shower.
Walking down the road, I told Jace about the adventures of Tom & Huck. The evil brother made him sad that others had suffered as he had at a family member’s wrath. He was hysterical when I told him how I beat up Tommy’s brother at the hospital. Max had been listening and barked his approval.
“So, where we headed?” Jace asked.
“Don’t know. Haven’t a clue. Where you wanna go?”
“Just be with you,” and he gave me his goofy grin. j togo 01
The sight of that smile brought me to tears again.
“God, yer a mess,” he complained.
“Just so happy yer here,” I sniffed.
“Where we goin’ next?” he asked. With Max barking emphasis.
“Not back to Florida. That’s for sure.”
“You’re worse than yer mom, totally clueless.”
“How’s ‘bout we go see her?”
“Fine by me. Ya gonna explain that yer travelin’ with a ghost and his dog?”
“Why not?”

I had no clue where we were, but a ride took me to the nearest Interstate ramp, going north. There we got a ride with a trucker, going all the way to St Louis. It didn’t bother him when I talked to Jace. He liked that I was off-kilter, and he really didn’t care what we were talking about.
“’Cause who can hear a ghost?” I told myself. That bit of sane self-knowledge sent me spinning out of control. Bleach Ichigo 01 I wasn’t ready to be real. I needed to be where I had no feelings. I must’ve needed anonymous sex, at least that’s what the trucker told me later. It was all white noise in a black land. When I got back from la la island, the Trucker was parked on an off-ramp, holding me while I sobbed. Both helped, the trucker and the tears. I stopped crying and let him hold me until I could breathe normally. I figured something had happened from the state of my clothes.Bleach Ichigo 06 He was a nice guy, but he had been off the road for too long and needed to keep driving, so I settled in the corner of the cab while we rolled north and west. When his hours were done, we spent the night in a motel. I remember that sexcapade pretty well. He was nice and got me talking. Jace just sat there and kept quiet. Seeing Jace there, looking so sad after I had anonymous sex threw me back into the abyss of sorrow. If this continued, I’d never want to have sex again – Jace’s sad, unapproving face watched me go at it. The trucker held me as I continued the crying.

Finally when his mandatory rest stop was over, he put me into the passenger side of his cab, where I slept until he dumped me at a rest stop outside St Louis. Nice guy. I got another ride to Clinton Iowa, then local rides, mostly from farmers and factory workers, who never minded I didn’t talk with them. The ones who never stopped their own ‘On the Road’ monologues were less comforting; I listened to their normal lives and problems. I knew I never could feel or live that way, kinda like watching the shopping network when you’re broke. A hot chick in a pink Corvette picked me up as easy action, and then dumped me out on the Interstate when I told her I was gay. I had to hot-foot it to the next exit ramp before a cop could bust me. I smiled when I saw Jace laughing at my predicament. He enjoyed our little run together ‘cause he didn’t get winded when he ran.
“Fuck you, Jace,” I spoke, “and, for fucking up my sex life.”
He just kept staring at me.
“No. I’m sorry. Don’t ever leave me, even when I’m fucked up and don’t remember.”

Waiting for a ride, I started sobbing again, which didn’t help me get a ride. Finally two teen-aged girls stopped Cathy Christina and asked if I was okay. I almost yelled at them, but they helped me come out of the sobbing jag by just being there, being really in the present. I told them about Jace and how he was sitting next to me, but no one else could see him.
“What’s he look like?” one of the girls asked.
“Blue eyes, long blond hair, tall, smokes too much, 16, loves his dog..” Tim 385  then I tried not to cry but it rushed me and I was hiccuping to hold back the tears. The girls both held me. One asked Jace to come into our huddle, and right there on the on ramp, the four of us were in a group hug. I saw him mouth “I love you,” and the most blissful feeling came over me. aussie02 He went around the three of us, kissing and hugging back. I felt I was my normal self for the first time. The girls were so nice; they drove me all the way to Mom’s address in Ames. They watched from the car as Jace and I rang her doorbell.

Mom opened the door,.
“Timmy,” she exclaimed and held me in a tight hug.
A huge relief came over me. She looked so happy. I’d never had a hug like that from her.
“Mom, this is my boyfriend, Jace and his dog, Max.”
Jace was waving the girls goodbye before he turned to her, “Hi, Mom.”
The strangest look came over her face for a second before she answered, “Hello, Jace. Where’s your dog?”
My left nostril started tingling as a black wisp of smoke exhaled, turning into my favorite Super Dog, Max.
I woke up with a start.
Shit. I was back in hell, the same ditch where I’d been dumped, then raped, and beaten, before being raped again. Tim 134

I resolved to protect myself. First I had to clean up. I walked for several miles, ignoring drivers who slowed down to check me out. I was so disgusting that no one offered a ride. I wasn’t about to accept one, anyway.
The service station from my dream came into view. I cleaned up as best as possible in the rest room. Hoping that the vision of the gas station was a sign that the other events of my dream were possible, I decided I was going to find Mom. I knew only that she was in Iowa. I called Jay collect, ‘from DeBowser.’ He answered immediately.
“On the road again?” he observed. “I guess I shouldn’t ask where you’re calling from?”
“S’okay. I’m out of state now.”
“That’s a relief. The Court has no jurisdiction outside of Florida for juveniles. Your escapade in Ft Lauderdale was going to add new charges to your warrant until your little friend convinced the Ft Lauderdale PD that he was in danger and you protected him. The brother’s now in juvie.”
“Good. How’s Tommy? I miss him.”
“His interview in the Herald has moved your case forward at last. The corruption between the Probation Department and that fraudulent Program was corroborated by his first-hand accounts. They wanted to put him in a group home but several families stepped up and volunteered to take him as a foster kid. He’s really quite adorable, if you don’t mind my saying it.”
“I toldcha, we was Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. He’s a total manipulator but has a good heart.”
“So, what’s next? Mike suggested you could go to your mother’s in Iowa. The Court really couldn’t take you away from her. You could come back to Miami once you turn 18 and are no longer a juvenile.”
“I’s bin thinkin’ the same thing. I jist needs her address.”
“We got that in yer file,” and he laughed. “Ya gots ta stop with the drawl, boy. I cain’t stop myself from revertin.’”
“We’s jist good ol boys, me and you’s.”
“Stop it,” he laughed. “Where are you? I’ll get a bus ticket sent to the nearest Greyhound.”
“Jist outside Dothan, Alabama. I kin make it to the bus terminal there. Y’all kin call Mom fer me ta make shur she wants me?”
“Everybody wants ya, Tim. That reporter made you out ta be Huck Finn and Tom Swift all rolled into one. In one day you recorded a country album in Miami, rescued that boy in Fort Lauderdale, and then totally disappeared. After some fake sightings in Cocoa Beach, you were reported turning up all over the East Coast. Some hillbillies in the Carolinas even had photos of you there. The Court was going bananas trying to follow-up on leads.”
“Well, it ain’t bin no picnic, but hearing yer voice and how y’all bin helpin’ me git to safety, makes me luv ya all the mores, Jay.”
That shut him up.Tim 120
“I’ll git that there address fer ya,” he finally said and went away from the phone.
He really couldn’t help being under my spell.
Before he came back on the line, Mike Sr. spoke to me.
“Tim. Sorry I was so abrupt last week. It was a shock that you were in my house.”
“Naw, Mr. A, it was wrong that I threatened your practice by being there.”
“I just blamed Robby, as usual.”
“Well, I was stupid to do it. Sorry.”
“Now that you’re out of state, I can speak with you again. I’m sorry we never helped you while you were locked up.”
“That’s history. I like the plan that I go to Mom’s. I had a dream that she welcomed me there.”
“We’ll get you there, and then petition the Court to assign her guardianship. That should clear up your record.”
“Thanks, Mr. A.”
“You no longer call me Mike?”
“Well. I guess we had to let you go as band manager, so I’m no longer your boss. You’re Michael’s dad; I need to be more respectful.”
“You always stay three steps ahead in the game.”
“Yeah, the game of Life.”
“Jay’s either got to go to the bathroom or is overly anxious to speak with you again. Goodbye, Tim.”
“I’ll never forget what you did for me, Mr. A,” I gulped, glad I could still hold back the tears. He meant so much in making me grow up.
When Jay came back on the line, the tears started to flow. He hesitated while I tried to regain control. Tim 08
“You okay?” he finally asked.
“Yeah. No. It’s okay,” I gulped and sobbed. Finally, “He helped me so much this past year.”
“Yeah, he’s pretty great. You guys were made for each other, especially the civil rights.”
”It’s just been a year, since the band started.”
“You really grew up, Tim.”
“I ain’t done bein’ a kid yet.”
He laughed, and then gave me Mom’s address in Ames: 120 S Hyland Avenue.
“A bus ticket is waiting for you at Greyhound in Dothan.”
“I love you, Jay.”
“I heard that one before.”
We both laughed.

The gas station attendant gave me directions to the Greyhound. I put on my best smile tim-765 and soon had a ride into Dothan. My days in the ditch were done. The station clerk refused to give me the ticket without proper ID. I called Jay, who called Greyhound, and finally I was on my way. I slept for the hours it took to get to St Louis where I changed buses. Outside Oklahoma City, a pretty girl in a pink Corvette slowed down and waved at me, winked, and floored the ‘Vette past the bus. I guess she had forgotten I was gay. After changing in Oklahoma City, I was soon in Ames. After miles of rolling corn fields, newly cropped to bare stalks, Ames was a pleasant surprise. It was the prototypical college town, with wide streets, overhung by tall oaks and elms. All the houses had broad lawns. There was space to breathe here, not so clustered together like the small farming towns where the bus had stopped, nor the hustling chaos of a New York or even a Miami metropolis. The fall colors were in full season, a last blast of summer before the bare winter to come. I felt welcomed. Summer trees’ green leaves dreamed as breeze driven seasons gave way to hellish red and orange blazes before winter’s deep sleep.