Finally, I am in high school. The biggest change is Jeff graduates and moves to Orlando to attend Rollins College. The parents throw a party for Jeff the night before he leaves. The celebration begins the day after; our tormentor is gone. John immediately starts spending most nights at his friends’, Dave and Jazz, houses. My only friends, Robby and Michael, would think it odd if I asked to spend the night. They are always calling other guys fags and such. Only I really know what that means, and I am not telling. With my new freedom from abuse, I still pretty much go along with everyone else. I am ‘below the radar.’ The only thing I really enjoy is singing along to heavy metal songs that Robby plays or off the radio. I love turning notes higher and then back into harmony. We can listen and sing together for hours. Robby and Michael are becoming proficient drummers, another aspect of their competitive friendship.
They want to form a band, but there can only be one drummer in a band. Neither wants to give up drumming and learn another instrument. Robby’s friend Ned wants to play guitar and gets his parents to buy him a fancy Gibson Les Paul SG guitar and a practice amp. He has the hardest time learning the fingering to make chords. In Robby’s room, they practice by trying to learn our favorite songs. Ned tries to follow the music, but it is like he does not hear himself play. I can tell he is not hitting the right notes. Mary sings along to the music, trying to harmonize with Ned’s awful playing. It sounds horrid. Robby screams at them, saying girls cannot play rock and roll. Mary is in church choir, so she had a nice voice. Ned’s playing is throwing her off. Michael brings over an old Fender Precision bass, telling me to repeat the bass lines from the songs they learn off the records or radio. Not having to do the chord fingering, it’s much simpler than playing guitar. He shows me what to do.
“Why don’t you play bass?” I ask Michael, not wanting to impose myself in their musical posturing.
“I only want to be a drummer,” Michael declares, not willing to lose the competition with Robby on who is the best drummer.
I play sitting down, keeping the amp low enough to not overpower the squawking guitar and vocals. Michael turns up the volume, so the others can hear me playing the correct notes. They just turn their amps up higher. Robby tells Mary to stop singing and tries to get Ned to harmonize with his voice.
“Fuck you, Robby. I’m sick of you putting down my girlfriend.”
They leave Robby’s room. That is the end of that band. After a week to pout, they return to get high. We still keep singing along to our favorite records. No one cares that we sound off. We are too high to realize we have no talent.
Robby’s business of pot dealing, satisfies our need to be high but is not bringing in actual profits. Any spare money is spent on pizza and beer. We find an Italian restaurant in Little Havana on Calle Ocho that will sell 14 & 15-year-olds beer, as long as we pay. We sit in a booth in the back of Sorrento’s, out of sight of the regular, adult customers. The old carpet smells of disinfectant, masking the sweet marijuana odor. Robby complains that he is working for nothing, but pizza is as addictive as pot is for teenagers. Our dual addictions are satisfied. Pot sales fund pizza which solves the munchies problem from smoking the product.
The sweet haze of my high school life is interrupted by the return of Jeff for Christmas vacation. His inability to make friends keeps him from maturing into someone who does not need to sexually abuse young boys. If I were older and wiser, I may have felt sorry for him and his psychopathic behavior. Instead, I am sucked into Hell again. John has it worse because Jeff forbids him from staying at his friends’ homes, where he participates in normal junior high pathology, mostly trying to sneak glimpses of older sisters getting dressed. Being raped on a nightly basis is a sad return to his half-forgotten nightmares.
I try bargaining with Jeff, promising him I will fully cooperate if he leaves John alone. He agrees but after several nights of my trying to act pleased with his disgusting acts, he still refuses to let John sleep at his friends’ homes. When I complain that he lied to me, he beats me down and makes me do something I will always be ashamed of. He makes me rape John, telling his ‘real’ brother that I am the fag and want to do what he forces me to do. I go back to being totally passive during his attacks. He beats me up and makes me watch him rape John. He tells me I am now too old for him to ‘enjoy’ me. If I do not act like I enjoy him, he just rapes the younger John. My attempt to save John only make things worse for us. I am so ashamed, I can no longer talk with John. He feels totally betrayed.
Christmas vacation turns into Christmas Hell. I have to be in my bed every night for Jeff’s visits. John tries staying away one night. Jeff marches to Dave’s house and drags John home, telling Dave’s older brothers that John’s parents forbid him staying overnight anymore. He says the same thing to Jazz’s parents. We are screwed, and the victimization just gets worse. Because Max tries to defend me, Jeff will not allow me to sleep in the garage once he is done with us. With no school to go to, I start hiding in a shed at the old abandoned Biltmore Hotel on Country Club Prado. I sleep all day, having been kept up all night.
Robby and Michael wake me up one afternoon, having figured out where I go every day.
“Why are you sleeping in a shed?” Robby demands to know.
“Maybe he’s an illegal alien,” Michael jokes.
“Yeah, from Mars,” Robby rejoins.
I cannot answer their questions. They are not looking for answers.
“Come with us. We want to show you our latest trick,” Robby pulls me to my feet.
Robby is full of tricks – pranks and antics he uses to amuse us, as well as bully whoever is the object of his trick. We call it the Robby Magic Mean Show.
We ride up University Drive to the town library. I ride on Michael’s handlebars while he pedals standing up. We hide the bikes. Robby shows me how to climb the huge rubber tree the arches over University Drive at the intersection with Riviera Drive.
“Don’t look down,” he orders as we climb higher into the upper branches of the tree. I watch as he and Michael swing from limb to limb. Already bare-footed, I easily imagine them to be devolved simians, monkeys on the run.
“Hurry up,” he orders as I am more cautious on my first tree climbing adventure. I glance toward the ground and realize we are about forty feet up. I freeze.
“I told you not to look down,” Robby is exasperated. Michael just laughs.
They descend to the level where I am hugging the main tree trunk.
“You’re hopeless,” Robby mocks me. I already know that. “We might as well chill out until you calm down.”
My heart is racing. Robby pulls out a joint hidden behind the hair over his ears and lights it up.”
“Try this to calm your fears,” he has the telltale gleam in his eye that tips me off that I am about the be the victim of a Robby prank. I take the joint and spark it up. I instantly get the spins. They laugh at me until I lose my grip on the tree trunk. I’m sliding rapidly toward the ground. Michael saves me and pulls me up to the crotch of two branches. He holds me by the arm until I calm down.
“You, asshole,” Michael defends me. “He could’ve died.”
“It’s not my fault that he can’t fly.” Robby launches himself off the branch he is sitting on, over the gap to an adjoining tree. He scurries up the tree and mocks us from about ten feet above where we are sitting.
I forget I have the spins and jump to Robby’s tree.
“All right, Jace,” Michael cheers me on.
I chase Robby up the tree, with Michael trying to keep up. Just as I have him cornered at the top, he launches himself toward a lower tree nearby. He swings off one branch and lands on a bigger one. I try to do the same, making the first branch where I try to remain safe. The small branch cracks. I am flying through space until Michael again rescues me. I need a breather. They are laughing their asses off. It is actually fun, having escaped death twice. We are all laughing. Out comes another joint. I think it is the first time I actually get high, already high up in the tree.
“Jace, you’re smiling,” Michael notices. It is not a common occurrence.
I try to say something but it comes out all garbled, which just makes us laugh.
“Look. He is laughing. Maybe he is human,” Robby notes. “Or, maybe he just needs to get high to be high.”
Everyone is laughing. We hang out at the same crotch of the tree. With a sea breeze coming through the leaves, it is the perfect spot to chill out. Soon we hear voices below us. Robby looks down and puts a finger to his lips to keep us quiet. Two high school girls sit under our tree and start making out. It’s too much for Robby, who whistles sharply. That gets their attention. They look all around, but not up. Not seeing us, the quickly stand up and start to leave. All three of us whistle. They are spooked and run off to the library.
“They’re hot,” Robby is obviously excited, and his jeans show it.
That ruins it for me. I trust Robby not to molest me but not enough to mock my discomfort at erect cocks. It only reminds me of Jeff.
“I’ve gotta go,” I stammer after seeing Robby’s boner.
“Don’t like watching girls make out.”
“Naw. I gotta feed Max,” I make an excuse.
“Bring him over later. We’ll get him high,” Robby is being hospitable in his warped way.
“Dogs don’t get high,” I assert.
“Let’s find out,” Robby is a research scientist on all things pot.
“Maybe,” but I know I will probably come back with Max, who loves escaping the garage and hanging out. He also loves chasing Rocky, the cat, around their house. He has yet to learn that one swipe of Rocky’s claws ruins the fun.
The best laid plans never escape the bully who is stalking you. Jeff appears immediately after I walk in. The parents are out, as is John. I break away from the headlock he uses to force me into the bedroom. I run toward the garage and Max’s protection. Jeff blocks the way. I run into the backyard where a tall mango tree offers the opportunity to show off my new tree climbing skills. I swing up into the branches and soon I’m looking down at my frustrated molester.
“Ha. Ha. Ha. Catch me if you can, I’m the Gingerbread Man,” I mock him.
Jeff glares at me. I can see his arousal, like Robby’s earlier. It makes me shiver. Jeff grabs the hose and sprays up into the tree. I climb higher and swing over to the neighbor’s tree. I keep going from tree to tree until I reach Bird Road where no trees stretch over the pavement. I climb down and walk across the street toward Robby’s.
“Back so soon?” he mocks me. “Where’s Max.”
“Jeff is home. I had to get away from him. I climbed into the trees and made it all the way to Bird Road, going tree to tree.”
“That doesn’t explain where Max is. I wanna get him high.”
“Max can’t climb trees,” I dare to kid Robby.
“Well. Let’s go get him,” Michael suggests.
I figure Jeff won’t attack me with Robby and Michael there. We just go into the garage and walk Max back to Robby’s. Max is his manic self, sniffing all around Robby’s room, trying to find Rocky, his frenemy.
“Come here, Max,” Robby calls him and takes out a joint.
Max sits with Robby and watches him light up the joint. When Robby exhales the smoke into his face, he snorts and starts to sneeze. We are in stitches watching Max roll around on the floor. Max likes the attention and promptly sits in front of Robby again. This time Robby gives Max a shotgun hit, not just second-hand smoke. After lighting the joint, Robby sticks the lit end into his mouth and blows a steady stream of pot smoke into Max’s face. Max again snorts and sneezes, rolling on his back like he needs to be scratched. But this time he cannot get up, waving all four legs in the air, totally disoriented. We are in stitches again. I lay with Max, scratching his belly, which he always loves. Soon he recovers his equilibrium, walking over to Robby for another hit. Max has joined our pot gang. Rocky senses an advantage and comes out of hiding, chasing Max all around Robby’s house. Max loves being chased, except he keeps running into furniture and the walls. Robby decides we better leave before his mom, the witch, comes home to the chaos. Max continues to hang out with us, as we sit under ‘our’ tree at the library. I think Robby hopes to see the two girls we surprised at their make out session. I doubt that is happening there again.
“How come you had to get away from your asshole brother,” Michael asks. Jeff gets no respect even though he now goes to college.
“’Cause he’s an asshole,” I am not about to reveal my nightly woes at his hands and other parts.
“You found a way to get to Bird Road?” Robby is intrigued.
“Sure. I’d of made it all the way to your house except no trees cross Bird Road. I walked the rest of the way.”
Robby is thinking, which is always troublesome.
“Let’s explore a way to get around without ever having to walk on the ground,” Robby hatches our latest adventure.
The rest of Christmas, and for months to come, we spend our spare time climbing the trees, first in Robby’s neighborhood and finally all over Coral Gables north of Bird Road. Ditching our sneakers lets our feet act as a second set of hands. We are monkeys.